I’ve been fortunate over the past six years to work with a lot of sports radio stations across the country. I haven’t publicized most of those partnerships on BSM or my social media pages because I don’t seek validation for my work. Those who work with me know what I add to their organization, and as long as they’re pleased with my contributions, that’s all that matters. Any additional publicity they’ve received on this site has been earned by performance, not because they agreed to work with yours truly.
But today I am going to recognize a client because Steven Griffin and his team at 1010XL, 92.5 FM do radio the right way. Chances are you know little about Steven, even if you’re aware of his radio station. That’s by design. He’d rather his team earn the credit for their efforts, and focus his energies on serving the audience and his advertisers, instead of seeking the spotlight for his own contributions. Fortunately I was able to twist his arm and convince him to be a part of this series.
The first time I arrived in Jacksonville to work with Steven’s team, I walked in the front door to find a custom graphic on their front lobby television screen with my name on it welcoming me to town. As small as that gesture may have been to whoever created it, it made an immediate positive impression. It told me ‘we’re glad you’re here, thanks for making the time to come work with us.’ Those little touches can make a big impact when you do business with people. Having spent more time working with Steven’s crew since, I’ve learned that it wasn’t just a small trick used to impress people who walk thru the door. This is how they operate every day. It’s why I enjoy working with them.
What’s truly astounding is how 1010XL has managed to keep a successful air staff together for 15 years and continue thriving. Sports as a format features many talented, driven personalities seeking big stages and larger paychecks. Being able to retain top personalities in market 46 long-term can be difficult unless people love where they live, where they work, and who they’re working for. That becomes even more important when you consider that many of the talent at 1010XL have shared responsibilities in sales as well as programming. Yet as the station prepares to celebrate fifteen years of excellence, many of the faces and voices familiar to Jacksonville sports radio listeners are as excited and thankful today as they were when the station arrived.
Some corporate groups may have advantages such as more signals, more resources, more audio platforms, and larger facilities, but 1010XL is more than comfortable with the position they’ve earned – being Jacksonville’s best live and local sports radio station. Steven and his team believe in the power of radio, they’ve used their airwaves to help clients grow their businesses, and while others may run from the R word in search of other emerging opportunities, the Seven Bridges Radio group sees plenty of value in being identified as Jacksonville’s destination for sports talk radio.
As a standalone operator, I thought it’d be interesting to share some of Steven’s experiences, and pick his brain on the challenges that come with being locally owned and operated. Having built a business myself, I have a ton of respect and admiration for anyone who can create a vision, put it into action, and turn it into a success for a lengthy period of time. Consistent excellence depends on many factors such as producing results, treating people right, knowing when to take a risk or pass on an opportunity, building and maintaining healthy relationships, creating a culture that others want to be part of, and giving listeners and advertisers reasons to continue supporting you. That may sound simple and easy to execute, and for 1010XL it is because it’s part of their DNA. But rather than hear that from me, learn about it yourself from the Market Manager of Jacksonville sports radio station 1010XL, 92.5 FM, Steven Griffin. Enjoy!
JB: I know your first GM jobs were in Scranton and Jacksonville, but I want to start this conversation by going back in time to your initial entry into the radio business. Where did it begin and what were you doing?
SG: Out of college, I was a journalism major. I had thought about going to law school but after looking at the big LSAT catalog and thought ‘maybe not’. So there was a posting on the board about a new radio station being started in Morgantown, West Virginia where I was at. They were looking for people who could wear many hats, sell, be on the air, write copy, etc.. So I met with them and took that gig right out of school.
From there, I was in copywriting for a while in Charleston where I got more into the sales side. I saw there was more money and prestige in that side of the business. After that I left radio for about six or seven years because I got married and wanted to stay in Morgantown. Eventually though I got a call from the West Virginia radio corporation. The timing was right so I went back into radio and was fortunate enough to be with a good company as the sales manager of a country station. I was there for a while and then went to Greenville-Spartanburg for a while. After that I had a cup of coffee in Raleigh before going to Memphis as a Sales Manager for Entercom. Then came the call from a head hunter about the GM job in Scranton.
JB: When that call came and you were asked to lead an entire operation, how did you know you were ready to oversee everything not just the sales department?
