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Streamer Dreamers Beware: Great Content Is Still King

Sports leagues and media companies act as if streaming is a magic potion for the NHL and other properties when, in fact, basic challenges haven’t changed: Create quality programming that attracts the multitudes.

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Have you heard? Streaming is the salvation of all sports and media. The NHL, forever a cult, will ride a new ESPN streaming deal to world domination. Fox Sports, searching for reasons to justify Skip Bayless’ $32 million contract, says streaming will propel his otherwise indistinct show above all competitive noise. Even the NFL kings are reserving Thursday nights for streaming.

I stream, you stream, we all stream for ice cream.

Sports channels on Roku | Roku

Here’s what they aren’t telling you: Until further notice, streaming remains a flim-flam hope balloon. Whether it’s called streaming or cable or virtual reality or rabbit ears, the end-game objective of the sports and entertainment racket is to create prime programming that attracts copious eyeballs. It’s exceedingly creative of Disney Co., the leader in the streaming craze, to make a landmark technological pivot upon recognizing that only 60 percent of U.S. households still pay for cable. What the Streamer Dreamers are missing, of course, is why tens of millions of cord-cutters are canceling subscriptions in the first place.

The content isn’t worth the monthly bill.

And that consumer gut punch won’t stop coming just because platforms have changed. The programming has to be watchable — see: Quibi — or the attention spans won’t follow regardless of demographic or innovation.

The NHL and ESPN needed each other, just as Fox and a lightning-rod talker needed each other. They’re partners in life rafts, trying to survive uncertain media seas, and they’ve chosen to serve as guinea pigs into the future. To hear NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, his league will ascend into the established pantheon of American sports — NFL and college football, NBA, Major League Baseball — with a deal that includes 1,000 streamed games per season on ESPN+, four Stanley Cup finals on ABC and increased prominent coverage on ESPN’s studio programs and news sites. Said Bettman, proudly: “Not only will this groundbreaking, seven-year deal enable the NHL to benefit from the incomparable power, reach and influence of Walt Disney Company and ABC/ESPN, it sets a new standard in delivering our game to the most passionate and tech-savvy fans in sports in the ways they now demand and on the platforms they use.”

Not so fast. For this $2.8 billion deal to benefit the NHL beyond its coffers, ESPN must figure out how to transfer the in-arena hockey experience — the most exciting in sports, I say — to streaming devices and cable homes alike. No network has figured that out yet. If I haven’t watched hockey regularly on my big-screen TVs throughout my adult life, why would I start on a hand-held phone where it’s difficult to see plays developing or goals being scored? I don’t care if Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman debate whether Connor McDavid is the world’s greatest player. The product still has to be appealing to create appointment-watching dates. Hockey lags so far behind the bigger sports in relevance, value and buzz, it will take more than seven years — maybe seven decades — to escape its niche status. The NHL’s national profile will grow on ESPN, no doubt, but it’s still hockey and still a sport where serious American sports fans don’t know Leon Draisaitl or how to pronounce his name. Give me more reasons to regularly watch, Mr. Bettman, streaming or otherwise.

Same goes for Fox and Bayless’ FS1 show, “Undisputed.” Despite ho-hum ratings of roughly 140,000 viewers on morning cable, Fox decided to shower the say-anything-provocative host with a monster contract because of … his YouTube profile? I trust Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, more than I trust YouTube analytics. But with Bayless and partner Shannon Sharpe purportedly attracting 42 million monthly views — note: views can be five-second chops from a 2 1/2-hour program — he’s somehow worth the $32 million in the purview of Fox Sports honcho Eric Shanks — if only to counteract ESPN’s odd interest in poaching Bayless and streaming him on a program with Smith. If I’m an advertiser and Fox tries charging premium prices based on supposed YouTube traffic, I’m taking my dollars to ESPN, which has bigger shows with wider established audiences — and now has a potent streamer, too, in ESPN+.

Disney has adapted quickly to cord-cutting, wisely consolidating Disney+ — and its 100 million-plus subscribers — with ESPN+ and Hulu for a formidable bundling. By selling new technology to Streamer Dreamers such as Bettman and UFC’s Dana White, ESPN can more easily move past cable subscription losses and maintain its place atop the sports media mountain. Who else has deals with the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, college football, college basketball, golf and tennis — and can place them all on ESPN+? The NHL deal, through 2028, precedes Disney’s impending whopper deal with the NFL, which will require at least a $25 billion payout for a slot in the Super Bowl rotation and continuing “Monday Night Football” rights. All of which allows Disney, via ESPN+, a better chance of protecting ESPN’s future against cable operators.

