The winds were still. Kobe Bryant was staying In Los Angeles, no longer demanding a trade, quieting the outrage that had turned him into a national diva. So it stunned me when he appeared in the Lakers’ locker room, inside Chicago’s United Center on a winter’s night, and wanted to talk about what almost had happened months earlier.
He very nearly was traded to the Bulls. In fact, he and his wife had toured the suburbs in search of real estate and schools for their kids, including a one-year-old daughter named Gianna. Bryant confirmed all of this and more, which couldn’t have pleased coach Phil Jackson and the team brass, but his agenda was clear. He continued to be obsessed with his personal basketball Jesus, the legend whose statue was outside the building, and he seemed a bit wistful that he’d never play home games in the House That Michael Jordan Built.
You know how his Happily Ever After went. Pacified by the acquisition of Pau Gasol, Bryant calmed down and won two more championships — without Shaquille O’Neal — before the Lakers unraveled amid ownership upheaval and embarrassing internal soap operas. Those titles, his fourth and fifth, validated what had become obvious in his first 15 NBA seasons: Kobe never could be Michael, just as no player could be Michael, but he was the one who came closest to penetrating the Jordan force field.
Not LeBron James.
Kobe Bean Bryant.
This weekend, we’ll hear more stories about Bryant and his maniacal quest to be like Mike, beginning as an 18-year-old rookie who stalked Jordan after games like a starstruck fan and took it literally when Jordan told him to “call me if you ever need anything.” Hopefully, the mood will be lighter than the last time Jordan spoke publicly about his “little brother,” at the memorial service days after Kobe and Gianna died in a helicopter crash. The tragedy happened 15 1/2 months ago, but it feels like forever, foreshadowing a global pandemic in a double-whammy that made us ask what kind of world we’re living in. We had little chance to mourn Bryant’s passing — to eulogize and absorb the horror — before we were buying masks, hoarding toilet paper and isolating ourselves from the evil COVID-19 droplets. A more complete celebration comes Saturday at a Connecticut casino — no MJ gambling jokes, please — where Bryant’s “big brother” presents him for enshrinement at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony.
No matter what Jordan says in his latest speech, it will remind us of the close relationship between the two most magnificent showmen, exquisite scorers and driven competitors in basketball history. We only can hope it stops the never-ending nonsense that James is the second-greatest or even greatest player ever. The other day, a TV debate show posed a question — will LeBron pass Michael if he wins another championship? — without acknowledging that the Lakers, with a brittle James and injury-addled Anthony Davis, might not survive the first play-in game next week. Millennials and Gen-Zers are stuck in generational biases, thinking the sport wasn’t played before LeBron arrived. Without dwelling on James’ erratic postseason record and other glitches, let’s just say the prominence of Jordan and Bryant as cutthroat combatants and tempestuous, roster-maximizing leaders should shine through the festivities.
“He used to call me, text me at 11:30, 2:30, 3 in the morning,” Jordan said at the eulogy. “At first, it was an aggravation, but then it turned into a certain passion. This kid had passion like you would never know.” Kobe was the kid who “for whatever reason,” Jordan said, “always tended to get in your stuff. Your closet, your shoes, everything. It was a nuisance, if I can say that word. But that nuisance turned into love over a period of time.”
Said Bryant, recalling his MJ fixation on “The Last Dance” docuseries: “You can’t learn if you don’t ask. I know a lot of players were intimidated by him. I wasn’t intimidated. I think he understood my competitiveness. I think he was looking at my journey, too. It was a rough couple of years for me in coming to the league, because at the time, the league was so much older. It was not as young as it is today. Having teenagers or guys in their early 20s was not the norm. And so being an outsider from that standpoint, I think he wanted to provide a little help for me, a little direction for me.”
As Internet meme-ists know, Jordan is a cryer. His tears surely will appear again, only days after he revealed in an ESPN.com interview that he still looks at the final scroll of text messages left by Bryant on his phone. “He was just so happy,” Jordan said. “He was doing so well.” Unlike the younger days, when he would badger Jordan at all hours of the night, Bryant’s last text came early on the afternoon of Dec. 8, 2019. He wanted to thank his mentor for the box he’d been gifted: a bottle of tequila, courtesy of Jordan’s new brand.
Little brother: “This tequila is awesome.”
Big brother: “Thank you, my brother.”
Little brother: “Yes, sir. Family good?”
Big brother: “All good. Yours?”
Little brother: “All good.”
Deciding to be devilish, Jordan told writer Jackie MacMullan that he poked fun at Bryant’s new career as daughter Gigi’s coach. “Coach Kobe??!” texted Jordan, who added “that little crying/laughing emoji.”
“Ah, back at you, man,” wrote Bryant. “Hey, coach, I’m sitting on the bench right now, and we’re blowing this team out. 45-8.”
How perfect, as Jordan pointed out, that one furious competitor would tell another that his daughter’s team was routing an opponent. Not that James isn’t fueled by similar urges, but today’s NBA canvas can be about social-media oneupsmanship as much as winning a title. There’s a reason the sports world is talking about Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook right now. They are fueled by the same inferno as Michael and Kobe.
I’ll never forget studying Bryant’s voice cadence when he was younger. My God, he was trying to sound just like Jordan, particularly obvious when both would say, “Most definitely.” After a while, he grew up and heeded Jordan’s advice about basketball, leadership and life in the public eye, which grew dark for Bryant when he was accused of sexual assault in Colorado. Just when it seems Jordan has been showered with every possible tribute, here’s one of the best: Not only did he make every one of his teammates better, he helped turn Kobe Bryant into the best version of himself.
“Everyone always wanted to talk about the comparisons between he and I,” Jordan said. “I just wanted to talk about Kobe.”
He’ll have ample time Saturday. Other than Lou Gehrig’s retirement speech and Knute Rockne imploring his players to “win one for The Gipper,” sports offers no comparable moment. In death, there is life.
Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC
“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”
NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade. A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well. However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).
NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season. NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.
NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.
Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.
Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.
If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.
“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”
Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.
Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm.
“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”
While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.
Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock.
Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week.
My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic. When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV. Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams. After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England. They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.
I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.
I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters.
By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.
Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.
This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.
Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.” NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.
Media Noise – Episode 45
Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.
6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio
“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”
For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.
Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?
Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?
Well, let’s go Digging for Gold.
The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.
Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.
If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way? I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:
- Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
- Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
- Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
- Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
- FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $
- Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months
The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details.