He never grew up. That is the only explanation for how LeBron James, so astute last year in campaigning against voter suppression and protesting the murder of George Floyd, has become such a social failure in 2021. I called him the Sportsperson of the Year as recently as December.
Today, he has morphed into someone I don’t recognize or respect, as if his identity has been hacked by … wait, is this the work of Al-G’s Goon Squad in the upcoming “Space Jam 2’’ production? Regretfully, it is not.
James appears to be suffering from megalomania. He is so driven by his newly acquired power and influence, he acts via impulse, like a child, instead of thinking through the potential consequences of his statements. The police officers who’ve protected him throughout his very public life, such as when racist graffiti was sprayed on the gate of his Los Angeles mansion, now want NBA commissioner Adam Silver to investigate him. And why not? When James tweeted, “YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY’’ — beside an hourglass emoji and a photo of Nicholas Reardon, the Ohio police officer who fired the shots that killed a knife-wielding Ma’Khia Bryant — he struck me as a quick-trigger activist using a hand-held device to incite violence against police.
The fact he quickly deleted the tweet suggests James lacks the maturity and gravitas to be a responsible crusader. When O.J. Simpson displays more common sense, asking James to “pick his battles’’ and wait for more details before tweeting, it’s clearly time to minimize LeBron as an American leader. Wrote James, after removing the tweet: “I’m so damn tired of seeing Black people killed by police. I took the tweet down because its being used to create more hate — This isn’t about one officer. it’s about the entire system and they always use our words to create more racism. I am so desperate for more ACCOUNTABILITY.”
I am desperate for more ACCOUNTABILITY from James, who should be emphasizing peace and calm amid the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict. As it is, he comes off as a brand-fixated hypocrite, refusing to condemn China for human rights violations because he sells a lot of sneakers there and knows “Space Jam 2’’ awaits distribution this summer across a country of 1.45 billion people, give or take a few political prisoners. Remember when front-office executive Daryl Morey, then with Houston and now in Philadelphia, supported Hong Kong in its rebuke of the Chinese government? James attacked Morey, saying, “I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke. And so many people could have been harmed — not only financially (but) physically, emotionally, spiritually. So just be careful what we tweet and say and we do, even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too.”
It’s difficult not to laugh at the utter disingenuity here. Not educated about the situation at hand? So many people could have been harmed? Be careful what we tweet and say? Each claim also can be made about James’ “YOU’RE NEXT’’ tweet. Blatantly, and embarrassingly, he contradicted his own advice. The National Fraternal Order of Police certainly noticed, posting this tweet: “@KingJames, with his vast resources & influence, should educate himself and, frankly, has a responsibility to do so, on the facts before weighing in. This is disgraceful & extremely reckless. The officer saved a young girl’s life. No amount of gaslighting will change that fact.”
Nor did James do himself favors in Los Angeles, where a union representing LAPD officers wants to know if he violated league policies. There is no chance Silver, the free-speech champion, will address the matter publicly and irritate his meal ticket. But the local goodwill generated last fall by LeBron, who led the Lakers to a championship in the Disney Bubble, has subsided in a market that generally views him as a rented mercenary after Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson and other legends played entire careers with the purple and gold.
Little has gone well for James since the start of the new season, which tipped off only 72 days after he won his fourth NBA title. Stubbornly, rather than plotting strategic early rest like other superstars, he insisted on playing every night — and suffered a high right ankle sprain that cost him six weeks, while title-tandem partner Anthony Davis was missing nine weeks with a calf strain and Achilles tendinosis. Both returned, but the Lakers are woefully out of sync as the playoffs approach, their chemistry in tatters as multiple losses mount. Once atop the Western Conference at 21-6, they might sink so far in the standings that they’ll have to win a play-in series — the league’s new device to curtail tanking and maintain interest in more markets — to avoid elimination.
Of course, Mr. Impulse fired away again, this time whining about the league.
“Whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired,” James said of the play-in format.
Whoever would be Silver.
A title repeat looks impossible at this point, with guard Dennis Schroder out 10-14 days due to COVID-19 protocols. It’s unlikely James and Davis will stay setback-free through a postseason that won’t end until late July, with James sitting out the final six minutes of a Sunday loss and Monday night’s back-to-back against Denver with soreness in his problem ankle. Wisely, he’ll rest two more games this week. Just as he should accept Nikola Jokic as the presumptive league MVP, James should prioritize health over record and expect a play-in assignment against, oh, Steph Curry and the Warriors. Or Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. Or Ja Morant and the Grizzlies. Or, if the Lakers do keep the No. 6 seed, a matchup against Jokic and the Nuggets.
In all scenarios, James won’t be the sentimental favorite.
“I definitely want to get healthy. Not only for myself, but for our team,” he said. “I need to make sure my ankle is where it was before the injury. I’ve got to be smart with it. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day if I’m not 100 percent or close to 100 percent. It don’t matter where we land.”
Seems Kyle Kuzma, his younger teammate, has a better perspective at the moment. The Lakers are disjointed, with veteran Marc Gasol upset about reduced playing time after the signing of big man Andre Drummond. “I just don’t think we’re connected right now. I think we’re unhealthy and just not good enough,” Kuzma said after successive home losses to Sacramento and Toronto. “We’re just not together as a whole — team, staff, everything. … I don’t know, man. It’s just very tough. It’s just an unfortunate situation. It’s tough, man. It’s just tough, very tough. I’m not sure what to do.”
Said Davis, whose big buckets allowed the Lakers a breathing-room victory Monday: “The only way is up. We really can’t get any lower than this.’’
Is there a leader in the house? “Our team,’’ coach Frank Vogel said, “is a little shook.’’
For now, LeBron James has landed in a manure pile of his own doing. A legacy that never had looked shinier — a pandemic championship wrapped around a social justice triumph — now is smeared in pablum. It wasn’t long ago when he was sprawled outside a locker room in central Florida, soaked with champagne and smoking a cigar as he spoke to his mother via FaceTime. As detailed by NBA writer Ben Golliver in his new book, “Bubbleball,” James told her on the call: “Mama! Mama! Hey, Mama! I had to leave the locker room. They’re going crazy right now. I had to get away. There’s nothing that can stop me because this s— is nothing compared to the s— you had to go through.”
“God is good,” Gloria James replied.
“God is good,” her son said. “God is great. I hope I continue to make you proud, Mom.”
It’s stunning how quickly his world flipped in a matter of, what, six months? At least he has the new movie.
Er, never mind. It isn’t an original, having been made a quarter-century ago by Michael Jordan, who won six championships in six Finals tries and never let maniacal political leanings twist his life into undoable knots.
Gary Bettman Wants You To Have More Access
“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Media Noise Podcast – Episode 27
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.
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.”
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.
- 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.
- 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.