Given the massive scope and ambition of ESPN+, it’s silly to suggest an actual competition exists between that paywall and other subscription-based sports sites. The Athletic breaks important news, but if traffic is the metric, this is the digital version of Super Bowl LV. Spiked by its bundling placement, ESPN+ could have 14 million subscribers by summer with live games and a constant churn of new programming — such as “Eli’s Places,” Eli Manning’s college football companion series with his brother’s “Peyton’s Places.” The Athletic has zero chance against the corporate monster, finally cracking 1 million with no streaming component to challenge ESPN’s offerings of live games, regular shows and documentaries. A diehard reader appreciates The Athletic and Sports Illustrated, yet Bristol played chess by moving two dozen well-known writers and analysts to its paywall.

See ESPN+ As A Time (Well-Invested) Machine: Fans Are Streaming Hours Of  Air Jordan In Action - ESPN Front Row

With ESPN+ at $5.99 monthly, SI at $5.99 and The Athletic at $4.99, the choice is obvious for any shopper who wants only one subscription. As for The Athletic’s goal to control local sports coverage, the site has yet to deliver the knockout punch as predicted four years ago by its cheeky co-founder, Alex Mather, who told the New York Times, “We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing. We will suck them dry of their best talent at every moment.” Almost all local “papers” continue to wheeze, but is The Athletic faring any better in those markets? ESPN+ still is challenged to perform well in its own bubble, but it catches a huge break with its next programming colossus: a nine-part Tom Brady docuseries, “Man In The Arena,” as he rides his new wave of middle-aged wonderment. With ESPN+ also getting help from “Nomadland,” “The Mandalorian” and other Hulu and Disney+ offerings, this is not a fair fight.

That said, whatever the platform, the content better be special enough to attract and keep subscribers. A lot of sports media people are making a lot of ice cream these days, and, truth be told, not everyone is screaming for it.

BSM Writers

Keith Moreland’s Broadcasting Fills Void Left by MLB Career

“When I got through… I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”

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Austin American-Statesman

Sports color analysts are more often than not former players. This has been a consistent norm across sports broadcasting at all levels. The analyst is there to add “color” to the play-by-play broadcaster’s metaphorical and verbal “drawing” of the game. For former MLB slugger and catcher, Keith Moreland, this was the surprise post-playing retirement career that has boosted him to a key figure in Austin media and national media alike.

Moreland played football and baseball at the University of Texas before making his way to the MLB for 12 years with key contributions to the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs in the 1980s.

Moreland reminisced on his decision to play baseball full time: “I thought I was going to be in the NFL, but Earl Campbell changed that. I had just played summer ball. We had won a championship and I missed the first few days of two-a-days. I hadn’t even had a physical yet and I’m in a scrimmage. I stepped up to this freshman running back and as he ducked his shoulder, one of his feet hit my chest and the other hit my face mask and he kept on truckin’. I got up and I thought ‘I could be a pretty good baseball player.’

So I told Coach Royal after practice I was going to focus on baseball and he asked ‘what took you so long? We were surprised you came back because we think you have a really good shot at playing professional baseball.'”

It was a good choice for Moreland. He was part of the 1973 College World Series winning Texas Longhorns baseball team. While at Texas Moreland hit .388 and became the all-time leader in hits for the College World Series. After being drafted by the Phillies in the 7th round of the 1975 draft, Moreland would go-on to play in the majors from 1978 to 1989.

“You go your whole life trying to get to play professionally. When I got through my opportunity to play in the big leagues, I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”

Broadcasting was not the original retirement plan for Moreland. He first tried his luck at coaching with his first stop being his alma mater as an assistant for the Longhorns. At the time, Bill Schoening (a Philadelphia native and Phillies fan), was the radio play-by-play broadcaster. Schoening made Moreland a go-to for a pre-game interview and convinced him to come on talk shows. Schoening even convinced Moreland to practice live broadcasting skills by taking a recorder to games and listening back to them to learn.

“Bill was the guy who brought me onboard and I still have those tapes and I really learned from them, but I don’t want anyone else to ever hear them!” Moreland adds with a chuckle on how far he has come in over 25 years of broadcasting.

Moreland has been a key part of University of Texas radio broadcasts for baseball since the 1990s and has catapulted that broadcast experience to Texas high school football, Longhorn football radio and television broadcasts, ESPN, the Little League World Series, the Chicago Cubs and more since hanging up his cleats and picking up a microphone.

While his playing days are well behind him, Moreland still takes the spirit of his professional athlete background to his broadcasting:

“If you don’t bring energy to your broadcast, somebody’s gonna turn the game on and wonder ‘what’s wrong? Are they losing the game?’”, Moreland remarks, “So you have to come prepared and with energy for the broadcasts.”

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BSM Writers

Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting

The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.

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Maryland Matters

As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.

