I have a soft spot for Louisiana. I love the food. I love the music. It is where I was born.
So, when JB suggested I talk to Gordy Rush from Guaranty Broadcasting for our Meet the Market Managers series, I didn’t need convincing. Not only do I get the chance to bring you lessons from the Sportsman’s Paradise, but I get to put a spotlight on the guy that runs one of the most underrated brands in all of sports radio, 104.5 ESPN.
That station does everything its own way. The studio is set up for television. The morning show features two ex-jocks and no broadcast nerd. It is just a really cool, really local brand that is worth studying.
In our conversation, Gordy and I discussed how owning a digital ad agency has helped Guaranty’s traditional broadcast business, how he let one of his biggest stars deal with bad news on the air, what he brings to the workplace that he learned on the football field, and so much more.
Demetri Ravanos: Baton Rouge is a big college town, so I would guess you have access to those kids coming out of LSU looking for sales jobs. But I wonder how much interest you see from young people in selling not just radio, but media in general?
Gordy Rush: Well, we get a lot of interest from LSU and from New Orleans – Tulane, UNO and Loyola. People that are interested not only in sales but on air. And of course, LSU had a good run in recent years here with Ryan Clark, Marcus Spears and Booger McFarland all landing with ESPN. They’ve done very well. That means there is a lot of talent that comes out and a lot of people that are interested in the profession.
DR: So what do you see as Baton Rouge’s potential in terms of market growth?
GR: Well, I think Baton Rouge is in the 70 to 80 range market-wise. It had a big boom post 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, where a lot of people from New Orleans kind of relocated to the surrounding parishes down here. But it kind of is what it is.
I think the uniqueness of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, for that matter, is that you have LSU and then you have the New Orleans Saints. And for a state that size, you really just have those two sports. And the Pelicans, I think, are certainly getting more interest, but it’s a considerable drop. Whereas, if you go four hours over to Houston, Texas A&M sometimes struggles to crack the top 10 in interest in a city of that size. So it’s really a two trick state when you talk about LSU and the Saints.
DR: LSU is a rare college sports culture. I really think it is only in Louisiana and Mississippi where there is this gigantic college baseball culture. That lets you monetize that rights partnership year-round in a way that a lot of SEC markets can’t. Do you get how rare that is or does it just feel normal to you at this point?
GR: Well, let’s start with the fact LSU has led the nation for umpteen years in attendance. It’s like a triple-A stadium – ten thousand plus per year. Of course, the big exception this year was the Covid year. So it is like a triple-A town. I will tell you that we carry all the games on a 100,000 watt classic rock radio station.
When we were a subscriber to Nielsen and I would go up to to Columbia, Maryland, and look at the books, you’d get thirteen quarter hours Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You know, I’ve seen numbers back before ESPN+ was the thing, when it was ESPN3, and LSU would be playing a non-conference opponent on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and the streaming rights for television – there was one point that it outdrew North Carolina vs Duke streaming-wise. It gives you an idea of the popularity of baseball here. And of course, they’ve won five national championships.
DR: So how does that affect bringing local sponsors on board? Are most people advertising on LSU sports year-round, or because you have three distinct seasons, do you have advertisers that lock into just football or just baseball or just basketball?
GR: I think 75% of our sports are sold the complete athletic year, starting with football, basketball with Will Wade, he’s done a phenomenal job, I think the best three year run of SEC win percentage in the history of the school, if I’m not mistaken. And, of course, baseball. And so we sell 75% of it all through. Certainly there’s some people that are baseball purists. They’re people that started with Skip Bertman twenty or twenty five years ago that have stayed with them.
The unique thing about baseball is it’s a three and a half hour game, right? You think about a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and you have a lot of people listening on the radio, cutting the lawn. There’s a lot of waterways here in Louisiana and people will have the Tigers on their radio, out on their boats partying or they’re doing what they do on Saturday and Sunday. So it is a big deal.
DR: So you have one station in the cluster that carries the Saints. Just this year, it was 104.5 that put the Kansas City Chiefs on.
GR: So it’s interesting. 98.1 has been the flagship for LSU. It’s a classic rock station that carries football, basketball and baseball. I don’t think you’ll see a top hundred market that has a 100,000 watt rock station with that much sports on it. I think back in 2010, we started with ESPN Radio, just two class A radio stations, 104.5 and 104.9, as a simulcast.
So what we wanted to do this year with the question mark of whether or not LSU was going to play, we knew the NFL was going to go. We have a Westwood One contract. Of course, we also have the Saints on on our classic rock station. They’re an affiliate. We wanted to get aggressive with the NFL. We already have the Westwood One package with the Thursday night, Sunday night and Monday night games, and decided to reach out and talk to Cincinnati because they had Joe Burrow. Then we talked to Kansas City because of Tyrann Matthieu, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Daryl Williams, a number of former LSU players with Kansas City, and we really struck a good relationship with the local affiliate there. So we carried all the Kansas City Chiefs games on 104.5 ESPN. You know, what a season to do that too! So, yeah, it was a good ride. It was the first time that we did that, so we were airing five NFL games every weekend on our properties.
DR: Airing the Chiefs, like you said, comes with a number of LSU connections. With your market being such a Saints-heavy sports culture, do you just go to advertisers and say “we have a package that includes 5 NFL games every weekend,” or do those LSU connections make it possible to sell the Chiefs as their own package?
