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Everyone Thinks They Are Better Than The Players, Even The Media

“Turns out, all it took was Naomi Osaka to expose just how many members of the media look down on the players they cover.”

Demetri Ravanos



DPPI/Rob Prange

Westbrook, Young, and now Irving. Fans are treating players like absolute garbage at arenas across the NBA. These assholes have been cooped up in their homes, kept away from stadiums across the sports landscape for so long that the second they return, they start acting like chimps in a zoo. Whether it is as innocuous as popcorn or as disgusting as spit, how have these idiots lost sight of the fact that their target is another human being that they have just paid hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to watch perform?

A fan is handcuffed and escorted out of TD Garden by police after allegedly throwing a water bottle at Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving as he left the court after Game 4 during an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Sunday, May 30, 2021, in Boston. The Nets won 141-126. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Courtesy: Elise Amendola/AP

It’s nothing new. Fans have a long history of not thinking of athletes as human beings. The aggressions can be macro, a la the Portland fan in 1995 that shouted something vulgar about Vernon Maxwell’s stillborn child, or they can be micro, like any time a fan claims to pay a guy’s salary. They are symptoms of the same attitude – “I am more important than you”.

There is no doubt that it is a shitty outlook to have, but “fan” is short for “fanatic” and that certainly implies that some very shitty people are going to be in the stands for every game. You don’t expect to find them in the press box or in the locker room after the game though. Turns out, all it took was Naomi Osaka to expose just how many members of the media look down on the players they cover.

Last week, the tennis phenom said that she would not be attending post-match press conferences during the French Open. She cited her mental health as the reason for the decision.

“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes [sic] mental health and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” the world’s second-ranked women’s star wrote across her social media feeds.

There is an understanding at these tournaments that speaking to the media is part of the job. If you don’t fulfill that duty, you face a fine. Naomi Osaka made it clear that she understood the policy and didn’t care. She would pay the fine if that was the cost of not doing something she thinks is detrimental to her overall performance. Shouldn’t that be the end of our concern?

Clearly it was not. First it was Roland Garros, then it was the governing bodies of all four of tennis’s Grand Slam events. They said in no uncertain terms that Naomi Osaka faced expulsion from any tournament she entered if she refused to speak to the media.

I can’t help but think these organizations wouldn’t have upped the ante if media voices around the world weren’t demanding some kind of retribution. The “hey, I’m just trying to do my job” crowd was out in full force. And they were buoyed by current and former players that all said the same thing. “Speaking to the media is part of the job!” And look, I get the point they were making and where they are coming from, but again, Naomi Osaka wasn’t saying “no it’s not.” She was saying “I can’t do this part of the job, and I will accept whatever punishment there is for it.”

That was not good enough for the people that decided they were personally hurt by this or the ones that saw an opportunity to hand out a good tisk-tisk to a young millionaire.

<p>Naomi Osaka could be thrown out of the French Open</p>
Courtesy: AP

I sympathize with Naomi Osaka here. She withdrew from the French Open and announced that she needed some time away from the court. That didn’t have to be the case. The powers that be in tennis tried to call her bluff and she wasn’t bluffing.

Naomi Osaka clearly goes through mental and emotional struggles that are exacerbated by talking to the media. Rather than agree that there is a consequence to not working with the people that cover their sport and accepting that Osaka could live with those consequences, the power brokers at tennis’s biggest events upped the ante and as a result, lost one of the sport’s biggest draws.

The sports media is not a monolith. It is made up of different people with different experiences. People that entered the business in the last five-to-ten years may have the same title as someone that entered the business thirty years ago, but they approach the job totally differently. When it comes to Naomi Osaka talking about her mental health or Trae Young calling out fan behavior, it always seems to be the oldest in our profession that get the loudest about the need for these people to “man up” or “show some mental fortitude”.

Look, I think it is time we say something out loud that is no secret in the world at large, but within our industry, too many are afraid to acknowledge. In a world where literally every game is available on either linear or streaming television and social media exists, reporters have less value to fans than they did a generation ago. It’s nothing personal. We live in a world where athletes can get their message directly to fans. In fact, that’s how Osaka made her announcement. To quote Pearl Jam, it’s evolution, baby.

I don’t mind people that think Naomi Osaka is in the wrong for skipping out on her press conferences. I don’t mind people that think that decision warranted some kind of punishment. The punishment was laid out in front of Naomi Osaka and she accepted it. What right did anyone have to still be angry?

And don’t tell me that players like Steffi Graf or Pete Sampras or Ivan Lendl wouldn’t behave like this. You know what they all have in common? They aren’t a part this year’s French Open. So who cares?

And don’t tell me it was all a convenient cover for Naomi not wanting to play on clay. You know it’s true because her sister posted about it on Reddit, right? Well, maybe it was a misunderstanding on her sister’s part to make it seem so simple or maybe the clay itself is part of the cause of Naomi Osaka’s stress and anxiety. Either way, I would rather assume someone is telling the truth about struggling with mental health, encourage them to take care of themselves, and later be called naive than dismiss someone’s pain for fear that I might be wrong.

The internet gave players agency. There is no barrier to telling their story directly to fans. That means players that grew up with the internet will have a fundamentally different relationship with and view of the media than their elders. There is nothing wrong with that. Every profession evolves with the times and new technologies. Why should we expect ours to be any different?

As a public, we lose sight of the fact that the people we lionize for what they can do on a tennis or basketball court are just that – people. It isn’t out of bounds to have expectations of how they behave or carry themselves, but most of the time, people will choose to meet their own needs first. Using our own column space or air time to rail against a player’s decision not to talk to us is no less self-absorbed that what they are doing.

Millionaires rarely engender sympathy. Most fans only view players through that single lens. “They make millions to play this game that I pay hundreds to watch. They OWE me!”

MLB strike in 1981 could guide baseball's coronavirus return - Sports  Illustrated
Courtesy: Sports Illustrated

The media has a professional responsibility to be better than that. Where was the reporter asking Naomi Osaka what she is dealing with? Where was the long form piece on athletes battling depression and anxiety in the biggest moments of their careers? I didn’t see many columns or stories that framed Osaka’s decision as a human one or that approached it with even an ounce of empathy or desire to understand until after she announced she would withdraw from all upcoming tournaments. By that point, the concern is so disingenuous that it is disgusting.

Too many media members first jumped to trying to shame Naomi Osaka. Then, when they decided she had been properly embarrassed, they pretended to want to understand her struggle. How do the authors of those columns go back and read their own words without feeling absolutely embarrassed?

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos




On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.






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