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MLB’s Blackout Rules Are Archaic & Hurt Fans

“Guam, a US Territory not part of the continental US, blacks out San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s games. Yep, Guam, which requires a layover in Hawaii if you’re flying there from the contiguous United States.”

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Baseball began an ambitious opening day, trying to appeal to a younger demographic.  The 2021 Opening Day will have limited (except in Texas) fans in the stands, and hope springs eternal. Still, the beginning of the season reminds TV viewers how backward the MLB blackout rules are, even in markets where the regional sports network is not available.

Here are a few cases in point.  If you live in Louisiana, you are considered the home market for the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers. That is not comparing Pearland, Texas to Houston.  That’s over 350 miles from New Orleans to Minute Maid Park.  

MLB would rather force a baseball fan in New Orleans to find a cable service than accept $119 for MLB.TV.

Billings, Montana is 817 miles from T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Washington.  Still, MLB.TV considers Billings the home territory and subject to local blackouts. It would take 12 hours to drive to Seattle from Billings (I have done that drive; it’s brutal).  

That hardly tells the whole story.  The Mariners’ territory includes 560,000 square miles and includes seven states, including North Dakota and Alaska.

Guam, a US Territory not part of the continental US, blacks out San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s games.  Yep, Guam, which requires a layover in Hawaii if you’re flying there from the contiguous United States.

This is not even about the subject of my column two weeks ago about how teams across all sports make it nearly impossible to watch local markets.

Baseball tries to compensate for this ridiculous suck-up by teams to their cable networks by lifting all blackout restrictions on streaming the radio calls of their game.  

Yes, someone reading this today remembers lying in their room somewhere in middle America trying to get the Cardinals game on the KMOX signal, which could broadcast at night in 35 states and even other countries.  Make sure to get the antenna just right.

Radio play-by-play in baseball is the easiest on the ears of all sports. Even the greatest play-by-play announcers acknowledge that football, basketball, and hockey are tough to follow along (as a listener) but the broadcast is good for people who want to know what is going on in the game.

Still, we live in 2021, and the technology in smartphones is a little beyond what first got us to the moon, let alone what is in that transistor radio antenna. The tech capabilities to broadcast video on smartphones, tablets, and televisions make the video feed too attractive and rubs in the fact that you can live a thousand miles away from a team, and still fall into that club’s home territory.

The crème de la crème of MLB blackout nonsense is Las Vegas, Nevada.  Enter in a Vegas zip code into MLB.COM’s TV website.  The blackouts include the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland A’s, and San Francisco Giants.

Iowa blacks out six teams as well.  Live in Des Moines?  Don’t expect to see the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, and St. Louis Cardinals. The absurdity of this shows that if you build it, not only are they not coming, they won’t let you see half a dozen teams.

This is one of the dumbest things I have seen in sports media. I worked for MLB Advanced Media from 2001-2008, and I learned about this map back then. I can recall asking then-Commissioner Bud Selig at an All-Star game FanFest chat when baseball would redraw the blackout map. He said it was, “on the agenda.” Well, there’s always next year. (They say that in baseball a lot, right?)

After the column I wrote about cord-cutting, I heard from a lot of people on social media reminding me about VPN usage, and how to get around the ridiculous rules.

I can report, that while VPNs can get your devices to show that your location is not where you actually are.  So if MLB.TV thinks you are in Georgia when you are actually in Brooklyn, NY I can confirm that you are NOT breaking the law.

You are violating the terms of service if you use a VPN. With the VPN, you are streaming the game from a different location where blackouts are not in place. This is according to what I’ve read, not tried.

Wink Good Morning GIF - Wink GoodMorning BlowKiss GIFs

While normally I ask that you tell me how you are doing, do me a favor.  Don’t tell me, and I won’t testify against you.

One thank you to my former employers at MLB Advanced Media, they still call the streaming audio component “MLB Audio.” In the early years of MLB.COM’s streaming, they called it “Gameday Audio,” so as not to confuse fans with MLB Radio.  MLB Radio hasn’t been on the air in any capacity for over a decade, and yet, they still won’t call it MLB Radio. 

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BSM Writers

Athletes Are Making Their Money In Content

“Jordan’s example has led to the next generations’ emergence in entertainment, media, and sports. It is an emergence that is beyond in some ways what Jordan has accomplished.”

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In many ways, the voice of athletes started its exponential growth with the introduction of social media, where every human being has access to a personal broadcast channel to express themselves, their passions, stories, and ideas.  The athlete as an artist immediately expanded from highlight reel to Hollywood film and television reel as a content producer.  However, it was The Players’ Tribune, founded by Derek Jeter in 2014, that jumpstarted the athlete-driven voice of content, first in writing, and later in video, polls, and podcasts.  

