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John Minko Left WFAN Before Anyone Made Him

“I had the choice to stay. If I wanted to stay, that would have been fine with them, but on the other hand, I knew I was likely going to be there for less than a year and if I stayed, somebody else would have lost a job.”

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A select group of people have been with WFAN since the beginning, witnessing the birth of sports talk radio and all that it’s become. Update anchor John Minko was part of that group from 1987 until earlier this month.

WFAN's John Minko 'Probably' Retiring Within Next Year | WFAN ...

No one would draw it up this way, leaving unceremoniously as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the industry, but Minko departed honorably. Knowing he was planning to retire within the next 12 months, he accepted a buyout from Entercom, hoping to save at least one job for a younger broadcaster.

Considering the buyout “the right thing to do,” is just part of why Minko is so respected by his peers and loved by New York’s sports radio audience. Not many update anchors can generate the fanbase Minko did, and I’m not sure he even realized just how popular he is.

He never used the microphone to broaden his own stature, he just reported the news. But Minko is kind, genuine, a sports radio original and he’s continued to build an impressive broadcasting career.  

Brandon Contes: Before the coronavirus pandemic started, did you have a date in mind that was going to be your last at WFAN?

John Minko: Not a specific date, but I knew it was likely within a year. April of 2021 at the very latest – depending on what side of the bed I woke up on.

BC: And the company came to you with the buyout offer?

JM: Yes

BC: Were you surprised?

JM: [Pause] I was surprised, but I could sense with the way media companies are making cutbacks, that I could be one of those.

BC: Was there a discussion? Could you have declined the buyout?

JM: I had the choice to stay. If I wanted to stay, that would have been fine with them, but on the other hand, I knew I was likely going to be there for less than a year and if I stayed, somebody else would have lost a job. Having only 48 hours was not the greatest timing in the world, but it was the right thing to do.

BC: It’s surreal how quickly everything transpired, from the coronavirus starting to become a concern in the United States, to sports shutting down March 11, and then three weeks later Entercom is making cuts. It only took three weeks for sports media companies all around the country to make significant changes. Were you surprised they couldn’t withstand more than that?

JM: Yeah, and it’s amazing, I only did updates in my basement for two weeks and I also do St. John’s basketball play by play. I did the last half of the St. John’s Big East tournament game at the Garden with barely anyone in the building. It was basically the last college basketball game in the country. That was an eerie experience.

Big East Tournament canceled at halftime of St. John's-Creighton

BC: Were you surprised that game even started? Other conferences canceled their tournaments and it was inevitable the Big East was going to do the same, but here you and Brandon Tierney are at MSG getting set to call that game with no fans.

JM: The coaches found out with five or six minutes to go in the first half that they were going to call the game at halftime. I found that out after the fact, but during the game I noticed coaches weren’t going after the officials. There weren’t many whistles and with about five minutes left in the first half, both teams emptied their benches. For Creighton, there were players I had little to no information about, one player logged two or three minutes the entire Big East regular season. I think the coaches did that because they knew the game wasn’t going to count.

BC: And you’ll still be calling St. John’s games next year as well?

JM: They’ll have to cart me out of Carnesecca Arena. To me, that’s a lifetime job, as long as they want me and I can continue to do it, I’ll be there. Next year will be my 50th year in broadcasting and the 12th game of the season will be number 400 for me with St. John’s.

BC: Is there any concern about being back in a crowded arena?

JM: That’s a long way off. When the day comes, I’m confident they’re not going to rush into anything and will take the proper precautions.

BC: As an update anchor, you became an icon in New York sports radio, are you surprised you were able to do that just by giving sports scores a few times an hour?

JM: The only icon is (WFAN Executive Producer) Dov Kramer [Laughs]. One thing you have to remember, I started at the beginning of FAN, so I’m one of the originals. And the premise of FAN in 1987 was to put Sports Phone out of business. The talk show hosts – Jim Lampley, Greg Gumbel, Pete Franklin and Bill Mazer – the hosts were there to complement the update people because we did updates every 15 minutes. Four times an hour, at least two minutes each, add commercials, and the talk show hosts didn’t do a heck of a lot. It’s amazing.

BC: Do you think updates are still an important part of sports radio? Because now sports radio is more about opinion and unique content than it is giving scores.

JM: And that’s what it should be. But radio is still about immediacy, so I do think it’s important to have those updates. Back in 1987, scores were often two innings late, for a football game, you wouldn’t get a final score until maybe a half hour after the game was over.

