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Uncancellable: Pujols Deserves Last Shot With Needy Dodgers

Often cold and heartless, Major League Baseball must protect future Hall of Famers from late-career legacy damage — and a new opportunity with the World Series champions gives life to an aging slugger.

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The bailout is shockingly proper, almost enough to restore our faith in the use-up, spit-out nature of a heartless industry. Albert Pujols has been rescued from cancel culture — and not just by any team, but the Los Angeles Dodgers, who offer him a chance not only to play in October but also flip a 31-mile-long middle finger at the team that cut him.

Some deals are inarguably raw in sports. Designating a first-ballot Hall of Famer for assignment, as if blaming him for a $240 million contract that led to zero playoff victories, was wrong of the Los Angeles Angels of Oblivion, or wherever they play these days. Though he sometimes looked every day of his 41 years, moved slower than Orange County traffic, swung like me at the local batting cage and wasn’t close to hitting his weight (a 245-pound slugger with a .198 average), Pujols deserved more deference and a better fate. He gets his shot just up the I-5 freeway, where Dodger Blue has become Dodger Boo-Boo amid a bombardment of injuries, including the broken bone in Corey Seager’s right hand.

Releasing Albert Pujols was Hall of Shame move by Angels - Los Angeles Times

Baseball owes parachute landings to its all-time legends as a way of protecting their legacies … and also to avoid looking like a cold, impersonal monolith. You expected Pujols’ loyal friend, Pedro Martinez, to describe his release as “shameful.” You expected David Ortiz, his boyhood chum from the Dominican Republic, to protest on an Instagram post: “I do not agree on the move that just happened. That was devastating for fans and player(s). I know this is a business, but I was expecting someone like you to walk away like you deserve. You have done so much for baseball that is hard to replace someone like you.” But the injustice was driven home by the normally apolitical Mike Trout, the sport’s greatest active player, who was jolted by the abrupt cruelty and said he STILL was learning lessons from Pujols every day.

“We were all surprised when it happened,” Trout said. “You know, it hit me a little bit. It hit me a lot. Ever since I’ve been up here, he’s been my guy. He mentored me throughout my career so far. Everything you can accomplish, on a baseball field, he’s done. I can go up to him and talk about anything. If I was struggling at the plate, he knows the perfect time to come up and throw something out. He has that feel. I can’t thank him enough. He was an unbelievable person and friend to me.”

What Pujols deserved was one final chance away from Anaheim. It’s a dead-end destination, where owner Arte Moreno can’t figure out how to maximize Trout, two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani and charismatic manager Joe Maddon — but did employ a public-relations director accused of supplying opioids that killed the late Angels pitcher, Tyler Skaggs. The explanation, from first-year general manager Perry Minasian, was that Ohtani is the designated hitter on days he isn’t pitching while emerging Jared Walsh is the regular first baseman, leaving Pujols without playing time. “He wants to play every day at first base,’’ team president John Carpino said. Shouldn’t all of this have been addressed in the offseason, when Pujols refused to declare 2021 as his final season even with his 10-year contract expiring? Why the communication lapse? Where was Moreno, who signed off on the onerous contract way back when? Since Pujols’ release, the Angels typically have sunk in the standings. And now, they’ll have to pay the rest of his $30 million salary.

This while the injury-plagued Dodgers, the show-biz franchise that long has reduced the Angels to a middling operation, pay him a prorated $420,000. That’s it. We know where this narrative is going, right? The Dodgers, who’ve melded tradition with resources and technology to build the model U.S. sports organization, want to prove they can revive Pujols when the Angels could not and others rejected the challenge. Struggling themselves in a World Series hangover that includes a growing list of health and inefficiency setbacks, the champs will plant Pujols into the clubhouse as a mentor. If Trout was learning from him, what about Cody Bellinger, Gavin Lux, even Mookie Betts? Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner are the longstanding leaders, with Dave Roberts as the seen-it-all manager, but sometimes a fresh, grandmaster voice is needed to sidle up to Trevor Bauer and say, “Bro, was that tweet really necessary?’’

He won’t morph into Pujols Prime, the three-time National League MVP who ranks fifth in career home runs (667) and 13th in hits (3,253). Hell, when asked if he could beat Pujols in a foot race, Roberts said, “As a player that I respect greatly, can I beat him in a foot race? I would say yes.’’ The last three years, his slash line was abysmal, and his Wins Above Replacement was a cumulative negative-0.1. As his body and everyday skills broke down in his 30s, he was half the player in Anaheim that he was in St. Louis, where his offensive totals — .331/.426/.624 with 408 homers and 1,230 RBIs — were comparable to the most prolific decade of any slugger ever. But the changes in scenery and culture inevitably will trigger contributing sparks. Because, as Chase Utley and David Freese and other veterans have shown in their twilight, one final act in Chavez Ravine can be rejuvenating.

