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Haberman & Middlekauff Outgrew Terrestrial Radio

“The story of their partnership is almost hard to believe. It’s a testament to hard work, loyalty, and a little old fashioned entrepreneurial spirit.”

Jack Ferris

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Glorious.

That’s the adjective John Middlekauff doesn’t hesitate to use when describing Guy Haberman’s hair.  

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He makes the assertion unapologetically – how Middlekauff makes all of his points.  In his defense, he’s right on the money when it comes to Haberman’s salad.  His hair is objectively glorious.  

Catch Guy outside of work and he’s more than likely wearing a hat.  It almost feels like a merciful act – his attempt to keep those around him from feeling inferior about their own fading follicles.  

“It’s definitely one of the top insecurities a man faces,” declares Middlekauff.  John chose to lay down his arms in his own battle with his receding hairline nearly a decade ago – but that doesn’t keep him from admiring his best friend’s impressive mane.  In doing so, he showcases the best form of self-confidence.  

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It’s superficial – but in so many ways comparing hair is a perfect metaphor for Haberman and Middlekauff.  They’re different, almost opposite.  Guy – your classic polished broadcaster, able to call a game or drive a 3 hour talk show at the drop of a hat.  John – your opinionated take master, unafraid of sharing his opinions on any subject with little to no regard of how it might make you feel.  

The story of their partnership is almost hard to believe.  It’s a testament to hard work, loyalty, and a little old fashioned entrepreneurial spirit. 

It’s also a case study of the industry’s not-so-slow evolution from terrestrial radio into the digital age.  

It started as Davis High School classmates in the early 2000s.  

For Guy, it was always sports broadcasting.  He made his television debut with Davis Community Television calling Friday night football games on a 5 day tape delay.  After graduating in 2003, Haberman made the trip down Highway 99 to attend Fresno State and continue pursuing a media career.

For John, the future was never that clear.  He knew he loved sports, but wasn’t sure exactly the capacity in which he wanted to carve out a spot for himself.  He wound up at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo where he wrote a weekly article for the school paper.  That first experience on the media side of the sports world was put on hold after a brief summer internship with the Kansas City Chiefs.  The internship was on the business side of things, but it allowed Middlekauff to realize he wanted to work for a football team.  

With a plan in place, John’s next stop was Fresno State as a GA for the Bulldogs.  Fortunately, his High School buddy Guy was still in the Valley and had a spare bedroom.

By this time, Guy was making a name for himself on the Fresno sports scene.  In the summer of 2007, he started calling home games for the Fresno Grizzlies – the Giants’ AAA affiliate.  He was also the away voice of the Central Valley Coyotes, Fresno’s AF2 franchise.

Ask Haberman for a minor league Arena Football story in 2019 and he doesn’t know where to begin.  He looks overwhelmed with memories as he begins to sort “appropriate” from the rest of the tales in his mind.

“Lubbock,” he finally offers.

“I always use this as an example of the best press box I’ve ever been in too.  The arena was in a civic center – it looked like a library from the parking lot.  Then I walk in to see the field which was,” he pauses, always careful with his words.  

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“Let’s just say not ‘regulation.’  Then we find the press box which is literally, I’m not kidding you, a Tuff Shed – like my grandpa used to have.  There was a hole sawed into the side, and that’s where we went to work.”

When Guy wasn’t calling Coyotes games in midmarket cities across the western United States, he was contributing daily to 940 ESPN Fresno.  He began working for the station as an upperclassman doing updates and rolling the breaks during the syndicated shows.  With the trust of his superiors, he began filling in where he was needed before becoming an everyday personality.  He didn’t know it at the time, but his presence had caught the attention of some decision makers just up the road in San Francisco.  

“Guy had a natural likability on the air,” remembers Jason Barrett, Program Director for the newly launched 95.7 The Game.

“He was smart, informed, relatable and sounded like he loved doing what he was doing.”

It was October of 2012 when Haberman was invited up to the city to audition for the station’s 7-10 pm slot.  Fortunately for the Fresno Grizzlies expert, the Giants were in the middle of a World Series run.

“It worked out perfect for me, I was super dialed into the roster.  I had plenty to talk about,” Guy recalls.  

A couple months later, the job was his.  

By this time, Middlekauff was also in a major market – working as a scout for the Philadelphia Eagles.  John was able to land the position on Andy Reid’s staff after just two years in Fresno.  The jump from the Western Athletic Conference (at the time) to the National Football League is quite a career leap, but it’s one John admits didn’t exactly satisfy his ambition.

“I wasn’t one of those guys who grew up dreaming of having a job in the NFL,” he explains.

“I never set out to work on an NFL staff, but it worked out that way.  It was a great opportunity, but it just never hit me as being a big deal.”