BC: What does it tell you about the industry, that you had such an impact without much ad-libbing, you weren’t yelling or saying anything outrageous to get a reaction.

JM: It’s like being a utility player on a real good baseball team. You can’t lose the fact that I was on with Imus, I was on with Mike and the Mad Dog and then just Mike all those years. I worked for the greatest sports radio station in the country and that’s where whatever notoriety I have comes from. It doesn’t come from me, it comes from me being associated with that building – 23 years in Astoria and the last 10 on Hudson Street.

BC: I remember on the old WFAN website, Evan Roberts was trying to create some new content; he posted video from road trips, took pictures of Dov’s lunch and created the Minko Minute!

JM: [Laughs] I vaguely remember that.

BC: You were fielding questions from listeners and giving love advice!

JM: We always had fun in the newsroom, that’s the way it was for 32 and a half years. You know this, we joked and teased each other, that’s the relationship that we all had.

BC: How much are you going to miss that comradery?

BC: Do you have a best friend you made over the years at WFAN?

JM: They were all my best friends. I know that that’s the political thing to say, but it’s true. I love every single one of them.

BC: You’ll stay in touch with many of them?

JM: Absolutely. Since I have plenty of time on my hands, I’ll be working to get phone numbers together because I’m not the most organized person in creation. Especially with this new media, you’ve seen me, I’m technologically challenged. But I was brought up in the old days – when tape editing was actually splicing and reeling tape with a razor blade. Back in the day, it would take the producer 20 minutes to make one of the wraps that we’d run for the top of the hour. Now someone like Eddie Scozzare can do it in 20 seconds. Those were the days and I’ll never forget them.

BC: Did you go to school for communications? What was your goal when you were younger?

JM: The goal was to be a play by play announcer.

My father was a television technician back when there was a need for such a thing. He went to fix one in Norwood, NJ for an NBC executive. I wanted to do this for a long time and thought about Syracuse because it’s what I knew. The person from NBC said don’t go to Syracuse, go to Butler. Butler had a radio and television department, so you didn’t major in communications, you majored in radio and television.

Butler University Plans $100M Science Complex For Campus

The Butler student station, which they sold several years ago, was 37,000 watts on the FM dial, all run by students. There was no NPR, we didn’t sell commercials, but we were actually on the commercial band. The general manager and assistant general manager were our teachers, but the program and sports directors were students. It was like working at a regular radio station.

BC: And years later, it brought you to the first sports radio station in the country. I know you were never with him full-time, but how was working with Imus?

JM: I got along with him because I recognized that he was Imus. Imus is the smartest person in radio that I’ve ever met. The first day Imus was going to be on WFAN, I got a phone call from our program director Mark Mason at 3am. He says, ‘Sue Guzman is sick, can you come in and write the news for Charles McCord?’

I said, ‘You want me to come in and just write the news?’

I drove into Astoria and went to Charles, a legend and a professional newsman. I said, ‘You don’t know me, I’m in for Sue Guzman, I’ve never done this before, but I’ll do the best I can.’ [Laughs] He was very understanding.

But I would fill in and do updates for Imus and one time I went a little long. After the show, Imus goes over to me by the water cooler. He would never say ‘we need to talk,’ but I knew he wasn’t happy with me. All he said was, ‘Tell. The People. What they need to know. And shut up.’

I built a career on those words. That’s why I’m brief, I tell you what you need to know and that’s it. If the story is big enough, the host will take care of it. Why do they need to hear me do it again?

BC: Did you miss going to the old studios in Astoria?

JM: We loved Astoria and words cannot describe it. The only phrase I have about Astoria is that we worked at the only place where you had to walk upstairs to go to the basement. The basement was upstairs! In the early ‘90s, we had a gigantic storm with a lot of flooding. And how did our studios in Astoria come out of it? Upstairs was flooded, we were fine.

WFAN's John Minko retiring after nearly 33 years at the popular ...

The last week we were there, I brought a camera in and took a bunch of pictures. And every July 1st, I would bring them back into work. There are no people in any of them, they’re all pictures of the facility, the studio, the newsroom, the ceiling where the sewage leaked. I actually needed an umbrella in the newsroom to type my update that day! But I have these so when people ask me about it and say, ‘you’re exaggerating,’ I show them the pictures and say, no I’m not!

BC: Did you have a favorite day at WFAN?

