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Nick Cattles Had To Figure Out What Is Best For His Life

“To me, whether you are in Sheboygan or in Chicago, whether you are doing a podcast or a live radio show, just give the people the most entertaining, honest, compelling content and you’re going to do fine.”

Matt Fishman

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Not every on-air career moves forward in the same way. That’s why I was interested in talking with Nick Cattles. He left the evening show at The Sports Hub in Boston to return to Virginia Beach to host afternoons. More recently Nick become the station PD in January. Sports Radio Guru Mike Thomas (Nick’s boss in Boston, too)  is “a big fan of Nick Cattles!” You’ll see what leaving Mike and the Sports Hub and returning to Virginia Beach at ESPN 94.1 has meant for Cattles’ career. 

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Matt: So after a little over a year in Boston you decide to return to ESPN 94.1 in Virginia Beach. What went into the decision to leave and then to come back?

Nick: I felt like when I was down here the first time, for about four and a half years, that we had accomplished a lot. We were, at the time, around the top four or five stations in the ratings and ratings had gone up exponentially and revenue had gone up. I felt the station was in a great place. 

It came to my attention that 98.5 (The Sports Hub/Boston) was hiring and before I came down here the first time I was doing some work on the air and behind the scenes in Boston. It was an opportunity at a full time gig at a top ten market. A chance to go back close to my home–I’m originally from Rhode Island. I had a great relationship with Mike (Thomas). I still do. I said, “might as well take a shot and do a full time gig up in Boston and talk about the teams that I grew up watching.” So I made the jump.

I was up there for about a year and a half and Mike and I had some conversations. It wasn’t one of those bitter things at all. Some people in this business have bitter conversations and burn bridges. It wasn’t like that at all. I had a very upfront conversation with Mike. 98.5 is a beast, right? They had a very young lineup and it was kind of funky that 11 days after I signed my contract CBS sold us to Beasley.  As soon as that information came out I kinda figured that Beasley wasn’t looking to get rid of anything, because 98.5 was so successful. 

The night show wasn’t everything I had anticipated it to be. I had expected it to be more of a split between Adam Jones and me. It wasn’t bitter. It was Jonesy’s show. He has the right to run his show the way he wants. He and I had conversations as well. 

This opportunity popped up again (in Virginia Beach). I own a bar down here in Virginia Beach and a condo I rent out as well. My wife loves Virginia Beach. We have a lot of good friends down here. This opportunity opened up and I came back here last May and my first show was June 4th, 2018 so it has been just over a year. 

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Matt: People when they first get into the business probably don’t think about is that there’s more to life than being in a top ten market?

Nick: It’s one of those things you have to think deeply about. It wasn’t an easy move but the conversation with Mike–he was pretty upfront. He was honest. The writing was on the wall to me that it could be another five to six years before I had a shot at a daytime show. Quite frankly Matt, I wasn’t in love with working at night. I found that out rather quickly. Working until midnight in the summertime, Monday through Friday, really didn’t have any time with my wife and to do stuff. To me it just made sense to come back down (to Virginia Beach) and get back in the afternoon drive slot and get reps doing what I do.

I think I found out that I like being the #1 guy (on a show). I enjoy driving a show. I enjoy creating content and being responsible for what we do–whether it’s good or bad. That was something that wasn’t happening up in Boston. This was an opportunity to get that done again. To be able to be responsible and accountable for what I wanted to do on the air and be able to drive my own ship.

A lot of things go into it–personal, professional. I think a lot of young guys don’t think in the long term and what’s best. They kind of just react. You’ve got to think things through. You have to really look at every opening and try to figure out what’s best for your life and what it might lead to.

Matt: Do you feel like it took very long to get your legs back under you as host and now as the station PD?

Nick: The PD thing came about in January. There’s just a million things that as an on-air host you’re not really thinking about. There are things you do as a host that could be seen as selfish even though you’re not trying to be selfish. When you become the program director you now have the health of the station you have to keep in mind.

As far as the show, it took about a month or two until I found my rhythm again and felt a little confident in what I was trying to accomplish on a day to day basis. I was named PD back in January and it has been kind of a whirlwind because at the same time I was being named PD I was fortunate enough to get a hosting opportunity with the network (ESPN).

I had added on a lot of responsibility and a lot of work. It has been a lot and it has been rewarding. Whatever happens from this point on–making that decision to leave 98.5 I think was in my best interest.  Mike (Thomas) and Beasley being super professional allowing me to leave that situation in Boston opened the door for not only being back here but also for me to get some programming experience and then it also opened the door to work for the Network. You just take it step by step, Matt.

Matt: A lot of people could have been comfortable and stayed at the Sports Hub…

Nick: If you catch up with Mike (Thomas) and ask him about me, he’d probably tell you that I’m one of the most impatient people in the entire world. I’m just always hungry and I just always want to get better. I’m always driven to be as good as I can be. In Boston, I just felt at times I was the best I could be and at other times I wasn’t. 

For people who are a little bit younger I try to tell them, “If you don’t feel like you are getting better, then you need to change something.” If you feel like you have nothing to learn, then you need to leave the business.  You need to always look at yourself and say “Am I doing the best work that I can do? If the answer is ‘no’ you have to figure out what you need to do to get there.”