John’s honesty is refreshing.  It sets him apart.  It’s also gotten him in trouble with his bosses a time or two.  One example came during a pre-draft meeting with brand new head coach Chip Kelly in early 2013.

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“We had a disagreement about a player,” describes Middlekauff, his smile almost audible through the phone.

“Pretty soon after that I was replaced as the Eagles’ West Coast Scout.”

Getting fired is common in professional sports – but John’s response to being dismissed was not.  He decided he didn’t want to chase another position with another team.  He didn’t want to uproot his life and move to another city for 3-4 years before doing it all again.  Rather, he wanted to put his experience in the NFL to work in the media.

As a West Coast Scout, John was operating out of San Francisco – and his transition to the media world began just as his high school friend and Fresno roommate was starting his nightly show on 95.7.

Naturally, Guy asked John for a little football analysis.  Once again, a Davis local caught the attention of the big boss.

“I remember being on my couch hearing John do a hit in studio on Guy’s night show,” details Barrett, roughly 6 years later.

“It was really good.  I sent Guy a text and asked ‘who is this guy and where’d he come from?’  Soon enough I signed him as a football season contributor.”

Several months later, Haberman & Middlekauff launched in the station’s 10 am to Noon slot.  Two high school friends in their late 20s in a top 5 market.  It was a challenge they were happy to take on.  

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Radio was a new venture for John, but that didn’t affect the show’s success.  Guy doesn’t remember the inexperience ever being an issue.

“John’s smart, and he’s a quick learner.  He picked up on everything we were trying to do in no time.”  

“Guy’s pragmatic, he’s level headed and he’s a high level broadcaster.  He was able to drive no problem.  I can just talk,” shrugs John in true Middlekauff fashion.

However it worked – there was no denying the popularity of the show. 

By the summer of 2014, Haberman & Middlekauff were quickly becoming recognizable Bay Area personalities outside of their midday window.  Among other gigs, Guy was hosting A’s pre/post game shows while John was making appearances on nearby Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area.  Opportunities for the young duo were presenting themselves and both were taking advantage.  Two careers on a traditional upward trajectory.

Unfortunately – turnover is also a far too common tradition in the sports media world.

Jason Barrett, the architect of Haberman & Middlekauff, left The Game in 2015.  In any industry, especially sports radio, new management can make incumbent employees uneasy.  A byproduct of new leadership oftentimes results in the loss of jobs.  The Game’s new Program Director had a different vision for the station – one that didn’t include Middlekauff.

It was late in the summer of 2016 when Guy was told his partner and the Best Man at his wedding would no longer be working for 95.7 – but that his job was safe.  With just a couple months left on his contract, Haberman opted to walk away from the station.  

It was an incredible act of loyalty by a man Middlekauff describes as, “maybe the most genuine human being on the planet.”  It also freed the two up to explore the digital space.

“The two times I’ve been fired in my life turned out to be the best things that could’ve happened to me,” proclaims John in a tone that makes it hard to disagree with.

By the Fall of 2016, both Guy and John could see the industry shifting.  Their fanbase wasn’t the 50+ crowd listening to AM radio on their way into work – their audience consumed sports talk through their phones.  Combine that with a well-established Haberman & Middlekauff following and the decision to launch a podcast was simple.  

Three years later, the show pushes 100K listens a week with aspirations to reach 200K in 2020.  Outside of the inherent creative freedom that comes with running their own show, podcasting has proved advantageous for both partners.

“In traditional radio, the clock is king – it dictates everything you do and how you do it, it takes discipline.  Time doesn’t exist on podcasts, you’re able to discuss anything,” points out Haberman.

For John, an entrepreneurial spirit has awoken.

He describes what a difference it makes to have direct relationships with sponsors.  Having the ability to handpick sponsors, partners that fit with himself and Guy.  After years of just focusing on day to day content, they’re finally able to see and run the big picture – and it’s hard to imagine them ever going back.

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A passion for sports isn’t what makes Haberman and Middlekauff appealing.  Listen to an episode and you’re quick to understand that sports is just one of a number of interests the two have.  Spend twenty minutes with Guy and he’ll start breaking down his all-time favorite Letterman interviews and the current state of late night television as it compares to the Carson days.  The same amount of time with John will result in a conversation about the future of streaming entertainment and what will become of brick and mortar theaters.  Is there a commercial real estate boom on the horizon?

The 10 to noon time slot on 95.7 was good to them, but like an encroaching hard network out, there was always an expiration date. Guy and John outgrew terrestrial radio.  Like anything in 2019, sports fans want their sports talk on demand – and the two Davis High Blue Devils have plenty to offer.  

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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