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NCAA, NC State Both Bungled College World Series, There Are No Good Guys

“Present this topic with some rage if you want. That is a totally valid way to talk about this story if it is relevant to your audience, but rage only offers one conversation.”

Demetri Ravanos

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While I think the NCAA is a corrupt, inept, unnecessary organization, there are times I actually have some sympathy for President Mark Emmert. Saturday morning wasn’t exactly one of those times. The NCAA chose to announce that it had decided North Carolina State was eliminated from the College World Series at 2:10 AM on the East Coast, when most of the team’s fans and school’s administrators were asleep. It is the absolute peak of cowardice and ineptitude on the part of an organization largely built on those two pillars.

Had they been able to participate as scheduled, the Wolfpack would be forced to play a winner-take-all semifinal against Vanderbilt with just 12 players. Covid protocols and diagnoses had made the rest of the roster unavailable. NC State was willing to play under those conditions. The NCAA was not. The organization ruled the event a no-contest and Vanderbilt punched the first ticket to the championship round.

Back in Raleigh, where I live, Wolfpack fans howled at the injustice. “The NCAA was out for us the whole time!” “The NCAA exists to prop up the SEC!” “ESPN did this!”. This is what instant reaction from the only fan base in the world that I am starting to believe is indeed cursed sounds like.

Did the NCAA screw NC State? Yeah, there is no debate that the advantages of having a fully vaccinated roster were never clearly presented to NC State or anyone else in the tournament. But let’s not absolve NC State’s administration and roster of all responsibility here. They screwed themselves. We’re 16 months into this pandemic. There is no way they can say they didn’t know that unvaccinated players could put their team at a disadvantage.

Fans react in black and white. I have lived in North Carolina and amongst NC State fans long enough to know that despite not having a team that was actually good at anything in most of my lifetime, they believe with all of their heart and soul that the NCAA has put a target on their backs. It is funny, but at the same time, I feel for their fans. If you grew up hearing this and then watched what has happened to teams with “NC State” emblazoned across their chests over and over again, it would be impossible to convince you otherwise.

But you’re not a fan. You’re the media or an entertainer. You can call yourself whatever feels appropriate. You have the ability to think logically about this situation before you react. Do that and you will come to two obvious conclusions: No one is innocent and there are no good guys here.

Ranting and raving on your show on Monday does two things. Neither of them really help. First, it gives you nowhere to take the conversation. Second, it turns the story solely into a college baseball story.

College baseball.

Does that feel like a good content choice?

Ever?

When you introduce nuance into the conversation, you get more avenues to walk down and this becomes bigger than a single incident in a single sport.

NC State being ousted from the College World Series is another example of something I wrote weeks ago. The vaccine conversation IS A SPORTS CONVERSATION NOW! Jon Rahm, NFL protocols, attendance at EURO 2020, there are so many sports stories where we see someone’s decision regarding the vaccine has consequences in the stadium and on the field.

Go back to before the vaccine was widely available. VCU was eliminated from the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Notre Dame was eliminated from the NCAA Ice Hockey Tournament. Rice was eliminated from the NCAA Volleyball Tournament. Countless bowl games were cancelled. All of it was due to Covid-related issues. How was NC State baseball coach Elliott Avent not hammering home the idea that it is important for everyone on the roster to be vaccinated, because this could cost us?

COVID-19 scare leaves Wolfpack with 13 players for CWS game | State/Region  | thedailytimes.com
Courtesy: Ethan Hyman

I get that in the aftermath of the decision Avent didn’t want to have a vaccine debate. I get that him saying that he was in no mood to have that conversation right now is no indication of how he feels about the vaccine or his personal vaccination status. But his statements that “I don’t try to indoctrinate my kids with my values or my opinions” and “these are young men that can make their own decisions” are weak.

You’re a coach. This is your team. You can’t rule with an iron fist, but you have to steer the ship and make it clear to your unvaccinated players that they just cost their team the chance to play for a national championship. Saying that is not akin to saying that Avent is a bad guy or that the NC State school seal is now the official logo of the anti-vaccination movement.

Look, for all I know, maybe that happened in private. Elliott has been in that role for a long time. I have interacted with him several times. He is a good guy and a smart guy. I can’t imagine that it hasn’t dawned on him that this was totally preventable.

Now, on the other side of the fence, let’s put the NCAA under the microscope. Do you want to talk about a bad PR month? This is an organization that just had a US Supreme Court Justice say its entire business model is essentially illegal. It was not at all prepared for states making their own laws regarding players being compensated for the use of their name, image, and likeness, despite the fact that many of these bills were passed months ago. Now, in the middle of the night, it decided to give the boot to the best underdog story in the College World Series.

To make matters worse for the NCAA, it was absolutely embarrassed by the Douglas County Health Department. The NCAA tried to throw the health department under the bus. The official story is that Douglas County said NC State had to go and there was nothing the NCAA could do about it. The health department was quick to say that was not true.

How anyone can argue that this organization shouldn’t be burned to the ground is beyond me. Everyday the NCAA does something new that is indefensible. If, by now, you haven’t realized that players in all NCAA sports are exploited at the whim of university presidents across the country, who clearly know their decisions are indefensible, then you are a moron and a bad person.

Look at that! We just did a little topic tree action and now have turned a story where all you can really do is go to the phones into multiple conversations. Bruce Gilbert must be beaming!

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Present this topic with some rage if you want. That is a totally valid way to talk about this story if it is relevant to your audience, but rage only offers one conversation. Thinking a little deeper has now gotten us to a place where we can discuss the role of a coach and the morality of the very existence of the NCAA.

Nuance doesn’t always play well on sports radio, but that is largely because presenting nuance alone isn’t all that interesting. Nuance’s value to sports radio is in the prep process. Stop, breathe, and think a little deeper. That is how new, more interesting topics reveal themselves.

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

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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.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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