There’s a unique but special history in the city of Chicago when it comes to print media, though it’s hard to pin down exactly why. Maybe it was because both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times were so respected during their heyday, or maybe it was because there were so many iconic writers in the city that brought personality and strong opinions to their columns. Regardless of the main reason, Chicago was truly a great newspaper town for several decades.
Dan Bickley lived through the golden era of print media in the city. He grew up infatuated with the regular columns from Mike Royko, as did so many other Chicagoans. It was such a memorable experience of his life, that he can still recall the exact smell of the cold newspapers he read at night, after his father brought them home from his shift as a bartender at a Chicago steakhouse.
“Every night my father would come home with an armful of newspapers for me,” Bickley said. “Mike Royko had an incredible way of relating to the common person and I thought it was the most liberating and incredible thing I had ever read.”
Needless to say, those nights lit a fire under Bickley. There was no confusion as to what he wanted to do with his life. The newspaper industry was his true passion.
Fast forward a few years and Bickley is now the guy he always dreamed of being. He was a beat reporter at the Sun-Times and was assigned to cover the early championship runs of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The city was on fire. The newspaper industry in the city was on fire. Bickley didn’t want to be anywhere else.
“I remember covering Bulls games at Chicago Stadium and then driving down to the Sun-Times building to pick up newspapers that were literally hot off the press,” Bickley said. “I would take them to Callahan’s, which was a neighborhood tavern a couple blocks away. I’d walk in at 1:30 in the morning with tomorrow’s paper and people would look at them like they were from another planet. They looked at it with such reverence and they didn’t understand how they could have tomorrow’s paper in their hands while sitting at the bar.”
Bickley recalls those years as being magical. A time when people looked at reporters and reporting in journalism as a noble profession. The industry meant a lot to Chicago. So much so, that local newspaper writers were often looked at as celebrities.
As long as Bickley could remember, he wanted to be a columnist. He was living a great life as a beat reporter in late 90’s Chicago, but being the guy everyone in the city looked forward to reading was a step he always dreamed of. The problem was that writers such as Jay Mariotti and Rick Telander created a heavy log jam at the Sun-Times that made upward mobility hard to see.
“Say what you want about Jay Mariotti, but he lit the town on fire.” Bickley said. “His columns were hard-hitting, they were fearless, they were topical and it really kind of galvanized everything.”
Meanwhile in Phoenix, the city was about to get a new MLB team. The Arizona Diamondbacks would be the fourth pro franchise in town, along with the NBA’s Suns, the NFL’s Cardinals and the NHL’s Coyotes. This meant the local newspaper, The Arizona Republic, needed to hire an additional columnist to the one it already had. Bickley probably thought he would never leave Chicago, but in 1998 he moved to the desert to realize his dream of being a columnist.
For the guy that had such a deep love and admiration of newspapers, it would be wildly entertaining to tell him in the late 90’s he would someday be doing a daily radio show and writing exclusively online. His reaction would have been priceless, but Bickley is incredibly happy with how his career has turned out. The co-host of Bickley and Marotta and writer for ArizonaSports.com has turned himself into an Arizona institution and one that local sports fans both listen to and read on a daily basis.
He’s exactly the guy he looked up to as a kid. The only difference is that he traded the cold Chicago wind for the dry heat of the Phoenix desert.
“Over the course of time, as you saw the industry start to die, and more to the point, as I started to work for Bonneville, and I started to work for Scott Sutherland and Ryan Hatch, the workplace culture where I’m at is off the charts in a positive way,” Bickley said. “People who work there know there’s no better place to work in Arizona than for Bonneville and those two gentlemen I call my bosses. I started to realize, this is the synergy and this is the energy and the team I really want to be a part of. It kind of made it easy for me to make that transition.”
Every weekday morning from 6 to 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, you can hear Bickley alongside co-hosts Vince Marotta, Sarah Kezele and Jarrett Carlen. Was radio ever a thought for him during his time in newspapers? Actually, yes.
Bickley did fill-in work in Chicago as well as the regular guests segments on local stations in Arizona. Radio was something that always appealed to him, because it was a way for him to show his creativity, along with his personality.
“I always thought, I really, really like this,” Bickley said. “One day I finally got an editor at the Arizona Republic, who is a great man, his name was Ward Bushee. One day I came to him and asked, would you mind if I did this in addition to my role as a newspaper columnist? He said yeah, if it’s something you really want to do. Go run with it.”
Sports radio opened a lane in another platform for Bickley to express himself. He soon found out that being a writer and a radio host dovetail nicely into one another. Essentially, he was reporting 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He loved every second of it. It was a labor of love.
“It’s rare to have a talent who has such strong opinions and a unique perspective that makes them a must-listen on the broadcast side, a must-read with thought-provoking columns on ArizonaSports.com and delivers exceptional results for our clients and marketing partners,” said Ryan Hatch, VP of Programming and Content for Bonneville, which owns Arizona Sports 98.7. “Dan is the complete package.”
What’s most impressive about Bickley is that he made the decision to pursue radio and then made sure he did everything necessary to become a huge success at it. That didn’t come without a strong intent of learning the how-to’s of the business. He made it a point to get better by constantly listening to himself to help refine his craft.
Creative spaces are where Bickley excels. In fact, it seems like he really surrounds himself with those opportunities. His writing space definitely gives him that freedom, as well as the daily radio show, but he’s also in a band that’s pretty good.
“I started a band over 10 years ago called Whiskey’s Quicker. I’m surrounded by four incredible musicians. I’m above average at best but it’s something I always wanted to do. Somewhere along my journey, I realized that if I never tried this it would be a regret I always had. 10 years later I have a band that is surprisingly really, really good. It allows me the opportunity to jam with my 20-year-old son. We played our first gig together, which was just a sublime, incredible experience. I’d like to challenge myself and I like to stretch out in a lot of different directions, that’s something that’s brought me a ton of enjoyment.”
If you couple in the Suns’ recent NBA Finals run and the Cardinals’ looking like the most exciting team in the NFL, few years have compared to the current landscape of sports radio in Arizona. Bickley worked in the golden era of newspapers in Chicago, just maybe, 20-plus years after, he’s working in the golden era of sports radio in Phoenix.
“Radio allows you to cover a lot of different topics and it allows you to show other areas of your personality,” Bickley said. “It’s really enjoyable having a team to work with, in terms of a radio show. I have to say this all the time, it’s one thing to experience individual success but it’s so much more rewarding to go somewhere with the team. When you rely on others to reach certain levels of success, there’s a synergy about that and there’s teamwork about that, which makes it really powerful.”
Chicago is where he grew up and cut his teeth, but Arizona has been home for over two decades. If Bickley has it his way, it’ll be home for several more decades. He loves his role with Arizona Sports 98.7 FM and is truly passionate about the people he works with. The desert is home.
“As of right now, I’ve got so many things in place here, I’m not sure what other city or job would appeal more to me than the one I have right now,” Bickley said. “You always want to keep growing and I’ve had people in Chicago over the years ask me, why don’t you come back home? But that feels like going backwards to me. I like to keep moving forward. I have such a great infrastructure around me of coworkers, bosses and a job that’s highly rewarding, as well as a highly earned reputation that I built over the course of the past 20 years.”
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.