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Conferences Are Evolving, Their Networks Should Too

“If there suddenly just 3 separate monster conferences, the streaming services will have libraries that will rival what ESPN+ offers now.”

Seth Everett

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The recent news about the University of Texas and Oklahoma moving from the Big 12 conference to the South Eastern Conference brought the decade-long discussion about super conferences back to the forefront. Only this time, new technology and the cord-cutting increasing could make these conferences consider finally reshaping the college sports landscape.

Over the last decade, nearly every major conference created its own television network. The Big Ten Network launched in 2007. Five years later, the Pac-12 Network launched, and somehow soldiers on despite a nearly fifteen-year carriage dispute with DirecTV.

Pac-12 Networks, DirecTV at Stalemate: New Ad Campaign Launches - Variety
2013 PAC-12 Network ad campaign

When the Texas/Oklahoma story broke, these networks came to mind.  The exposure increase for both those schools being on the SEC’s current CBS contract as well as the ESPN-owned SEC Network. 

Last year, the SEC signed a $3 billion deal with ESPN that gives the network rights to all SEC football games starting in 2024 and is expected to bump the conference’s annual distribution to its members to about $68 million.  The SEC contract is the gold standard in a college media rights deal.

Still, since the beginning of 2021, the amount of US households that have
“cut the cord” has increased.  Last year, the ratio was 35% cord-cutters to 65% cable subscribers.  This summer, that number increased to 50% each.

According to research company Navigate Research, the annual distribution gap between the SEC and Big 12 at about $16 million per team per year in the SEC’s favor by 2026.

“The interesting part for me is what’s going to happen long-term because if you’re in this business now, you’re going to have to start thinking bigger,” Jay Bilas said on ESPN on July 26th. “Greg Sankey and the SEC are certainly doing that. If I were commissioner of the ACC, one thing I’d be thinking about is approaching the SEC and saying, ‘Look at all the natural rivalries we have in our conference. Why don’t we start thinking about a merger?’ because that’s what the SEC is going to become. It’s going to become the NFL, a junior NFL, and junior NBA.”

The Covid-19 pandemic assisted this, and I’d love to teach a masterclass on how Apple TV and Roku are better than any cable service.  In two short years, when the NFL puts their Sunday Ticket into an app (Netflix, Apple, Amazon are rumored to become the new home), hundreds of thousands of subscribers will drop DirecTV and enter the cord-cutting realm.

Follow the money. As this migration happens, college networks will see less and less viewership. Still, the library of content could become a really interesting OTT streaming service.  Instead of simply having talk shows with diminishing audiences, imagine a Netflix-style app featuring content from every school in the SEC.

Imagine an SEC app as opposed to the linear television network.  There would be an archive of classic games.  Classic features.  Archived talk shows and interview segments.  A section for Alabama, and Florida, and LSU.  However, if you want to add subscribers, add North Carolina, Duke, and my alma mater, Syracuse all have rich histories that appeal to new subscribers.

If a person is new to cord-cutting in a super conference society, these potential new streaming services could present strong appeal to people figuring the new media landscape.

ESPN+ offers much of this, but it is incredibly broad. A strong SEC streaming service could be in conjunction with ESPN and evolve out of the current SEC Network. The issue is, when these programs are ready to do business, the migration away from linear television will increase exponentially.

Super conferences are not a new conversation. In 1993, Penn State went from an independent to the Big Ten. It also sprang up in 2013 after Nebraska joined the Big Ten, the Pac-10 became the Pac-12, and the Big East became a basketball-only small conference after being a powerhouse in college basketball and one of college football’s BCS automatic qualifiers.

The expansion of the College Football Playoff to 12 teams is another step towards a new landscape in college football.  In Mid-March 2021, I wrote for Barrett Sports Media that the regular season in college hoops was irrelevant while the tournament was a media triumvirate.  This is only about football, and the rest of college sports will not be involved in any decisions.

The Texas/Oklahoma moves show how this story has been and remains a sports media story. As the SEC moves into the new ESPN deal, the focus on ESPN+ will only grow. If there suddenly just 3 separate monster conferences, the streaming services will have libraries that will rival what ESPN+ offers now.

Texas and Oklahoma officially join the SEC — what's next
Courtesy: KXAN

This is a new time in college sports. Players can receive money. The conferences showed they can rule themselves, especially when it came to Covid. The super conference may be upon us. At the very least, it’s back on the sports media landscape. 

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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