GR: Well, they got the Saints and then we presented the whole NFL package. We have different levels, right? There are people that buy LSU and the Saints, and then I think that you have entry level opportunities for people that just get the NFL. I think for some some smaller businesses, it’s a really good play where they get the five NFL games and maybe some more or less that will air on the radio station.
But we really handpicked those games. I will tell you, there were games that were with Westwood One, we did some stuff with Compass, we had ESPN Radio and of course we had the Chiefs. Anytime we could get Joe Burrow before he got hurt, we put Joe Burrow on the radio. So, it was an NFL schedule that really lent itself to our market and our market interest.
DR: So with the insane success of that 2019 LSU team, not just winning a title, but all the guys they put in the NFL, is there anyone encroaching on the hardcore Saints fans? Could you see a future of carrying the Chiefs or Bengals regularly?
GR: Baton Rouge is a Saints town first and foremost and always will be. But, you know, the Saints are only going to fill one of those five spots Thursday night, Sunday night, Monday night or the 12 o’clock and the three thirty Central Time kickoff. So it’s an opportunity for four other ones. And I think with the success that LSU’s had and you look around and so many teams like Cincinnati with Burrow and what Kansas City has done, Devin White is down with Tampa Bay, Patrick Peterson with Arizona. So, it’s one of the things we will promote locally to our market here. If Patrick Peterson and the Arizona Cardinals take on Devin White and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s Sunday 3:30 pm on 104.5 ESPN.
DR: I want to turn the attention next to your on-air shows. Earlier this year, you had a high profile departure from the morning show. Jordy Culotta exited. The next day, T-Bob Hebert told the audience he didn’t like the decision and didn’t agree with it. Can you take me inside the conversation that happened before that? As a market manager, how do you ride the line of giving T-Bob the space to express his frustrations and also making sure he is on board with the plan moving forward?
GR: Yeah. You know, I get paid to make those decisions. Sometimes they are hard decisions. I had to sit down with T-Bob and give that explanation. And he told me, “I need to be me.” Which I certainly respect.
I think that’s a big part of it. We tell our people, “I need you to be real. You have the room to critique. Just don’t be an ass.” There’s lines to keep things between, and our guys do a good job of that. I respect his opinion. He’s been paid to do a morning show and I’m getting paid to run a business. I think we both understand that and I respect what he has to say.
DR: T-Bob is a guy that I think the world of. He is uniquely talented and just hard not to like.
GR: So, I know his dad, right? I’m in between them age-wise. His dad is a New Orleans legend, Bobby Hebert, the quarterback for the Saints. Now he’s down with WWL and the New Orleans Saints’ broadcast team.
I think both of them are tremendous talents. What I’ll say about T-Bob is that I don’t know where you get an offensive lineman that is intellectual, and loves Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars, and all the things that he does. I tell people it’s kind of like an acquired taste. But what I love about T-Bob is he is passionate. He really does the show prep and puts a lot of thought into his segments and where he’s going with the show.
It’s been really interesting to see him grow. He was an intern with us, and then went to WWL to do nights. We recruited him to come back to Baton Rouge. He was just getting married, and wanted to have a family. I said “Look, it’s a better quality of life. You can come do morning drive here in Baton Rouge. At that point, we did not have a New Orleans affiliate. We do now with ESPN Radio New Orleans. And with this recent transition, he’s now partners with Jacob Hester. That show is on state-wide, really Gulf South-wide on Cox Sports Television, which is the equivalent of like the Yes Network. It’s a big deal. I’m really happy and thrilled with the way that he’s grown.
DR: Let’s talk about that new morning show. T-Bob and Jacob are both former athletes. There is no lifelong broadcaster in the room. Do you think we put too much value on the idea that an ex-jock needs a radio nerd on air with him? Do you see that as something that can get in the way of letting former players grow beyond their stereotypical roles?
GR: I think the interesting part about it is, let’s talk about T-Bob. He has been more in the analyst role, the second seat. He did a little little lead with WWL, but primarily with us he has been in the second seat. And then you’ve got Jacob Hester that came from Shreveport, I think four years ago. He was really in the second seat and we put him in the first seat and went back and forth. In fact, I think I sat in on Mondays for a year with him, just to kind of get him with some different people so he could get comfortable. He ran lead. We wind up flipping him after Covid to middays and into the second seat with a veteran host in Charles Hanagriff. While he was doing that, he was also doing a lot of SiriusXM’s SEC Network with Chris Doering and Peter Burns. You have a lot of rotation with that.
I think the great thing about being with Guaranty Broadcasting is that I tell people we have the ability to be a dry erase board. If there was anyone that’s going to buck standards, it’s going to be us.
Who says that you have to have a lead and a second guy? You don’t. They take turns going back and forth and do it. To me, what’s more important is you’ve got two guys who really, really want to work with each other. When we made the transition, both of them raised their hand and they wanted to work with each other. Hester was in the midday, and when I sat down and had the discussion with T-Bob I said, “I’m open to whoever you want to work with. We posted the job. You tell me what you want to do.” Hester’s name came up and his eyes lit up like it was Christmas. And I think the same for Hester. Then we took a month to figure out what we wanted to do and the television element came into play and we made sure that we had a good vision of where we wanted to go. I think sometimes people in radio just panic.