For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.

While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements. 

While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized. 

Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.

People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.

First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.

The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues. 

None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.  

As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.

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BSM Writers

Saban v. Jimbo Is WrestleMania for College Football Fans

Ryan Brown says the Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher feud is one made for pay-per-view and we have nearly five months to hype the match.

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Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

It was the day after I turned eleven that Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre ‘The Giant’. WrestleMania III filled 90,000 seats at the Pontiac Silverdome and the living room of one of the houses in my neighborhood. Real or fake, we didn’t care. Three decades later, Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher is 100% real and it is coming to a living room near you.

I live in the capital city of SEC Country – Birmingham, Alabama. SEC football needs no additional drama here. You get a complete college football obsession at birth. That said, the October 8th Texas A&M visit to Alabama will be among the most anticipated regular season college football games both regionally and nationally.

One would think CBS will use their annual prime time date for that Saturday just as they did for last season’s Alabama at Texas A&M game, you know, when Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher were on speaking terms. Not knowing how the season will play out, it would be no surprise if ESPN’s College Gameday is in Tuscaloosa as well. While we are at it, let’s just cut to the 2024 chase and schedule a Presidential debate in Tuscaloosa that weekend, as well.

Not one person will be surprised if Alabama is undefeated and the top ranked team in the nation that week. The surprise, based on the rest of the Jimbo Fisher era, will be the Aggies being unbeaten. Their trip to Alabama comes at the end of a five game stretch that includes Appalachian State at home, Miami at home, Arkansas in Dallas and a road game at Mississippi State. Incidentally, the same Texas A&M team that was able to upset Alabama last season also managed to lose to Arkansas and Mississippi State.

Just the prospect of the two teams being unbeaten and highly ranked causes some to say this game would need no extra storylines. Shouldn’t that, and being on CBS in prime time, be enough? The Saban-Fisher Feud already has people discussing this game nationally and Lee Corso hasn’t even donned a body odor-filled mascot head yet.

I would like to project this game to deliver the largest TV audience of the regular season but I can’t, for one reason: I’m not certain it will be close. I think Alabama is that much better than Texas A&M. That’s why the build up will deliver a huge first half audience.

For perspective, in the 2021 regular season, the Alabama at Texas A&M game had the fifth largest TV audience, in a game that went down to the final play. The Ohio State at Michigan game had 15.8 million viewers on as part of FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff, almost double that of Alabama at Texas A&M on CBS in prime time.

That brings me to another misconception: big games have to be in prime time to get a big audience. Of the top ten largest college football audiences in the regular season and conference championship weekend, only half were prime time games. College football fans, and NFL fans for that matter, will find the best games no matter where they are placed.

So, back to Saban v. Fisher; why is it a bad thing? Would SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey prefer it not happen? Of course. Will it bring more attention to a game in the conference he oversees? I say, absolutely. Heck, my daily show is already selling t-shirts for the game. You may say “shameless plug”, I say paying for my kid’s college. Tomato, tomahto.

This is what made “Mean” Gene Okerlund a household name in the 1980’s. He was the far too serious host that interviewed the wrestlers who challenged other wrestlers to a grudge match in exotic places like the Macon Coliseum and the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and the Dallas Sportatorium. Why did they do that? First, it was entertaining but, primarily, it sucked the viewer into making plans to view those matches.

I mean, if Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat said he was going to rip the head off “Big” John Studd, was I going to miss that?

That was why a bunch of kids crowded into a living room in Anniston, Alabama in 1987 to watch WrestleMania III, The Main Event. I can’t tell you who was on the undercard that night. The only wrestlers we cared about were Hulk Hogan and Andre “The Giant”.

Actually, my friend’s mom thought the Ultimate Warrior was “cute and had a great body”. He wasn’t on the card and I thought it was odd she told us that but she was footing the bill for the pay-per-view and had mixed the fruit punch Kool-Aid, so who am I to judge one’s wanton desires?

Texas A&M at Alabama will be the SEC’s main event this season and, if the cards fall right, it may be college football’s main event. What happened between the two head coaches might not be the proudest moment in SEC history but it will bring more attention to that game. And, my word, we finally have a nano-second in which two prominent coaches weren’t pre-programmed robots refusing to deviate from the script.

As amazing as WrestleMania III was for my childhood, it was scripted. The Tide and the Aggies will not be. College football remains one of the greatest values in sports. I pay very little to watch unscripted game after unscripted game. Truth is, you couldn’t even script most of what we see on a college football Saturday. 

Texas A&M at Alabama is already beyond what the most creative writers could imagine and that is why this fuel to the already smoldering fire adds to this game. Now, if Nick Saban will just try to bodyslam Jimbo Fisher, we’ll have something.

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