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5 Who Get It, 5 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 tweets from burner accounts belonging to media people.

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THEY GET IT

Steve Kornacki, NBC — What began as a gimmick — let the Election Night “chart-throb’’ wear his Gap slacks and make sports picks — has rocketed into a full-scale credibility explosion. As the media industry plunges into the legal gambling craze, we know of at least one expert tout in Kornacki, who followed his NFL playoff successes as the only NBC prognosticator to nail the Kentucky Derby winner — 12-1 shot Medina Spirit — while 10 others were whiffing. Here was his pre-race rationale: “I scoured the board. I have 11 different theories, but here’s one: Bob Baffert, six-time Kentucky Derby winner, has a horse that can get at or near the front of this race and has double-digit odds. I can’t have my King Fury. I’ll take a shot on Baffert at 12-1, Medina Spirit.” Why would I buy a subscription to the Action Network or Vegas Stats & Information Network when Stevie Khakis provides winners for free? Damn, I just gave his bosses an idea: Kornacki subscriptions. Hope his agent has snagged him a big raise.

Nicole Auerbach, The Athletic — Why not grant parole to a serial killer? That was the approximate reaction in the collegiate sports community when NCAA president Mark Emmert, maybe the most inept in a long conga line of shoddy sports administrators, was given a two-year extension by the university presidents who’ve reaped mega-millions from his reign. Auerbach had worked hard to extricate him from office, reporting that more than two dozen Division I commissioners and athletic directors believed “Emmert’s tenure should end.’’ She was left to conclude: “This is the face that the NCAA’s highest governing body wants as its representative. It is not who athletic directors would choose. It is not who commissioners would choose. It is not who athletes themselves would choose. But in a system designed to stagnate, he was apparently the only viable option — which says more about the system than it does about Emmert himself. And that is what those who claim to love college sports will have to live with.’’ On a beat of toxic excess, Auerbach and Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde continue to be the foremost must-reads.

Social media boycotters — The U.S. sports industry would be much happier and healthier if it adopted the bold lead of the English Premier League: Snub Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the like. Shocking as it seems — think of the cold-turkey withdrawal, the gaping holes in the collective consciousness — the soccer league decided social media didn’t exist from Friday afternoon through Monday night … and survived just fine. Events have been messy there lately, from ongoing racist abuse of players to protests of American-based owners who failed spectacularly in trying to form a superleague. So, clubs and players pressured the companies by shutting them down, joined in silence by English sports such as cricket, rugby, tennis and horse racing. The men in white coats would have to put LeBron James in a straitjacket without his device, but as I always say, don’t let other tweeters’ problems become yours. A vacation from the Internet might be better than Bali at this point.

Mike Tirico, Bob Baffert, Bill Belichick — Before the Kentucky Derby, the trio shared a chat based on mutual admiration between Baffert and Belichick, both multiple winners of the premier events in their sports. Was I the only one who noticed how all three have survived major professional scandals? In scrubbing what went wrong, they must be doing something right, though none should be proud. Obviously, there was no mention of missteps as they laughed through the NBC interview. Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing …

Trevor Lawrence, professional — From the journalists who still exist in this business, here’s a thank you for putting a media charlatan in his place. On his first day in Duval County as would-be savior of the Jaguars — why does no one call it Jacksonville anymore? — the No. 1 overall pick deftly handled a hokey request by the NFL Network’s James Palmer. Armed with a football, Palmer said, “I want to catch the first pass you ever throw as an NFL player. What do you think, you ready?’’ Not knowing James Palmer from Jesse Palmer, Arnold Palmer or the Robert Palmer who sang “Addicted To Love’’ in front of android-like female models, Lawrence rejected the awkward ask and didn’t throw the ball, saying, “I don’t know, man. I think I’m going to save it for some of my new teammates.’’ What motivates working reporters to act like fanboys? Closer to the point, who hires them on the network level?