On the Line: Derek Jeter | By The Players' Tribune
Courtesy: The Players’ Tribune

Michael Jordan was the first international athlete that made millions in sponsorship money—selling his name or attaching his name to products for the purpose of endorsing them for a profit.  He also starred in the Warner Bros. live-action/animated film Space Jam.  Jordan turned those partnerships into ownership of an NBA basketball team and a partner and focus of one of the most iconic athletic brands in the world, Jordan/Jumpman (Nike).  More recently, Jordan was the focus of the Emmy award-winning The Last Dance docuseries about the NBA Chicago Bulls six championships and more specifically the sixth and final trophy for Air Jordan his Bulls team.  He also co-owns a NASCAR team with Joe Gibbs.  

Jordan’s example has led to the next generations’ emergence in entertainment, media, and sports. It is an emergence that is beyond in some ways what Jordan has accomplished.  However, that is the point—the mentee should always outperform the mentor with proper, training, guidance, and a little luck too.  Where many athletes have pursued broadcasting work as color analysts during and after their professional careers in sports, Jordan did not pursue these avenues or seek to open a television or film production studio to develop entertainment, media, and sports content.  

The direct-to-consumer approach of Hollywood and sports networks through streaming platforms, combined with the introduction of athlete voices through social media and podcasts has led to more opportunities.  Los Angeles Laker LeBron James launched his SpringHill Company in 2020 not long after joining showtime in Tinseltown.  SpringHill is a content studio that develops and looks to other studios for major production and distribution.  LeBron has the sponsorship advertising prowess, but can also add documentaries and feature film content to his resume.  

Kevin Durant launched a podcast titled “The Boardroom” through his company, Thirty-Five Ventures.  With YouTube on par with Netflix in revenue (minus the paywall), it provides another direct-to-consumer platform for everyone and more opportunities.  Steph Curry launched Unanimous Media in 2018 as a content and production studio, originally in partnership with Sony Entertainment, now the studio is partnered with Comcast owned NBCUniversal in the $10 million dollar range.  

The media has deemed the Curry deal a first, which is noteworthy, but so is the faith and family focus of Curry’s programming that will span many brands in the NBCUniversal entertainment family.  Curry will join the NBC broadcast for the Ryder Cup as an analyst and host and interview guests for an educational series, which does not include film projects and the second $200 million dollar basketball contract Curry signed in 2021.  Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, and Dwayne Wade have been involved with film projects of their own.  Tim Tebow is a nationwide celebrity and motivational speaker, not to mention a world-renown athlete and person with a big heart towards faith and philanthropy.    

Peyton and Eli Manning also have their own broadcast for Monday Night Football.  Peyton also starred in the very successful “Peyton’s Places” that will have season two launched soon on ESPN+.  Both are produced by Peyton’s Omaha Productions.

Speaking of Disney brands, the company’s 30 for 30 is still one of the main catalysts for highlighting the struggles and triumphs of athletes.  Hard Knocks, Ballers, and Jerry Maguire also gave insight into the world of sports beyond the field, statistics, and championships.   

The growth of entertainment, media, and sports has been and continues to be exponential.  Some additional areas to watch include development of series and docuseries in baseball, hockey, soccer, and in other popular, but not the big five sports in America (e.g., lacrosse, cricket, etc.).  With women’s sports receiving more attention on television, there are tremendous opportunities for growth in entertainment production particularly in women’s soccer. 

LFG (2021) - IMDb
Courtesy: WarnerMedia

To date, NBA players have dominated the entertainment, media, and sports landscape for Hollywood production.  However, to each their own, because some stars love developing content, others love speaking about content, and still others love to own content (particularly in the form of brands and franchises) (see Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter).  Indeed, the era of athlete as Hollywood producer is upon us.      

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 44

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This week’s episode is all about the NFL. Demetri explains why the league embracing kids is long overdue, Andy Masur stops by to breakdown the first Manningcast, and Ryan Maguire explains why some sports radio stations are missing a golden opportunity to shine on Sundays.

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BSM Writers

Interviews Thrive On Podcasts In A Way They Can’t On Radio

“Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.”

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Live radio vs. podcasts seems to be a heavyweight fight that isn’t ending anytime soon.  Podcasts are growing so much that companies that do radio are also now offering podcasts. This column is hardly about that fight. 

Instead, this is about how a podcast interview is a better way to get the best out of the guest than anything live on a radio station. This is not about downloads or clicks or sponsors. Solely about the content that is being produced.

