Sports radio is sometimes too polite. “Well, in my humble opinion,” and that sort of thing. Every once in a while it’s nice to hear a host say, “Eat it if you don’t like it.” Enter Howard Eskin. The radio and TV personality has showcased a no-holds-barred style that has gained notoriety on the Philadelphia airwaves since 1976. There are times when the truth is ugly and grimy. Eskin hasn’t been afraid to get his hands dirty along the way in pursuit of honesty.
As you will be able to tell from our chat below, Eskin doesn’t offer wishy-washy stances. His opinions are strong and his responses are direct. That doesn’t mean Eskin hasn’t had fun along the way as well. He once did an interview with the San Diego Chicken on a news telecast. Eskin offers an unfiltered response to a recent criticism from fellow WIP host Angelo Cataldi. Eskin also destroys a myth about older hosts and offers thoughts about the success of his son, Spike Eskin, who’s now the program director at WFAN. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: Where have you worked outside of Philadelphia during your lifetime?
Howard Eskin: I worked in New York earlier in my career. I worked in the Maryland, Washington D.C. area at the beginning of my career. I was a disc jockey. I was a production engineer for a classical station. I had done a lot of things and then I spun records for guys here in Philadelphia. George Michael, who I worked with in Philadelphia who had the Sports Machine, I did segments on the Sports Machine for 11 years. He was a disc jockey up in New York before he went into television.
But that was it, New York and Washington. Then since the mid-to-early ’70s, I’ve been in Philadelphia. I’ve been on the air since ‘76 in Philadelphia, which is a long time. I’ve been on TV and radio since ‘82. Philadelphia is my home and this is what I like. I’m just happy that I can work in the town that I grew up in, which doesn’t always happen. It’s not necessary, but I don’t know if my career would have been the same if I hadn’t been here in Philadelphia. That’s what it comes down to; this is where I was meant to be.
BN: What would you say is the most fun you’ve had during your broadcasting career?
HE: I have fun doing what I do on the air. I don’t want to say I have fun arguing with players and coaches but we kind of get to know each other. Dick Vermeil invited me to his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. At the beginning, Dick Vermeil didn’t like me a little, tiny bit because I was critical of how hard he worked players. At UCLA where he came from, he never got criticized. It was different for him, L.A. to Philadelphia now, people are going to say things.
He told his players not to listen to me. Herm Edwards came out to practice one time, and said ’hey man, what did you do to coach’? I go ‘what are you talking about’? He says, ‘he told us you’re talking out your ass’. And then my first day in television I was at the head table, September 20, 1982 and Dick Vermeil was one of the speakers. He buried me at the Maxwell Club. It was a luncheon back then. Buried me. I said that’s okay, Dick. Now we’re really good friends. I’ve been over to his house. We’ve been out to dinner. He’ll text me when I’m on the air if he thinks he can help me with some kind of info.
It’s kind of interesting, but there’s been players that want to kick my ass. Mitch Williams wanted to punch me in the mouth. You go right down the list and now Mitch Williams and I are friends. They understand after they’re done playing that that’s really my job. But I’d go into the locker room, I’d yell at Larry Bowa and Darren Dalton. I would yell at Lenny Dykstra who was crazy. And then 30 seconds later we’re laughing because we get over it and we move on. I don’t know that it’s always that way now.
I’ll give you a couple of cool moments; I’m on the sidelines for an Eagles’ game and Bradley Cooper walks up to me and says ‘hey Howard, Bradley Cooper’. I said, ‘come on, man, I know who you are. How do you know me’? He said, ‘I grew up in the area. I listened to you and watched you for all of those years’. Will Smith did the same thing. Those are just really cool moments. Then whenever they see me they’re always very nice. You never know who’s out there.
Allen Iverson, he was interesting. We got along great his first few years. Then the guys he hung with told him not to listen to me because I was trying to tell him to do the right things especially with Larry Brown. He wasn’t all about listening to the coach, so then after a few years it was a little adversarial.
