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Why Do So Many Broadcasters Sound Like They’re On MLB’s Payroll?

“Speaking as someone that likes baseball fine, but won’t go out of his way to watch it, it sure does seem like the league’s broadcast partners are playing on the hardcore fan base’s distaste for the players and their paychecks.”

Demetri Ravanos

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It looks like we are inching closer to a return for team sports.

By the time you read this, it’s possible that both the NBA and the MLS will have deals done with ESPN that will allow the leagues to house players in hotels at Disney World and play games at the Wide World of Sports athletic complex on property. The NHL is inching closer to finalizing plans for a 24 team tournament played in multiple locations. College football conferences are deciding one-by-one when to bring players back to campuses.

Sports Commentator Selects ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at ...

The NFL…well, the NFL constantly operates in a way that makes you wonder if the owners believe we owe them something. Either the league doesn’t care if players get sick or the owners believe that at least one of them possesses magic powers to cast an impenetrable, sterile bubble around stadiums and practice facilities, because they ain’t changing nothing!

None of these organizations claim their respective plans are perfect. Many of them have used lost revenue as at least as important a factor as health concerns. These plans represent the highest level of acceptable risk each league has arrived at.

Then there is Major League Baseball. The sport that should own the summer is stuck in neutral. No games will start until the Major League Baseball Players Association and the team owners reach an agreement on compensation. Right now, the two sides couldn’t be further apart on how those conversations begin.

Initially, both sides agreed to prorate the players’ salaries. Whatever a player’s annual salary is would be divided by 162. Take that number, multiply it by the number of games that actually get played in 2020, and boom! There’s your paycheck.

The owners reneged on that deal when it became clear there won’t be any fans in the stands in 2020. They now want the players to agree to a revenue split as a way to make up for the money that won’t be coming in. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark says that isn’t good enough.

Both groups have a legitimate gripe. The owners sign these deals based on an assumed ability to create revenue. On the other hand, the terms of the deal are in writing. Both sides agreed and signed. Why should the owners expect to be able to pay players any less than what is in the contract?

You wouldn’t know there is any nuance to this debate if you were to turn on any of several national talk shows or read columns from any of several different websites. The media is deep in the bag for the owners on this issue. So deep, in fact, that I question the sincerity of their arguments.

Take Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo for example. He has been shouting that the players “can go to hell” on both television and radio.

Mad Dog’s point is that the players were aware that MLB owners would want to renegotiate the deal to pay prorated salaries if there were no fans in the stands. This employee of the MLB Network pretends not to know the name of the name of the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner. He pretends that he doesn’t know this is all a negotiation.

Russo is an employee of SiriusXM, who has a major rights deal with Major League Baseball. He is an employee of the MLB Network. Let me take a stab in the dark at what might be behind this level of passion.

We all have a paycheck to protect. Russo has chosen to protect his with meaningless, performative gibberish.

Now look, Russo isn’t alone. Fox Sports Radio’s Ben Maller called Blake Snell, that aforementioned 2018 Cy Young winner, “the king of all douchebags” for saying the risk of contracting Covid-19 isn’t worth playing for less money than what his contract says he is owed. ESPN’s newest addition to its baseball broadcasting team is Chipper Jones. The hall of fame third baseman was a little softer in his critique of Blake Snell.

Chipper Jones acknowledged that any players worried about their safety or exposing their loved ones have legitimate concerns. Still, he was critical of Snell or any other Major League player bringing up money as a reason not to play baseball right now.

“You know, the 30 million people in America that are out of work right now, they don’t want to hear about millionaire baseball players bitching because they’re only going to get 25 or 30 percent of their salary this year,” Jones told The Athletic’s David O’Brien. “They don’t want to hear that. So, I thought (Snell’s comments) could have been worded a little differently. I haven’t heard anything else out of Snell, so I would imagine he probably got a phone call from Tony Clark and/or (commissioner) Rob Manfred saying, ‘Hey, let’s temper what we say and maybe take a different narrative and make it less about money and more about people and people’s health.'”

https://twitter.com/Starting9/status/1260884729877970944

Chipper Jones is going straight to the “hey, think of the working man” angle, which isn’t irrelevant, but it is crazy manipulative.

I’m not going to tell you that you aren’t allowed to be annoyed by Snell or any other millionaire complaining about losing money right now. They’re your feelings. Feel them. Just don’t feed me corporate approved nonsense to make the billionaire owners look like they are on the side of the little guy.

How do you get rich in this country? You have the ability to make other people rich. Snell makes enough money for Stuart Sternberg, that the Rays owner saw fit to sign a contract that said he would give Snell $7 million per year.

You can be jealous. Hell, I am! But don’t pretend that a paycheck means ballplayers owe it to the fans or to team owners to constantly compromise.

I am not saying that I don’t believe any media members genuinely feel that way. I am saying that it is awfully convenient that so many of them are using the same language and expressing concern for how Major League Baseball labor negotiations effect the poor, working stiff.

Back in September, I interviewed Jason Whitlock for a piece I wrote about sports media professionals dealing with the social media mob mentality. He had recently come under fire for saying that it is ridiculous that every single NFL analyst looks at the video of US Women’s National Team midfielder Carli Lloyd kicking field goals at Eagles practice and goes on TV to say that she could make an NFL roster. He swore to me that his comments weren’t rooted in misogyny, but in logic.

“They all said the same thing, which I just don’t think is reflective of reality,” Whitlock told me. “One person should’ve expressed some skepticism. Hell, all four should’ve expressed some skepticism.”

Where is the difference of opinion on this issue? Doesn’t it stand to reason that a former player or manager that is now in the media would be on the players’ side here? Shouldn’t that person stand up and say “Hey, why when a player holds out for more money fans will shout ‘if you didn’t like it, you shouldn’t have signed the contract,’ but now those same fans are silent when owners are the ones that aren’t happy with the financial terms of a deal they signed?'”

Baseball fans are crazy devoted to their favorite pastime. Many of them hate when modernity rears its ugly head, especially when we talk about skyrocketing player salaries.

Who Is No.1? Ranking The 30 MLB Teams' Fan Bases | Bleacher Report ...

Speaking as someone that likes baseball fine, but won’t go out of his way to watch it, it sure does seem like the league’s broadcast partners are playing on the hardcore fan base’s distaste for the players and their paychecks. When all of these voices are saying the same thing, the outrage can’t possibly be genuine. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I know it will make me question the sincerity in these voices in the future when they want to make a point about baseball.

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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