A podcast makes the guest more comfortable and is more intimate than a live radio show.  Especially in sports.

Since 2015, I have hosted and produced 656 podcasts (yes it was fun to count them) and hosted many radio shows. My current shows are called Sports with Friends, Hall of Justice, and Techstream. That last one I host with tech expert Shelly Palmer.

On radio, there is a myriad of things the host has to do besides focus on the guest.

First, there are the IDs. Program directors have always told me ID the guest every chance I get. “We are talking with Eli Manning on WFAN,” is heard 7 times during an eight-minute segment.

On a podcast, the name of the guest is on the player or app that is playing the podcast. “Episode 1. Eli Manning, New York Giants” scrolls across smartphones, car radios, or other devices constantly.  Never interrupt the guest with an ID.

Then, there’s the fact that it is recorded and not live. I have a standard preamble that I say to any guest before any record light turns on.

“I will push,” I explain. “I will see where the conversation takes us, but I do tend to push. However, I’m on your side. This isn’t some expose’. If something comes up that you don’t like your answer, tell me. I’ll take it out. If there’s something that I say that is bad or wrong, tell me, I’ll take it out. This is a conversation, not an interview.”

In 656 podcasts, only one player, Bryce Harper (then of the Washington Nationals) asked me to take something out of a podcast.

We were doing Episode 54 of Sports with Friends when the subject of Dusty Baker came up.  He had just been hired to manage the Nationals. I mentioned in passing that Dusty had given the eulogy at my best friend Darryl Hamilton’s funeral.

Bryce was so intrigued that he recalled the comments I had made and asked if we could pause. We then spoke for a good 10 minutes about the kind of person Dusty was. Why Darryl held him in such regard.  It was a really inciteful chat.  Never was on the podcast.

Still, guests do relax when told that the editing option exists. They let their guard down. The host of a podcast can ask deeper questions.

“Who was the first person you called when you found out you were traded?”

“Have you seen a life for you after football?”

“How much do you hate a certain player?”

All questions, that if asked live, could seriously backfire. So not only does the guest have a guard up, but the interviewer also has to play it relatively safe, when they are not IDing the guest for the umpteenth time.

Time constraints also don’t exist in a podcast where they are beholden on live radio. The guest is just about to tell you they did cocaine during the World Series, and you are up against the clock.

ShinStation - Game Over - #017 - Wrap it Up - YouTube
Courtesy: Comedy Central

I have hosted shows over the years where the guest was phenomenal, but I screwed up the PPM clock. That was the takeaway.  The clock is important on a live medium that needs to get that quarter-hour.

I try to keep my podcasts short. You wouldn’t see it from looking at the lengths of my episodes. Still, I feel that if someone wants to talk and dive into a topic and it goes a little long, I will never cut the guy off.

Ken Griffey Jr. spoke for 45 minutes with a cigar and his feet up on the phone by his pool. He was telling jokes and stories. I wouldn’t have stopped that if a train was coming. When I hosted Mariner content at KJR in Seattle, our interviews usually last 5 minutes.

Jon Morosi broke down the future of clubhouse access and how he traveled during Covid. Then he told an amazing story of his wife working in the medical field and how that impacted all of his family. Shannon Drayer of 710 KIRO got so in-depth in her arduous journey from being a coffee barista to the Mariners on-field reporter. It was split into two episodes.

Former porn star Lisa Ann talked about her decision to quit the business. Even Jason Barrett himself was Episode 173 of Sports with Friends.

(When in the past has Jason Barrett been in the same paragraph as a porn star? Note to Demetri: please leave it in.)

The radio industry is seen to be cutting costs wherever it can. Mid-market stations are not doing night shows anymore, instead offering nationally syndicated programming. 

Weekends are another avenue that perplexes me. Talent that is not deemed good enough to be on during the week is often given weekend shifts. Also, some Monday-Friday hosts add a weekend shift to their duties. Here’s a theory: play podcasts. Format them to hit your PPM time marks. 

They don’t have to be my podcasts, but in the crowded podcast space, surely there are sports talk podcasts that are intimate, deep, and fun. Since we live in a data-driven age, let’s see how a radio station fares playing high-quality podcasts or portions of them, vs. weekend hosts.

Program directors often worry about the outdated nature of a podcast. That sells the podcaster short. As someone who has been in the podcast space since 2003, I know how to make them timeless, and companies make shows often enough, that rarely would they be outdated.  

Quality shines through the speakers.  The spoken-word audio format is continually evolving. Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.

How to Start a Podcast: Podcasting for Beginners - RSS.com Podcasting

The podcast industry is continually evolving.  Radio needs to evolve as well.  Then, it can be a fair fight.

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