The Paul Bunyan Trophy was lifted high in the air on Saturday afternoon, as the entire Michigan State football team celebrated an improbable comeback victory over its bitter rival, the Michigan Wolverines. The scene, both on the field and in the stands, was arguably unlike anything that had been witnessed before at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
Smack dab in the middle of all the madness, stood Josh Pate. As he watched the four-foot high wooden statue of Paul Bunyan being hoisted with a Michigan State helmet on top of its head, he pinched himself. He couldn’t believe this was part of his job.
To understand the feeling Pate had in that moment, you first need to know how his start in sports media happened.
After graduating high school in 2004, Pate went to college without a clear vision on what he wanted to do professionally. There was no purpose or drive to find what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, so, instead of wasting money, he left school until he figured out what he wanted to do. That meant dropping out and working for a fabric warehouse in Columbus, GA. There was no air conditioning and the job requirement meant full-on manual labor in the Georgia heat. Each passing day required the same simple task of unloading a truck.
To pass the time, Pate and his co-workers would listen to sports talk radio. His love for sports had fully blossomed at a young age, but his affinity for sports talk was really beginning to take shape. It wasn’t just about the endless opinions he heard every day. He was truly appreciating the art form of the industry.
“I loved more than just the content,” said Pate. “I loved the production aspect and I loved listening to guys like Colin Cowherd, who was just getting his start at ESPN Radio. I paid attention to the way he would bring in a segment, or how he would tee up a guest, how he would toss to a break, I was fascinated by all of it.”
Pate would grind it out at the fabric warehouse for a few years, before putting himself back into school. Those years of listening to sports talk radio ignited a passion he wanted to chase. The problem was that he didn’t know how to go about finding a way into the industry. He had no contacts, no friends or family in the business, just a burning desire to try his hand at the first professional thing he was ever passionate about.
That’s when he thought of WIOL, the ESPN radio affiliate in Columbus. It was one of the stations Pate had listened to a lot during endless days of unloading trucks, so he decided to take his chance at a place he was familiar with.
“They had an afternoon drive show and I started badgering one of the hosts on Facebook Messenger,” Pate said. “I asked him if I could just meet him or come in and do anything. He said yes and let me come in to observe the show.”
Pate kept coming in and observing. Subsequently, he knew he needed to practice. The station wasn’t giving him that opportunity, so he would turn the radio down in his truck and pretend to be on the air. It was the only way he knew how to get better.
His determination paid off, because, one random day, one of the co-hosts of the afternoon drive show called in sick five minutes before the open. With no prep, and right in the middle of football season, Pate was asked to pinch hit at the last second. He knew it was his time to shine.
“We did an afternoon, caller-based show and I loved it,” Pate said. “They never took me off the air.”
For the next two years, Pate was living a new-found dream of being a sports radio host. He quickly excelled. Then he got a call from the general manager of the ABC television affiliate in Columbus. His next big break was about to come.
“He said, you’ve never met me, and you don’t know me, but I’ve been listening to you on my drive home every day,” Pate said. “He said the station wanted to start a college football TV show and wanted to know if I wanted to be in the driver’s seat. I thought about it for a fraction of a second and said yes. Then I said ‘I’ve never done TV before, does that matter?’ He said ‘probably, but we’re going to do it anyway.’”
It was a far cry from unloading trucks every day. He was now a TV anchor talking about his favorite sport. Soon after, he was promoted to sports director and even a news anchor. He was incredible story of determination. But he saw the capability of even bigger things.
“When I saw streaming on Facebook Live and Youtube Live, I knew that was my gateway,” Pate said. “That took down the barrier of overhead and distribution. The industry was revolutionized.”
The issue Pate had with all the TV shows he was doing was that he didn’t own any of the content. So when it came time to renegotiate his contract, the station offered him more money than he had ever been offered. But he wasn’t going to be able to independently produce anything on his own.
“I got down to the last day of my contract and said I wasn’t going to renew,” Pate said. “The general manager called me in with the news director and said, we don’t get it, what is your plan?”
Pate’s plan was to start a new YouTube channel. He was told by management he couldn’t make any money off it. But Pate believed in himself and his vision. Finally, the two sides reached an agreement. He would independently contract for the TV station, but for a fraction of what his previous offer was for. However, the station agreed to give Pate three nights a week of exclusive access to the TV studio to build his own YouTube channel that he independently owned. Thus, The Late Kick with Josh Pate was born.
“It took about two years to get it off the ground and running,” Pate said. “Then I got a call from Shannon Terry of 247Sports and CBS. He said he wanted me to come work for him. He wanted me to do something they didn’t have.”
Pate had heavily bet on himself and won the jackpot. In January of 2020, he joined 247Sports with Late Kick as the main feature.
“They essentially gave me the keys to the car and then they shut the door and told me to go do my thing,” Pate said. “I’ve been able to do a show here and executive produce it. I’ve essentially charted my own course here and I’m able to do it on one of the bigger media platforms in the world.”
So as he stood on the field of Spartan Stadium last Saturday in the middle of all the pandemonium, it was hard not to think of the journey that got him to that very moment. Now, The Late Kick with Josh Pate is one of the most popular college football podcasts on the internet, with a YouTube feature that has taken the show over the top.
Nobody thought the kid working at the fabric warehouse would someday be hosting a college football show with a huge audience. But that’s what determination did for Pate. The funny thing is that even though those years are in his rearview mirror, the impact it had is still felt on today’s podcast.
“Back in Columbus, there’s a place called Clearview Barbecue,” Pate said. “They accept cash only and me and two or three buddies would go there every weekday for lunch. We would obviously talk about college football, that’s what 22-year-old guys did in the south. We talked about it every single day and when I started to get an inkling of an idea that I could do this for a living, I remember thinking to myself, this is the format of my show. I always wanted to do a solo show, because I think it’s one of the hardest things in our business to do. If you can perfect it I think it can make you infinitely harder to replace. That was my strategy at my time and it still is.”
Pate grew up watching SEC football and the 247Sports office are located in the Nashville area, but that doesn’t mean he limits his content to strictly what happens in the Southeast. He wants to follow, attend and cover what the major game and storyline is every single week.
“Michigan and Michigan State is a perfect example,” Pate said. “There may not be a ton of people in Wetumpka, Alabama that woke up on Saturday morning caring about that outcome. I just view my job to go there and tell the story in a way that lets them know there is a lot to care about. I go to these games to show why these people get so worked up about a wooden statue of Paul Bunyan. But I also want to tell people in Wetumpka, Alabama how they feel about the Iron Bowl, is how these people feel about Michigan and Michigan State. It’s pure hatred in the most beautiful of ways.”
Saturday was a pinch me moment for Pate, but it was just one of many that he’s had. Among the list, was the many Late Kick signs that appeared in the crowd of ESPN College Gameday this year. For the college football nut that’s been watching the show his entire life, it meant a lot.
“I’m a part of what I grew up idolizing,” Pate said. “To be a part of it is beyond incredible. When I walk around a stadium in a state I’ve never visited and people know me by name, that’s a surreal thing I’ll never get used to.”
That passion is shown during every episode of Late Kick. To me, it’s what separates the podcast from all the others. But I also love that Pate isn’t another button-downed media member that can’t see the fun and the beauty of the sport they cover.
“When I look back, I count it as such a blessing that I did not come straight form high school to a four-year journalism school, straight off the assembly line into this business,” Pate said. “I meet people that took that route, and more power to them, they are a lot more buttoned down than I am.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
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.
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.
- 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.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
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.
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.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
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.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.