There was a time when if you asked college football fans who the ideal replacement for Lee Corso would be when the time came for the coach to step down from ESPN’s College GameDay, you would almost uniformly hear Les Miles name. He came off as a delightful weirdo with a championship résumé while at LSU. Plus, he gave funny, folksy quotes during press conferences. It seemed like he would be a natural fit on television when he was done coaching.
Now though? Not so much.
After being fired by LSU during the 2016 season, he auditioned for an analyst role at FOX. Miles told a church group that he didn’t want to follow directions and have to fit into anyone’s idea of what he needed to be on TV. There are plenty of us that remember the few games he did broadcast on FOX and the truth is that Miles was AWFUL! The fun loving weirdo we all knew had turned into just a dry bore that had no opinion about anything.
That fact is on the back burner though. The real reason Miles isn’t going to be on top of anyone’s list of potential future broadcast stars is because of what we now know he was doing during his time in Baton Rouge. The school’s athletic director suggested Miles be fired with cause in 2013 after multiple female students accused the then-coach of sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact.
Those accusations and the news that Miles had paid some of these women settlements coming to light have lead to his firing as the head coach at the University of Kansas and the firing of Kansas AD Jeff Long.
I don’t know that I believe Miles, if he were remotely good as a broadcaster, would never get a job in the media because of these allegations. Don’t get me wrong. That should be the reason enough for every network to take a hard pass, but when it comes to TV and radio, history shows us that just about everyone’s toxicity has a timeline.
Just look at FOX’s Major League Baseball coverage. Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz both used steroids during their careers. I am told that is a major sin in the baseball world (Although, let’s be fair. There is nothing boring about a sport full of genetically modified monsters hitting balls 700 feet). Yet they are both staples of the network’s postseason.
In 2015 the network hired Pete Rose to be part of its baseball crew as well. Betting on baseball is a sin that got Rose banned from the sport for life and left him ineligible for Hall of Fame induction. All that was forgiven though when FOX wanted to make a splash hire. FOX did eventually decide that Rose was too toxic but it took allegations of sex with underage women to get to that point.
Urban Meyer, literally a year removed from resigning in some disgrace as Ohio State’s head coach, landed on the set of FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff. Meyer is undeniably an elite football mind. When FOX hired him though, he was fresh off a scandal stemming from how he behaved and reacted when the wife of his wide receivers coach had reached out for help as she was repeatedly a victim of domestic violence.
Meyer may have had to exit his job in Columbus, but he had TV to bail him out and give him a place to showcase his knowledge of the game. Look how that worked out. He landed an NFL job with the first pick in the draft and a chance to select a once-in-a-lifetime QB.
It’s not just FOX. ESPN hired Ray Lewis, Michael Irvin, Ryan Leaf, Curt Schilling, and others that came with red flags, or to use an NFL Draft term – “character concerns.” At one point they were toxic, so ESPN waited. Once it was decided that enough time had passed and enough people had lost interest in their respective pasts, the World Wide Leader put them on TV.
I want to be perfectly clear. No one should hire Les Miles again. What he did is the definition of toxicity, and he admits that it all happened. He is a liability for any school, network, or other institution that hires him.
My point is simply without those truly awful showings on FOX in the 2017 season, I am not sure there is reason to believe that the guy is completely untouchable in the television world. If you can turn a profit, someone will hire you.
For God’s sake, look at Mike Tyson. This is a guy that went from scariest human being on the planet to convicted rapist, to laughing stock, to America’s sweetheart! Again, he denies none of the accusations against him, and yet we found a place for him in the entertainment world.
Why? Because he knows how to perform and he knows how to get people to pay attention. It may not be fair, but it is reality.
Les Miles won’t have a lot of options for employment going forward. But what about the next coach to admit to doing what he did? What if that guy is great on camera? What if an unapologetic racist has enough name recognition and knows how to own a room?
