THEY GET IT
LZ Granderson, Los Angeles Times — The most credible and important social commentators aren’t the ones who scream loudest, or the ones who remain intractably on a side and ignore factual details. Granderson, a Black columnist, didn’t hesitate to scold LeBron James, the foremost Black activist in sports, for a dangerous (and quickly deleted) tweet that was blasted by conservatives as a call for violence. “YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY,’’ James wrote in a post that included a photo of the White police officer who shot and killed a 16-year-old Black girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, in Columbus, Ohio. The tweet, Granderson wrote, “was inarguably premature. Body cam video appears to show Bryant attacking another teen with a knife seconds before the shots were fired; many consider the officer’s actions justified.’’ He went on to doubt whether White America ever will “let a Black man be Captain America,’’ but in the aftermath of the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict, Granderson’s take was measured and responsible in a country craving media restraint. The same can’t be said for James, who fired back at a Cincinnati bar owner for refusing to show NBA games at his establishment until James is “expelled’’ from the league. Tweeted LeBron: “Aww Damn! I was headed there to watch our game tonight and have a drink! Welp.’’ That’s just immature. Working in the same market, maybe Granderson can sit down with James and remind him of his accountability burden. Even better, Los Angeles Police Department officer Deon Joseph, who is Black, says he wants to meet with James to help him “understand the reality of the profession.’’
HBO — You’ve seen me decry a schmaltzy media world where Jim Nantz, Scott Van Pelt and other gush-and-mushers operate under a simple corporate mandate: Sell sports as religion and romance … remind the masses why they love sports and can’t exist without it … make athletes and coaches appear bigger than life … denounce legitimate media as bitter and negative when they’re sorely needed as watchdogs of an industry run amok. So I’m pleased — no, thrilled — that HBO is countering the creampuffery by reintroducing the antithesis of this vapid hypnosis, Sir Robert Costas, to the mainstream stage. On his new show, “Back On the Record With Bob Costas,’’ the leading sports voice of his time won’t be glorifying the business as much as, oh, covering it and scrutinizing it and saying what the hell he wants, which NBC didn’t appreciate in furtively replacing him with safe, harmless Mike Tirico. HBO promises marquee-name newsmaker interviews and roundtable discussions, along with spinoffs into entertainment, but the takeaway will be “signature commentaries from Costas that capture his distinctive voice and point of view.’’ Too bad the series includes only four episodes a year. Costas is needed weekly. Daily, even.
Ariel Helwani, badass — As the reigning bully of sports, Dana White usually rules his own personal Octagon. He stuffed 15,269 fans into an indoor arena in Jacksonville last weekend, openly defying an ongoing pandemic. When asked about Chris Weidman, whose leg snapped in a horrific kicking sequence, White changed the subject because it underlined the hideous violence in his freak sport, saying, “I don’t even want to talk about it tonight. I don’t want to say anything f—-ing …’’ Yet the UFC president can’t control a media member he loathes, Helwani, a fiercely independent reporter who is wisely shopping his services as ESPN dawdles on a new contract. We’re about to find out plenty in this negotiation about Bristol’s integrity — will ESPN, like Fox Sports a few years ago, weasel out and dump Helwani because White says so? He’s the kind of creep who leverages broadcast deals — in this case, a $1.5 billion pact with ESPN — to control media voices. He can do so because his thug league is owned by Endeavor, the Hollywood company run by Ari Emanuel, who is more bombastic in real life than the “Entourage’’ character inspired by him, agent Ari Gold. Of the media, White told Colin Cowherd: “Most of these people are full of shit and have no place writing or talking about anything.’’ This comes after a video in which White said, “Why should anybody listen to the media? Who are these people? What makes them experts? What have they ever accomplished?’’ He has referred to Helwani as a “girl’’ and a “douche,’’ but the multimedia veteran has maintained his professionalism and production. Does he have the support of ESPN? Will president Jimmy Pitaro reward a valuable UFC voice — and invite the possibility of Helwani reporting a White-related scandal — or cave to the bully? Either way, Ariel has my respect.
Turner Sports — With the addition of an NHL package dropped by NBC, Turner quietly has built a live sports portfolio that includes the NBA, Major League Baseball and March Madness. Hockey coverage needs dazzle, though, and it is hoped TNT and potential streaming partner HBO Max will lean toward fun analysts — where have you gone, Jeremy Roenick? — instead of NBC’s conservative studio voices of late. Also, who is the next Doc Emrick and does such a creature exist? ESPN and Turner, which will share the Stanley Cup Finals, are urged to look at Alex Faust, voice of the Los Angeles Kings. One hockey fan on the company payroll, Charles Barkley, is best avoided (see below). No one needs an international incident involving Canada.