SG: In West Virginia, Greenville, and Memphis I was one of those people who people would come to for help. When the folks in Scranton called I thought it was a good next step for me and I thought ‘I’ll see if I can do it.’ It was a big cluster, eleven stations, and they were spread out all over god’s creation. I saw it as a good opportunity to see what could happen if I gave it a shot. We were facing some healthy Entercom stations in the market, they had won for something like twenty years in a row. Fortunately for us, a year and a half in our AC station beat them and we had four or five of our stations in the Top 5. I made my share of mistakes but also learned a lot and next got a call from another head hunter about coming to Jacksonville to work for Salem. My family and I wanted to move back south. We loved the weather. So I took the job here. Spent some time with Salem. Things didn’t last with them, but it got me to the right place because now I’m here and have been for fifteen years and love what I’m doing.
JB: So being in the market for a bit gave you a chance to see how the market was being served from a sports radio standpoint. Given that you jumped on board to help build 1010XL, I assume you felt there was opportunity to grab a leadership position in the sports radio space.
SG: I did. I knew it was underserved locally. There was way too much syndication. Jacksonville is a great market for sports. There are super passionate fans here. They love the Jaguars, the Gators, the SEC schools, Florida State and there’s even interest in Triple A baseball and some of the other minor league sports. That’s not including High School sports which is a big deal here. So a signal became available, we looked at the opportunity, rounded up some local investors and one out of Chicago and decided to give this a shot.
JB: Do you remember what your original lineup was?
SG: That’s 15 years ago so I may be off on something but I’ll give it a shot. Dan Hicken and Jeff Prosser were still in morning drive. Rick Ballou and Tom McManus were together in the middays. I think Sean Woodland was involved in the middle of the day too. He was a TV sports guy. Frank Frangie and Mike Dempsey worked together in afternoons. And we also had an evening sports talk show, and Joe Block, who’s now a play by play guy for the Pittsburgh Pirates was part of it along with Terry Norvell.
JB: What’s impressive is that many of those names you just mentioned are still on the station and remain very strong. Knowing how this format constantly tinkers with things and loses good personalities to other situations, how have you managed to keep the band together?
SG: I think it’s a combination of not dictating, and trusting them to do what’s right on the shows, and continue looking at what’s best for sports in this market. I knew I had to get the best talent and it had to be local. To me, radio is a local companion medium. If you don’t have that person at the mall, restaurant or church who’s saying ‘hey I love listening to you, I like your radio station’, you’re missing the mark. That to me is what radio is and that’s who we’ve been. I wanted people here who people knew and who I thought had talent. And they do.
I also wanted to make sure we had a team that was dependable and proven. When we were fortunate to land the Jaguars seven years ago, I knew we had someone like Mike Dempsey who could host a show like Jaguars Today and do it justice. Jeff and Dan in the mornings have always done their own thing and it’s connected with our audience. We talk over the important things and they know the parameters and they all work well within them. When I’ve felt we needed a different perspective I’ve been able to call someone like you to come in and help and they still care about what they do and want to get better. Another thing that makes this a little unique too is our guys all generate revenue. They do great radio but also help create 25% of our sales. They’re accustomed to going out and selling themselves and the brand and it’s helped them make a better living financially while also helping the radio station.
JB: I’m glad you mentioned that because as you know, that’s not common everywhere. Your guys don’t seem like they’re bothered by having to do sales, they really seem to enjoy it and excel at it. How have you been able to keep them productive and interested in doing both at a high level?
SG: Honestly, I don’t have some magic answer for it. They all had it to begin with. They have a good grasp on the business. They’ll look at things and say ‘my show might be worth X in market 46 but if I can generate additional revenue on the sales end, it can bring my number higher’. They know the importance of it and what it means to the radio station’s sustainability. I’m lucky to have a bunch of guys who are self driven. We’re also far enough along now as a station with these hosts that there’s a certain level of credibility that’s been earned and that’s made it easier than it used to be.
When we started out though it wasn’t easy. The recession hit in 2008, a year or two after we started, so we took our lumps. But having gone thru that, I can tell you that when the pandemic hit last year, the station did better than most in the market and some other sports stations who we talked to during the past year. Our hosts lost almost nothing. They kept most of their business intact. Maybe a month off here or there, but by the time football season arrived it was all there. It was kind of amazing and tells me that if the station didn’t get results, clients wouldn’t stay. But they do get results, and our guys are really good at building and maintaining relationships. Sales will never be their #1 focus though – it will always be the on-air show. That’s what they love to do. But they’ll never miss an opportunity to prospect a new client or make a call to keep a client happy. That was ingrained in them so I can’t take credit for it.
JB: If you were in another market, would you try to replicate this same strategy?
SG: Absolutely. I don’t think enough talent understand their influence. These guys take it seriously and they earn talent fees for doing it. They connect with their advertisers and make sure that when they’re doing live reads for them that they give it a personal touch. A big reason why we’re a #1-#2 local biller in this market is because of our talent selling. If I were in some other town and had enough local talent, I’d absolutely do the same thing because it works.
