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Dear ESPN, It’s Time To Grow Some Balls

“Don’t pretend like there aren’t hours of video of some of these guys bemoaning the idea that their players may one day not have to be poor. Don’t ignore the fact that some of these guys have looked into your cameras and told your reporters that NIL legislation would kill whatever sport it is they coach.”

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I am on vacation this week. I am not supposed to be writing or thinking about sports media, but NIL legislation took effect across the country last week and the NCAA chose to get out of the way and let players make a little money off their fame. So, here I am, sitting on the porch of a cabin in Navajo Nation, typing on my laptop as I look out at Monument Valley.

Coaches across all college sports are going to have to learn to work in this new environment. Reacting to the world around them and innovating solutions are what they are paid to do. Right now, they are all saying the right things. They may acknowledge that this will be a challenge, but they will all add that it is about time we le players make money off of their name, image and likeness.

Come the fall, ESPN will run packages every week on College GameDay noting what companies are giving money to which high profile players. The reporters will talk to coaches to get their opinions on valuable Instagram and TikTok posts. Everyone will yuk it up as Lee Corso slaps Desmond Howard on the back and asks how much he could have gotten paid for striking the Heisman pose while holding a Diet Coke can.

That is how things will go. GameDay has become the go to show for guys like Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban to say whatever they want and not receive much pushback.

ESPN, don’t let this happen. Don’t pretend like there aren’t hours of video of some of these guys bemoaning the idea that their players may one day not have to be poor. Don’t ignore the fact that some of these guys have looked into your cameras and told your reporters that NIL legislation would kill whatever sport it is they coach.

There is a veritable greatest hits of things that were said:

  • “This will create a competitive imbalance for smaller schools.”
  • “What will we do about women’s sports?”
  • “After football and basketball, who is really in line to make money?”

ESPN, grow some balls and ask the people who said these things if they still feel good about those statements, how they were received by their players, and how they feel now that NIL legislation has passed and college sports are still standing.

Let me help you out with a quick refresher of who said what.

MIKE LEACH (MISSISSIPPI STATE FOOTBALL COACH)

Mike Leach broke out a classic. “I think there will be a huge imbalance and you’ll destroy college football,” he said during a press conference in September of 2019. At the time, he was the head coach at Washington State University.

I’d love for some reporter to ask Leach when exactly he thought there was a more level playing field in the sport. When have bigger schools in richer conferences not had a leg up on everyone else?

I’d love to know why he thinks college football has continued to thrive even as coaches, say, leave a floundering PAC-12 school in the middle of nowhere for a new job making SEC money. Doesn’t that send the message to players and fans that this is all a business and any emotional investment is a waste of their time? Why hasn’t that killed the sport?

I’d love to know how Mike Leach would respond when it is pointed out that the first college football player to sign any kind of endorsement deal was not from a powerhouse program like Clemson or Alabama or Oklahoma, which are seemingly always in the top five. The first player to sign any kind of endorsement deal wasn’t a Heisman frontrunner like Spencer Rattler or Sam Howell. It was Antwan Owens, a defensive end from the historically Black Jackson State University.

SCOTT FROST (NEBRASKA FOOTBALL COACH)

Scott Frost is a walking disappointment. Each season, his ineptitude at Nebraska proves that his 13-0 season at Central Florida was more about how easy it is to win at the nation’s largest university than it was about anything he is capable of.

In 2019, Frost said “Once you start paying a football player, you have to pay every student-athlete. That’s an awfully big drain on our budget, depending on how much gets paid.”

This is a goos chance to cut ESPN a little slack. It isn’t just the World Wide Leader that doesn’t push back on this line of bullshit. Local media is just as, if not more complicit, in letting these guys spout nonsense and just nodding along. Frost was said this as the University of Nebraska was in the middle of building a $155 million football facility.

I would love for someone to ask Scott Frost how he feels about Olivia Dunn. The LSU gymnast is a social media superstar and expected to turn her more than one million Instagram followers into the single most valuable audience any college athlete has. LSU certainly gets what her brand means for the school.

The idea that big schools and major football and basketball teams would be the only ones to make any money off of NIL opportunities is an old, misguided idea. At best, Scott Frost doesn’t get how the marketing world works anymore. Social media has a much greater reach than SportsCenter. At worst (and frankly probably more likely) Frost is pretending to worry about what is fair for athletes in the Olympic sports, so that he can justify not wanting any college athlete to make money.