For all of the bemoaning of cancel culture you hear in the media, the media may be the ultimate argument for there being no such thing. Our business has proven over and over again that it will overlook a lot for a ratings point.
Gary Bettman Wants You To Have More Access
“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly.”
In the wake of the NHL’s latest national television contract, Commissioner Gary Bettman has solidified the league’s broadcast future. Recent contracts dictate that the league will be appearing on ESPN and TNT/TBS next season after its relationship with NBC concludes after 10 years. Still, the key to both deals is streaming and Bettman explained how there is more work to be done.
“First and foremost whatever media package you’re going to do, particularly on a national basis, you want to make sure you’re getting the most exposure, the best possible production, the best possible promotion that you want to be able to give your fans as much access to the game as possible,” Bettman said on Episode 299 of my Sports with Friends podcast.
The deal with Turner is for seven years worth a reported $225 million. ESPN’s contract is also for seven years for more games than Turner and is reported to be more than $400 million.
The keys to these deals are the streaming apps. Both ESPN+ and HBO Max are key components to each deal that are making out-of-market games as well as exclusives available to subscribers. Still, the controversial decision made by the Regional Sports Networks to require cable subscriptions to stream the local teams is impacting cord-cutters across the US.
“Media distribution and the platforms are going to continue to evolve,” Bettman explained. “Frankly with new technology also represents improved camera coverage. The productions are better than they’ve ever been. You have HDTV, which didn’t exist decades ago. We use more technology, whether it’s player tracking or any of the other statistics that we use. With SAP and Amazon and Apple, the opportunities to get within the game, because there are more distribution platforms have never been greater.”
My takeaway from Bettman’s statements on the subject is that both he and the broadcast people in his office are well aware of the facts presented. While some fans are expecting a quick fix, these deals are complicated. Each team has its own contract with an RSN. Bettman can’t legislate a new way to circumvent those contracts. Plus, he still believes in linear television.
“There is some cord-cutting going on, but linear television still predominates, and more people are watching on a big screen TV in a large room with a couple of other family members or friends,” Bettman said. “Or when you go to a bar sports bar, you see what’s on in the background.”
Because I’ve known Bettman for over a decade, I take him at his word. We did discuss him coming back on the podcast for episode 399 (which would be in June 2023). I’d love to see progress made on the issue then.
“I think there is an evolution going on, but I think it’s easy to over-generalize,” Bettman said.”
The deal with NBC was profitable in many ways over the 10 years. Originally, games were aired on the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), and now to NBC and NBC Sports Network, which be shutting down by the end of 2021.
The ESPN deal was signed in March. The Turner contract was made public in late April.
“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly,” the commissioner said. “Giving more content than ever before in more places than ever before. We couldn’t be more excited to have the Walt Disney Company (ESPN) and Warner Media (Turner) working with us and the game. Our organization is excited and thrilled, and we know both of their organizations are thrilled as well. This is an exciting time for us.”
Other highlights from the 45-minute conversation had to do with competitive balance. Unlike the NBA, the NHL regularly has quality teams with records above .500 that don’t make the playoffs.
We talked about the impact that Covid-19 has had on the league. Bettman addressed the decision to create the “playoff bubble” in Toronto and Edmonton as opposed to an American city.
He also discussed the fact that the NHL and NHLPA extended their collective bargaining agreement by four years while negotiating the return to play in the summer of 2020. That’s with former MLBPA head Donald Fehr at the helm. My memories of the canceled World Series made the NHL extension seemingly impossible.
Finally, Bettman addressed his legacy. He takes being the first commissioner in modern sports to be openly booed as a badge of honor, noting that nowadays all commissioners get booed. “(NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell got booed at the draft last week,” Bettman said.
Still, he knows his legacy will always be connecting to canceling the 2004-2005 season. Yet, the growth of the league is unprecedented, and he has been the architect of that.
Bettman sees no end to his tenure, or at least wouldn’t admit it to me. Maybe we can address that in two years for episode 399.