So he’s walking in the hallways at a Sixers game and he sees LeSean McCoy. Obviously I knew LeSean playing here, and LeSean says what do you think of this guy? He says that MF — I use MF because regardless of where this goes, I still don’t think it’s proper to put it in print and these people on satellite can use the four letter word — that MF he was always killin’ me. Killin’ me. And then Allen says to LeSean McCoy, but I love him. I love him.
Now every time he sees me he gives me a hug and says you’ve got to let the past be the past. I think he understood because he always tried to keep it real and I always tried to keep it real. So in the end, after it’s all over, I think he respects me for that.
BN: Angelo just did an interview with The Ringer…
HE: Angelo who?
BN: [Laughs] That’s right.
HE: Obviously, I’m kidding.
BN: Oh yeah, I know. Angelo said that he has a classic love/hate relationship with you. On the bright side he gave you compliments and said that he loves your work ethic and especially what you mean to Philly sports. But he also said that he didn’t think you were a great team player. What’s your reaction to that?
HE: You know what, I have no idea where that comes from. I work my ass off. I don’t know if he was kidding because sometimes when you see it written — I didn’t hear it. If they ask me to do something whether it’s help with a client or help in other ways, my biggest problem is I don’t say no. I don’t say no to charities. I don’t say no to the people I work for. I don’t say no. There have been management people I haven’t agreed with. I may not agree, but I’ll sit down and talk to them about it. I really have no clue what he was talking about. It’s the pot calling the kettle black.
I do whatever they ask me to do and what I think I have to do. I go to games and talk to players and connect with people. It gives me information. I consider what I do on the air, I inform and I entertain. You can do both with the correct information. I don’t have to do all those things. I don’t have to share it with WIP, and I do share a lot of things with them. I really have no clue what he was talking about. Absolutely no clue because I don’t want to say I’m the best team player, but I’m somewhere at the top of the list. Whatever they ask me to do, and those people will tell you that too, the management people, the people I’ve worked with over the years, they’ll all tell you that.
I don’t know if Angelo is somewhat jealous on the way out that I lasted longer than he did. It’s hard to get up in the morning. Doing those morning shows I’m sure is no piece of cake. He was compensated well for it so that’s the benefit of that. But I can’t answer that question because it surprised me not a little bit, it surprised me a lot with all I do.
I don’t want to go down that road and be critical of things that he’s done, although I will tell you one thing he did when he was a complete jerk. He wanted to get Bill Clinton on the air and I had a connection with Bill Clinton through the Secret Service. One night a bunch of Secret Service guys were coming to town and one guy called me, my phone rang. I didn’t have it on vibrate at the time while I was doing a show. I went to a break. I went back on the air and said that was somebody from the Secret Service that wanted to get in touch with me from the White House.
He got so angry because at that time the governor of the state told him he was going to get Bill Clinton on the air. It was Ed Rendell. That wasn’t going to happen. So anyway, he says if he’s going to take calls from the Secret Service, then he should take calls from you. He gave out my cell number on the air. I mean come on, man. What are you doing? Why would you do that? There was obviously a jealousy there, which I had a connection. That was wrong but I didn’t dwell on it afterwards and I’m not going to dwell on the things that he says now. [Laughs]
BN: [Laughs] As far as uncovering news, you’re known for going to great lengths to break stories. Why do you find it important to do so?
HE: When there’s something there that’s interesting to sports fans, I’m lucky enough, in my phone I have 5600 contacts. If I ever lost that — you can go right down the list, there’s always somebody that you can call and try to get some info on a situation when you hear about it. A lot of times there are stories I have and I try to pass them along but I always try to check. Luckily enough, I have a lot of people to check.
I’ll tell you a story outside of sports to show you maybe my reach. There was a friend of mine who had brain cancer. Very, very, very devout Catholic. I knew someone at the Vatican. Like, how do I know anyone at the Vatican? I mean you’ve got to be kidding me. And I asked to get a letter from the pope to this guy. He passed away like five months later after he got the letter. I didn’t get the letter, but I got the pope to send a letter to this guy. [Laughs] It’s like are you kidding me?
