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We’re Casting The Avengers With Sports Radio Hosts

“It doesn’t matter how many times I ask him, JB will not finance a film studio, so we’re going to have to do this on the cheap”

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You know what has really hammered home just how strange 2020 is compared to typical summers? Covid-19’s resurgence halted all blockbuster movie releases.

The first true summer blockbuster was 1975’s Jaws. Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece hit theaters on June 20 of that year, and raked in cash. That kicked the door down for Tim Burton’s Batman to dominate the summer of 1989, Steven Spielberg to do it all again in 1993 with Jurassic Park, and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace to become an absolute phenomenon in the summer of 1999.

This summer we were supposed to get new Wonder Woman, a new Fast & Furious, and the movie adaptation of Disneyland’s The Jungle Cruise. That ain’t happening though. So, it is up to me to help.

It doesn’t matter how many times I ask him, JB will not finance a film studio, so we’re going to have to do this on the cheap using some of sports radio’s biggest names.

Over the last decade, if you hear the word “blockbuster,” there is only one film franchise you are thinking of. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has absolutely blotted out the sun in Hollywood. It used to be that you won an Oscar and used that to secure the role that would win you your next Oscar. Now, when an actor wins an Oscar, his agent is on the phone with Disney pitching him as the next savior of mankind.

What if the same was true in sports radio? What if you topped a ratings book or a BSM Top 20 list and the next logical step was getting fitted for a spandex suit and interviewing potential stunt doubles?

Look, if I said that I was going to find someone in sports radio to represent every single Avenger, we would be here all day. Instead, let’s focus on the six from the original movie. If we’re looking for the models of the characters at the center of some of the biggest movies of the 2010s (or any decade really), here are their sports radio counterparts.

SCOTT KAPLAN IS CAPTAIN AMERICA

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Steve Rogers is the epitome of what America is supposed to mean. When he sees injustice, he doesn’t sit idly by. Even if it means opposing the wishes of the government and flag he serves, Captain America is going to do what he knows is right.

When The Mighty 1090 shut down, Scott Kaplan didn’t sit back and wait for someone to save him and his co-workers. Sure, others moved on and did what was best for them, but Kaplan knew he was the one to save the station, hell maybe the whole damn format!

Scott Kaplan took the bull by the horns, worked the phones, and is now a big part of the reason the station is set to be resurrected in San Diego next month as The Mightier 1090. He saw the chance to do what he thought was right and got it done without compromising his vision.

CARL DUKES IS IRON MAN

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Tony Stark is really smart and he knows it. Tony Stark is really good at saving the world and he knows it. Every time the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. make a plan that needs changing, Tony is the one they turn to for some guidance. In short, Tony knows his value and he isn’t afraid to tell you.

Carl Dukes is a smart dude that knows how to balance knowledge with laughter. He is the guy that CBS (and then Entercom) knew it had to hold on to even as everything else about 92.9 the Game in Atlanta was built, scrapped, thrown out, and rebuilt over and over again. The one thing Carl isn’t that Tony is is cocky. However, when I wrote a piece last month about the five local hosts that ESPN should give a national platform to, only one guy shot me a text asking why he wasn’t on the list, and then emailed me audio to show me he deserved a spot.

Look, I don’t take that as cockiness. Carl Dukes has the kind of confidence you need to survive uncertainty, whether in Atlanta radio or in a fight with Thanos. Plus, he has his face on a beer can and aluminum is the closest a radio personality can get to iron.

JIM TRABER IS THE HULK

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Look, there is only one thing the Hulk knows how to do. You wouldn’t like Hulk when he is angry. Why? Because when Hulk is angry, Hulk smash!

Jim Traber is a bulldog. Anyone that listens to The Sports Animal in Oklahoma City knows the guy communicates in absolutes. And he sure as hell isn’t going to back down from a fight. All you have to do is ask Nick Collison or Steven Parker’s dad or Mike Stoops.

They all made Jim Traber angry. None of them liked Jim Traber when he was angry.

FRED TOUCHER IS THOR

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We have seen Thor be so much in the MCU. He is a force from another world. He is a judge of who is and isn’t worthy to wield his weapon. He’s also uproariously funny. How do you find that guy in sports radio?

It’s simple. You look to Fred Toucher at the Sports Hub in Boston. He and his partner Rich Shertenlieb were a breath of fresh air on Boston sports radio. Rock radio was their Asgaard to most hosts’ typical background of the Boston Globe or the Boston Herald. The talent was apparent right away and right away Toucher & Rich gave every New England sports fan a new way of looking at sports radio.

Fred Toucher isn’t afraid to tell you who is and isn’t worthy to wield his weapon. His feuds include John Dennis, Kirk Minihane, Chip Alexander, Kyle Bailey, and more.

MICHELLE SMALLMON IS HAWKEYE

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Hawkeye isn’t the first name you think of when you think of the Avengers. He doesn’t have any out of this world powers. He is just a guy that is really good at what he does, so good in fact that super humans feel safer with him around.

Michelle Smallmon just got a show with her name on it last month, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been a force in this industry for a long time. She made 101 ESPN’s the Fast Lane better as the show’s producer. She was a part of the Bernie Miklasz Show during the three straight years it spent atop the BSM list of Top 20 Mid Market Morning Shows. During her time at ESPN, she made both Jorge Sedano and Ryan Russillo better as their producer.

Maybe Michelle Smallmon doesn’t have super powers, but she has been really good at what she does for a while and she has a history of people that are better than 99% of everyone else in this business feeling better when she is around. It’s no wonder 101 ESPN turned to her when launching St. Louis’s newest morning show Karraker & Smallmon.

MAGGIE GRAY IS BLACK WIDOW

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Natasha Romanoff didn’t begin her ass-kicking career with plans to be a super hero. In addition to being tough as nails, her training as a gymnast and an assassin gave her the ability to go places and get people other Avengers couldn’t.

Maggie Gray didn’t come to New York with her eyes on WFAN. First it was Sports Illustrated’s digital operation, then it was CBS Sports Radio. She has covered so many sports, she can pretty much go wherever she wants in conversation.

Even her time at WFAN has been a bit of a roller coaster ride, but she continues to step up and get whatever job that is asked of her done. And in terms of going where others can’t, just think back to her legendary rant about JD & the Straight Shot frontman and alleged New York Knicks fan James Dolan’s song about Harvey Weinstein. The disgust and anger was so personal and had clearly been percolating in a way that made it clear that only Gray could pull that off.

Let’s wrap this up like I’m a sales rep and you’re my biggest client. I am gonna do a bonus one for you as a thank you for sticking with me!

MIKE FRANCESA IS NICK FURY

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Mike Francesa deserves so much credit for keeping sports radio going and turning it into the industry it is today. Also, I bet he’d look bad ass with an eyepatch.

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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