We took our time. I think they planned it out well, and I will tell you, I’m absolutely thrilled with the success. We’ve had one affiliate pick up a third hour already. We’re working with another. Even the television syndicator, you know they looked at it from 7am to 9am, and we have discussions. Hopefully they’re going to pick it up for a third as well. So it’s been a home run for us so far.
DR: With Hester moving to mornings, are you still looking for someone to fill the midday vacancy?
GR: Yeah. So we have again, Charles Hanagriff, who was paired with Hester. Like everyone else, we’re just coming out of Covid and we had to do some layoffs, especially the part timers. We’re rebuilding our staff and we posted the job. Now of course, we shifted our focus from morning to somebody that would be in mid day.
The question is, at one point we had four shows on the radio station. We had two in the midday, and right now we have one. I think it’s all about finding the right fit. We’ve just started that process, and we’re not sure yet what that is. We’re a locally owned company. We don’t make a whole lot of changes, so we will take our time to make sure we get the right person.
DR: Speaking of culture, I’m from the Gulf Coast. I know that even though the whole culture is built on hospitality, Louisiana specifically is very parochial. How important is it that whoever you hire be from Louisiana or at least the Gulf Coast?
GR: I don’t think that you go in saying that you need a local person. I’ll tell you, I was on the search committee for the new play-by-play guy for LSU probably six years ago or so. And Chris Blair got the job and he was a play-by-play guy from Georgia Southern.
Some local knowledge may be a part of it. I don’t think you could come in 100 percent foreign to everything LSU and Saints. I’d think they’d struggle with that. But does it have to be somebody locally? I don’t think so.
DR: So for you, the local knowledge that matters is sports culture, not do you know we have parishes, not counties and can you pronounce all of their French names correctly?
GR: (laughing) Well, you know for all the years ESPN and CBS butchered Metairie, Louisiana as Mah-tari, that’s probably not a good look. But, I think this interview evolved to it. It’s not just hiring a talk show host anymore. You’re an influencer, right? I mean, you’re almost on 24/7.
One of the big things that we’ve been successful with is we sell live endorsements. I think that’s why we’ve outperformed the market during Covid. Our clients look at it as “There’s no way I’m canceling because so-and-so moves product for me. It’s got to be a part of my marketing plan.”
So it’s just not the on air role. The right fit will understand what we’re doing, our culture, and that we’re truly looking for an influencer.
DR : So let’s circle back on those affiliations. You have two shows heard on stations across Louisiana. How did that happen? Was it you going to stations and selling the access to LSU or did the stations have holes to fill and came to you?
GR: A little bit of both. We have great relationships. The owner in New Orleans sat down with myself and my friend Jeff Martindale with ESPN Radio when he made the effort to become an ESPN affiliate. Now he’s the flagship for the Pelicans and he’s got both our morning and afternoon shows on. Then you go to Cenla Broadcasting, tremendous broadcasters up there in Alexandria. We helped them with ESPN Radio to get that partnership going. So then up in Shreveport, Hester’s from there, so they broadcast his show. He was on the air there, and we found a way to kick it back.
So it’s being a Louisiana broadcaster. Our owner, Flynn Foster, was the chair of the LAB. So we have great relationships within the state. Then there was just an incredible relationship with Cox Sports Television. So the morning show’s on from seven to nine, hopefully seven to ten soon. Then Matt Moscona is on from three to six in the afternoon. So right now, six hours of their daily programing. We do a prep scoreboard from ten to twelve that goes statewide every night after their game, which has been a real win win. Then Hester and I do, I guess you’d say it is the equivalent of an ESPN GameDay that’s called LSU Game Day Live from 11 to 12 from wherever LSU plays.
CST’s a tremendous platform. It is the main cable provider in the state of Louisiana. You can see it in the whole state of Arkansas and on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, parts of Florida, San Diego, California. It’s tremendous visibility for us.
DR: Your studio has been set up to do something like that for a long time. Was it always about the Cox partnership or was the set and the camera setup put in thinking about creating multi-platform content?
GR: It was before we had the CST deal. Our studio is a hybrid of what Van Pelt and Rusillo had. I remember watching that studio in person and I was blown away how small it was. There are aspects of it that we took from that. We have a great relationship with Bonneville. One of my best friends in the business is Bonneville Phoenix, and they weren’t doing much in Phoenix, but they were doing this in Seattle. I made a trip because I’m a Portland Timbers fan, so one of my Oregon boys and I made the trip and flew out to Seattle to see the Bonneville studio, and we took pictures. Then of course, I went to watch Clint Dempsey play and then jumped on a overnight flight back to New Orleans.
So it’s a hybrid of ESPN Seattle and Scott Van Pelt and Rusillo. It’s really progressive and has been awesome for us. Our guys love it, and every piece of real estate in that thing was sold. It’s been a win for not only our sales, but our talent as well.
DR: In addition to radio, Guaranty Media owns a digital firm called Gatorworks. How involved are they every time you set out to pitch a new client?
GR: Any time that you sit down with a new client, you want to introduce additional questions. “What do you do on your website?” “What do you do in digital tactics?”
I want to say it was the 2014 NAB show in Indianapolis. Flynn Foster and I made the trip there. One of the great things about Flynn is he gives us the opportunity to see people face to face. I told him that when I started as GM in 2010 that I’m going to go somewhere and sit in the front row and learn. I think body language and tone and everything else is just as important than what’s coming out of people’s mouths.