You get to know people, and it doesn’t always have to be sports, but people are people. It’s not like you ever count favors, you just do for people because they do for you. That’s why, I’m not a team player? I don’t know what the hell that’s all about. And I’m not going to worry about it. If you hadn’t brought it up, I wouldn’t have brought it up either.
BN: Is the Pope one of the 5600 contacts? [Laughs] Do you have the area code and everything?
HE: [Laughs] I don’t, but I have a bishop in the Vatican’s number. So that’s one of the 5600. Can you imagine? I’m a Jewish guy and I’ve got someone’s number in the Vatican.
BN: [Laughs] That’s great. Did you know that Spike’s (Eskin) career would unfold the way that it has?
HE: He did it by himself. I’ve got to give him credit. There’s only two things I helped him with. I helped him get an internship in the company at that time. And then when he was thinking about coming back to Philadelphia from Chicago — he was a disc jockey and then a music director and all of that — the general manager at the time didn’t want to pay him more money. He wasn’t going to come back.
I said hey listen, you’re letting this guy go in the morning; you’re going to save hundreds of thousands of dollars. You can’t give him, I don’t know if it was $25,000 or $30,000 more a year to convince him to come back to Philadelphia? I just was trying to help him. That’s the only involvement I ever had. I didn’t tell him what I think he should do. There may have been one time or another where I had an opinion, but I wouldn’t really say that to him because he could do it on his own especially when he became the program director.
I knew he was a bright guy, bright kid at the time. He’s not a millennial although he wants to be a millennial. He’s out of that range now. But yeah, he was creative. I’ve got to say that all my kids are creative and he’s one of them. He works hard. He’s firm. If he would tell me something that I needed to do, he didn’t tell me much because I kind of knew what had to be done, I never really debated him on it. I just did it. If I didn’t agree with it, I kind of would go halfway, but I knew he was pretty sharp.
He was very good at what he does and I know he’s doing a great job up there. I’ve known his boss, Chris Oliviero, for 25 years and he’s a great guy and a very, very creative guy. But those two together I know they’re doing a great job and WFAN is doing terrific. I’m glad to see that he works well with Craig Carton. I like Craig a lot. I know he had problems, but I think Craig is a brilliant, creative air talent. Brilliant and creative. He really is good. I wished in some way, shape or form he could have come back to Philadelphia and work, but he’s doing what’s good for him. His wife’s from Philadelphia so he still has connections here.
BN: Who would be on your Mount Rushmore of Philly sports radio hosts?
HE: Wow, putting me on the spot here. I don’t want to say I’m egotistical, but being I started this whole thing I would have to be up there somewhere. Rather than leave Angelo off there so he has something to whine about, he’d have to be on it because he worked a long time and the morning show was very successful. I don’t agree with everything he does, but he doesn’t agree with everything I do, so he’d have to be up there.
Craig Carton was here. Craig is funny, he’s bright and even though he wasn’t here that long I’m telling you I’m a big, big fan of Craig Carton. I’d have to put him on there. So now we’ve got three and maybe I’ll leave the fourth spot open for somebody that takes over the morning show. We’ll kind of leave that there.
There have been guys that have come through here, but if they didn’t stay here that long they can’t be on the Mount Rushmore. How about if I leave that fourth spot open on that Mount Rushmore. People will criticize me, what are you doing on it? Put yourself on that? No, I don’t put myself on Mount Rushmore, others put me on Mount Rushmore. So, eat it. Eat it if you don’t like it.
BN: [Laughs] What do you think about the word retirement?
HE: People say are you going to retire? Or when are you going to retire? I says if you can spell that word for me because I can’t spell it, maybe I’ll think about it. But I can’t spell that word. When people say retire, no. What, do you think I should retire? No, no, no. I’ll tell you the joy that I have, there is a belief in radio that older people don’t get younger people who listen to them. That’s such BS because when people come up to me, because I’m at a lot of games, I’m in the public a lot, people come up hey man, I listen to you. If you’re good, or what you do is interesting and they think it’s good, then that’s all that matters to me.
