Last week, when the NHL signed a $2.8 billion deal to return to ESPN, the emphasis was on digital streaming. The announcement boasted that over 1000 live hockey games would be available through ESPN+. Still, those consider the trend of streaming-only out-of-market games, as teams don’t realize they are losing fans to local blackouts and cable subscription requirements.
Just for fun last month, I did a Twitter poll asking who of my followers still had cable. 55% said they still had cable. 38% had cut the cord, while 6% literally clicked on “What’s a TV?” 😊
The poll was telling in that more people still had cable than I would have guessed. Being in my mid-40’s, my followers might also be older and used to cable TV. Still, any young person I know (I have been an adjunct professor off and on for a decade so I know a few 18-25-year-olds even though many of my friends are 35+) not only doesn’t have cable, they usually don’t have a live streaming service like YouTube TV, Sling TV, or Hulu Live.
In December 2018, I did a Sports with Friends podcast about NBA ratings declining because young people were watching highlights of games and not watching the live game. In it, my guests were critical of the NBA being so loyal to TNT and ESPN that it was losing touch with its younger fan base. The NBA allowing highlights on Snapchat and Instagram was making the live games less compelling.
For me, I subscribe to Hulu Live. And Netflix. Disney+. HBO Max. And a few others. Still, my main teams that I root for are the Syracuse Orange football, basketball, and lacrosse teams, Arsenal FC, and my beloved New Jersey Devils. Sure I watch other sports for professional coverage, but those are the only teams I genuinely root for.
‘Cuse games can be found on the ESPN app. ACC Network Extra notably does a really cool presentation where they use college students to host pre-game and halftime shows for different athletic events. Arsenal has more than a few games on NBC Sports or the free Peacock app. The Devils? Well, that’s a different story altogether.
Madison Square Garden’s app MSGGO app is by far the worst offender. Owned by a cable company, MSG refuses to design an Apple TV app. To watch the Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils, a fan has to sign in on their iPhone or iPad with a password from a TV subscription. Then AirPlay to a TV.
Let’s say a random fan (let’s call him Everett) is watching the Devils game. In a span of 30 minutes, a phone call, text message, Twitter notification all knock the game off of the TV. The process is so arduous that it shouldn’t be so difficult.
This is not about the team’s agreements with networks. Local rights between teams and RSNs are commonplace. Still, it does not need to be so difficult.
For example, the YES Network has an Apple TV app. Sign in with said credentials, and the Yankees or Nets can be seen with relative ease.
Back to ESPN’s NHL deal. If that press release about the 1000 games on ESPN+ included local markets, the subscriber base would skyrocket. To live in New York with three local teams, having access to Colorado-Nashville does not motivate me to subscribe.
Cable companies negotiated their rights deals with teams in the hope that live sports would continue to convince fans to keep their respective services. Some of those agreements have existed for decades.
Still, a deal negotiated in 2020 made the same bad decisions. The Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s new expansion franchise that is set to begin play in Fall 2021, inked a deal with Root Sports that disappointedly looks exactly like all the others.
“The Kraken could have tried putting together a separate, over-the-top streaming package — perhaps even working with a sponsor such as Amazon to get it done in a financially palatable way for everybody,” Seattle Times sports business reporter/columnist Geoff Baker wrote on January 26. “But this wasn’t that type of groundbreaking RSN deal.”
Teams will undoubtedly say that the driving force behind this was financial. There is no naivety in knowing this. However, as kids are growing up in this digital age, fewer will have televisions and will have less of a connection to their sports franchises.
Major League Baseball has long been a pioneer in streaming baseball games. Currently, MLB.com offers monthly and annual fees to stream out-of-market games. The time has come where local rightsholders have to loosen their grip and offer a revenue-sharing option to customers. Pay a fee in Baltimore and see the Orioles on your phone. For someone without cable in Baltimore, it is easier to become a Red Sox fan than it is to follow the Orioles. It is cheaper to subscribe to an out-of-market team than the one that plays in their hometown. That is what doesn’t make sense?
I cut the cord in December 2017. I celebrated it on social media. I waited to get rid of DirecTV until my cancellation penalties expired. I invested in a few Apple TV devices, and now I watch television better. There is no “flipping.” I do not “see what’s on.” I have lists, see great content all the time, and find the time I spend in front of a TV is quality, and the word “couch potato” isn’t in my vernacular.
Yes, I trade passwords with family only. In exchange for apps that I have subscribed to, I receive logins that I couldn’t get otherwise. I am not apologizing, and I’m far from alone.
This Devils fan can muddle through that off MSGGO app, but only because I’m a fan since that franchise moved to New Jersey from Colorado in 1982. If the Devils were on SNY, I could see them through my Hulu Live subscription. Put New Jersey on the YES Network, and their app would work, even though I borrow a login. Still, during the 1st period of Thursday night’s Devils’ 3-2 victory over the Penguins, my TV lost the feed of the Devils game 3 times because of regular cell phone activity. In one period!
My kids (ages 12 and 9) like the Devils, but if I were not home and there was a game, they couldn’t figure out that app situation if their fanhood depended on it. When my 12-year-old enters the adult world, she will not even consider a cable subscription. Would the Devils want to lose her as a fan? What incentive could they bring to make their games more accessible? My vote? Sign with a network like SNY or YES. Those are exponentially easier.
This is not a New Jersey problem. This happens all over the United States, and next week, I can become the 150th columnist this decade to write something about MLB blackout rules that are idiotic.
The time has come to make local streaming rights available in any market. Stop holding it over just for the cable folks. Those fine people are getting older, and the future is streaming.
Television rights are always big-money deals. If the decision to cut the cord comes up, a sports fanhood might not keep the deal going much longer. As a matter of fact, it’d be really nice to see one team break the mold, and make their games more available.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.