We realized what was going on with digital. You know, a lot of people just went and got a third party firm. I think that our strategy was it’s not who we are. We are local. A higher percentage of our business is local. We needed a local digital company that did business the same way that we did, especially where clients can go in and sit at a table and look at analytics and do all the things that we do.
The reality of it is that if you take the third party out of it, one or two things can happen – the advertiser can get more bang for their buck or they can get a lower cost per thousand. It’s a great competitive advantage that we have. It’s a real simple pitch that we can make to advertisers.
Gatorworks has so much inbound and referral traffic. It’s been a great marriage. Ryan Rodriguez does an incredible job with data works.
DR: I saw Flynn talking about Gaterworks at the NAB in Dallas. He didn’t bring this up, but I did wonder in this time when there are people out there spinning the narrative that radio is old fashioned or dying, this is probably a really good way of kicking down that door if it’s a barrier you’re facing with a potential client.
GR: You do get some of that, but I think it goes back to the top of the funnel. You still need to do some sort of branding. You need to bring people to the top of the funnel. People need to know who you are. You spend all that money on the bottom part of the funnel and you tell people to click, and if they don’t know who you are, they’re less likely to click. So I think it’s a holistic marketing plan that we’re able to bring with top of the funnel and bottom of the funnel options.
DR: So you played football at both LSU and Purdue, correct?
GR: Purdue as a true freshman. We went 3-8. It was really cold. I had to play right away. I was only 17 years old and they fired the coach, Leo Burnett, and brought in Fred Akers.
I played in the All-Star Game in Tiger Stadium at the end of high school. It was LSU people running the thing and LSU did not recruit me. They did not offer me. I had a really good All-Star Game. They got back to me and said, “hey, look, we might have made a mistake. If things don’t work out, let us know.” And so that time came, 3-8 and a coaching change. I’d never seen snow, Demetri, in my life.
Anyway, long story short, I looked at options. I had good grades and I was considering going to Cornell. My old man and I had a long discussion. I flew back and I drove up and had a talk with Coach Archer. He decided to go ahead and give me the opportunity to walk on. I sat out that year and then played special teams right away as a sophomore and played all three years and eventually earned a scholarship. And so it was a great experience. I’m really blessed that it opened so many doors for me, life and work wise. I’m grateful that that was the path that I took.
DR: How much of what you learned as a player and saw from your coaches has translated into your management style?
GR: Well, you know, a little bit of everybody. I’ve done the sidelines for LSU games the last ten years and the beautiful thing is all the access to different voices and styles. Nick Saban, the process and his attention to detail, you pick a little bit of what he does. I love some of the stuff that Coach O does and what he brings to the table.
Not only that, but even to look across the field. I enjoy watching Dan Mullen going back to his days at Mississippi State. You could see why he’s successful in the way he approaches games and his game management. I’ll tell you, recently, one of the guys who I really enjoy is P.J. Fleck at Minnesota, I mean, wow, a breath of fresh air.
So, yeah, there’s no doubt that I think, the crossover to football for leadership and management exists. It’s an enjoyable way to learn and there is plenty to pick up from some of the best in sports.
Barrett Sports Media’s Next Big Thing Draft
“I asked 30 established stars in the sports media world to join me in determining who is next.”
There was a time when draft night, no matter the sport, meant that we were gathering the sports media for a similar exercise here at Barrett Sports Media. Between the pandemic, a changing focus, and more work than we could have anticipated when this business was launched, that tradition fell unfortunately by the wayside.
Today though, I am bringing it back. I asked 30 established stars in the sports media world to join me in determining who is next. This is the Barrett Sports Media Next Big Thing Draft. Just like the NBA, we have an age limit. The difference is theirs is at the low end and ours is at the high end.
We have long discussed the 40s being the decade where most people in this business are established and make the bulk of their money. So, I set 40 as the top end.
Now, sure, there are plenty of names under 40 that are already established stars. They are fair game. They are already their networks’ franchise players. They can be the same for the theoretical teams we are forming.
So, in order of their picks (which were drawn at random), here are the TV, radio, and digital stars that agreed to be a part of the draft.
- Steve Levy (ESPN)
- Paul Finebaum (ESPN/SEC Network)
- Doug Gottlieb (FOX Sports)
- Kirk Herbstriet (ESPN)
- Gregg Giannotti (WFAN)
- Tim Brando (FOX Sports)
- Wes Durham (ACC Network)
- Bomani Jones (ESPN/HBO)
- Gary Parrish (CBS Sports)
- Linda Cohn (ESPN)
- Stugotz (Meadowlark Media)
- Damon Bruce (95.7 The Game)
- Chris Broussard (FOX Sports)
- Freddie Coleman (ESPN Radio)
- Ric Bucher (FOX Sports)
- Petros Papadakis (FOX Sports)
- Michael Eaves (ESPN)
- Jason Smith (FOX Sports)
- John Kincade (97.5 The Fanatic)
- Rob Parker (FOX Sports)
- Adnan Virk (DAZN/Meadowlark Media)
- Damon Amendolara (CBS Sports Radio)
- Danny Parkins (670 The Score)
- Mike Florio (Pro Football Talk)
- Chris Carlin (ESPN New York)
- Carl Dukes (92.9 The Game)
- Jason Fitz (ESPN)
- Adam Schein (SiriusXM/CBS Sports)
- Dave Dameshek (Extra Points)
- Arash Markazi (WWENXT)
This took a lot of time and effort to put together, but we got it done. Here is how the draft went.
