From September to December, every Saturday starts the same way. In a random and sometimes even remote college town, people from all walks of life gather around a huge stage in the wee hours of the morning. For the next several hours, creative signs, loud chants, mascot heads, cheers and even boos will light up the morning sky as ESPN’s College GameDay takes the air in front of thousands of rabid fans.
In those few hours, the most accurate representation of what college football is all about takes center stage. Essentially, the sport is a ball of passion, energy, lifelong loyalty and yes, even hate, rolled into one. College GameDay has mastered the art of capturing all those emotions and bringing them together on campuses across the country. However, the show’s success is directly tied to how many fans show up on a given week. With a worldwide pandemic not expecting to slow down, it could have a direct effect on both the on-site and viewer experience, that college football fans have started their fall Saturday mornings with for over 20 years.
“That’s one of the first things I thought about,” said Bobby Carpenter of 97.1 The Fan in Columbus and ESPN. “At Ohio State, they’ve looked at a no-tailgating policy and other schools have done that, too. If you have that in place, is there really a purpose to having College GameDay on site with an incredibly stale environment?
“We might see it, but it may be an abbreviated or even a much more unique form. Maybe it’s in the stadium or somewhere else prior to the game to create some of that atmosphere and environment. I can see them doing it inside on the field, especially if it’s an earlier game, because fans will have to get in earlier now. It’s just not going to be the classic experience that we’ve known for the past 20 years.”
That thought alone is sobering. Even more so is the thought of what game broadcasts are going to look and sound like in 2020. Imagine watching ABC’s Saturday Night Football and Ohio State is playing Oregon. The Ducks trail by three late in the fourth quarter but score a touchdown with 30 seconds left to take the lead. Normally, Autzen Stadium would be pandemonium. In that moment, the color commentator knows their job, which is to shut up and let the crowd add the commentary. But what if those fans aren’t there? How can you accurately capture that moment without the atmosphere?
“I haven’t even thought about it,” laughed Dusty Dvoracek of ESPN and 98.1 The Sports Animal in Oklahoma City. “But it’s definitely something that’s drilled in my head and I work on, which is in those moments of a touchdown, especially a big touchdown, let it breathe. Let the pictures and the sounds do the talking. Anything I can say won’t do justice to what we just saw. Now, without that, is it the same? I don’t know. I think it’s going to be something that we as broadcasters have to feel out.
“It’s definitely something that we’ll be discussing and talking about throughout the course of the season. Quite frankly it might even be something that changes. We all, as broadcasters, have to be willing and able to adjust.”
“You’re going to have to bring more energy,” added Carpenter. “When you’re out there, the fans, they provide it and you can feel it. It permeates through the television and if you’re the lone guy, with just the play-by-play guy, maybe there’s some clapping or screaming but it sounds more like a lower-tier bowl game. That’s going to be a lot different of an experience than you typically have, where big Saturday Night games have 80,000 to 100,000 people. They’re hanging on every thread on every snap waiting on something to happen and that’s where the energy is coming from. Now, that has to come from the booth.”
Let’s be honest, it’s totally unfair to expect a normal game broadcast to look and sound the same way without a full allotment of fans. It’s probably even fair to say, for multiple reasons, this will be the most challenging year college football broadcasters will have faced.
“There is no better feeling as a broadcast team than finding yourself in huge moments of a game and laying out and letting the scene take over,” said Brock Huard of Fox Sports and 710 ESPN in Seattle. “The play-by-play paints the picture and the sideline analyst or reporter takes you into the huddle and informs from the field. The analyst colors in the picture and then, ultimately and often most importantly, that fourth voice of the stadium and environment that sets the tone. That will be incredibly difficult to replicate or replace.”
Some broadcasts will feel the potential emptiness more than others. Doing a game with UCLA playing Oregon State at the Rose Bowl, where few fans show as it is, it’s obviously going to be easier to manage than calling games where college football means most – The South.
“It’ll be totally different,” said Cole Cubelic of ESPN, SEC Network and JOX 94.5 in Birmingham. “I think it changes the home-field advantage dynamic of how you have to prepare. As a player, you remember how close that student section is behind you at Florida. You know what it sounds like when the PA guy at Tennessee says ‘It’s football time in Tennessee’. When you run out on the field in Baton Rouge, especially at night, it’s just a different feel than anywhere else in the country.”
The potential difficulties with game broadcasts could even extend to the days prior before kickoff. Tons of prep time goes into each game from every member on the crew. The ability to watch a practice or a walkthrough and have a face-to-face meeting with the head coach of each teams is a luxury that broadcast teams have had in the past. That privilege could certainly be altered or even denied this season.
“I think it’s very much a question,” said Dvoracek. “I would expect Zoom is something we use a lot this season. From talking to coaches to even talking to each other as a crew. If you want to look at the silver lining, it’s Zoom will be extremely useful and highly productive in this profession. For crews of our size, now we have a function where we can have face-to-face conversation, as opposed to just a phone call.
“I do think different schools are going to have different policies. I don’t even think they know yet. My guess would be there’s going to be less access. I think that’s just common sense, because I think everyone is going to try to limit the interaction of their players, personnel and staff when dealing with outside people. There’s so many more questions than answers right now.”
Selfishly, there are some major benefits to football being altered in 2020. Sure, it would be unfortunate for the average season ticket holder to not be able to attend games, but that doesn’t mean they stop paying attention. Instead of being at the game, they’d be sitting right in front of the television. You guessed it, less attendance means way higher ratings for networks.
“I think the ratings will probably be the strongest they’ve ever been,” said Carpenter. “You look at the lack of live sporting events and also couple that with the fact they’ll be limited fans in attendance, in some of these bigger college and universities if they can only hold around 40,000 compared to 100,000, you’re going to have those people left out watching at home. There will even be an increased interest from others, because live sports and movie releases just haven’t been happening. They provide some level of excitement due to the undecided ending and the entertainment it provides.”
So many things can be true about broadcasting games this year for college football. Yes, it will probably be more challenging than it’s ever been for the talent. Yes, the overall product may not be the experience we’ve grown accustomed to. Yes, neither of those two will stop every network from having the highest ratings it’s ever had.
“I don’t want to sugarcoat it and make it something that it’s not,” said Dvoracek. “But I think at this point, if we’re able to play college football, and to people to get to have the opportunity to be passionate about the sport that we all love so much, I feel that it’s going to be an outstanding release to a certain degree.”
“The entire broadcast team will have to elevate and improvise just as these teams will have to do so in their preparation and play,” said Huard. “There will be more opportunity to capture sound from players, coaches and officials and to further personalize those competitors. I’ve never believed in trying to do more or ‘fill the time,’ rather it’s maximize the moments when they come and let the stars on the field shine.”
Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable
After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.
Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.
Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.
The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)
OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.
What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY
Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.
This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.
I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.
I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.
What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.
I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.
“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”
Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.
“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “
“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”
OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.
However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.
“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.
“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”
Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.
That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.
Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”
I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.
I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.
I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.
By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”
Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:
Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”
If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.
Media Noise – Episode 75
A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.
Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM
Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.
Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.
I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future.
Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?
Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.
How is advertising on Bleav different?
We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content.
What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see?
The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space.
SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like?
We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?
There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple.
At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram.
If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.