BN: If you could pick one thing on your list that you want to accomplish going forward, what would you say it is?
HE: That is a really difficult question. I’ve been successful in the Philadelphia market, which is obviously not the easiest market to work in. It’s my home. I’ve known a lot of people here. I’ve met a lot of people. I just want to continue to do what I do and have the passion. If there’s anything I want to accomplish, I just want to have the passion and the love to do what I do. Whether it’s radio or TV.
Unfortunately, it’s kind of sad. Television sports is really — what a waste. I’ve told people this, it’s like it’s an afterthought on television. You know what, if there’s anything I want to do, I want to get TV to realize that sports on television is ridiculous. It’s not anything anybody tunes in to watch because on our phones you have the highlights before you get to the news. We have the news before we get to the news. You’ve got six different segments of weather, but I get them on my phone updated every 10 minutes, so I don’t need that.
Publishers have asked me to write a book. I have notes that I put down, different things that have happened to me in my career that I think would be interesting to people. I got my leg broken at a game on Christmas night in 2017, the year the Eagles went to the Super Bowl. I worked five games with a broken leg, but I didn’t tell anybody and I didn’t put a cast on it. It was a non-weight-bearing bone; I wouldn’t have been able to be on the sidelines if I had a cast on. I tell Nick Sirianni now for all your players that are soft, I worked five games with a broken leg. Stop already with all of these guys. [Laughs]
So someday, because you have to sit down, you really have to put some time into it and I wouldn’t write it myself, I would get a writer to help me write it. There’s some really interesting experiences. Again, stories I can, and stories I can’t tell. The can’t-tell stories are good, but the can-tell stories are still good too.
BN: Would there be anything about Angelo in there?
HE: You know, the one thing I didn’t do but I’ll wait till he retires, is rip Angelo a new ass. [Laughs]
Does Mark Cuban See a Bubble That is About to Burst in Sports Media?
“The now-former Shark Tank star has a good track record of identifying the ideal time to bail.”
America’s top professional and college sports leagues have been living on easy street for the last ten years. Whenever their broadcast rights come up for negotiations, the NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball, the SEC and the Big Ten have been able to count on a line of bidders eager to get in on the action.
That party may be close to over though. Amin Elhassan of Meadowlark Media said last week that Mark Cuban may be the first to see it and that is why he is ready to sell off his majority stake in the Dallas Mavericks.
“That whole streaming money that everyone’s been talking about for years, like, ‘oh, when this next TV deal is up, it doesn’t even matter if Disney and Turner aren’t ponying up.’ ‘Oh, Amazon and Netflix are going to come in and just dump billions of dollars,’” he told co-host Charlotte Wilder on their Oddball podcast. “That’s not been the case. So I think Mark Cuban’s looking and he’s saying, ‘oh, this is the bubble and the bubble is about to burst.’”
He then pointed out that everyone in the NBA should be concerned if Cuban is the one with that vision. The now-former Shark Tank star has a good track record of identifying the ideal time to bail.
“He founded this thing called Broadcast.com,” Elhassan explained. “They pioneered the technology that allows people to stream video on the Internet. The reason why you’re able to watch anything on your phone, tablet or computer is because Mark Cuban and the company that he founded. He founded it and he sold it and within a few months, the dot com bubble crashed and that he made out like a bandit and everybody else was like Pets.com. ‘Ahhhh! We broke!’ So I definitely to me, it feels like the ship be sinking and ‘let me get off before everyone starts to figure it out and clamor.’”
Now, it should be noted that Cuban was recently asked about keeping the Mavericks a family business and passing control of the franchise down to his kids one day.
“I wouldn’t put them through it,” he said on a recent edition of All the Smoke. He then went on to explain that team owners need to court investments from real estate developers.
“That’s where the money is going be coming from potentially,” citing expensive real estate deals like the ones to get new areas for the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers.