JM: Any day they kept putting me on-air was a good day. Remember, I went through the days when we weren’t doing well. The first year of the radio station was a mess. Everybody was wondering if we’d be there the next day and luckily, I made it quite a few days. But if you wanted to look at one day that I think is significant in FAN history, it’s our first anniversary. Because there are a lot of people who never thought we would make it through that year.

BC: Did you think you were going to make it the first year?

JM: I didn’t know what to think, I was in a fog the first year. I knew we weren’t doing well. We had a lot of commercials, but I don’t know if they paid much money. I had no idea whether it was going to make it or not, but it did. And it did because of Imus. He gave us ratings and revenue and that revenue gave us the ability to let others develop and that’s when Mike and the Mad Dog emerged.

BC: Was it a stranger day at WFAN when Imus was fired, when Russo or Francesa left? Or the day Carton was arrested?

JM: Imus. And remember, I was just a fill in guy for him. The last day, I went in his office and he had his head down and I said, ‘is it okay if I tell you I’m going to miss you?’ He didn’t move his head at first, then it slowly came up and he actually shook hands with me. The only time he ever shook hands with me. And that was the last time I saw him in person.

BC: How was your relationship working with Mike and Chris?

JM: I worked the entire time with Mike. And I think Mike and Dog were 19 years, but we always got along. I recognized, unlike the beginning of the radio station, that it was now about the show, it was not about the update person. I stayed in the background, I never tried to interfere. Who the heck am I? I’m just an accessory and that’s the way I went about it all those years.

BC: I think you sell yourself a little short by saying you were an accessory. I’m sure in the past few weeks you’ve seen how beloved you are and you became such a popular personality even though you weren’t a host. It’s a testament to you, that you could generate a connection with listeners to become more than an accessory.

JM: Thank you. You grow up and you see people leave and retire, but you never imagine that someday it’ll be you.

BC: So what are your plans now that you have more free time once we’re all able to leave our homes again?

JM: First of all, I love doing St. John’s games and all of these years, I needed to use vacation days for those. Now St. John’s becomes the primary focus and I’m extremely happy about that. I would love to do play-by-play for some major college football games, for Westwood One, ESPN Radio or Sports USA. The hard part is I’ve never had an agent. Whether it be play-by-play for St. Johns, when I called Army football, I did some Knicks and Nets – I got all of those jobs on my own.

John Minko (@JMinkoWFAN) | Twitter

BC: When things eventually settle and brands begin to hire again, could you see yourself doing updates part-time for WFAN?

JM: I have no idea. You can’t predict what the business will look like. I was very fortunate and I also did afternoons at 1010 WINS. I not only worked for one Marconi station, I worked for two at the same time! You can’t mention FAN without 1010 WINS, they come together. To work with them, professional news people, it was a big thrill.

BSM Writers

On Sunday Night, Everyone Is Watching Karl Ravech

“What I like about my story over the years at ESPN from 1993 to the present is that it’s constantly changing and evolving.”

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Karl Ravech injured his knee while playing soccer at Needham High School and needed to make a decision on what he wanted to pursue as a career. Always having an interest in both sports and writing, Ravech made the decision to attend Ithaca College as a communications major. Throughout his time in upstate New York, he worked hard to take the next step in his career by quickly immersing himself in the professional world, serving as the sports director at NewsCenter 7 in Ithaca, N.Y. and a freelance producer for WCVB-TV in Boston, Mass. – all while attending classes.

Upon his graduation, Ravech attended SUNY Binghamton to earn his master’s degree in management and leadership. Just as he had done previously, Ravech worked in the professional world as he pursued this degree, now as a sports anchor and reporter at WBNG-TV in Binghamton, N.Y.. In 1990, Ravech earned his degree and relocated to Harrisburg, Pa. and was nominated for two local Sports Emmy awards for his reporting on baseball and golf.

Ravech was hired as an anchor by ESPN in May 1993 and has been a fixture at the network since, working in a variety of different on-air roles. He is now the primary play-by-play announcer for Sunday Night Baseball, occupying the seat behind the microphone for Major League Baseball’s biggest matchups every week. Getting to this point in his career has been a journey that has required Ravech to consistently adapt and develop, and, in turn, has augmented his versatility.

“What I like about my story over the years at ESPN from 1993 to the present is that it’s constantly changing and evolving,” said Ravech. “I think the fact that it hasn’t stayed stagnant is what’s wonderful, and the Sunday Night Baseball booth is sort of the next iteration in [my] career.”

