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Streaming Your Home Team’s Games Shouldn’t Be This Hard

“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?”

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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. 

Apple AirPlay and AirPlay Mirroring Explained

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 Seattle Kraken & ROOT SPORTS Announce TV Rights Partnership

“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.

End the Blackouts | The Hardball Times

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.

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5 Goals

5 Goals: Rob ‘World Wide Wob’ Perez

“I’ve always had aspirations, hopefully with FanDuel in collaboration with another network, to apply NFL Red Zone to the NBA.”

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This month’s subject of five goals is Rob Perez, better known to NBA Twitter as World Wide Wob. The content creator and producer for FanDuel shared with me five things he wants to accomplish or see happen.

1. I want to make FanDuel, my licensing partner in content creation, as happy as possible.

My goal is to drive people to their web site or app, and spread the reach of the brand. I’m sure there’s a more formal word for that, but I want to organically integrate FanDuel into everything I do.

I don’t want to just be a commercial — hey 20% off, or here’s a free bet — because people are drowning in those across various forms of communication. All the content I do is naturally involved, and if someone’s asking about who’s favored it’s a very seamless type of content integration in which I can include them and drive them to FanDuel if they’d like to put their money where their mouth is. 

I would certainly love the opportunity to continue working with them — not just because they pay me to do so, but I do find value in working with a sportsbook of that size that is turning into a content company. Of course, they’re always gonna be a sportsbook. It makes them the most money. But, giving you additional reasons to engage with that brand, if you have an itch to bet on something, is what my job is.

I want to continue to be the face of the NBA for them, having a very casual conversation about the game itself — whether that’s off the court stuff, or all the coaching departures earlier this week. Integrating the FanDuel logo into all this feels much more real than a 30-second commercial between timeouts. I want you to enjoy the experience of the show, and gamble if you so choose.

2. NBA Red Zone.

I’ve always had aspirations, hopefully with FanDuel in collaboration with another network, to apply NFL Red Zone to the NBA. It would work best on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and sometimes Sunday, when there are 8-9 concurrent games.

That’s why I’m where I am today. I’m watching every single dribble of every single game. But, I would never expect any other normal human with responsibilities outside of NBA content creation to ever keep up with what’s going on between the Kings and Pistons while there’s seven other games on, one of which is nationally televised. 

So, if the NBA ever decides to have a true commitment to their version of the Red Zone — they’ve tried versions of it on NBATV, but I’ve never seen one hopping between games every 15-20 seconds, hot switching any time there’s a play stoppage — I’d love to do it. 

You’d have a Scott Hanson type host who is as integrated with the league as it gets. I hope maybe one day I have the opportunity where what I do on my own personal timeline merges with true rights partnership from the NBA. Just based on the feedback I get on my Twitter page, there would be demand for it. 

3. Do another NBA variety show.

In the past, I had a show called Buckets that I did with Cycle and ESPN. It had sketches, pre-produced talk segments, and interviews. Think of it like Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon’s shows, but applied to the NBA. 

Inside the NBA is obviously the gold standard for an NBA talk show. But, those guys are going to retire at some point. What I do on Twitter Spaces, Twitch, and Periscope — I want the ability to blow that out with some more production resources. 

Photo Credit: TNT

Right now, I’m doing everything myself, from playing DJ to directing to taking calls to actually running the show and talking basketball and researching stats — I’m doing it all on the fly. While I’m certainly happy to do that, I know what we could create with a team around me because we’ve done it in the past. I would love to do a weekly variety show based around the NBA.

4. Some more work life balance.

My entire day for 11 months out of the year revolves around the NBA. It’s my job and I’m happy to. I love following it. At some point, I feel like I’m gonna get burned out, and I don’t want to ever get to the point where doing this feels like work

It felt a little bit like work this year, and that might be because I’m on Year 8 doing this. [RG note: at this point, I mentioned how last offseason was so condensed after the bubble, and how the energy felt partially zapped out of sports with a lack of fans]. I’m gonna watch regardless because I’m a crazy person, but I think a lot of people would agree with you that the return to normalcy is helping with the engagement on a mainstream scale.

This offseason will be condensed again. We have the Olympics, which of course I’m going to watch because stars will be playing. Summer League is in August. There’s free agency and the draft. There’s barely going to be one month — September — where there probably won’t be a whole lot of NBA news or events. 

But then we’re going back to the normal schedule from before the pandemic, which means Media Week will be the first week of October. There’s one month off before it all starts again, and I’m hoping I don’t get burned out by it. 