It’s very possible that Cuban doesn’t see the single majority shareholder model as a viable way to own and run a team anymore. It’s also possible he just wants to enjoy being rich and not have as many responsibilities. It was on that same episode of All the Smoke that the 65-year-old revealed his time on ABC’s reality show Shark Tank is coming to an end.
But this is a sports media site. We pour over rights deals and potential deals looking for justification or game changing strategy. Let’s dive into the idea that Cuban sees a bubble that is about to burst.
If Amin Elhassan is right, and that is indeed how Cuban feels, he is not alone. 97.1 The Ticket’s Mike Valenti said the same thing earlier this year, although his prediction was less about the demand diminishing and more about customer dissatisfaction with the product.
Valenti’s point is that leagues’ rights will not hold their value if the streamers and networks they sell to make it hard for fans to see the games. The NFL is putting playoff games behind a paywall. Regular season action in Major League Baseball, the NHL, and college sports are already there.
Puck News founder and former editor of The Hollywood Reporter Matthew Belloni disagrees. He told me that the willingness to allow some big games to be streaming exclusives actually makes a league’s rights more valuable to media companies in 2023.
“There’s a big push in the entire streaming industry right now to raise profits, even at the expense of growing subscriber numbers and usage,” he told me via email. “Using premium sports, the top driver of subscription and engagement, to increase profitability, makes perfect sense. All these games *should* be behind a paywall. Thats where they will benefit their broadcaster most, even if the leagues might want greater accessibility.”
Cuban and other owners are yet to settle on new broadcast deals for the NBA. Commissioner Adam Silver may have been overly optimistic in insisting that the league could triple its current revenue in its next TV rights deals, but he and team owners have been willing and eager to look at new revenue streams and more modern broadcast deals in order to help them get there.
Still, it’s hard not to think about two outlets when it comes to the NBA on TV – ESPN and TNT. Maybe other networks will get involved in the bidding, but at this point, it is hard to picture a world where those outlets and ABC are not airing NBA games.
Do Disney’s plans for the future of ESPN inch us closer to a bubble bursting for media rights deals? If the network will be a streaming product by 2025, will Bob Iger and Jimmy Pitaro be more conservative with what they are willing to spend money on and how much they are willing to pay?
I asked Belloni if he expected the company’s projections for what ESPN can generate as a streaming product are more likely to make it less agressive with the NBA and other rights deals in the short term.
“It’s not a question of aggressive vs frugal, it’s what does Disney need to compete in sports,” he said. “Iger has said he wants ESPN to be available on streaming by 2025, which isn’t that far away.”
He added that it doesn’t mean that competition stops. Other networks and streamers want in on the NBA. There are major commitments to the NFL, the SEC and others that Disney has to honor as well. Iger and Pitaro are not going to let those get away. They have to sustain the brand’s value no matter what form the network takes.
“Renewing top tier rights like the NBA will be key to that push because ESPN will be an expensive product, but he also should expect less revenue in the short term because making ESPN available digitally will exacerbate cord cutting,” Belloni said. “Hence why he is looking for a deep-pocketed partner to invest in ESPN and help defray the costs of those rights packages.”
Amin Elhassan is an incredibly smart guy. He didn’t simply see Cuban’s sale announced and jumped to the conclusion that a rights bubble is about to burst and he did a great job of explaining that.
He did leave out the part about who is buying Cuban’s stake in the Mavericks and what she plans to do with it.
Miriam Adelson is a Republican mega donor and widow of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who’s Las Vegas Sands Corporation built three resorts in Las Vegas and seven other properties across Asia.
Sports gambling has become a right versus left issue in Texas, with Republicans coming down on the side of “ain’t gonna happen.” Adelson’s investment in the Mavericks is said to include plans for an entertainment and casino complex near Dallas.
Mark Cuban may be “down to Earth for a billionaire,” but he is still a billionaire obsessed with his public image. Remember how furious he was with Draymond Green in 2017 when the Warriors’ star said that the term “team owner” invoked the unpleasant idea of one person owning another? Cuban is not completely abandoning the team. He will continue to run basketball operations in Dallas. If he really saw a rights bubble that was about to burst, it seems more likely that he would want to put as much distance as possible between himself and the perceived failure.