Ravech began hosting the overnight edition of SportsCenter with Mike Tirico and Craig Kilborn upon his being hired, and became the primary host of Baseball Tonight and postseason baseball studio coverage starting in 1995. After recovering from a heart attack he suffered while playing pickup basketball with colleagues in 1998, Ravech hosted golf coverage for the network as Tiger Woods became the youngest golf pro to ever win a Grand Slam, and also continued his baseball duties.

Starting in 2006, Ravech began his immersion into the broadcast booth when he became a commentator for Little League World Series broadcasts. Each year, he makes the trip to Williamsport, Pa. to call the action on ESPN and ABC showcasing young, talented baseball players while also telling their stories off the field. Additionally, Ravech has served as the voice of the College World Series on ESPN since 2011, calling the championship action each year from the Charles Schwab Field at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.

The style of both of these broadcasts differ from calling a Major League game in that there is more time to delve into the backgrounds of each of the players and tell the unique stories they bring – especially for those participating in the Little League World Series.

“I’d love to be able to bring that same level of joy to a college game or a Major League game, but I think it’s obvious that it’s a little more serious,” said Ravech. “You’re talking about, in the professional ranks, people that are getting paid; and there’s a lot of pressure on the college kids and their fan bases are very passionate.”

Much like a performer, one of the roles of a broadcaster is understanding and catering to their audience; that is, to understand exactly why a person may be watching or listening to a game and what they seek to gain from it. When a broadcaster is able to pull back the curtain and see the game from the perspective of an audience member, it allows them to foster a deeper connection with the audience as a whole and modify the broadcast accordingly.

“The little league crowd that’s on TV is very different than the one that you get for a College World Series game and certainly for a Major League Baseball game,” explained Ravech. “They have baseball in common, but I don’t think that the expectation when you watch the Little League World Series is to dive too deep into Xs and Os… It’s really about why most people came to the game, which is to enjoy it and have fun with it.”

Being aware of the viewing audience has been central to Ravech’s early success as the new primary voice of Sunday Night Baseball, as it differs from the viewers he had previously been communicating with on Monday Night Baseball, a role he took on in 2016. Yes, calling games on Mondays and Wednesdays undoubtedly required ample preparation; however, Ravech’s new gig has required a shift into how he applies his preparation to the broadcast.

“On Sunday night, [everyone is] watching, which means you have got to be as prepared by talking to the players and coaches as you possibly can be because the people who are consuming it know as much about the team as you do,” said Ravech. “It’s not as if we are preparing any differently, but you’re certainly paying a great deal of attention to just the two teams.”

Throughout his time at ESPN, Ravech had worked extensively with Eduardo Pérez: a former Major League player and experienced analyst. Whether it was in the booth at the College World Series or calling Korean Baseball Organization games remotely in the middle of the night during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the duo has developed a synergy on the broadcast.

Pérez is able to extrapolate unique storylines during the game because of his profound ability to communicate with those around him.

“As we walk through the stadiums, he is talking to people who are doing everything in the building – whether they are operating an elevator; whether they are the general manager; whether they are a player; whether they are welcoming people into a clubhouse,” Ravech said of Pérez. “He knows everyone, and those connections make him so valuable.”

Someone Ravech has been familiar with over his years living in New England is former all-star pitcher and YES Network analyst David Cone, albeit from covering him as a player and watching him on television. Ravech called ESPN being able to land Cone this offseason “the last piece” to assembling the new booth, all while Cone is still slated to call 50 Yankees games on the YES Network this season. Prior to the 2022 campaign, Ravech and Cone had not worked together; yet just a few games into his new job, Ravech has been impressed with his colleague.

“He recognizes that in order to communicate properly we, collectively, have to understand what it is that we’re talking about – so you’re not just throwing terms out there that may sound good but you don’t know what they are – and he’s very aware of that,” Ravech said of Cone. “He’s the complete package when it comes to an analyst in 2022.”

Along with being the voice of Sunday Night Baseball, the College World Series and the Little League World Series on ESPN, Ravech has also served as the voice of the SEC basketball tournament since 2017. Being on the call for high-stakes matchups, such as the Kentucky Wildcats against the Tennessee Volunteers, or on Sunday Night Baseball, the New York Yankees against the Boston Red Sox, is an exciting part of Ravech’s job throughout the calendar year. But no matter the sport; no matter the league; no matter the game – there is a consistent aspect of Ravech’s vernacular he is cognizant of every time he steps behind the microphone.