Being on the East Coast, it’s impossible to follow the NBA 24/7. I don’t know how people with kids and families do it. Getting back to the West Coast is a personal goal of mine, which will happen this summer when I move back to Los Angeles. These hours will allow me to get back to a more normal life.

5. I want the Knicks to win a championship in my lifetime.

Just being a die hard Knicks fan and not seeing a title in my lifetime, that’s a personal goal. I’ve put so much work into watching every effing game since I was eight years old with Patrick Ewing and John Starks in the NBA playoffs. 

I was young, but I was old enough to know that I wanted to stay up for those games. I was emotionally invested. I would even get to the point where I was putting towels underneath the door so my parents couldn’t see that the TV was on. They thought I was sleeping. 

Patrick Ewing New York Knicks NBA Posters for sale | eBay
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Of course I want my team to win a championship, and I don’t want to die without seeing that mountaintop. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a Red Sox or Cubs fan and going all those years without seeing them win, then having it happen. I want to experience it once. 

Whatever it takes to get there. I have too many gray hairs on my head, and every single one of them I can attribute to a single Knicks game from the past decade. Being a fan while trying to create objective NBA content will always be a challenge, but being a Knicks fan will always take precedent over a career because it means that much to me.

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BSM Writers

Forget the Email, Just Smile & Dial

“Don’t confuse marketing with sales. We are not human advertisements or, even worse, spam.”

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Back in August of last year, the pandemic was still front and center, acting as a roadblock for business. Retailers were in business and at the stores, but what about the advertising buyers? Where were they?

Well, the ad-buying community, corporate employees, and most white-collar workers were still at home. So were most of us in radio sales. So, when it came to prospecting for new accounts, some of us gave up, most sent emails, and a few brave souls hit the phone. Earlier this year, I wrote about the sales trainer John Barrows and how he got to the top by cold calling 400 prospects a week! That’s not cold emailing. That’s cold CALLING. And to be exact, if Barrows was working a 10 hour day on the phones Monday through Friday, he would dial at least eight prospects an hour. 

Does that send a chill down your spine?   Or does it make you want to run to your keyboard to avoid rejection and send some more cold emails? Back in August, when most of our ad buyers were at home, not near a business phone, Jeb Blount and Anthony Iannarino were recording a podcast about why you should hit the phone, not the email. Both sales consultants and authors thought we could improve our connect rate immensely by working the phones over email. 

Both authors agreed that we need to have conversations with people about our stations, personalities, shows, and the sports world! We can hire an automated CRM service to send emails!

Now I am all for some well-crafted custom emails sent to targets that do not answer phones or listen to voice mails but not as the first activity in a sales sequence. Don’t confuse marketing with sales. We are not human advertisements or, even worse, spam. Our job isn’t to create awareness for buying sports radio packages; it is to make the sale!

We are consultants offering custom solutions to the unique challenges your clients have. And consider that if you pick up the phone and connect with the advertising buyer and get the appointment, you won’t need an email!  

Both consultants agree that you don’t need email to warm up a client when using the phone to get the appointment! I recently tested this theory myself and decided that with the pandemic subsiding in most metropolitan areas and more buyers going back to the office, I could start hitting the phones more. 

It worked. I got more appointments faster and wasted less time. I even got help. I had a business owner who I reached out to via email with a custom approach. I offered a few excellent ideas on how I could help him. Crickets. I let 2.5 weeks go by before I picked up the phone to dial the business and ask for him. They told me he was out on vacation and asked me if I had personal interaction with him. I explained no I was looking to connect with him on an advertising idea. The receptionist said you need to talk to Jane, the ad buyer. I was connected immediately.

Erma Scholl working the Old Forge switchboard in 1971. Photo courtesy of the Goodsell Museum.
Courtesy: Goodsell Museum

I left a voice mail. The next day I received a return call indicating interest in my idea, and we set the appointment. Now, why didn’t I try that in the first place!

If you want a custom phone pitch that I wrote out for myself, send me an email at jeffcaves54@gmail.com. Now it’s time to smile and dial! 

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 33

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It has been a busy week at BSM. Demetri Ravanos talks about Domonique Foxworth and the future of commentary on ESPN. Kate Constable stops by to discuss her column on Sarah Spain and the sometimes ugly realities of life as a woman in sports media. Finally, Brian Noe and Demetri discuss Le’veon Bell’s Twitter rant and how depressingly relevant it is in the radio business.

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