What’s crazy is, Pujols is amenable to not being an everyday first baseman at Dodger Stadium. In trading up for a premier franchise, he’s dialing down his expectations and demands. In talks last week, he was challenged by Dodgers baseball boss Andrew Friedman that he’d better produce to stay on the roster all season. Pujols took it as a threat, as he should have, because he cannot be a liability for a franchise bidding for a dynasty.

There’s no DH most days. Where does he play? On a roster dependent on versatility, maybe he’s occasionally at first base when Max Muncy slides to second, with Lux as the new shortstop while Seager misses at least a month. Maybe he’s an imposing pinch-hitter in a lineup that needs a right-handed bat, igniting crowds in later innings. Maybe weeks pass without a contribution before he hits a game-winning homer. Whatever, the Dodgers needed bodies and glue. Albert Pujols, walking through that door, certainly has everyone’s attention. That includes the national media, who have a compelling story line in what has been a snoozer of a season, with too many strikeouts, hitless lull periods, major injuries and ongoing COVID-19 cases even when players and coaches are fully vaccinated (see: nine members of the New York Yankees).

In the end, the Angels did him an unintended favor at an exorbitant price. Said Maddon, who denies a report that Pujols yelled at him and insulted his managing skills the day he was cut: “I would imagine being close to home would have some benefit there. I do wish him well. His family is right there, so it makes sense. If you get that opportunity closer to home, take it.’’ And the Dodgers have nothing to lose beyond $420,000, or what they make in Dodger Dog sales in a homestand. There will be doubters, but only weeks ago, I read a columnist reflect on the demise of Pujols and San Francisco’s Buster Posey, who signed a nine-year, $167 million deal in 2013. This year, Posey is hitting .382 with eight homers and a 1.151 OPS. So there is hope for Pujols, who didn’t entirely lose his batting stroke at the gates of Disneyland.

SF Giants' Buster Posey homers in first at-bat since 2019

The game’s oldest active player has new life, which is no small development as Major League Baseball braces for another labor fight and the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement. The Pujols contract is exactly the kind of long-term, diminishing-returns commitment that owners want to avoid. As the New York Post’s Joel Sherman researched, of the 23 players who’ve received mega-deals of at least $200 million, seven have been traded, two have been released and two (Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano) have served one-season suspensions for PED use. It’s the most expensive roulette game in sports.

But what’s a serious team to do — not pay Trout his $426.5 million in fear of his age-39 season? Or not pay Betts his $365 million extension in fear of his age-40 season? If you’re the New York Mets and haven’t won a World Series since 1986, you close your eyes and give Francisco Lindor his $341 million. If you’re the Yankees and haven’t won since 2009, you give Gerrit Cole his $324 million and hope he turns out like Max Scherzer, more than worth Washington’s $210 million pact that expires this season. San Diego ownership angered its old-lord brethren by giving Fernando Tatis Jr., at 22, a 14-year deal for $330 million. The Padres were telling their fans, in a city with no other pro sports team, that they’re committed to contending for the long term. Is that wrong? Isn’t the objective still to win a championship?

If you want the optimum chance to stage a World Series parade, you invest in superstars when you have the opportunity. If you want to play the limited-payroll underdog role — and occasionally get lucky, like the Tampa Bay Rays last autumn — you paint yourself as a small-revenue underdog and hope fans keep caring. It’s a system of haves and have-nots attached to a ticking bomb: the growing likelihood of a labor impasse before next season.

Short of the owners implementing a salary cap, which would lead to a strike that could cripple the game permanently, franchises must continue to gamble that elite players produce big numbers through most of a contract. How does it work out when teams opt not to take the plunge? The St. Louis Cardinals, who let the Angels outbid them in 2011 amid civic rebellion, haven’t won a World Series without Pujols after winning two with him. Tell New Englanders, even with the Red Sox off to a surprisingly hot start, that life without Betts won’t be a nightmare this decade.

Remember, the MLB financial system is a massive pie filled with the fruits of broadcast revenues. Every last crumb of the pie will be devoured; it’s a matter of which owners and players snatch the largest pieces. Moreno could afford Pujols at the time. He obviously didn’t go broke since then, having committed almost double the amount to Trout. The Angels gambled … and lost.

ANGELS: Problems are easy to see, but can a new GM provide solutions? –  Press Enterprise

And now, as if karma is biting back, they face double-jeopardy. With Trout apparently headed for another playoff-less season in an ongoing baseball tragedy, Pujols could become a story in the fall … and might even retire as a champion. The lesson, in sports and business: Somehow, though the route might be circuitous, make your way to the best-performing and most-well-run organizations, the ones that know how to create happier endings for even a broken-down old man.

BSM Writers

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.”

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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.

Global Is Cool': The Growing Appeal of Premier League Soccer in America
Courtesy: Morning Consult

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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 45

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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.

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BSM Writers

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.”

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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?

A Pot of Gold Articles - Analyzing Metals
Courtesy: iStockphoto

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. 

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