“I think my style, whether it’s in the studio or in the booth, is to really engage with the analyst,” said Ravech. “That part of it is, I think, a common trait through all of my broadcasts and I want to continue to do that.”

Having the ability to engage in genuine conversation with his analyst comes in actively listening and molding the conversation to fit most optimally with what is being discussed, even if it means departing from what he had originally planned. In this sense, he sets his partners up for success during the broadcast, part of the reason why he has been adept in working with different personalities in varying atmospheres across different sports.

“If you listen, then your follow-up questions will not necessarily be ones that you have written down already,” explained Ravech. “[Your analyst] has opened up this door, and you better be able to be willing to walk through it with them because they’re trying to say something and you’ve got to get it out of them.”

While Ravech, Cone and Pérez call Sunday Night Baseball games in the style of a traditional broadcast, there are several elements of the entire viewing presentation that demonstrate ESPN’s willingness to adapt to changing media consumption trends. One of these elements includes the addition of the new KayRod Cast, which became the most viewed alternate broadcast during a Major League Baseball game during the season debut of Sunday Night Baseball. The broadcast, featuring New York Yankees play-by-play announcer and 98.7 ESPN New York host Michael Kay, along with all-star third baseman Álex Rodríguez, diverts from the traditional style of broadcast through longform conversation, special guests and commodifying the act of watching a live baseball game.

“Baseball to me is an ideal platform for things like the KayRod Cast,” Ravech opined. “I think David, Eduardo and I spend a great deal of time focused on the game, but I think there are times where you can veer off and get into some entertaining conversations, and I certainly know that the guests that are on the KayRod Cast offer opportunities like that as well. Baseball lends itself to things like ESPN is doing right now, and I’m grateful to be in one of those booths.”

One of the elements within the traditional Sunday Night Baseball broadcast that lends to the commodification of the sport is putting mics on players. It’s a new element in Sunday Night Baseball this year. Fans have been given a firsthand perspective, essentially divulging the in-game mindset of a Major League player. Occasionally though, the action finds the interviewee mid-sentence during a game, as it did Francisco Lindor recently – and those are moments where all the broadcasters can do is watch and hope for the best.

“You’re kind of holding your breath that he makes the play instead of his being, in some way, distracted by the conversation,” said Ravech. “We’re incredibly sensitive to that. We try to, for the most part, stay out of when they are at the plate; there’s no talking to them. But in the field, they understand that this is an opportunity for them to share with the consumer at home a real on-the-field view that people would not otherwise get.”

Appearing as the featured player on Sunday Night Baseball garners plenty of significance and gives players the opportunity to connect with their fans and the larger viewing public. Having the chance to share your perspectives on national television during a game has become a badge of honor, and players from each week’s matchup have nominated a player for the next week’s game to wear the microphone. So far, ESPN is batting 1.000 in that department, as everyone who has been nominated has appeared on the following week’s broadcast.

“Joey Votto was very different than Ozzie Albies [who] was very different than Kike Hernandez and Francisco Lindor,” explained Ravech. “The list is great, and every one of them has provided unique looks into the game and their positions and their communication styles and skills while they’re on the field and in the dugout.”

Occasionally, a player will opt to stay on the microphone for an extended period of time as Phillies outfielder and reigning National League Most Valuable Player award-winner Bryce Harper did a few weeks ago. Harper was the designated hitter for that night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers and stayed on the microphone for four innings of the contest.

“It was incredible,” recalled Ravech. “We got a chance to talk to one of the biggest names in the game for four innings; he almost became a quasi-analyst with us. It was really neat, and I think the viewer benefits from it.”

As Ravech’s career continues, he seeks to improve in all areas of his work and try new things if the opportunities arise within ESPN’s broadcast portfolio. While there is always the chance of opportunities presenting themselves at different media outlets, Ravech affirms that since the network continues to innovate and remains the leader in coverage, he wishes to continue working with them.

“I think [ESPN] is going to continue to evolve for sure,” said Ravech, “and I feel very comfortable about the direction they’re going to go in and continue to ride along with them.”

Any additional career endeavors that Ravech desires to pursue will be because he had actively pursued them, and he is excited to discover what lies ahead in his career.

“I’m not one of those who looks at it and says, ‘I want to call a World Series. I want to call a Final Four,’” said Ravech. “If that all happens, then there will be a reason. I’ll have sought those out, as opposed to the way this has happened – which is you kind of just keep moving around and finding your lane like water does down the sidewalk. That’s the beauty of it; it’s organic – there’s nothing linear about it.”