Here are a few observations from the 2021 Next Big Thing Draft.
THE FUTURE IS FEMALE – The first three picks were all women. Half of the top ten were women. Whether it is TV or podcasting, some of the brightest up and coming stars in our industry are women and that is a good thing.
BRAND LOYALTY – It probably shouldn’t be a surprise, but look at how many people chose up-and-coming stars at their own networks. Is that about job security and being a company man? Maybe, but look at Paul Finebaum choosing Laura Rutledge or Kirk Herbstreit choosing Pat McAfee or even Stugotz choosing Billy Gill. These people get to see their choices face to face with some regularity. I think it speaks to being able to recognize talent when you see it.
DAMON BRUCE KNOWS THE GAME – Bruce asked me to call him so he could make his pick over the phone. He wanted it to be clear. It was a crime that Shams Charania and his 1.2 million social media followers were still on the board at number eleven. “I want everyone to know how much they f***ed things up,” he told me.
A BIG IMPRESSION – I loved the story Jason Smith told me about why he took the versatile Morosi with the 18th pick. “When he comes on my show he likes to use Italian phrases (you know, him being Italian and all), so one time I challenged him that some time in the next week he had to do a media interview entirely in Italian and not explain why he was speaking Italian to the hosts. And he had to post it. Three days later he puts the interview on Twitter, and @’s me on it: It was a baseball interview he did with a TV station…wait for it…wait for it…in Italy. 3,000 miles and an early call time to win a dare. Well played, Jon-Paul.”
THE FREE AGENT MARKET – These people all went undrafted: Jason Bennetti, Big Cat, Domonique Foxworth, Mike Golic Jr, Cassidy Hubbarth, Mina Kimes, Joel Klatt, Katie Nolan, Danny Parkins, PFT Commenter, Brady Quinn, Taylor Rooks, Marcus Spears, and Joy Taylor. Some network or digital platform could build a hell of a roster with this draft’s leftovers. You could really see this playing out with the final picks. “I had 4 or 5 can’t miss picks that are already off the board,” Jason Fitz told me before he proceeded to waffle between three potential candidates for the 27th pick.
Olympic Basketball Is Just The Tip Of The Streaming Iceberg
“Most of you that paid for the game through Peacock are going to cancel the subscription once the Olympics are over, right?”
If you, like me, were searching for a live broadcast of last weekend’s Team USA/France game, it was not easy to find. NBC decided that one of the more popular sports in the Olympics was only good enough for their new streaming platform Peacock. Yeah, you could have streamed it through the NBC Olympic app, but it was early Sunday morning, who wants to mess with that?
I wanted to see it on my television set without having to hunt for the app. Call me old fashioned. Also, you better call me a technology expert, because I have seen the future of sports and it’s streaming, not beaming to your set.
I know, it’s been trending this way for a while and I’m not Nostradamus, but it really hit me last week. I have so many questions. How much is this going to cost, on top of what I’m already shelling out for cable? What does this mean for teams throughout all the major sports? Revenue? Lastly, what’s going to become of the Regional Sports Network? Some of them are heavily invested in or even owned by the teams themselves.
We all understand why NBC aired the basketball game on its new digital network. Money rules the day. Plus, they figured, if we can get people to pay the $4.99 upgrade just to watch this game, we can hook them in for the other features too. Or, maybe they thought, well this is the only sport we’re putting on the premium service, let’s see how it goes and perhaps we’ll get some new subscribers this way. So, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking this was some brilliant idea because they weren’t sure how good the Men’s Hoops Team would be, it’s about cash. And also, let’s be totally honest. Most of you that paid for the game through Peacock are going to cancel the subscription once the Olympics are over, right?
You could have watched the game through the Olympics App, simply by opening the app, then verifying your cable service and entering your user name and password for your service. There were a few hoops, no pun intended, to jump through, but this way, you aren’t paying more than you already are for cable. It seems like a lot of things are set up this way, possibly to gain information on how many users are actually streaming through third party apps.
Even after all of that, NBC decided to re-air the game on the network hours after it was completed. Hello NBC, maybe you didn’t get the memo that this is 2021 and there’s this thing called Twitter and other things called smart phones. Everybody that wanted to know the result already knew the final score. I feel like this is the majority of those watching the Olympics. It’s a waste of air-time. This is a story for perhaps another time.
I’m not sure why we routinely stream movies and TV shows and don’t think much of it at the time. Shelling out up to ten bucks a month for Netflix doesn’t seem as painful to me for some reason. For most of my life, sports were on free, over the air television. Yeah, it was a bit jarring when my teams moved to cable but we adapted. I just had to point my remote control to a different station, and there was my team in living color. Until recently this was the case for most of us. Especially since most of the RSN’s linked to professional teams are locked into long term contracts, there hasn’t been a reason to move with the times. Those of the younger generations have been the ones to see the shift to streaming, through an RSN’s app or cable app.
Now some of these agreements are expiring which means, teams and leagues are starting to explore the world of streaming. Some will have more streaming as of next year for mega bucks. Executives have realized that some of their viewers feel alienated. This, after “cutting the cord” with cable, giving them few alternatives to watch their favorite team.