FoxSports.com — I’m still not convinced this site wants to compete in the highest reaches of sports content trafficking, recalling Fox’s various starts and stops in the website game. But this caught my attention: Pedro Moura left The Athletic, where he covered the Dodgers as a senior writer, to become national baseball writer at Fox. With The Athletic possibly headed for mass layoffs and strategy changes — such as emphasizing national coverage and minimizing (or dumping) local content — will we see more defections? Fox could use stronger commentary and enterprise components to offset its fan-heavy approach to live events and its ineffective debate shows. “We’re lucky to have him,’’ said the site’s managing editor, Kevin Jackson, who once had memorable fun as founding editor of Page 2 at ESPN.com. He’ll need big names before climbing into the daily Octagon — former ESPN personalty Trey Wingo hosted a draft party, I see — but Fox has the money to keep poaching, even after wasting $32 million on Skip Bayless. Should I just change the name of this column to Six Who Get It, Six Who Don’t?

THEY DON’T GET IT

Ted Leonsis, Washington Capitals owner — A tech mogul from way back, Leonsis should be the first to grasp the built-in responsibilities of a team’s social media account. It’s wretched enough that he allows Tom Wilson, the sickest of NHL thugs, to remain on the payroll. But after his double-jeopardy goonery the other night — sucker-punching the Rangers’ Pavel Buchnevich, then appearing to grab Artemi Panerin’s hair while hurling him to the ice — Wilson’s criminal activity was celebrated by the Capitals’ social media site. “atCapitals chooses: Violence,’’ went the tweet, beside a photo of Wilson and a cryptic comment that he lives “rent-free’’ in the minds of others as “the best goal scorer in the league.’’ The tweet quickly was deleted, but the screenshots remain interminably while Leonsis ponders this question: Why would a sports franchise, worth three-quarters of a billion dollars, put creeps and losers in charge of its public image? Maybe because the NHL culture is enabled by a wishy-washy league office, which has suspended Wilson five times in eight years — including a seven-game ban in March — yet this time issued only a $5,000 fine, the most the players’ union allows via the collective bargaining agreement. Leonsis should lock Wilson and the guilty tweeter in the same rubberized room for a week, if not permanently.

ESPN — So here was a serious news story, building for two seasons: The electronic-sign-stealing, trash-can-banging Astros returning to the Bronx to catch hell from enraged Yankees fans. And how did ESPN handle the telecast? With play-by-play man Karl Ravech dressed as Luke Skywalker, analyst Tim Kurkjian as Yoda, analyst Eduardo Perez as a Jawa and host Steve Levy in the studio as Darth Vader. See, it was “May the fourth’’ — a nod to the “Star Wars’’ franchise — and nothing was getting in the way of Disney Company synergy. ESPN insists on cartooning-up sports events, even those with violent potential, with cross-promotional silliness. And this time, unlike the alternate NBA all-gambling broadcast and a Marvel-themed NBA cast, the schlock was on the blowtorch feed. Had a riot broken out, Ravech would have looked all-time-ridiculous as he reported the details. Apparently, I’ll have to keep cutting-and-pasting my thoughts of recent weeks: A sports event is a sacred competition featuring athletes guided by the common tenet that nothing — nothing — shall infiltrate The Game. Meaning, there are ways of engaging a youthful audience without bastardizing existing cachet.

Terry Bradshaw, Fox Sports — The appropriate response is to feel pity for Bradshaw more than disgust, knowing he was hit in the head quite often in his playing days. His crackling take on malcontent Aaron Rodgers, who is trying to politicize his way out of Green Bay, was noteworthy if not for one not-so-small detail: Bradshaw carried out a similar drama in Pittsburgh in the early 1980s. This week on WFAN, Bradshaw said of Rodgers, “Him being upset shows me just how weak he is. Who the hell cares who you draft? I mean, he’s a three-time MVP and he’s worried about who they drafted last year No. 1? … Let him cry. Retire. You’re 38. Go ahead and retire. See you later.’’ If Bradshaw is familiar with a trove known as a newspaper archive, he might want to scroll back to 1984, when he ripped Steelers coach Chuck Noll for acquiring David Woodley from Miami. After hearing Noll express concern about Bradshaw’s injured elbow, Bradshaw shot back, “If he wants opinions, he ought to call me and ask me and stop making all these comments. He ought to just keep his mouth shut and pay attention to the draft and not make statements about me until he’s absolutely certain what he’s saying.’’ Such a hazy disconnect doesn’t bode well for Bradshaw’s long-term future at Fox, which should be pondering changes in a studio-show lineup that is showing wear and tear … and amnesia.