JB: In your market, you have to compete against others for ad dollars as a standalone. Unlike some of the other corporate groups, you can’t go in with a pitch involving 5-6 stations. How are you able to create that feeling that advertisers need to be on your radio station?
SG: The first thing is that we are unique to the market because we’re live and local so much. If nothing else, we’re a local radio station and we’ve never changed that. We’ve never dropped in Dan Patrick or Colin Cowherd when they’ve been available just to save a little money. Pretty much M-F 6a-10p we are live and local. We can do a lot of things during that time whether it’s endorsing, tailoring a special piece of content, all because we have that flexibility.
The second thing is, we don’t swim in the same pools that some of the corporate folks do. Our strategy has always been to focus on local accounts for local radio. We have some agency business but it’s mostly local agency. We don’t get a lot of regional, and absolutely no national business. We don’t accept a lot of those national deals because the rates just don’t make sense for us.
When you’re dealing 1 on 1 with our company and the owner or client is meeting me, the sales manager, the hosts who are delivering his endorsements, that goes a long way. Sometimes it might be a husband and wife duo and they come in with their son or daughter to watch the show for a bit. It’s very much a relationship where both sides want to help each other. Radio is still entertaining, fun, and informative, and it has value for local businesses. We go after accounts and are very strict telling our sales team ‘don’t waste your time here or there, this is who we are so let’s do what we’re good at.’ Because we get results, they stick with us. When we go visit somebody we’re not meeting with the manager of a chain. We’re visiting the owner himself. That helps.
JB: You mentioned the word unique and that’s probably the best way I’ll describe this next item because what you’ve done in Jacksonville to elevate the perception of women as on-air talent is unique. Jessica Blaylock, Amanda Bourges, Mackenzie Thirkill, Lauren Brooks and others, have all earned opportunities on the radio station, but what especially stands out is how you’ve put them together for a Tuesday night show titled ‘Helmets & Heels’. Given that this is such a heavily dominated male format, why was it important to you to put women together on the air and give them a chance to host shows, and what have you learned from doing it that might be helpful to others in the format who are reading this and might consider doing something similar in their own markets?
SG: I never looked at gender. It’s about the voice and what it has to say. I would listen back in the day to Jessica, Donna, Lauren and others and their perspectives stood out and added something to the conversation that we didn’t have available on the radio station. It wasn’t rocket science. We had a lot of time available as a local station so we took these different voices and put them together. I’ve been fortunate to see many of them move on to bigger and better things and now when they come back and think about us it’s usually positive.
What I have learned is that it’s a never ending process. You have to continually look. When I started the show I thought it had potential one day to be a daily show. I’ve got a good team on the air now and even then we’re talking to someone else about doing some shows with them. That’s just what you do to keep something working. Our best shows tend to be when we have 4 of them together, but it also depends on the mix. The bottom line, you have to be open to different ways of presenting content to your audience.
JB: You recently did a business deal with the University of Florida to bring Gators Athletics on to 1010XL-92.5 FM. How important was that move for your brand?
SG: We’re very excited about it. It only took us 14 years to get it (laughs). After the Jaguars, which is and will always be our #1 priority, on our station they’re undefeated, the next biggest sports entity in town is the Florida Gators. 15-18 years ago when I got here, the Gators were extremely popular. That was when Steve Spurrier just left. I think there are somewhere between thirty and forty thousand Gators football season ticket holders in Jacksonville or the First Coast area, and I know Tampa and Orlando are bigger but Jacksonville has a lot invested in the Gators.
When the deal became available previously, we went after it pretty hard. I knew that we would mostly get inventory in game. There were no rights fees or anything like that. I thought it was a relationship worth pursuing and we’d have a chance to monetize it while simultaneously helping them tap into more of their fan base here. We didn’t get the deal. They chose to stay with iHeart because they had been with them for twenty years or so and had great relationships there. We were disappointed, but I understood the situation.
But then their station in Jacksonville flipped to Gospel, and we started getting calls because I think they missed airing a couple of games. I told them ‘if you need help, just let me know, no obligation.’ I made sure they knew we wanted them. Then one day out of nowhere, I was meeting with Dan Hicken from the morning show, and he asked ‘have you heard anything about the Gators?’ All of a sudden the phone rang and it was Learfield IMG telling me they wanted to go with us. We were obviously excited. So they sent over the deal and we’re now working with them for the next 4 years. All we did on our end was make sure we were prepared in case the opportunity came up.