This deal is not about Cuban’s projections for sports media’s future. It is about Miriam Adelson recognizing an opportunity to wield political influence and add a few billion to her net worth.
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 [email protected].
As Sports Radio Leaders Prepare for 2024, Ask Yourself This One Question
Constantly, the leaders of major brands will say: “We’re not in the radio business, we’re in the content business.” But if you’re leaving out one entire area of content, are your words hollow?
I love reading, listening, watching, and consuming anything I can about our industry. But as sports radio continues to weather some uncertainty, I wonder why some of the things I hear leaders of our industry preach.
Constantly, the leaders of major brands will say: “We’re not in the radio business, we’re in the content business.” But if you’re leaving out one entire area of content, are your words hollow?
For the amount of content sports radio creates, we don’t do a great job embracing digital video, which I will never understand.
There are some sports stations and shows that simply don’t have to worry about this topic, because their shows are already airing on cable TV, right? The Michael Kay Show, Boomer & Gio, Felger & Mazz, The Best Show Ever?, and I could go on, all air on some form of traditional television outlet. But the rest of you? What are you doing?
Whether you’re a Market Manager, Sales Manager, Operations Manager, Program Director/Brand Manager, Host, or Producer, as you make your preparations for 2024, the one question you should be asking is: Do we have a digital video strategy?
If the answer is yes, congratulations. That’s awesome. Now, what platforms are you prioritizing? If your answer is no, ask yourself: why not?
There’s a harsh truth that comes with what I’m about to say, that isn’t popular with old-school radio programmers. But truth is like poetry, and most people f—ing hate poetry. If you’re not on YouTube or Twitch, you likely don’t exist to anyone under the age of 25. And if you look at the first number in your target demo, that age matters.
YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world. You aren’t likely to utter the words “Google doesn’t matter”, right? Then why in the world would you argue — as someone who’s in the content business — that the world’s largest content platform doesn’t matter? It does! It absolutely does! And yet, so many stations don’t have even the slightest idea that they should take the dozen or so hours of fresh, original, can’t-get-anywhere-else content they produce and put it on YouTube.
Think of YouTube from your own perspective. How many times a week do you go to YouTube for literally anything? Several? Now, how often do you think people younger than you are using the platform? All the time. Literally, every day. The research that we all rely on for so many things will punch you in the face with the facts that younger audiences are using YouTube more and more frequently.
Digital video is everything radio loves: it’s cheap, it’s easy, and it’s an extra revenue source. Heck, the platforms are free to publish your stuff! It is as easy as it’s ever been to make killer-looking video.
The cost to start streaming your shows is unbelievably low for what the potential revenue can make up in return. If you don’t have a sales team that would be eager to go out and try to sell a shiny new product, then you’ve got bigger problems than digital video. But I’d bet you dollars to donuts that if you walked into the sales meeting and said “Hey, we’ve got a cool new product to offer. We’re streaming the shows on YouTube now, and we’ve got the ability to showcase (X) amount of sponsors in graphics, in product placement, in video commercials. Who wants in?”, you’d be hard pressed to not find that elusive 13th month of ad dollars.
Can’t monetize it with ads? Fine, do what ESPN Cleveland does and start a subscription service and put your video shows behind a paywall and make money that way.
Apprehensive about starting? Afraid the quality won’t be up to your standards? You might be right. But you have to start somewhere. And taking that first step is the most important one.
All digital video does is enhance your product. While Don La Greca’s “ED…BLEEPIN’….KRANEPOOL” rant is one of my favorite moments in sports radio history, it only gets better when you can see the veins popping out of his forehead and the crazed look in his eyes while shouting directly into an HD camera.
It takes people behind the scenes, and while audio is a more intimate medium, you can’t pretend as if TV is going away. It isn’t. But how we consume TV is changing, and YouTube is going to serve as the de-facto free, over-the-air home for video shortly.