The Undefeated, ESPN — As long as media companies spin off websites to reflect racial divisions, we won’t progress as a society. I’ve never understood why The Undefeated explores “the intersection of sports, race and culture’’ with a predominantly Black staff when such a cultural convergence could be examined more effectively by a diverse group of writers and editors. I can just hear the “Mariotti is a racist’’ nonsense, but I’d rather unite than divide. ESPN missed an opportunity to merge its editorial initiatives when editor-in-chief Kevin Merida left this week to become executive editor of the Los Angeles Times, which, like many legacy news operations, struggles with a lame digital product. Merida quickly was replaced by Raina Kelley, The Undefeated’s managing editor, which means the site will continue on a private island that should be affixed to a larger continent.

Mike Greenberg, ESPN — I knew Greenberg long before Roger Goodell was calling him “Greeny,’’ back when we covered the Jordan dynasty years in Chicago. He has the mind to be Bob Costas, but I fear ESPN has turned him into another mush-and-gusher thrilled to be in the anchor seat. I was shocked to see him profusely thank the NFL commissioner for allowing him to host the Draft, which only reinforced the naked truth: ESPN is beholden to the league for a new 11-year rights deal that places Disney in the Super Bowl rotation. If Greenberg slobbered over Goodell any longer, I’d have suggested he get a room. Then he proceeded to shriek at high decibels about Kings of Leon, who jammed on stage for a half-hour when America just wanted the damned draft picks. Rich Eisen and Rece Davis were the Kings of Lake Erie. Greeny did too many greenies.

Max Kellerman, ESPN — I don’t see skin color. Kellerman does, shaming himself and his network with concerns before the NFL Draft that the stock of White quarterbacks was rising as the status of Black quarterbacks was falling — and that it has been happening for years, as if premeditated. “That’s why my antenna are up when I notice one, two and three this year — White guy, White guy, White guy,’’ said the “First Take’’ opinionist. Well, the third “White guy’’ turned out to be Trey Lance, who is Black, and the quarterback who dropped farthest in the first round was Mac Jones, who is White. Kellerman is one of these protected morning hosts who aren’t held accountable for outrageous and/or inaccurate takes. The audience does keep score, ESPN should know.

Richard Deitsch, The Athletic — I critique media as a weekly passion project, having performed the same gig out of college in Detroit. The job is aligned with the responsibilities of a movie critic or restaurant critic — you praise and pillory, based on honest and independent appraisals — and some sports media writers do it well, bringing heat with equal parts approval and disapproval. Deitsch broke down the NFL Draft by calling the lead production bosses, Disney’s Seth Markman and NFL Network’s Charlie Yook, and letting them extol the efforts of their respective crews in Cleveland. If sports was covered this way, we’d let managers and coaches write flowery stories and temper our personal assessments. It’s time Deitsch consider a beat change, as he wearily reminds us too often of his lengthy run covering sports media. I’ll give him this much: He counts better than I do, because Five Who Don’t Get It became Seven Who Don’t Get It. I could do nine or 10 this week, but, like John Lennon, I’ve got blisters on my fingers.

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1 Comment

  1. Mike Milhouse

    May 7, 2021 at 10:28 am

    “don’t let other tweeters’ problems become yours” Man, this might be the best advice I have heard in years, and I’m not even on twitter. Replace twitter with “social media and comment sections” and you have a quote for the future ages.

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BSM Writers

Gary Bettman Wants You To Have More Access

“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly.”