Ravech has worked with a wide array of broadcasters throughout his career at ESPN, including Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Stuart Scott and Chris Fowler, and has spoken to aspiring broadcasters on numerous occasions as well. One broadcaster he has had the opportunity to mentor firsthand is his son Sam, who has grown to become a play-by-play announcer on the SEC Network, ACC Network and ESPN, making his debut for the latter at 22 years of age.

Through mentoring his son and other young broadcasters, Ravech has learned that having authenticity in the on-air work that you do allows for one’s true personality to shine through no matter the sport being played or medium on which the broadcast is being disseminated.

“I always encourage Sam to be himself. Don’t try to be somebody else; don’t use somebody else’s voice; don’t try to speak the way they do,” said Ravech. “Be you, and hopefully over the course of a long time, people will come to respect you [and] your work.”

Sometimes, getting opportunities in sports media comes in being uncomfortable; that is, broadcasting or talking about a sport with which you may be unfamiliar or having to relocate outside your home market to accept a job. By working to transform feelings of discomfort into those evoking contentment, sports media professionals can successfully learn to grapple with change, and be prepared for it the next time it happens.

ESPN saw potential in Karl Ravech in his early years at the network and has been open and receptive to giving him opportunities both inside and outside of baseball as time goes on. In order for Ravech to grow as a broadcaster though, he had to work to enhance his craft – but none of that would have been possible had it not been for Ravech being open to and embracing change.

“Be malleable. Be flexible,” said Ravech. “That’s what I would tell anyone, whether it’s my son Sam who I’m incredibly proud of, or anybody getting into it. You just never know which way this career is going to go and the things it’s going to expose you to. You just don’t.”

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BSM Writers

The Big Ten Could Change The College Football TV Landscape Forever

“It appears the Big Ten could be the first major conference to embrace major streaming services carrying its top games.”

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The college football world, and the college football Twitterverse, was lit the night of September 22, 2018. The fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners were being taken to the wire by Army, a team that still runs the triple option in an age when offenses routinely throw the ball 40+ times per game. The National Championship picture was already going to be blurred a bit and we’d barely even started the season. We all left our games of choice in search of the end of regulation and the eventual overtime only to find a relic of days gone by, the game was only available on a pay-per-view telecast.

In the days before massive conference media deals, the pay-per-view games were a regular occurrence, normally reserved for the Southwest Louisianas and Pacifics of the world visiting town. For you kids, Southwest Louisiana is now The University of Louisiana and Pacific once played football, sort of. Not even regional telecasts had an interest in those games, so you called your local cable company and shelled out $39.95 to watch a poorly produced telecast of an absolute bludgeoning. 

Incidentally, one other way you could watch these pay-per-view games was if you had access to one of those C band satellites. In my youth, it was a sure sign of wealth. It looked like your neighbor had raided a NASA facility and stolen a satellite at gunpoint. You couldn’t hide them, either. They would sit out in the middle of your lawn like you were trying to communicate with beings from a neighboring solar system.

My friend had one of these satellites and we spent hours watching random things like Spanish language shopping networks. Where else can you buy an authentic matador cape for four easy payments of $39.95? We also found news analysts awaiting their live shot window while applying one more coat of make-up or adjusting their toupee. It occasionally kept us out of real trouble, even if it wasn’t the height of entertainment. But, I digress.

The concept of the stand-alone pay-per-view game seemed to have been dealt a near fatal blow with the massive ESPN and FOX deals with the major conferences. It was finished off and buried with the launches of the conference television networks. Technically, almost all the games are “pay-per-view” in that I pay my provider each month for the sports channels but I no longer have to find a channel I otherwise never use and watch color bars in anticipation of an announcer I never see trying to sell me on the importance of a game in which the home team is favored by five touchdowns.

The imminent Big Ten Conference media deal is going to be a big one but, according to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, it may include something many college fans have never encountered, major games only available on streaming.

Warren told ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg that Amazon and Apple will be potential major players in the future deal. It would be a departure from the normal business plan for the two streaming giants to settle for games featuring a directional school playing a Big Ten power. That means the real possibility of a meaningful Top 25 Big Ten game being available only on a streaming service.

The NFL is already in this bed with Amazon. Notre Dame has also dipped their toe in this pool with a 2021 game exclusively available on Peacock. There has yet to be a conference go all-in to this degree. It appears the Big Ten could be the first major conference to embrace major streaming services carrying its top games. Somebody had to be first, as the Big Ten was with the Big Ten Network, and you can be sure every conference commissioner is watching.

