Since taking over the television play-by-play job for the New York Islanders on MSG Networks in 2016, Brendan Burke had been enjoying summers off. The only exceptions were 2019 and 2021 when he was calling Premier Lacrosse League games for NBC and 2020 when the National Hockey League returned to play during the pandemic and held the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a bubble.
So, when the 2021-22 NHL season ended, Burke figured he was going to have plenty of time on his hands. He did, but not as much as he originally thought.
“This was going to be my first summer with I had absolutely nothing to do and of course, I went and found something to do,” said Burke.
He wound up filling in for legendary broadcaster John Sterling on some New York Yankees radio broadcasts on WFAN. Sterling, who is now 84 years old, wanted to significantly cut down on his travel. So, the Yankees and WFAN lined up several fill-in broadcasters to work with Suzyn Waldman on Yankees road games and that list included Burke along with YES Network and ESPN broadcaster Ryan Ruocco, Yankees Spanish-language radio broadcaster Rickie Ricardo and Yankees Digital Host and Reporter Justin Shackil.
For Burke, it was a part-time summer job to remember.
“It’s an awesome experience,” said Burke. “It means something to me in a sentimental way…the Yankees radio job specifically. To actually sit in that chair and call Yankees games and just call baseball…it’s something that I had a passion for and I did a long time again and haven’t done in a long time so it was great to fill some of the down months in hockey with baseball.”
That brings us to the romantic portion of this story.
Brendan’s father Don Burke is a long-time sports writer having worked for The Record and The Star-Leger and is now the Sports Copy Editor for The New York Post. Brendan would spend a lot of time with his father at work and that put a thought in his head.
“I always thought I would be a baseball broadcaster,” said Burke. “That was always the idea when I was a kid just because that’s what I was around. I followed my dad around and I was exposed to baseball and the media aspect of baseball. At the same time, I had played hockey my whole life, and then when I got to college and started broadcasting hockey, hockey kind of took me with it.”
Burke, who grew up in Fairlawn, New Jersey, is a graduate of Ithaca College and began his sportscasting career as a broadcaster for the Batavia Muckdogs minor league baseball team. He went on to call minor league baseball for the Lakewood BlueClaws and then was hired by the Wheeling Nailers, a minor league team in the East Coast Hockey League. With Wheeling, he was named the 2008 ECHL Broadcaster of the Year and called the 2008 ECHL All-Star Game.
Then came five seasons calling games for the Peoria Rivermen, the St. Louis Blues affiliate in the American Hockey League. It was during his time in Peoria when Burke had the opportunity to get his first taste of the NHL by filling in on some Blues radio broadcasts. In 2013, Burke was named the play-by-play broadcaster and head of public relations for the AHL’s Utica Comets.
So much for calling baseball games as Burke was climbing the ladder faster doing hockey games.
“I was advancing a little quicker through hockey than I was advancing through baseball,” said Burke. “I became a hockey broadcaster that way but when I set out originally it was to be a baseball broadcaster.”
There’s certainly a fundamental difference in calling a baseball game as opposed to a hockey game. The pace in baseball is a lot slower than hockey and that can present a challenge to a broadcaster that that does both sports. There’s a lot of “dead time” that a broadcaster has to fill during a baseball game, but during a hockey game, the action is non-stop.
Burke does his homework before calling hockey games, but it’s the action on the ice that takes over a broadcast.
“I certainly prepare and know as much as I can and try and be entertaining but I can probably get by with just telling you who has the puck for the whole game,” said Burke. “Baseball doesn’t work that way so there’s certainly more of an emphasis on those other things.”
And as a Yankees fill-in announcer, Burke had to prepare for the broadcasts a bit differently than getting ready for Islanders games or national NHL telecasts because he’s not around the team all of the time.
“I have followed the Yankees as a casual observer for a long time but not the way you follow it as a full-time broadcaster for the team so to just kind of parachute in and do games without that kind of background is challenging,” said Burke.
Burke’s work on the Yankees games this summer drew rave reviews and there was even a story in the New York Post back in July that indicated he is the leading candidate to take over the full-time Yankees radio job when Sterling decides to retire.
That led to a nervous reaction on social media from Islanders fans who adore Burke and would be heartbroken if he left the Islanders job. It’s a reaction that Burke also gets when he does a national game on TNT during the hockey season because Islanders fans can be a little paranoid at times.
“It seems to be a common theme with Islanders fans that are just afraid that they can’t have nice things,” said Burke. “I’m just happy that people have such a positive reaction to what I do and that’s something that crosses their mind. It’s a compliment that they think I’m good enough to basically go wherever they think I’m going to go.”
If Burke does get the Yankees job down the road, he could still do the Islanders games because there has already been a precedent for that in New York.
When Burke was named the Islanders television broadcaster, he replaced long-time Islanders television voice Howie Rose who doubled as the Islanders television play-by-play announcer and a Mets broadcaster from 1995 to 2016. Rose had decided to step away from the Islanders so that he could spend more time with his family while still retaining the Mets job.
Rose held both positions for two decades.
“I still marvel at him being able to do that for as long as he did,” said Burke. “For someone who has done that at the minor league level for a few years and somebody who does now half of that and does just one hockey season, it’s hard to imagine doing an entire baseball season on top of an entire hockey season and then just flipping it around and doing it again and keep going for 20 years the way he did. I was amazed that he was able to pull that off.”
Barring a scheduling change, Burke has completed his fill-in assignments for the Yankees and is getting ready for the 2022-23 NHL season, his seventh campaign with the Islanders and his second with TNT after a run of calling NHL games for NBC.
Burke is enjoying the remainder of his summer spending time with his family and having some time off, but hockey training camp is right around the corner.
“I’m always excited when hockey season rolls around,” said Burke. “The summer is fantastic and I enjoy every second of it, but it’s getting to the point where it’s time to go back to work. I’m sure there are kids at home, whether they admit it or not, that are ready to go back to school. I’m kind of like that where I’ve enjoyed my summer, I’ve enjoyed my time off and I’ve enjoyed the time with the family but I’m also at that point where I’m excited to get back to work.”
And when he arrives at New York Islanders training camp later this summer, he’ll be able to tell everyone in the organization and all of the other broadcasters and reporters what he did on his summer vacation.
Brendan Burke can say he spent a lot of time with family, enjoyed some time off…and oh yeah…he did some New York Yankees games on WFAN.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.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.