It’s not a good time for RSN’s, who are basically the middleman between the teams and cable companies. There are instances where the network is actually owned by the team, like the Yankees’ YES and the Cubs’ Marquee Sports Network. The only advantage the RSN’s have now is they are where the fans go to see every local game. Changes to that thought process are in the works too which could leave the RSN out in the cold.
With streaming becoming such a popular way to catch a game or an event, some executives were caught off guard as to how fast this was taking place. It was time to adapt or die. In an effort to gain new “viewers” online platforms with sports are much more critical and important. NBC is abandoning its NBC Sports Network by the end of the year. With the NHL moving on to ESPN and Turner, some of the other properties like NASCAR and EPL will likely head to Peacock.
Major League Baseball has had success with MLB.tv, a way for fans that move away from their home area to view their hometown team. Inherent is the problem of blackouts, which in the not-too-distant future could change, creating a whole new ballgame for the league. Teams recently got the right to sell their own local streaming rights. Now they are still under the guidelines of honoring existing RSN streaming contracts. When those expire, they are free to move on.
The NFL is streaming too. Peacock will get exclusive national rights to stream six regular-season games, one per season, from 2023-2028. This is in addition to its ongoing streams of NBC’s regular weekly NFL broadcasts. Peacock will also launch a virtual NFL channel highlighting classic games and content from NFL Films. Paramount+ will stream CBS games to local customers on both their ad-supported and ad-free tiers. Then there’s Amazon Prime, which starts exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football next season.
The NHL’s new contract with ESPN and Turner allows for streaming rights too. The agreement between Turner Sports and the National Hockey League includes live streaming and digital rights across WarnerMedia including HBO Max.
Streaming services don’t require the use of an RSN. So, how will the RSN itself compete? Some have started to develop a “direct-to-consumer” model, which includes an app and streaming without a cable provider or the need for Hulu or YouTube TV. This would allow the cord cutter to continue to watch his/her favorite local team that’s currently carried on the RSN without having to subscribe to cable. It’s not clear yet how much this might cost.
In an article at Sportico.com from earlier this year, Sinclair President and CEO Chris Ripley addressed investors about the plan to go DTC. Ripley said the company is “currently developing a product to reach consumers on a direct basis, in an app, similar to the way consumers access over-the-top platforms.” Sinclair hopes to roll out the app sometime in the first half of 2022. Ripley added, the service is meant to complement the existing linear TV properties rather than replace them outright.
Ok, well that’s one way to keep yourself relevant in this ever-changing marketplace. Again, what will it cost? Nobody seems to know that information yet and it will be a huge determining factor in what consumers decide to do.
Here’s the biggest hurdle I see for the DTC approach. Will each RSN be able to handle itself and stay competitive in the streaming space? Probably not. It likely depends on which teams that particular network is providing coverage of and maybe how long the season is as well.
What do I mean? Let’s say for example you’re an Arizona Diamondbacks fan (no offense Dbacks fans, I know it’s been a tough year, but this furthers what I mean). The team has been on the losing end of the score more often than not. Fox Sports Arizona decides to offer you a streaming package so you can watch all 162 games. Are you really going to do that? Wouldn’t you be more inclined this year to say, “nope, I’m sitting this one out”.
Unless they’re going to offer fans a game-by-game package, it’s going to be a hard sell for the season. Obviously, you have no idea at the beginning of the year how the team will perform, but that’s when they’ll want your money. It’s a gamble for both you the viewer and the RSN, because the latter will come out the loser in this situation.
Nobody has a crystal ball to predict exactly how this will play out or when this scenario will even be a reality. Right now, there are many ways you can still watch your favorite sports whether you have cable, an HD Antenna or you’ve cut the cord. Things will be changing eventually. How many RSN’s will take the plunge into the arena of streaming on their own? That’s the multi-billion-dollar question.
Five Who Get It, Five Who Don’t
A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives angry DMs from media burner accounts
THEY GET IT
“Ted Lasso,” Apple TV+ — If cancel culture is alive and not well, there also is an antithetical wave of groupthink culture — a groundswell of social-media obsession driven more by a cool-kid-copycat craze than reality. But here’s a “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk” shoutout anyway to Jason Sudeikis, the Kansas alumnus/fan who is riding a wildfire wave of 20 Emmy nominations and astounding popularity. Lasso, as you probably know, is an impossibly kind, upbeat, small-time U.S. football coach who relocates to England after a romantic breakup and coaches a professional soccer team — without a lick of experience. I’m liking the TV comedy more than loving it, so I’m assuming its success emanates from being the antithesis of dark, sinister pandemic programming. Yet this isn’t just some fad from the millennial/Gen Z genre. When Lasso is asked by his boss, “What would you say to a drink?” in a post-game invitation, he responds, “Oh, the same thing I’d say to Diane Sawyer if she ever asked me out on a date: Yes, please.” Sure enough, at age 75, the venerated ABC journalist responded with her first tweet in more than a year: “Dear Ted Lasso — I’m in. Your move.” When Diane Sawyer is watching, “Lasso” obviously is doing something right — except, perhaps, in the view of Olivia Wilde, who left Sudeikis in real life for younger dude Harry Styles. I only know that from reading the New York Post, a habit for which God never will forgive me.