Don’t know where to start? Ask someone who is already doing it. How did they do it? What equipment did they get? How did they sell management on it? It isn’t a different approach from any other special project you’ve wanted to get started or rolling at your station.
Guaranty Media in little ol’ Baton Rouge produces some of the best video content I’ve ever seen from a radio show. Why? Because they prioritized it, put an emphasis on it, and are seeing the rewards. And yet, there are major market stations that either don’t have a YouTube channel, are just now starting one, or have one that has been neglected and only featured a few hundred subscribers.
Other stations either don’t promote their streams, or strictly put them on their own websites. I understand the thought process about hosting your video streams on your own website. But why try to create a party when there’s already a gigantic party that has all your current and potential friends begging you to show up?
I hear people talk all the time about the future of the format, and how important it is to attract younger audiences, embrace new technologies, and other things that come across as just hollow buzz words used to make it sound like you’re on the cutting edge. But I implore you to make 2024 the year you practice what you preach and start taking advantage of all the ways you can not only get in front of my ears and eyeballs, but all the ways you can make revenue for your stations, too.
Dive in head first. Take the leap. It isn’t going to be easy to begin, but it’ll be worth it in the end. I doubt you’ll look back on it later and think “Man, I wish we hadn’t started video streaming the shows”. Stop hoping people find your content and start shoving it in their faces.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also the radio play-by-play voice of Northern Michigan University hockey. Reach him at [email protected].
Will the NBA Be the Next League to Exclusively Stream Playoff Games?
Apple, Amazon, and Netflix are still going to try to find live sports rights, and the leagues will likely carve out a small package to dip their toes in.
In mid-November, the VP and Global Head of Amazon Prime Video Sports, Jay Marine was talking to John Ourand and Andrew Marchand on their podcast about the upcoming NBA media rights deal.
Currently, the Association has an exclusive negotiating window with the incumbent rights holders, Disney (ESPN/ABC) & Warner Brothers Discovery (TNT), until March 2024. The top Amazon sports exec said about Amazon’s involvement once their window to negotiate opens, “something like the playoffs would be an important part of [our bid].
A few weeks later Amazon Prime was announced as part of NASCAR’s new media rights deal that begins in 2025, as they’ll get 5 Cup Series races per year as part of the deal, which expires in 2031. It will be the first time in the history of NASCAR its top series will be streamed exclusively.
On December 23rd, Peacock will air an exclusive NFL game between the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Chargers, and NBC Sports Group announced their A-team of Mike Tirico, Chris Collinsworth, and Melissa Stark doing the game from SoFi Stadium. This is the first year of their new 11-year media rights deal with the NFL which allows NBC Universal to stream one game per season exclusively on the streaming service.
It’s been mentioned before over the past few years how much streamers want to get involved in live TV rights, but more than ever the sports leagues themselves are embracing the possibility. Are we as viewers ready for the change?
Regular season games have become palatable on streaming services. Along with the game on Peacock in a few weeks, the NFL has an International Series game airs once per year on ESPN+. Major League Baseball has had Apple TV+ air Friday night doubleheaders over the past two seasons, along with a Sunday afternoon game on Peacock as well.
The NHL as part of the new deal that went into effect for the 2021-2022 season has 75 games air exclusively on ESPN+ and Hulu. So in the grand scheme of things we’ve gotten used to it, but now with Jay Marine’s comment, streamers want more, and will the leagues give it to them?
Though NBC has promoted it every time they mention the December 23rd game, people will forget, and I’m sure people will react with shock and horror at the fact an NFL Wild Card game will be streamed exclusively on Peacock this season.
As part of the agreement, the league will have NBC air 3 games during “Super Wild Card Weekend” this season. On Saturday, January 13th, they will have a 4:30 game which will air on NBC (and also available to be streamed on Peacock) and then the 8:15 game will air exclusively on Peacock. Every season during the 11-year deal with the NFL, NBC will also air a Sunday night playoff game.