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In the wake of the NHL’s latest national television contract, Commissioner Gary Bettman has solidified the league’s broadcast future.  Recent contracts dictate that the league will be appearing on ESPN and TNT/TBS next season after its relationship with NBC concludes after 10 years.  Still, the key to both deals is streaming and Bettman explained how there is more work to be done.

Bettman says NHL must be ready to adapt, adjust in shortened season | CBC  Sports

“First and foremost whatever media package you’re going to do, particularly on a national basis, you want to make sure you’re getting the most exposure, the best possible production, the best possible promotion that you want to be able to give your fans as much access to the game as possible,” Bettman said on Episode 299 of my Sports with Friends podcast.

The deal with Turner is for seven years worth a reported $225 million.  ESPN’s contract is also for seven years for more games than Turner and is reported to be more than $400 million.

The keys to these deals are the streaming apps. Both ESPN+ and HBO Max are key components to each deal that are making out-of-market games as well as exclusives available to subscribers.  Still, the controversial decision made by the Regional Sports Networks to require cable subscriptions to stream the local teams is impacting cord-cutters across the US.

“Media distribution and the platforms are going to continue to evolve,” Bettman explained. “Frankly with new technology also represents improved camera coverage. The productions are better than they’ve ever been. You have HDTV, which didn’t exist decades ago. We use more technology, whether it’s player tracking or any of the other statistics that we use.  With SAP and Amazon and Apple, the opportunities to get within the game, because there are more distribution platforms have never been greater.”

My takeaway from Bettman’s statements on the subject is that both he and the broadcast people in his office are well aware of the facts presented. While some fans are expecting a quick fix, these deals are complicated. Each team has its own contract with an RSN.  Bettman can’t legislate a new way to circumvent those contracts.  Plus, he still believes in linear television.

“There is some cord-cutting going on, but linear television still predominates, and more people are watching on a big screen TV in a large room with a couple of other family members or friends,” Bettman said. “Or when you go to a bar sports bar, you see what’s on in the background.”

Because I’ve known Bettman for over a decade, I take him at his word.  We did discuss him coming back on the podcast for episode 399 (which would be in June 2023). I’d love to see progress made on the issue then.

“I think there is an evolution going on, but I think it’s easy to over-generalize,” Bettman said.”

The deal with NBC was profitable in many ways over the 10 years. Originally, games were aired on the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), and now to NBC and NBC Sports Network, which be shutting down by the end of 2021.

AK Other | Oln X Nhl Hockey Sewn Jersey Versus | Poshmark

The ESPN deal was signed in March.  The Turner contract was made public in late April.

“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly,” the commissioner said. “Giving more content than ever before in more places than ever before.  We couldn’t be more excited to have the Walt Disney Company (ESPN) and Warner Media (Turner) working with us and the game. Our organization is excited and thrilled, and we know both of their organizations are thrilled as well. This is an exciting time for us.”

Other highlights from the 45-minute conversation had to do with competitive balance.  Unlike the NBA, the NHL regularly has quality teams with records above .500 that don’t make the playoffs.  

We talked about the impact that Covid-19 has had on the league.  Bettman addressed the decision to create the “playoff bubble” in Toronto and Edmonton as opposed to an American city. 

He also discussed the fact that the NHL and NHLPA extended their collective bargaining agreement by four years while negotiating the return to play in the summer of 2020.  That’s with former MLBPA head Donald Fehr at the helm. My memories of the canceled World Series made the NHL extension seemingly impossible.

Finally, Bettman addressed his legacy. He takes being the first commissioner in modern sports to be openly booed as a badge of honor, noting that nowadays all commissioners get booed.  “(NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell got booed at the draft last week,” Bettman said.

Still, he knows his legacy will always be connecting to canceling the 2004-2005 season.  Yet, the growth of the league is unprecedented, and he has been the architect of that.