There is a certain comfort to finding games in the way you always have. I imagine dialing up Amazon Prime for the big Wisconsin at Penn State game will have the same feel as dialing up the random channel for the old school pay-per-view.

My family is uniquely prepared for this as we have, apparently, chosen to purchase our streaming services like we are buying them in a Sam’s Club family pack. The Amazon deliveryman visits my house so often I asked my accountant if I could declare him a dependent on my taxes. The Big Ten won’t be sneaking a streaming game past me!

This will come with a certain amount of criticism, no doubt. Many fans pay for their satellite or cable packages primarily for their favorite team’s games. Now, my conference of choice will ask me to add a streaming service on top of this. It’s a smart move by Amazon or Apple. Big Ten fans will sign right up and promptly forget to cancel as soon as the season ends and the $14.95 will keep being drafted whether you watch Severance, or not. My wife and I gave the first Severance episode 15 minutes and moved on to Bridgerton. For your information, I only watch Bridgerton for the well-written dialogue.

This feels like a seminal moment in sports TV, not unlike the 1995 Duke-North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham. That was the night ESPN chose to televise college basketball’s most-watched rivalry on ESPN2. It forced cable providers, and viewers, to say: “Wait, big games will be there too? It’s not just Jim Rome and Jim Everette fighting?” In the length of a two-overtime classic Tar Heel win, ESPN2 became a necessity for any true sports fan. 

Now, you’ll have to pry the Michigan-Ohio State game out of FOX’s cold dead hands but, if Amazon or Apple wants this to work, they’ll pay the money that would put any other Big Ten game in play for them. That is the only way you convince the average fan to pay more for the services they don’t already have. Money obviously isn’t an issue for Amazon and Apple, Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook could realistically be under the impression they are actually buying the physical states that make up the Big Ten.

If Amazon is the winning bid, their football profile is off to an impressive start. The Sports Business Journal reports they are among the leaders for NFL Sunday Ticket to pair with their current national games, a deal believed to be worth $2 billion per year. Add major Big Ten games to the mix and it won’t be long until other conferences are interested in joining the platform.

For Apple, it would be a new sporting venture to pair with their national MLB games, giving them an extended profile. Not shockingly, they are also in the mix for the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package according to Sports Business Journal. All of this means I could eventually watch one of these games on my watch. We truly are living in the time of The Jetsons.

If not now, soon. Amazon and Apple don’t just go away. Clearly, they are interested in being major players in sports streaming and have the money necessary to get a seat at that table. If not the Big Ten, another college conference will be on board, but make no mistake – the Big Ten would be a major pelt on the wall for either company. Speaking of walls, this news may mean it is time to add another TV to yours. Amazon has some great deals right now.

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BSM Writers

Peacock’s ‘MLB Sunday Leadoff’ Hits Baseball Broadcast Sweet Spot

‘MLB Sunday Leadoff’ feels like meeting up with an old friend while ‘Friday Night Baseball’ has been more like going on a blind date.

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@JasonBenetti on Twitter

Sunday was Mother’s Day, so it probably already felt like a special day for many families and households. But for baseball fans, the late morning felt particularly warm and festive with the debut of MLB Sunday Leadoff on Peacock and NBC Sports.

Breakfast and baseball? (Maybe “brunch and baseball” is more appropriate with the pregame show beginning at 11 a.m. ET, followed by the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox playing at 11:30 a.m.) Who might have guessed the two would blend together so wonderfully until Peacock showed us?

Yes, sports fans have woken up with tennis, soccer, the Olympics, and the NFL in London for many years now. But as the Sunday Leadoff broadcasters mentioned a few times, a morning start time felt like getting up early to play a Little League game, reviving a happy memory for so many fans.

And though baseball has endured criticism for its slow pace and idyllic vibe in recent years, those aspects seemed to fit with a Sunday morning — when some might be waking up, returning from quiet early errands, or coming home from church — just perfectly.

The Peacock broadcast certainly embraced comfortable nostalgia with its presentation, with Vin Scully narrating the introduction, reminding (or informing) viewers that NBC was once the home for Major League Baseball for more than 40 years with Saturday’s Game of the Week. Baseball returned to the network for six years, from 1994 to 2000, but had been elsewhere for 22 years.

