As a television product, college football has absolutely left the NFL in the dust.
I grew up in the South. I still live in the South. There is a good chance I would believe this even if it weren’t true, so feel free to dismiss this opinion if it makes you feel better. But if you search your heart, you will know I am right.
Now, am I saying the football is better? No, of course not. By definition how can amateurs be better at anything than professionals? The advantages for college football all manifest themselves in the way we consume the sport as fans.
Granted, some of those are the result of things the NFL cannot change. There are 130 FBS college football teams compared to just 32 NFL teams. College football is everywhere on a Saturday, both in terms of linear TV and streaming platforms. That is the result of an inventory load the NFL just cannot match.
The NFL recently signed a slew of new TV contracts. While the league wasn’t suddenly going to add 100 new franchises, there was an opportunity to try something new in terms of presentation. The owners chose not to though. While that is understandable considering that their product currently sits fat and happy atop the American sports pantheon, I couldn’t help but wonder how the NFL doesn’t see just how much better and more fan-friendly Saturdays are than Sundays.
This past Saturday, when games kicked off in the early window, I could pick between games on ABC, ACC Network, Big Ten Network, CBS Sports Network, ESPNU, ESPN2, FOX, FS1, and the SEC Network. With some digging in the 600s on DirecTV, I could find three regionally syndicated games on the various Bally Sports channels as well. On top of that, there were ten games streaming on ESPN+ at the time. That is 22 different games that I could pick between. That is more games than you get all day in the NFL schedule in just one broadcast window. My remote and my iPad definitely got a workout. By the time we got to primetime, the number of choices was closer to 35 games I could pick between.
While the NFL will never be able to provide the overall volume college football does, it is insane the owners have not realized the benefits of providing access to more games in more windows than they currently do. There is a strategy to their decision, albeit an outdated one. The idea is to limit what you can see for free to three or four games during the daytime hours. If you want the full smörgåsbord, you have to fork over the cost for NFL Sunday Ticket, which starts at nearly $300.
The regional exclusivity also seems like a remnant of a bygone era. College football used to do this too, but about a decade ago, Disney recognized there being value in rethinking the regional division in its 3:30 pm window on ABC. Now, instead of that being about which part of the country has access to which game it is about which part of the country has access to which game on which network. Everyone gets to see everything. It is just that depending on where you live, one will be on ABC and the other will be on ESPN2. Why? Because plenty of people in Florida still want to watch the Big Ten.
Between gambling and fantasy football, how has Roger Goodell not realized how much more fan loyalty nationwide access to the full slate of games would engender?
I had the opportunity to speak with Mark Leibovich three years ago. He turned unrestricted access to Roger Goodell, Tom Brady, and league owners into the book Big Game. It is really good. You should read it if you love football.
Mark’s position on the future of the sport and of the NFL is that the people at the top still think about media like it is 1999. There are smart people on the level below them, but old man thinking still routinely wins out because the old men are the ones with the wallets. That is why the NFL still touts ratings that are more meaningless than ever before.
NFL Sunday Ticket will likely soon be gone from DirecTV. The hot rumor is that Amazon is the leader in the clubhouse to become the new home for the package. John Skipper of Meadowlark Media predicted just last month that we are going to soon see a Super Bowl go to pay-per-view.
What college football conferences get right that the NFL gets so wrong is that the college game rings money from broadcasters, not from fans. Sure, the NFL gets billions from its TV rights, but then goes and tries to squeeze every last cent out of gamblers, bars and restaurants. That is playing in a marketplace overwhelmingly populated by people that have to do some serious math about whether or not they can afford to watch as many of your games as they want. Even the ones that don’t invest in Sunday Ticket themselves have to make lifestyle decisions about how much of their Sundays they can really afford to spend at Applebee’s.
Doesn’t it make more sense to focus commerce exclusively on television networks? They view football as an investment, not a product.
Imagine the price tag the league could put on a third package of daytime games. Do you realize how many bidders there would be if instead of breaking the Sunday afternoon packages up by conference, it broke those games into A, B, and C-tiers? And what about a second primetime game on Sundays? Keep Thursdays and Mondays exclusive, but just like on Saturday nights, we should be able to flip between games on Sundays. It is the last moment of work concerns being held at bay and football dominating our thoughts.
Follow this model and you have ten games on nationally every week. Bring back local broadcast rights for the other 4-6 games each week, make Sunday Ticket something more in-line with a streaming service and it is a virtual certainty more people will pay the price for it. Remember, the model for broadcasting success that follows how many people are watching is over. We now live in an age of “what can you sell for a premium price?”. More NFL football on TV means more premium inventory.
NFL football is a commodity in the broadcast world. Just like diamonds or oil, restricting the supply means the people that control the monopoly can charge whatever they want. You can shake your fist and say that this is economically unjust and that is true, but the league controls the supply. What can fans do about it?
Nothing! And that is what the NFL needs to realize. If they keep restricting access to games in a way that drives prices for Sunday Ticket higher and higher and then put a $100 price tag on the Super Bowl, the only possibilities are people pay or they choose to go without or they find a way to watch a bootleg stream that nets no money for the league.
College football gives its fans more games than they can reasonably consume. The fans love it, and college football got here on accident! The FBS is a waring mass of city states, ten conferences trying to gain supremecy over the others when it isn’t even clear if they are all playing the same game.
Roger Goodell is a smart guy. A lot of team owners are smart guys. Surely they can look at what happened to college football on accident and see the financial benefits that exist for the league by copying that model in a more startegic way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.