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MLB Broadcasters Can’t Skip Exhibition Games In 2020

“Practice makes perfect and this is stuff that we’ve never experienced before.”

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Exhibition baseball games are more important than they’ve ever been for the players. Obviously, everyone needs to get back in game shape after a long absence, but most importantly, they’re needed for the acclimation of playing in an empty stadium with no atmosphere to speak of. 

Extra Innings podcast: Previewing the opening of 'summer camp' for the  Mariners and Major League Baseball | The Seattle Times

But the players and managers aren’t the only ones in the ballpark that needed the weekend and the early part of this week to get used to their new surroundings. Broadcasters need this time, too, as each one tries to figure out the right flow of doing a game with no fans or even via a monitor away from the actual game.

So how different will baseball play-by-play be in 2020? I reached out to three broadcasters to gauge both what they’ve already experienced as well as challenges they’re anticipating. 

Tyler McComas: Your first broadcast was Saturday night between the Yankees and Mets. Were you able to be at Citi Field or did you have to do the game from Yankee Stadium? 

Michael Kay – Yankees play-by-play announcer on YES: Yankee Stadium because we’re not allowed to travel, even to Citi Field. There’s just no room in the booths.

TM: With that being said, how was it broadcasting the game off a monitor for the first time? 

MK: It was a little strange. Not as strange as I thought it was going to be. I usually don’t work off a monitor. I broadcast off the field. So that was odd, having to call everything off a monitor.

Also, you’re taking the home team’s feed. My director and producer usually follow what I say and give me shots as I’m going, but that’s not the way it’s going to be this year. So I almost had to follow the SNY cameras everywhere they were going. We had one camera to ourselves, so that was a little bit odd. I’m not complaining, everybody has to do it. As long as we have baseball, we suck it up and do it.

TM: The players need these games to get acclimated to the environment, or lack thereof, in the ballpark. Can the same be said for you? 

MK: Absolutely. It can’t hurt. Practice makes perfect and this is stuff that we’ve never experienced before. It really is important, we’re doing all three of the exhibition games and I think it was a really good idea to do it, because it does give you a sense of what it’s going to be like. It’s not going to be that much different from the real game we do on Thursday, so it really was a great call to do it. It serves the fans, as well as us in the broadcast booth.

TM: You’re used to being around the players and managers, maybe at dinner or even on the field during batting practice. I’m sure you get nice nuggets of info during that time, which you can repeat on the broadcast. You’re not going to have that this year. Does that make prep more difficult? 

MK: Well, you just have to prep in the best way that you can. Pretty much what baseball is doing, is what football has done its entire existence, which is kind of marginalizing what you know. They pick who’s going to go on the Zoom call, you can’t have any one-on-one time, and that’s one of the hallmarks of being a baseball broadcaster.

You walk up to somebody in the clubhouse or you see them behind the batting cage and you can pick stuff up. It’s going to be very different that way, because you’re not going to have those stories. If you’re someone who’s been watching baseball for a long time, then you might notice it. I know that I’ll notice those stories won’t be available, but it’s just the world we’re living in right now.

TM: The Yankees might have the best team on paper it’s had in a long time. Coupled with the fact everyone has to watch the games on YES, is the silver lining to all of this that the broadcast might get the highest ratings it’s ever gotten? 

MK: I guess that would be a silver lining. We’re going to provide some kind of diversion and hopefully approach normalcy for people, so that’s a good thing. People are looking for live events to watch. The Last Dance got huge numbers on ESPN and that’s not even a live event. NASCAR has done well, golf has done well and I’m sure baseball is going to do great, as well. I’d rather the ratings be just a little bit lower and we have everything back to normal in the world.


TM: I’m sure you’ve watched and listened to various games over the weekend. Did you pick up on anything that you can use for this season? 

Tom McCarthy – Phillies play-by-play television announcer: We did a game on Sunday night on TV. We did the Orioles and Phillies exhibition game. I had done some intrasquad games last week on the YouTube channel, so we kind a got a feeling of how it was going to be and that was really helpful. All of us broadcasters have done this before in a very minimal way.

I did the Caribbean World Series seven years ago for the MLB Network when they first launched. I’ve done a handful of tryouts for CBS and for NBC Sports Philadelphia. I kind of had a feeling of how it was going to work but I think the intrasquad games last week and last night’s game really helped us. Tonight is a test because it’s the first time that we’re doing a game off the monitor, with the Phillies playing at the Yankees.

McComas: How do you feel about the piped in crowd noise? Is it a blessing in that it provides a sense of normalcy to the broadcast or is it more of a hindrance, in that it drowns out the ambient noises the game still provides?

Tom McCarthy's view from the booth | Eric Stark | lancasteronline.com

McCarthy: I didn’t find that it was at all cumbersome. I thought it was actually good. I even thought it was going to be a little bit louder and I think there’s a chance that’s going to happen as we move forward. I didn’t find it to be intrusive at all. Are there different ways you could do it? Sure, absolutely. I think we’ve all learned that we have to be open minded with everything during this because it’s so different and so weird.


TM: How important are these exhibition games for you, seeing as no fans will be in the stands? 

Ken Korach – A’s play-by-play radio voice: I think it’s really important. I really do. It’s not so much that nobody will be in the stands, although that will be an adjustment, but they’re piping in crowd noise over the PA and that’s a whole story in and of itself. But the biggest things, number one, is that on Tuesday, the A’s are playing the Giants in San Francisco. That’ll be our first time doing the game from the Coliseum. We’ll be calling the game off the TV monitor, obviously that’s the biggest adjustment.

The other thing, there’s a certain trepidation of getting back into the groove and seeing how it all feels in the press box. Getting to get be back in the press box and seeing how it’s all going to feel for a couple of days before the regular season starts, I feel like that’s really important.

TM: From a technical standpoint, how are you approaching the positioning of your crowd mic? 

KK: We have a mic that’s right next to or by the home plate screen. We do that for the crack of the bat. We also have the ability to pick up on the TV sound effects. I don’t think that’s going to change a whole lot. You’ll be able to hear the crowd noise coming in over the PA system, so I don’t think the mechanics from a technical standpoint is going to change a whole lot when the team is at home. Now on the road it’s a huge difference, because we are relying on getting the audio. Let’s say the A’s are playing in Houston and we’re in Oakland, we’re going to rely on the audio coming back from Houston. That’s going to be a different technical challenge.

TM: Are there any advantages to the unique situation that radio play-by-play broadcasters are presented with this year? 

KK: Obviously I haven’t done a game yet, but I don’t see any advantages to it. I really don’t. I listened to a couple of the games over the weekend to get a feel for it and I feel like it’s necessary to have the crowd noise. Everyone knows there’s no fans in the stands, you’re not trying to fool anyone, but having that nice little hum in the background, it sounded pretty good to me when I heard the games that I heard on Saturday.

Oakland A's announcer's spring renewal includes baseball, golf | Las Vegas  Review-Journal

The biggest thing is that you live for those moments when the game is on the line in the ninth-inning and the crowd is really giving off a ton of energy, so you’re not going to have that. For us and the players, you rely on that energy and you’re not going to have it. But we all kind of know that going in.

BSM Writers

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.

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grant cohn

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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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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.

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BSM Writers

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.

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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.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

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.

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