To younger generations, that may not matter. Baseball has been readily available on Fox, ESPN, TBS, and more importantly, regional sports networks. But NBC always felt like home for the sport with voices including Scully, Mel Allen, Curt Gowdy, Dick Enberg, Joe Garagiola, Tony Kubek, and Bob Costas. Even on a streaming platform, with Sunday’s debut simulcast on a linear broadcast network, baseball being back on NBC (or an NBC product) just felt right.

However, promoting the game’s past and tradition isn’t the best way to appeal to younger fans. MLB Sunday Leadoff seemed entirely aware of that, bringing an energy and excitement to its presentation that made baseball feel vital. Host Ahmad Fareed and analyst Nick Swisher made the broadcast feel like an event, informing viewers of the White Sox and Red Sox and which players were worth watching.

Bringing on popular online baseball personalities like Rob Friedman (aka @PitchingNinja on Twitter) to break down the starting pitching match-up between Chicago’s Dallas Keuchel and Boston’s Tanner Houck was also a nice touch.

A highlights package of Saturday night’s action opened its arms to fans of all ages. Fareed and Swisher narrated the action enthusiastically, making the footage feel as if it had to be seen. (Swisher may have been too enthusiastic for 11:30 in the morning — 8:30 a.m. on the West Coast — but those familiar with him shouldn’t be surprised that he came across as very caffeinated. He’s a high-energy dude.)

Even better, the theme from This Week in Baseball played with the highlights. More specifically, the theme song is titled “Gathering Crowds,” composed by John Scott, and played over the closing credits of the show with a montage of baseball action. Want to get an older baseball fan excited? Play that theme song.

The actual game broadcast was smooth as well. Those who didn’t know otherwise might guess that play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti and analysts Steve Stone and Kevin Youkilis have often called games together. They sounded comfortable with each other in a three-man booth setup that doesn’t always work.

Of course, Benetti and Stone work together on NBC Sports Chicago’s White Sox broadcasts so there was obviously familiarity there. With the plan for Benetti to work with rotating analysts associated with the two teams playing each Sunday, it was a fortunate circumstance to have Stone in the booth. That made a more welcoming environment for Youkilis, who’s new to broadcasting this season on NESN’s Red Sox coverage.

Benetti certainly helped with making Youkilis comfortable, asking him questions about playing at Fenway Park (as a batter and fielder), his approach to hitting, and how he strategized against opposing pitchers. That shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering how many different analysts Benetti works with while calling basketball and football. He’s an utter professional who elevates his partners and makes broadcasts fun.

Sunday’s telecast also benefited from some luck. During the fourth inning, Peacock had Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo mic’ed up, a feature that’s worked well on many baseball broadcasts so far this season. Verdugo provided good insight on how he handles playing in front of Fenway Park’s iconic Green Monster, dealing with fly balls, caroms, and throws in a setting unlike any other in MLB.

But the game was delayed when home plate umpire Ron Kulpa was hit by a foul ball off his mask. Kulpa seemed stunned by the impact and was checked by trainers before leaving the game to be examined further. That resulted in a 20-minute delay while first base umpire Marty Foster changed into proper gear to take over behind home plate.

Yet for viewers watching on Peacock or NBC, the stoppage may not have felt so long because the broadcast crew and Verdugo engaged in an extended interview that felt more like a conversation, covering topics ranging from being traded for Mookie Betts, dealing with the wind as an outfielder, and favorite restaurants in Boston. It surely helped that Verdugo has been mic’ed up for broadcasts before and was already comfortable with such a situation. But the timing of it all worked out fortunately for Peacock.

MLB’s new streaming ventures with Peacock and Apple TV+ received heavy attention going into the season. Fans and media weren’t sure of what to expect, while exclusive telecasts meant viewers had to sign up for these services to watch. Of the two thus far, MLB Sunday Leadoff feels like meeting up with an old friend while Friday Night Baseball has been more like going on a blind date.

To be fair, maybe too much was expected of Apple TV+ from the outset. A tech innovator streaming live sports for the first time would surely bring something new to a baseball telecast, maybe even reinvent parts of it. Instead, the game broadcasts — incorporating some who have never called a baseball game before — have felt like everyone involved is still trying to figure out what works best.

Meanwhile, Peacock just produced a solid baseball broadcast, sprinkling in elements that may have been familiar, but also felt fresh. Leaning on nostalgia doesn’t hurt, either. But there’s also less of an uphill climb by not trying so hard to be new and innovative. Comfort is a nice thing, especially on a Sunday morning.

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