Rich Eisen, NFL Network — The image of a 51-year-old man running a 40-yard dash — designer suitcoat flying, slight gut protruding, hands flexed like a sprinter, cleats digging in, clipped-on tie straight — is a tribute to a charitable endeavor known as “Run Rich Run.’’ Since 2015, Eisen has raised millions for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and though cancellation of the NFL Combine prompted a scheduling revision, he’s back with football legends and business entrepreneurs who sprinted — or limped — through the challenge at SoFi Stadium. The segment airs Saturday during the network’s NFL Draft coverage. In related news, Eisen is keeping his promise to eat the soiled sweatshirt of a talk-show caller if the 49ers don’t select a quarterback with the No. 3 pick. If he’s wrong, is he at least allowed condiments?
Tony Reali, ESPN — His multi-year extension is a testament to hard work, sturdy professionalism and knowing when to stand back when a friend and mentor such as Dan Le Batard self-sabotages his ESPN career. I recall the revolving door of auditioning hosts after Max Kellerman left “Around The Horn’’ for Fox, and Reali stepped in as the ideal adhesive, like a Jonas Brother with sports acumen. The current problem with ATH is not his fault — the producers have made him the only “face’’ of the show, as ESPN boss Norby Williamson describes him, when hosts of more prominent network shows are in supportive roles. For instance, Molly Qerim Rose is the host of “First Take,’’ but she is the traffic controller for the show’s outspoken superstars, Stephen A. Smith and Kellerman, an arrangement that allows for maximum impact and viewership. Back in ATH’s peak years — I don’t really care how selfish this might sound, because it’s true — our ratings were off the charts thanks to sparring panelists who drove the banter (me vs. Woody Paige, with me as Godzilla) while Reali played the Rose role. Now, Reali is the lone constant as an endless procession of “contributors’’ come and go — and the ratings have severely suffered. Hey, it’s their network and afternoon programming block. But if Williamson and showrunners Erik Rydholm and Aaron Solomon combined Reali’s magnetic presence with more heat from a consistent stable of combative panelists, ATH might rock again. And, no, I’m not stumping to return. I like my life without TMZ following me and sleaze websites lying about me, and I like being able to routinely add a sixth entry to Five Who Get It.
THEY DON’T GET IT
Dan Le Batard, sellout — So let’s see if I have this straight: He painted his ESPN superiors as undesirable partners because they didn’t want him causing political wars on the radio … yet he’s ethically willing to jump headfirst into the gambling cesspool. In the end, he’s the grimiest of all. In the latest example of desperation leading to hypocrisy, LeBatard’s lengthy search for a company to distribute his podcast led to DraftKings, the tout louts who will control ad sales and licensing arrangements. This will sink Le Batard’s show into the betting crapper and complete the demise of a once-great journalist. He claims DraftKings is “truly sponsoring our freedom … (and won’t) corrupt us in any way,’’ but just wait until he’s required to read non-stop wagering spots. Maybe he should familiarize himself with the DraftKings statement: “Additionally, the network of shows will prominently feature DraftKings’ odds, betting trends and general sportsbook and daily fantasy information.’’ I have an idea: Papi’s Power Parlays! Another day, another betrayal of a media industry gone putrid.
Charles Barkley, lost cause — The only recourse, I’ve concluded, is to start publicizing the names of Barkley’s bosses at TNT — Casey Bloys, Brett Weitz, Sam Linsky, Adrienne O’Riain. The network is operated by WarnerMedia, which is owned by AT&T, so let’s go higher — Jason Kilar, Ann Sarnoff, Jeff Zucker. Or even higher — John Stankey. People tiring of Barkley’s gross potshots at the appearances of women should use their AT&T-contracted phones to bombard the aforementioned with protests. Barkley thinks he’s bulletproof because, in the past, his bosses haven’t publicly reprimanded him for comments such as: “Some big ol’ women down there (in San Antonio) … that’s a gold mine for Weight Watchers. They can’t wear no Victoria’s Secret down there. They wear bloomers down there … ain’t nothing skimpy down there.’’ So Barkley used his “Inside The NBA’’ perch last week to insult women in another state: “Georgia … the only school in the world they named their mascot after the women down there.’’ As in, bulldogs. Know those serious commentaries Barkley delivers about race and life? He renders them useless with these mindless, needless insults. And the longer his superiors — male and female — let him ramble unfiltered without a long suspension or firing, they will be complicit in the denigration. Meanwhile, the nation’s talk-show hosts, from Dan Patrick to locals, will fawn and keep inviting him on their airwaves. Barkley is a fat, unattractive dope. How does he feel that I wrote that?
Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times — On the eve of the baseball season, the esteemed columnist wrote a piece titled, “Why the 2021 Los Angeles Dodgers will be the greatest team in baseball history,’’ beside an illustration of Mookie Betts holding a 2021 championship banner while his teammates celebrate. I cringed, wondering how Plaschke could make such a wild proclamation when so much could go wrong the next several months. “Clip this claim. Print it out. Tape it up. You read it here first,’’ he typed. “The Dodgers aren’t just good, they’re surreal good.’’ Well, those surreal good Dodgers were booed the other night while blowing a six-run lead to their feisty new rivals, Fernando Tatis Jr. and the Padres, who won three of four at Dodger Stadium and lead the season series 4-3 with a dozen games to go. I’m not saying the Dodgers won’t repeat as World Series champions, but at present, the “greatest team in baseball history’’ is only the third-best team in California in 2021. Also guilty of hype tripe was The Athletic’s Jim Bowden, the former big-league general manager who wrote last week: “The Dodgers might be the best baseball team I’ve seen in my lifetime.’’ And don’t forget Paul Newberry of the Associated Press, who wrote: “It’s always mesmerizing to watch greatness in real time. A young Mike Tyson. An ageless Tom Brady. The Boston Celtics of the 1960s. The New York Yankees of, well, several different eras. Which brings us to the 2021 Los Angeles Dodgers. This group could become the most exceptional team in baseball history.’’ At one point, I too wondered if the Dodgers could challenge the 125 wins of the 1998 Yankees, but I didn’t do so excessively. Surreal good?
ESPN — Evidently, I can’t say this enough in a desperate media climate: A sports event is a sacred competition featuring athletes guided by the common tenet that nothing — nothing — shall infiltrate The Game. ESPN is among those mucking up that virtue with demographic-shilling crap. I never thought Bristol would stoop as low as an all-gambling alternate broadcast of an NBA game, but here comes a 3D alternate farce. Yes, Hubie Brown, next week’s Warriors-Pelicans game will include an accompanying collaboration with a fellow Disney Company property — called “Marvel’s Arena of Heroes’’ — featuring Steph Curry, Zion Williamson and other players teaming up with Iron Man, Black Panther and Captains Marvel and America to battle an alien army. Said the ESPN release, written by an actual human being: “Recognizing the superior physical abilities, agility, and tenacity of Earth’s greatest athletes, the Avengers will hold a series of contests where the winners earn the right to train and fight alongside them as Marvel’s Champions. The Avengers will begin their recruitment with the NBA elite and observe the battle between the Warriors and the Pelicans, focusing on three star players from each team.” Worse, two men paid to report professionally on the NBA — play-by-play caller Ryan Ruocco and analyst Richard Jefferson — must work the ESPN2/ESPN+ superhero-cast. This obviously is a ripoff of a CBS/Nickelodeon experiment involving an NFL postseason game, also a debacle. Look, there are ways of engaging a youthful audience without bastardizing existing cachet. What’s frightening: The people who make such decisions believe they’re bigger than The Game.
Stephen A. Smith, ESPN — As he swirls from one studio to the next, thinking about his next flight more than where his feet are grounded, Smith tends to make mistakes. Most are factual, but his latest is professional and hurtful. In a tweet applauding the network’s UFC coverage, he dropped the names of Joe Rogan, Jon Anik, Chael Sonnen and other men — but forgot to mention Megan Olivi, highly visible as a co-host and interviewer. This is akin to Al Michaels forgetting to mention Michele Tafoya, or Joe Buck omitting Erin Andrews. Said Olivi: “It’s, unfortunately, something the women in this room have dealt with before and will have to continue to deal with. I don’t think he did it on purpose. I don’t think there was any intent. I don’t think he was trying to be rude by any means. I just think it didn’t really matter to him. … I don’t know how much he actually watches. I know he’s supposed to be an MMA insider and he does his best, but he has a lot on his plate, as well. I don’t know how much he actually sees.’’ It’s a polite way of stating what his bosses never will admit: Stephen A. is overworked, sometimes to the point of superficiality.
Mike Thomas, ESPN 1000 Chicago — Would Bill Belichick leave the Patriots to coach in the XFL? The sports radio equivalent of such a head-scratcher is Thomas, who quit one of America’s top-rated talk stations, 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, to run a dead-end shop in his home state. To say WMVP has hit rock bottom is an insult to all rock formations. Ratings for its local shows are now worse than numbers for ESPN’s national programs, shocking in a parochial market, and Thomas’ presence has made no impact. Neither has the addition of the White Sox as a flagship partner, proving Chicago’s baseball metrics haven’t changed — the Cubs have at least four or five times more fans than the Sox, even when the South Siders are pennant contenders and the Cubs might be headed to a fire sale. I hope Thomas is compensated very well. Otherwise, WTF? Some might question why I’d include such an irrelevant story as a sixth entry in bonus coverage. I did because Chicago deserves better sports talk.
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 Gionnatti (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 Kinkade (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 Herbstriet 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, Domonique Foxworth, Cassidy Hubbarth, Mina Kimes, Joel Klatt, 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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