Matt: You are filing in for Will Cain on the ESPN Radio Network over the fourth of July, how do you approach a show like that as opposed to your daily local show? 

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Nick: Content wise it’s very similar. Down here in Virginia Beach we are a very transient area, there’s 300,000+ military so we’re pretty much doing a national show every day. If something big locally happens we’ll talk about it, but there’s not much content difference between that and the national show.

The biggest changes (for an ESPN Network show) are behind the scenes and from a technical standpoint. When you’re doing a network show, you have two hard outs. If you don’t hit those hard-outs, it’s not good, no bueno! So you gotta be able to hit those. The conversation between you and the producer is different. Working with different co-hosts in different states is unusual. Working with a producer in a different state is unusual.

When you work with the network they obviously understand all of these things. When you look at programs and what they do, we have a screen sharing program where we can chat with the producers and can share all the live reads and sponsorships. Some producers like writing teases, but I like writing all my own teases. 

What the network does is it really teaches you how to be really fluid and how to react to different situations, how to work with different people and how to power through different scenarios. Personally I don’t try to change my style. When I go on the network I’m going to be me. Stylistically speaking I’m going to be myself. I’d rather be genuine, be real than be a carbon-copy of anyone who is doing this.

Matt: Where does local sports radio fit in the greater audio landscape today?

Nick: Pacing to me is very important. I look at the podcast world differently than the radio world. Most podcasts are directed at a certain audience. Most podcasts are about a certain sport or product. I’m a big UFC guy. If I’m gonna do a big UFC podcast, 40 minutes, the people listening to the podcast will listen to the whole 40 minutes. If I’m talking about the UFC on my show–first of all, it’s gonna be Connor McGregor, or somebody else that big– maybe Brock Lesnar, John Jones or Rhonda Rousey before she got her face kicked off. You’re talking about UFC for maybe three minutes and then you’re moving on. People in their cars are quick. Attention spans are shorter. People will not hang around for ten or fifteen minutes. 

One thing that I changed drastically from when I worked down here the first time, a lot of times I would do one topic per segment. Now we’re focused on trying to hit two or three things per segment. For example, yesterday we talked about Mike Thomas and Julio Jones contract situation for five or six minutes and then we flipped it around and talked about the Cowboys because the Cowboys have the Amari Cooper negotiation going on. You gotta keep it moving and you gotta give people the feeling that there’s no slowing down. You don’t want to give them a hesitation and a chance to put some music on.

As far as local radio, I’m probably going to echo what a lot of people in radio are saying right now. We look at terrestrial radio and we say 90-93% of people still listen when they are in their car. I do believe that. I do believe there’s a feel of a local radio show. Whether it’s a big market, small market, whatever. When you’re doing local radio you’re there. People feel you. They feel a connection that’s a little different. There’s that connection that people can’t get from listening to a podcast or to national radio. I think it’s still as relevant as it ever has been. Now we’re seeing a shift where we are talking about stories rather than in the weeds with X’s and O’s.  Analytical people will be able to get their analytics from Pro Football Focus. Most people listening to the radio want the overarching storylines. What are the stories? We saw that during the NBA Playoffs. 

I think radio is fine. I try to keep it simple. To me, whether you are in Sheboygan or in Chicago, whether you are doing a podcast or a live radio show, just give the people the most entertaining, honest, compelling content and you’re going to do fine. 

I think a lot of people are trying to do this or that. The world tries to make everything black or white and that’s stupid. Somebody feels like they gotta be a “hot take guy” or stand on “morality mountain” when something comes across. Everybody is trying to put their own cape on. In the real world, Matt, we’re all different. We’re all full of gray area. 

If you are just honest and treat individual situations and topics honestly then you’re going to do well. If you try to be hot and steamed about something that you’re not really hot or steamed about, I don’t think it’s gonna work. Now a few people have pulled it off and those people are making millions of dollars per year. We know the names. I think it’s always a danger. They’ve kind of cornered the market on that. If you try to be hot take guy, it’s going to come off as a fabrication. It’s going to come across as you trying to be someone else. If you try to do a show like Dan LeBatard, there’s only one Dan LeBatard, you’re going to sound like a cheap Dan LeBatard. So be true to yourself and bring the best content every day and I think you’ll be fine. 

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Matt: Is there anything you haven’t done yet in your career that you’re looking forward to doing? 

Nick: I think there’s always challenges. To work at the network and do a national show every day would be a challenge. To drive a station in a Top 10 market that would get behind you, that would be a challenge. I’m not necessarily saying I would jump at these situations if they were put in front of me, but If you’re asking me to give you things that I haven’t done that I feel would be a challenge–I’d say do an every day show nationally, a Top 10 show daily.

Another challenge is right here at Virginia Beach. We are not in the spot we were when I left the first time. Right now we need to be better. The challenge right now is day to day to be the best host that I can. To be the best PD that I can. 

Shoot, I would love to do play by play. Those questions are always difficult. A year from now I could be in a completely different spot personally. As you evolve as a human being, I don’t have kids. If I have a kid in the next year or two, how does that change what I’m looking for? So those are the three things: Virginia Beach-getting us to where we once were, a national show, doing a drive time show in a top ten market those would all be great challenges. 

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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