JB: You brought up before how important the Jaguars are to your station. They’re the lone professional franchise in the market so they have massive appeal to your listeners and advertisers, not to mention a strong influence. How do you navigate the relationship when the on the field results aren’t good? Everyone in your building would prefer they win so it keeps people excited, tuning in, and clients wanting to spend more money to be associated with them, but if they’re not delivering wins, critical opinions have to be shared by your talent because the audience expects honesty from them. How do you essentially serve the audience without ticking off a value business partner?
SG: When Jaguars president Mark Lamping got here, one of the first things he said was ‘we don’t want you guys to change a thing….if we’re not good on the field, you can say that. Be who you are.’ He understood. I have never told anyone to tone it down or don’t say that or laid out guidelines for what can and can’t be said about the team. I think everyone on our staff understands the value of the partnership, but we also respect and value our listeners, and are truthful with them.
I will say this, everybody likes to preach hope even sometimes when it’s not there. I think on your website Mike Dempsey said ‘it’s almost better when they’re not doing well because everyone wants a shoulder to cry on’. I don’t agree with that 100%. When you’re a few games below .500 and there’s no hope for landing a playoff spot, that to me is the worst spot to be in but I can tell you that in 2017 when the Jags advanced to the AFC title game this place was on fire. There are passionate fans here. They want to support the Jags. With Urban here now and Trevor expected tomorrow night, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic. We’re glad to be partners with the Jaguars, but if the results aren’t there on the field, we have the flexibility to address what’s going on.
JB: I want to ask you about working without numbers. Your brand has been very successful without subscribing to Nielsen, generating consistent revenues year after year. You’ve demonstrated you don’t need the data to operate a productive and profitable business. But how do you evaluate the progress of your brand without that information?
SG: Two words – Jason Barrett.
SG: No seriously. I know I don’t know everything and everyone in here doesn’t know everything. I try to read and learn things all the time but having people around who can bring things to the table to help us improve is important. I try to get consensus when we’re looking at things. Some managers will say that’s not a good move but for us in our family atmosphere, it is. I never make a big decision without asking for input. It doesn’t mean I still won’t go with what my gut tells me but I’ll always listen to what sales, the air staff and engineering have to say. I guess if there’s a downfall to not having the ratings it’s not being able to go in and see how each show looks with Men 25-54 and other demographics but we hold our own.
JB: Having a talented, professional lineup though that’s been part of the community for 15 years and possesses good content judgment and sales relationships probably makes that something easier for you to live without.
SG: It does. I read Jeff Tyler’s comments last week where he talked about KFAN and how they brought in the talent, gave it time to grow, and now it’s become its own little entity. We may not be KFAN but maybe in Jacksonville we’re similar to that to our audience and advertisers. He made the point about people listening and not being able to get it at first and I can relate to that. We have some of that here. We’ve been blessed that our investor base has been patient with us and allowed us to go thru some ups and downs and a few mistakes I made along the way but we never knee jerked anything and we’ve always stayed committed to being live and local. Fortunately we’ve had people want to stay here, work here, and succeed here.
JB: I’ll wrap up with you on this. You’ve gotten more involved with original podcast content, video, the focus on social has grown, and you’ve also added Action Updates from VSiN. The sports media landscape is rapidly changing so all of these things are important. When you look at the future of sports talk, what are you keeping your eyes and ears on that you think are going to be important for the growth of your brand?
SG: Well, it depends. As a standalone, we’re never going to have the resources that an iHeart, Cox or Audacy have. I can’t go out and buy every audio platform that’s out there. One of the advantages we have is being able to turn on a dime when we need to. When sports betting becomes legal in Florida, and I think it will, we’re going to be able to take advantage of that. Video we have found to be advantageous, at least so far in the first quarter, and it’s helped us not only sharpen our tools as a sales organization, but it’s allowed us to sponsor some new things using the talent we have that have TV skills. We haven’t even touched the high school or local realm of some of the things we’re going to do.
And then as far as podcasting is concerned, we’ve taken valuable advice from someone who may or may not be part of this conversation and have focused our efforts on doing fewer things really well and sponsoring them instead of trying to do twenty or thirty or forty and have most of them miss the mark. Some of these things may move a little slowly and we’ll gravitate and work quicker towards the ones that we can monetize and deliver the most value for our fans. I can tell you, we’ve done a good job creating quality programming and selling our inventory but there’s always room for improvement. We’re always looking to get better. We can be a little more patient and selective because we’re not dictated to by some corporate place that’s thousands of miles from us and doesn’t know us very well. We have investors who know this market, they support our vision, and I want to please the market that’s here because they’re a big reason why we’ve made it this far.
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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