Vaccinated media people — The coronavirus will be a predominant blight on American life until we reach some semblance of herd immunity. And that won’t happen when half the U.S. population isn’t fully vaccinated. Sports media represent a miniscule sample size, but if employers aren’t mandating double jabs, then sports leagues and teams are encouraged to intensify health protocols and ban anti-vax reporters. The NFL and college football are cracking down for the upcoming season, and expect all the rest to fall in line. In an industry with enough existential problems, no one should have to risk an intensive care visit because Joe Blowtorch from 106.9 The Sports Animal is an anti-vaxxer.
Malika Andrews, ESPN — Just as I respected Rachel Nichols because of her extensive sports journalism background, I view Andrews similarly. So if the network bosses insist on holding a professional grudge against Nichols because of her diversity-hire comments about since-departed Maria Taylor — a reminder: she was speaking from the privacy of her hotel room and was caught on tape by an ESPN remote camera, which still strikes me as a slam-dunk legal victory — why not award “NBA Countdown” hosting honors to Andrews? She has strong reporting chops that allow for a more authoritative presence on a show revolving around information and commentary. Cassidy Hubbarth is high on lists, too, but Andrews sparkled when interviewing Giannis Antetokounmpo and the champion Milwaukee Bucks during their trophy ceremony, prompting ESPN colleague Adam Schefter to text, “Very impressive to watch a 26-year-old interview the world-champion Milwaukee Bucks on national television, and handle it as smoothly and professionally as she has.” I predict a bigger future for Andrews than Taylor. Might as well push the start button, or also risk losing her.
Thom Brennaman, dues payer — Enough with the snide jokes from the likes of ESPN’s Sarah Spain, who never will have Brennaman’s career and has her own professional issues. He is trying to rebound from his income-halting gay slur — and subsequent pause to call a Nick Castellanos home run, which prompts the memes — by going back to his broadcasting roots. He’ll call Cincinnati high-school games on a website called Chatterbox Sports, whose president, Trace Fowler, explained: “We’re excited to allow him another opportunity to put a headset on again. And the biggest thing that I hope people take away from this is that we are not downplaying what was said, what people feel from that. More importantly, in my opinion, I hope we don’t live in a society where we’re essentially going to try to, I don’t want to use the word ‘cancel,’ but we’re not going to end people’s careers and think that’s going to solve any kind of problem.” As I’ve written, when Ozzie Guillen continues to work in a major-league studio with his history of slurs (such as “f—ing fag”), Brennaman certainly should get another shot in baseball. His father, legendary broadcaster Marty Brennaman, pointed out the double standard of Stephen A. Smith not being reprimanded by ESPN after insensitive comments about Shohei Ohtani, tweeting: “I only wish my son’s employers had been as forgiving as yours.” The Reds should rehire him. He has served his sentence.
Puckheads, everywhere — For the first time in eons, a traditional niche sport has legitimate momentum among the masses. That is especially true when juxtaposed against the hopeless old-man slog that is Major League Baseball, which drew just 509,000 viewers for a Cubs-Cardinals game — a longstanding rivalry — on ESPN. In the same evening, on ESPN2, the NHL expansion draft involving the Seattle Kraken drew 637,000 viewers. Don’t try to explain it away as a national baseball broadcast that doesn’t include regional network audiences from Chicago and St. Louis. The Kraken, in the middle of July, were bigger than the Cubs and Cardinals. Now, can Gary Bettman start acting like a real commissioner and continue to blast-market his sport as ESPN and Turner Sports take over coverage this fall?
“Hard Knocks,” HBO — Who knew a TV show could be more imposing than Aaron Donald, more dangerous than Patrick Mahomes and more mind-consuming than Tom Brady? Such is the enduring mystique of the “Hard Knocks” jinx, which, myth or otherwise, has seen every featured team fall short of the Super Bowl. The Dallas Cowboys are the latest to take up the gauntlet — and why not? If 25 years have passed since Jerry Jones won a championship, at least he can do what he does best and hog camera time. Fox Sports Radio host Colin Cowherd describes the Cowboys’ appearance as “a self-inflicted distraction,” but they aren’t challenging for a championship regardless. So I’d rather watch Dak Prescott and the embattled coach, Mike McCarthy, than the Broncos, Panthers, Giants and Cardinals — the other eligible NFL franchises. Honestly, if a team is that rattled by a reality series, it isn’t worthy of a title anyway. All of which speaks well for the show’s continuing interest level — and my decision to add a sixth entry to “They Get It.”
THEY DON’T GET IT
NBC — The network that gave us Matt Lauer’s desk button, the Harvey Weinstein whitewashing and a $7.7 billion dirty dance with the International Olympic Committee now shoves something called Peacock into our eyeballs. We knew the streaming platform would be introduced at the Tokyo Games; we didn’t know it would hold us hostage as the lone vehicle to watch live coverage of two troubling U.S. stories: Simone Biles and the U.S. basketball Scream Team. As it is, NBC will be remembered as a callous co-conspirator if the Olympics cause a coronavirus superspread in Japan. But by forcing people to buy a Peacock subscription to see Biles in the mornings — or wait 13-plus hours to see her at night in prime time — well, let’s just say Ronan Farrow should be summoned to investigate the network that didn’t want his Weinstein reporting. When Biles stepped away from the gymnastics team event in perhaps the biggest story of the Games, it happened when America was eating breakfast or waking up. But NBC intentionally didn’t air video of Biles, only showing still photos so viewers would be enticed to: (1) watch the prime-time show hours later; and (2) buy Peacock. Worse, the network reported Biles had a “physical injury” when she cited “mental health” for her exit. Those who have signed up for Peacock report issues ranging from streaming interruptions to a week-long wait for replays. Someone should call the Better Business Bureau when NBC charges money to watch the Scream Team lose to France. By the way, did anyone ask the iconic peafowl if it was OK to disparage his otherwise good name?