NHL lockout: League cancels entire preseason schedule | The Star

Bettman sees no end to his tenure, or at least wouldn’t admit it to me. Maybe we can address that in two years for episode 399.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise Podcast – Episode 27

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Demetri Ravanos begins this week’s episode by looking at Thursday Night Football moving to Amazon exclusively in 2022 and what it means for future business deals with the NFL. Russ Heltman drops by next to offer his thoughts on Rob Parker and Chris Broussard’s heated discussion over Tim Tebow being the beneficiary of white privilege and his value to ESPN as a college football analyst. Seth Everett closes things out by weighing in on Gary Bettman’s legacy and the NHL’s recent deals with broadcast groups.

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BSM Writers

News & Sports Is A Perfect Marriage For Sales

“Plenty of sellers have a news talk/sports talk combo to sell especially if they are in AM-heavy clusters.”

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There are a lot of similarities in sports talk and news talk radio sales. And there are some differences, some of which are actually complementary and work to the sellers’ advantage. I was fortunate to sell news and sports talk as a combo for years.

As Jason Barrett recently announced, the Barrett Sports Media and News Media web sites have merged. Plenty of sellers have a news talk/sports talk combo to sell especially if they are in AM-heavy clusters. One of my 2021 resolutions was to seek out the positive in most situations so let’s look at the similarities the two formats offer to a salesperson.

Twins

  • Both are foreground formats. For the most part, spoken word radio listeners are seeking to focus on what is being said. They don’t listen to podcasts or talk shows so they can free their mind up to think about other things. Plenty of music listeners have their minds completely elsewhere and don’t even hear what the air person has to say. In fact, most music jocks are told to shut up and play the music. Great selling point for live liners, spots and why our commercials are worth more money. 
  • We have very loyal customers. The best results for any advertiser comes from the heaviest users of a station- their “P1’s”.   Most news/sports talk tsl comes from a much smaller % of the cume. Listeners to Sean Hannity, Jim Rome, Ben Shapiro, and Colin Cowherd stay put. Music listeners tend to chase the hottest song or diary responders to music stations will flip to the station with the contest to win concert tickets. Often this can lead to fewer spots needed in a schedule to achieve a better frequency. 
  • We got the dough. Nothing sells luxury goods and services like a news/sports talk radio station. Look at any consumer index survey and these two formats will always score near the top. Make sure you load up on luxury car dealers, independent import car repair, jewelers, stockbrokers, realtors and home services companies.  

Opposites

  • Sports formats can skew younger especially with stations that have guy talk driven hosts. Some sports stations have local play by play and that can cume in a younger audience.  News talk radio is heavy 55+ and especially 65+. Younger buyers will carry a bias at times vs news radio and the age of the listener.
  • The news talk format is conservative and mostly anti-liberal/Democrat in general. Some national advertisers would not allow their commercials to fall into the Rush Limbaugh show for example. Sometimes, buyers will not place ads on a conservative station for personal reasons. In sports, at least traditionally, that doesn’t happen as often. Historically sports have steered away from conservative or liberal positions on any politics. We have a chance to change that. See below. 
  • Sports talk typically has 80/20 Male to Female audience. News talk skews much more female and can be a 60/40 split Male to Female. That opens the door to what a 45–64-year-old woman may be more interested in home services, jewelry and more! 

A Happy Couple

  • A sports and news talk combo buy provides a great one stop shop for anything with a male skew. And, make sure you point out the earning power differences. We used to have fun with a graphic that pointed out with our combo you get customers and with the rock stations you got convicts. Get it? Customers or Convicts?  
  • If you are selling to male store owner and he is over 40 years old there is a good chance he listens to one of your shows. Just ask him. 
  • It may be time to start talking politics. If you have a conservative news talk station loaded with local news and political talk in the morning and Shapiro, Savage, and Hannity at other times, you got a conservative station. If you have a local show or two on the sports station, why not encourage them to speak up? Occasionally, the talent will not be conservative Republicans and certainly most athletes who speak out on political matters and command attention are not republican conservatives.  Seems like a perfect balance for buyers who object to one lean over the other. 

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