This coming Sunday (April 10) is the debut of ESPN2’s alternate Sunday Night Baseball broadcast featuring Alex Rodriguez and Michael Kay. Or, as the network is calling it, Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod.
(Will “Kay-Rod” catch on? Probably. It’s kind of catchy. And it’s succinct, like “ManningCast.”)
April 10 is also the debut of ESPN’s new regular Sunday Night Baseball broadcast team of Karl Ravech calling play-by-play with new analysts David Cone and Eduardo Perez. Which telecast and broadcast crew viewers will be most intrigued by depends on their level of curiosity.
SNB, ESPN’s weekly Major League Baseball showcase and arguably the sport’s national regular-season stage, deserves a top-notch announcing team. That didn’t really apply during the past two seasons as Matt Vasgersian and Rodriguez never quite clicked. (Jessica Mendoza was part of the crew in 2018, which made for some bumpy broadcasts. Yet moving her out didn’t simplify matters as hoped.)
Perhaps the most reassuring aspect of the new SNB booth is that Cone and Perez are experienced broadcasters. So this isn’t a “cross your fingers and hope we have a star” situation as it was when ESPN put A-Rod in the booth. Neither Cone nor Perez will have to figure out who they are as broadcasters or what their “hook” might be.
(Remember when A-Rod went through that phase of trying to predict pitches and plays, as Tony Romo does on NFL broadcasts? That didn’t go so well.)
So the regular SNB crew should be solid, at the very least. Maybe they’ll be even better than that, which would not only be refreshing but especially gratifying for Ravech and Perez who deserve the showcase after accomplished broadcasting careers at ESPN. Cone could be the X factor that makes this booth stand out and sustain itself for multiple seasons.
But there will be plenty of opportunities to see the regular SNB team (25 telecasts are scheduled). “Kay-Rod” will do their thing for only eight weeks this season as the alternate SNB telecast, including the first two Sundays on the schedule. (Kay and Rodriguez are also set to call a few games, including a postseason broadcast, in a traditional play-by-play/analyst set-up.)
Thus, it’s only natural that curiosity is drawn to the “Kay-Rod” telecast at first. For one thing, we don’t really know what it’s going to be. Sure, the reflexive comparison will be to the Monday Night Football “ManningCast.” But the rhythm of a baseball game and broadcast are much different than their football counterparts. Also, Kay and Rodriguez likely won’t have the instant chemistry that Peyton and Eli Manning have as brothers.
However, the two do know each other quite well which is why A-Rod wanted Kay as his partner for this alternate telecast. “Kay-Rod” debuts with the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox, arguably the greatest rivalry in Major League Baseball. Hopefully, they explore the space that they’re given and talk about A-Rod’s compelling history within the feud.
First, Rodriguez was nearly traded to the Red Sox in 2003 until the MLB Players Association objected to A-Rod lowering his salary to make the deal happen. That gave the Yankees the opportunity to swoop in and snatch away the impact slugger who could break the Curse of the Bambino in Boston. This also occurred months after the Yankees beat the Red Sox in the ALCS on a heartbreaking Game 7 walk-off home run by Aaron Boone.
There should be ample time during the alternate broadcast, which won’t be obligated to follow the typical play-by-play format, for Kay to ask A-Rod about the trade that wasn’t. Rodriguez has told this story before, on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight podcast, and a 30 For 30 short was made about the trade. But “Kay-Rod” presents a new audience for the tale and the setting is ideal.
Oh, and during the subsequent season, there was the brawl between A-Rod and Boston catcher Jason Varitek. For anyone unfamiliar with the rivalry, a photo of Varitek shoving A-Rod in the face provides all the necessary information. There is undoubtedly a story to tell there.
Again, this is a Yankees-Red Sox telecast in an alternate format intended for conversation, rather than play-by-play and analysis. Kay has surely heard stories about the brawl before, probably even Rodriguez’s account of it. So he likely knows exactly what questions to ask and how best to set A-Rod up for maximum storytelling impact.
The plan is to have guests on the telecast, as Peyton and Eli do for the “ManningCast.” Here’s hoping that Varitek will be making an appearance. Joining the show remotely might be a good idea, though.
Based on what the New York Post‘s Andrew Marchand reported in his weekly “Sports Clicker” newsletter (subscribe here), there’s reason to be optimistic for “Kay-Rod.” Kay understands the assignment. He knows it’s up to him to get A-Rod to show the insight that fans have seen on Fox’s MLB postseason coverage.
More importantly, Kay needs to get Rodriguez to make fun of himself and not be so image-conscious. Taking himself too seriously hurt his popularity as a player and restricted him in the Sunday Night Baseball booth.
“I told [A-Rod], ‘I want you to make fun of me, and I’m going to make fun of you,’” Kay said to Marchand. “Hopefully we’ll humanize each other.”
Part of that mockery will include reading mean tweets during the telecast, a good idea that does well on Inside the NBA and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Let the viewing audience carry some of the load with sharp quips and hilarious GIFs. A-Rod just needs to laugh at himself as well as Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal do — even when some of the jokes cut close.
Kay probably is the best choice for this endeavor. The question is whether A-Rod will give the people what they want or stay buttoned-up. Becoming anywhere near as popular as the “ManningCast” — or even the Sue Bird-Diana Taurisi MegaCast for the NCAA Women’s Final Four — would be a great thing for baseball. And A-Rod would surely think it’s a great thing for him, as well.
Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable
After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.
Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.
Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.
The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)
OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.
What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY
Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.
This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.
I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.
I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.
What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.
I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.
“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”
Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.
“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “
“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”
OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.
However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.
“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.
“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”
Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.
That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.
Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”
I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.
I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.
I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.
By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”
Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:
Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”
If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.
Media Noise – Episode 75
A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.
Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM
Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.
Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.
I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future.
Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?
Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.
How is advertising on Bleav different?
We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content.
What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see?
The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space.
SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like?
We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?
There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple.
At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram.
If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.