Pete Bevacqua, NBC Sports Group chairman — Continuing the wishful thinking of NBCUniversal chief executive Jeff Shell, who suggested Tokyo would be “the most profitable Olympics in the history of the company,” Bevacqua seemingly tried to brainwash Americans into watching. “I think the world right now needs an Olympics more than ever,” he said in a media session. “We’re going into this with a tremendous amount of optimism, and we really feel that it’s going to be something special.” The early averages, ranging between 16.8 million and 19.8 million, project as some of the lowest ratings ever for a Summer Games — massive drops from the London and Rio de Janeiro Games and, according to Sports Business Journal, markedly below every NFL postseason game this year and even the most recent Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. To be fair, NBC is dealing with daunting obstacles: a whopping time difference, no fans or energy at venues and fears that the Games will generate multiple virus outbreaks. But Shell and Bevacqua knew about these challenges long before the Opening Ceremony, reminding us that the b.s quotient for TV executives is uncommonly high.
Mike Tirico, NBC/IOC propagandist — If NBC could have created the face of its sports division in a laboratory, Tirico would have been the final product — safe, obedient, cheery and no controversial observations that upset IOC president Thomas Bach and the network’s almighty business partners in the Olympic movement. I am straining not to mention how much I miss Bob Costas’ astute world view when I say Tirico is manufactured mush. He lost me during the Opening Ceremony, a gloomy event where athletes waved at empty seats and often violated coronavirus protocols, which he and co-host Savannah Guthrie purposely overlooked. And he infuriated me when he brushed over the Scream Team’s loss like it was a sluggish practice in Vegas, making excuses for Team USA’s first Olympic defeat in 17 years and assuring that the NBA slackers would reach “the knockout round.” When Tirico speaks, I mostly feel nothing. Would someone explain how he survived an in-house ESPN scandal to reach the pinnacle of sports broadcasting?
Andy Benoit, Los Angeles Rams — The objective of sports media, or so I thought, was to cover the sports industry — not be part of it. For years, as Benoit wrote for sites such as the New York Times and Sports Illustrated, little did anyone know he was gunning for an NFL gig. This creates a conflict of interest when he writes a glowing piece about Sean McVay when he was a Washington Redskins assistant … and McVay hires him years later, while entrenched as Rams head coach, as a special projects assistant. The DMZ crossover is happening much too often, which blurs the lines between journalism — or what is left of it — and public relations. When I attended Ohio University, there was an acclaimed communication school and an acclaimed sports administration school. The sports-ad guys loathed me, as they should have, because I was covering and scrutinizing sports, not hustling for a future on a pro franchise masthead. Benoit wanted it both ways and somehow got away with it, either because his website editors couldn’t see through him or didn’t know better.
Mike Milbury, former hockey analyst — Sometimes, you’re better off just shutting up than exacerbating a bad situation. Milbury was fired last year by NBC after his most offensive comment of a caveman career, saying of life in the NHL’s virus bubble, “It’s the perfect place. Not even any woman here to distract you.” In trying to explain himself to Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, he sounded like a loon. “As a player and coach in the league, I’ve been on a lot of road trips and around a lot of guys that are young, fit, well-compensated, have celebrity status, and when they go on the road they play hard and they party hard. And a lot of their attention is on women, and I certainly don’t mean that in a bad way,” Milbury said. “Now I get it, everybody else has other ways to party, but that’s my experience and I stand by it. It’s biology, for (goodness) sake. So sometimes their lust for companionship was a distraction. So I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the comment, but apparently it was to other people. And I got dismissed from my job. Excuse me, but I’m not going to be canceled. I refuse to be canceled. The only thing that’s going to cancel me is the grim reaper, and I can see him in the distance, but not yet.” Enjoy the cave, Mike. Not even any woman there to distract you.
MBC — America isn’t the only country that dabbles in cultural and racial stereotypes. The South Korean network apologized for posting offensive images during its coverage of the Opening Ceremony. When the Italian team marched into the stadium, a piece of pizza appeared. When Norway entered, a slice of salmon emerged. Team Romania was greeted with a picture of Count Dracula. How would MBC like it if I mentioned my lingering stereotype of Seoul — a strong kimchi odor that stuck to my clothes? Never thought kimchi would command a sixth “They Don’t Get It” mention.
Jourdan Rodrigue, The Athletic — We all have bad days, but how did her editors allow this to appear as her news-story lead about the torn Achilles tendon of Rams running back Cam Akers: “I’m not even going to sugarcoat it — this sucks.” What, does the site’s beat writer work for the Rams? Is she a paid member of the p.r. department? Is she taking her cues from Benoit? I’ve never seen a breaking news story start with the word “I’m.” Nor have I seen a breaking news story use the word “sucks.” Sucks for who, McVay and owner Stan Kroenke? It shouldn’t suck for Rodrigue, who becomes our seventh entry in “They Don’t Get It.”
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