MARK FEW (GONZAGA MEN’S BASKETBALL COACH)

Oh buddy, did Mark Few get shrewd. What is the best thing to do when you are asked a question and you know sharing your honest opinion will alienate the people you most need on your side? You pretend to be too dumb to answer.

In a nearly 4 minute rant posted to Twitter in October of 2019, Few called NIL legislation “an incredibly complex issue. It’s like health care in America.”

Well, just like health care in America, this IS NOT a complicated issue. The people at the bottom deserve to be treated fairly. The only reason you are calling it complicated is because you are not at the bottom and treating people fairly could cut into your own personal bottom line.

The Spokesman Review outlined some of the most appealing Gonzaga athletes to potential advertisers. Do you think Mark Few is going to hold up any potential deals for these kids and let recruits weighing life as a Bulldog see that the program is lead by a guy that is going to stand in their way? Or do you think that all of the sudden, this is going to get real simple for the guy?

The college basketball version of GameDay features Jay Bilas, the lone voice in the sports media that has been a bulldog (no pun intended) from day one when it comes to how athletes are treated by the NCAA. You know what would be great television? Make Mark Few sit down with him and revisit these comments. Let someone that will actually call the guy out ask Few to explain himself.

DABO SWINNEY (CLEMSON FOOTBALL COACH)

Ah, the granddaddy of them all. Dabo Swinney wasn’t the first to say that student athletes shouldn’t be paid. He was just the loudest and most steadfast.

“We try to teach our guys, use football to create the opportunities, take advantage of the platform and the brand and the marketing you have available to you,” he said in a press scrum in 2014. “But as far as paying players, professionalizing college athletics, that’s where you lose me. I’ll go do something else, because there’s enough entitlement in this world as it is.”

Dabo Swinney, I’ll remind you, makes more than $9 million per year. He ain’t going to “do something else.”

Like a pastor at a megachurch, Li’l Ol’ Dabo just needs those that believe in his message to stay poorer than him. In fact, it’s a sin for anyone playing for him to make a dime, because getting paid what you are worth is “entitlement.” The joy of helping him put a pool in his backyard with a waterslide and the Clemson logo on the bottom is payment enough!

Moving company offers glimpse into Dabo Swinney's 15,000 sq. ft. 'castle' |  News | foxcarolina.com
Courtesy: Tiger Moving

So shouldn’t the very first College GameDay of 2021 open with a segment about how Dabo Swinney is enjoying life in retirement?

It should, but it won’t.

Dabo is a media star. ESPN is in business with the ACC. Rather than have someone ask a tough question, ESPN will send Kirk Herbstreit, who’s sons played for Swinney, to lob softballs and ignore that these words were ever said like some kind of sycophant blogger. We will have to rely on the Internet to hold Swinney accountable.

I don’t even want the guy to quit. He is good for college football. I just want to hear Dabo Swinney say “My comments in 2014 were ridiculous and tone deaf. I was wrong.”

RON HOWARD VOICE FROM THE FUTURE: Dabo Swinney won’t say that.

College athletes are the most valuable members of any school’s marketing department. The University of Alabama went through four football coaches during the four years I was in school there and enrollment stood at just over 20,000 when I graduated in 2003. Eighteen years and six national championships later, enrollment is hovering just under 40,000. The campus looks NOTHING like where I went to school. You cannot tell me that is not thanks in part to people like Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Tua Tagovailoa, and Mac Jones landing the campus on national TV every week.

Alabama still planning to fill Bryant-Denny Stadium this fall, AD says - al .com
Courtesy: Ben Flanagan/AL.com

I don’t expect any of these coaches, or any member of the media that stood loudly against college athletes ever making any kind of money to admit they were wrong. I don’t expect to see anyone go on ESPN and say, “Well, NIL is here and college sports didn’t turn into a pile of flaming rubble like I said it would.”

What I do expect is some journalism, some context to where we are now. There is nothing rude or unprofessional about not letting these guys forget what they said two, three, or seven years ago. Grow some balls. Hold some feet to the fire. That is part of the job description right now.

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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