Media Noise Podcast – Episode 27
Demetri Ravanos begins this week’s episode by looking at Thursday Night Football moving to Amazon exclusively in 2022 and what it means for future business deals with the NFL. Russ Heltman drops by next to offer his thoughts on Rob Parker and Chris Broussard’s heated discussion over Tim Tebow being the beneficiary of white privilege and his value to ESPN as a college football analyst. Seth Everett closes things out by weighing in on Gary Bettman’s legacy and the NHL’s recent deals with broadcast groups.
News & Sports Is A Perfect Marriage For Sales
“Plenty of sellers have a news talk/sports talk combo to sell especially if they are in AM-heavy clusters.”
There are a lot of similarities in sports talk and news talk radio sales. And there are some differences, some of which are actually complementary and work to the sellers’ advantage. I was fortunate to sell news and sports talk as a combo for years.
As Jason Barrett recently announced, the Barrett Sports Media and News Media web sites have merged. Plenty of sellers have a news talk/sports talk combo to sell especially if they are in AM-heavy clusters. One of my 2021 resolutions was to seek out the positive in most situations so let’s look at the similarities the two formats offer to a salesperson.
- Both are foreground formats. For the most part, spoken word radio listeners are seeking to focus on what is being said. They don’t listen to podcasts or talk shows so they can free their mind up to think about other things. Plenty of music listeners have their minds completely elsewhere and don’t even hear what the air person has to say. In fact, most music jocks are told to shut up and play the music. Great selling point for live liners, spots and why our commercials are worth more money.
- We have very loyal customers. The best results for any advertiser comes from the heaviest users of a station- their “P1’s”. Most news/sports talk tsl comes from a much smaller % of the cume. Listeners to Sean Hannity, Jim Rome, Ben Shapiro, and Colin Cowherd stay put. Music listeners tend to chase the hottest song or diary responders to music stations will flip to the station with the contest to win concert tickets. Often this can lead to fewer spots needed in a schedule to achieve a better frequency.
- We got the dough. Nothing sells luxury goods and services like a news/sports talk radio station. Look at any consumer index survey and these two formats will always score near the top. Make sure you load up on luxury car dealers, independent import car repair, jewelers, stockbrokers, realtors and home services companies.
- Sports formats can skew younger especially with stations that have guy talk driven hosts. Some sports stations have local play by play and that can cume in a younger audience. News talk radio is heavy 55+ and especially 65+. Younger buyers will carry a bias at times vs news radio and the age of the listener.
- The news talk format is conservative and mostly anti-liberal/Democrat in general. Some national advertisers would not allow their commercials to fall into the Rush Limbaugh show for example. Sometimes, buyers will not place ads on a conservative station for personal reasons. In sports, at least traditionally, that doesn’t happen as often. Historically sports have steered away from conservative or liberal positions on any politics. We have a chance to change that. See below.
- Sports talk typically has 80/20 Male to Female audience. News talk skews much more female and can be a 60/40 split Male to Female. That opens the door to what a 45–64-year-old woman may be more interested in home services, jewelry and more!
A Happy Couple
- A sports and news talk combo buy provides a great one stop shop for anything with a male skew. And, make sure you point out the earning power differences. We used to have fun with a graphic that pointed out with our combo you get customers and with the rock stations you got convicts. Get it? Customers or Convicts?
- If you are selling to male store owner and he is over 40 years old there is a good chance he listens to one of your shows. Just ask him.
- It may be time to start talking politics. If you have a conservative news talk station loaded with local news and political talk in the morning and Shapiro, Savage, and Hannity at other times, you got a conservative station. If you have a local show or two on the sports station, why not encourage them to speak up? Occasionally, the talent will not be conservative Republicans and certainly most athletes who speak out on political matters and command attention are not republican conservatives. Seems like a perfect balance for buyers who object to one lean over the other.