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Why Black Athletes Don’t Trust The Owners

Baseball’s latest debacle — an idea that two teams would stage a symbolic walkout, then return to play a game — is an ill-timed indictment of sports leagues and their cluelessness in fighting racial inequality.

Jay Mariotti

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We have two killer diseases in this country, one invisible and the other as blatant as seven gunshots fired toward a Black man’s back. If COVID-19 is insidious, police brutality is the naked terror. Imagine life as an African-American basketball player right now, locked down in a science globe by a league and two broadcast networks, watching the savagery in Wisconsin and figuring America is the same slave nation that oppressed their parents, grandparents and ancestors.

They are being paid, yes. But they do not trust The Man, so to speak. They wonder why Adam Silver, the commissioner who convinced them to resume this disjointed season, hasn’t been in the NBA Bubble and why the league’s interest in amplifying social justice initiatives has waned during the playoffs. And they don’t trust the owners, nearly all white men, even if sports has made many of the players wealthy and renowned. They want these billionaires to use their tentacles to influence politicians, regardless of party or persuasion, and stop the bloody massacre of Black people by white cops.

That message was just beginning to resonate Thursday throughout a $200-billion industry, allowing sports to avoid a devastating domino-effect stoppage, if only until the next shooting. But there to muck it up, as usual, were the socially ignorant klutzes of Major League Baseball, creating even more distrust a day after the NBA season was nearly shuttered by LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and other players feeling helpless in fighting racial inequality from their Disney World confinement. The MLB lords have been stuck in self-sabotage for decades, undermining their sport with endless scandals, a sluggish on-field product and an existential disconnect with younger people. Their failures are as commonplace as another 450-foot pummeling of a juiced ball.

Still, it’s beyond comprehension that this old-fart operation, long mired in a racial crisis with its scarcity of Black players and executives, not only would delay a unified response to the shooting of Jacob Blake but also turn a New York ceremony into a finger-pointing farce.

Mets' Brodie Van Wagenen apologizes to Rob Manfred for leaked video

Jackie Robinson shattered racial barriers in Brooklyn, a few miles from what is now Citi Field. He would have been ashamed to see the dysfunction in the hours preceding what should have been a simple edict: postponing the Mets-Miami Marlins game, following the lead of all other major-league games on the day’s schedule. I don’t trust the entirety of MLB leadership, so I’m still not sure who’s telling the truth and who might be in cover-up or throw-under-bus mode. But knowing the raw ineptitude of commissioner Rob Manfred, I’m not ready to assume Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was mistaken when he accused Manfred of asking Mets and Marlins players to do the unthinkable: Walk off the field as a tribute to Blake, then return an hour later to … PLAY A BALLGAME?

The idea did come from someone’s convoluted mind. Would Manfred be so crass to prioritize scheduling issues, an ongoing quagmire in baseball’s nightmarish pandemic season, over the Black Lives Matter movement? It would be a fireable offense, another death knell for the sport, yet that is exactly what Van Wagenen suggested in the latest leaked video to burn a sports figure. Talking with two Mets colleagues in late afternoon as the fate of the game was being decided, Van Wagenen ripped Manfred as a leader who “doesn’t get it’’ while failing to understand that Mets players had zero interest in playing. What the loose-lipped GM didn’t know is what everyone should know in the 21st century: His conversation, which referenced an earlier meeting with Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, was being streamed on MLB.com. Minutes later, the video was posted on the team site, where it was discovered by a 20-year-old New Yorker who naturally shipped the clip into the breaking news viralsphere.

Said Van Wagenen to the others: “Baseball’s trying to come up with a solution, saying, `Oh, you know what would be super powerful’ — the three of us here, this can’t leave this room — `you know it’d be really great if you just have them all take the field and then they leave the field and then they come back and play at 8:10. And I was like, ‘What?’ I told Jeff … these guys aren’t playing. They’re not playing. But that’s Rob’s instinct.

“At a leadership level, he doesn’t get it. He just doesn’t get it.’’

He’s right. Manfred doesn’t get it, period, about anything. But that isn’t the point here. Three white men named Brodie, Rob and Jeff were making America Look Stupid Again. Had they already forgotten the powerful words of the previous night from Mets outfielder Dominic Smith? Weeping and choking up during an interview, Smith carved himself a place in history by saying this of the Blake shooting and racism in America: “The most difficult part is to see that people still don’t care. For this to continually happen, it just shows the hate in people’s hearts. That just sucks, you know. Being a black man in America is not easy.’’ All you need to know about the Mets is that the goofish Alex Rodriguez, part of a group angling to buy the team, would be a marked boardroom improvement over Fred Wilpon and his son. So, of course, they botched the Smith moment.

What followed was pure tragicomedy. Van Wagenen, an ill-advised hire with no management experience after a career as a sports agent, released a statement, saying he had the story wrong. It was Jeff Wilpon’s idea, he said — the most overt case of ratting out a boss in recent sports memory.

Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen apologizes after video surfaces accusing Rob  Manfred of suggesting one-hour walkout - CBSSports.com

“Jeff Wilpon called Commissioner Manfred this afternoon to notify him that our players voted not to play,” he said. “They discussed the challenges of rescheduling the game. Jeff proposed an idea of playing the game an hour later. I misunderstood that this was the Commissioner’s idea. In actuality, this was Jeff’s suggestion. The players had already made their decision so I felt the suggestion was not helpful. My frustration with the Commissioner was wrong and unfounded. I apologize to the Commissioner for my disrespectful comments and poor judgement in inaccurately describing the contents of his private conversation with Jeff Wilpon.”

Later, in case everyone didn’t hear him the first time, Van Wagenen reiterated his apology during a conference call. “I have put myself and this organization into this conversation in a way that takes away from the real point,’’ he said. “I’m disappointed in myself.”

Or, was he was dutifully covering Manfred’s ass, with Wilpon’s approval, so the commissioner could avoid epic humiliation and nationwide calls to replace him with whatever fool wants the gig?

If Wilpon did hatch the plan, as he claimed, just be happy the Mets are on the sales block, assuming anyone really wants them. “To clear up any misunderstandings, it was my suggestion to potentially look into playing the game later because of scheduling issues,” Wilpon said. “Brody’s misunderstanding of a private conversation was and is inexcusable.’’

Somewhere on a Florida campus, LeBron was cringing. He had come close to taking down a league — and perhaps all of North American sports, by extension — when he walked out of a volatile players’ meeting after both Los Angeles teams, James’ Lakers and the Clippers, had voted to end the NBA postseason and go home. Now, here was living proof that executives and commissioners are clueless about social injustice. The players who questioned James in the ballroom might have said he was being selfish, that he could afford financially to pop the Bubble when they needed the paychecks. But if LeBron was thinking about himself, it was his legacy as an activist, which currently takes precedence over a fourth championship. After a night of sleep and a cooling of heads, the NBA playoffs carry on. But the games have lost their momentum, after a fun ride of basketball story lines, and any chatter about title contenders has been replaced by when the players next threaten to ditch the Bubble.

“You forget that being in the bubble is hard,’’ said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who thought the season was over when his team initially voted no. “I don’t think it’s coincidence that everyone in this bubble seems to be a little more emotional. I’m not kidding, it’s true. I think part of the effect of being, like, jammed together every day, it has had that effect on everyone.”     Besides, James is busy fighting the White House. “NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences,’’ said Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, as the league was postponing two days of games.

Jared Kushner intends to reach out to LeBron James about NBA boycott

After James fired back a tweet — “Change doesn’t happen with just talk!! It happens with action and needs to happen NOW! — Kushner offered to make peace. “Look, if LeBron James reached out to the White House or we could reach out to him, we’re happy to talk with him and say, `Look, let’s both agree on what we want to accomplish, and let’s come up with a common pathway to get there,’ ‘’ he said.

Trump was too busy ignoring the coronavirus during his re-nomination speech to react specifically to James, which surely bugs LeBron. “I don’t know much about the NBA protest,” Trump said. “I know their ratings have been very bad because I think people are a little tired of the NBA. They’ve become like a political organization, and that’s not a good thing.”

At least NBA players have an ally in Silver, though a message was sent through ESPN reporter Marc Spears that the commissioner needs to get “a helicopter’’ and invest more Bubble time with them. It could be worse: Their leader could be Manfred. That such a debacle could happen in such a sensitive time in history is another indictment of a man who shouldn’t have his job. Manfred can’t even control the buffoonery of a team across the East River from his midtown Manhattan office, much less guide baseball through an absurdist pandemic season interrupted by virus outbreaks and game shutdowns. He, too, issued a statement: “Over the past two days, players on a number of Clubs have decided not to play games. I have said both publicly and privately that I respect the decisions and support the need to address social injustice. I have not attempted in any way to prevent players from expressing themselves by not playing, nor have I suggested any alternative form of protest to any Club personnel or any player. Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong.”

Do you see a denial in there about Manfred asking the Mets and Marlins to play an hour after a symbolic walkout? Me, neither.

Only the NHL, which finally postponed games after criticism for not doing so the previous night, has had a weaker response to Jacob Blake than MLB. The Mets and Marlins did share a tender moment, standing for a moment of silence and placing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on home plate before leaving the park — without a ballgame. Smith led the Mets onto the field, his tears having inspired the sports world. “It’s still overwhelming at this moment, just to see how moved my peers are — my teammates, my brothers, the front office, the coaching staff, everybody who talks to me on a daily basis,’’ he said. “Just to see how moved they were, it made me feel really good inside. It made me feel like we are on the right path of change.’’

Looking Back On Inaugural Jackie Robinson Day At Shea | Metsmerized Online

The silence lasted 42 seconds. It came on the eve of Jackie Robinson Day, when every major-leaguer wears No. 42, even if a pandemic shifted the date from its usual April 15. The players and their tribute, it seemed, had saved the commissioner and Mets management from themselves.

But the reprieve was only temporary, as always. “It needs to be an ongoing thing,’’ Miami’s Lewis Brinson said of the Robinson tribute. “It can’t just be one day out of the baseball year that we bring light to everything.’’

“I think he would be amazed at the lack of progress in his eyes,” said Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain. “The fact we’re talking about this in 2020, I don’t see the progress in that. It’s almost like we’re going backwards.”

If this is a time machine, it might take us to the point of no return.

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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