Fans still complain when a playoff game aired on MLB Network or NBA TV is years past, so the fact the NFL took this chance is saying something. But as we know the NFL is probably the most teflon league in the country. They’ve aired games at 9:30 AM ET and we all watched, they added a “Black Friday” game on Amazon and we watched. For the other sports, this may not be the perfect sport to mimic.
NASCAR and MLS are niche sports in the country, so they can take chances with streaming, but remember with NASCAR ratings down this season they only chose 5 races to be streamed exclusively, with NBC and FOX getting most of the front and back half. With the MLS all games are on Apple TV+ so they went with an all-or-nothing approach. Meanwhile, the NHL has struggled to find an audience in this country for years, so they are unlikely to place games exclusively to be streamed.
That leaves Major League Baseball and the NBA. For MLB, they can use the NBA as a test dummy, currently, FOX and TBS have their contracts through the 2028 season, while ESPN also has a contract through 2028, but they can opt out after the 2025 season. The NBA values the NBA Finals being on linear TV, so that likely won’t change in the next deal, but with the addition of the In-Season Tournament, and a lot of playoff inventory, they can script out a package for a streamer.
The NBA is looking to double or triple their payout in the next deal from their current rights deals, but with the economy as it currently stands, the NBA will not get that money from only Disney and WBD, since both are likely going to cut games, but still want important games. This means the NBA will have to involve one if not two more partners. But to get the partners to be more enticed to pay a high price, they need to give them something marquee.
WBD will want to keep the All-Star Game, at least one exclusive night a week, and playoff games & a conference final. Disney will sacrifice not doing two nights a week for basketball, maybe one night on ESPN and windows on the weekend for ABC, along with playoff games and the NBA Finals.
What I see as likely for the NBA to get the money they want, and to maybe advance to streamers is to definitely have NBC as your third partner, and what they have done with MLB and NFL as your blueprint.
Suggested NBA-NBC Deal
- Alternate NBA Finals with ABC starting in 2026
- ABC will get 2025, NBC gets 2026
- In Years they do not have the NBA Finals they will get a Conference Final with TNT
- 2025: NBC Eastern Conference, TNT Western Conference
- 2026: ABC Western Conference, TNT Eastern Conference
- 2027: NBC Western Conference, TNT Eastern Conference
- 2028: ABC Eastern Conference, TNT Western Conference
- Alternate In-Season Tournament Knockout Games with TNT & ESPN/ABC
- Sunday Night Basketball – begin package right after the NFL Season Ends
- Stream 10-20 Games on Peacock, Select First Round Playoff Games on Peacock
With this deal the NBA probably gets the money they want in the deal, NBC Universal gets more product for Peacock, and almost creates Sunday night is where you go for the best of sports. It also may lighten the pressure on the NBA if they don’t feel comfortable giving the new streamers postseason games, but still room to carve out a regular-season package.
Apple, Amazon, and Netflix are still going to try to find live sports rights, and the leagues will likely carve out a small package to dip their toes in, but I do believe we are still a few more years away from seeing postseason games from those leagues away from TV.
Moses Massena is a Sports Television veteran, working for Regional and National Networks. Most recently the Seton Hall University Graduate spent 14 years at MLB Network, working in roles from researcher to segment producer to Producer at the league-owned network, winning 7 Sports Emmys for his contributions to “MLB Tonight”. The New York native has also worked a producer at MSG Network, and served as a researcher for FOX & ESPN. Moses started his professional television career working at SNY from 2007-2009. To connect with Moses, find him on Twitter @MosesMassena16.
Barrett Media Writers
- Sports Radio News5 days ago
KNBR’s Brian Murphy Speaks for First Time After Paul McCaffrey Laid Off
- Barrett Blogs2 days ago
Barrett Media Names Dave Greene Chief Media Officer, Adds Perry Simon, And Reveals 2024 Plans
- Sports Online2 days ago
Yahoo Sports Undergoes Round of Layoffs Including Hannah Keyser, Sam Cooper, Kevin Iole