On the football field and in the sports media landscape, changes have occurred since Kordell Stewart roamed the sidelines. A new archetype – the mobile quarterback – has been created, showcasing the style of many young stars in the league today, such as Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen.
The mobile quarterback, however, was not readily accepted in the mid-90s when Stewart entered the league. Stewart was drafted in the second round by the Pittsburgh Steelers as the 60th-overall pick after a successful college career at the University of Colorado. Stewart always wanted to be a full-time quarterback in the NFL but had plenty of people and entities doubting him, making it difficult for him to win the starting job.
Entering the 1997 season though, the Steelers moved on from Mike Tomczak as the starting quarterback and gave the role to Stewart, allowing him to fully display his talents on the field regularly for the first time.
“The media has their way of creating narratives – ones that fit their narrative,” Stewart said. “It’s not the narrative, but it’s their narrative and causes the followers to buy into that narrative.”
Stewart was quickly referred to as “Slash,” a nickname given to him by the team’s color commentator Myron Cope. The name referred to the slash punctuation mark (“/”) placed between the different positions he could play (quarterback/wide receiver/running back) and highlighted his unique and extraordinary versatility on the gridiron.
His talent on the field helped the Steelers reach both the AFC Championship Game in 1997 and allowed them to return to it in 2001. Stewart was a Pro Bowl selection in that 2001 season, posting 3,109 passing yards and 14 passing touchdowns along with 537 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns en route to a 13-3 overall record.
“I like to look at [it] as saying that I’ve been blessed with a tremendous amount of talent,” Stewart explained. “I don’t want to be, if you will, suppressed in how I move [or] think because of someone else’s inability to identify all in which I can do on the field and even in the media. You have to have that someone who has confidence in you to give you that chance on their platform or [have] it in yourself.”
Stewart put that versatility on display in the world of sports media when he began appearing across ESPN programming in 2009 on shows such as First Take, NFL Live, College Football Live and Mike and Mike in the Morning. Additionally, Stewart worked as a sideline reporter for the network’s coverage of the United Football League airing on the then-Versus Network, interviewing athletes, coaches and other personnel throughout the game and working alongside Doug Flutie, Anita Marks and Dave Sims.
By October 2012 though, Stewart made the move to 92.9 The Game in Atlanta to host GameTime, an afternoon drive show with Carl Dukes. He remained with the station for 19 months, amicably leaving in May 2014, but learned a considerable amount of what it took to be a radio host during that time.
Working for Terry Foxx, the station’s program director, who is now the director of program and audience at 90.9 KUT in Austin, a considerable differentiator of the program was in Stewart’s perspectives and opinions as a former professional football player, and the ethos it garnered.
“Transparency was always my thing and still is,” Stewart said. “You give [the listeners] the inside scoop – your experience – which I think they have a tendency to like a lot. It’s not like you’re just talking; it’s connecting them to a moment that maybe they can remember [or] they can research.”
Being succinct in the points you make as a host was another aspect of the job that Stewart learned from Foxx, largely due to the preponderance of listeners tuning in from behind the wheel of their cars. Obviously since Stewart’s move out of radio, the landscape of audio consumption has considerably shifted towards digitally-based platforms, including on-demand listening and podcasting; however, the same principles apply when trying to keep listeners engaged, especially with the amount of choices readily available to them.
Nonetheless, the concept of utilizing resets, albeit trite in essence, remains a fundamental part of attracting and retaining listeners when imbued with cognizant and concise dialogue.
“It’s kind of like rebooting the system when having the conversation within 30 seconds on speaking about something,” Stewart said. “It’s a technique. It’s not easy, but you have to put yourself in the listener’s position. If you can do that, then you can do some good radio and good podcasting without having to look at the replay of the show.”
The nature of that dialogue for radio programs, according to Stewart, cannot be too recondite in scope, for it is imperative that you tailor the extent in which you discuss something to the general acuity and intellect of the audience. Being aware of his audience as early as his days on the gridiron, Stewart has found ways to both connect and relate to them from the perspective of a former starting NFL quarterback, and it has led him towards opportunities and success across multiple broadcast platforms.
“To be able to not just play the game but to articulate it and give it to a fan base that’s willing and eager to get the inside scoop about the game and just [what] sports in general is about and what it takes per se to be a professional… was what I liked and loved to do,” Stewart said. “It became really easy to transition from playing the game to actually doing commentary.”
Stewart made the transition towards digital when he departed 92.9 The Game to join TuneIn, an internet radio platform accessible to listeners on mobile devices, computers, and on other technologies. Joined by Brian Webber, Stewart co-hosted the weekday program NFL No Huddle from 4 to 7 p.m. to discuss sports and entertainment. Just over a year after the show’s 2015 debut, the show added a podcast to its weekly content, allowing it to reach a broader audience and adapt to the digital age.
It was also during this time when Stewart took two summer classes at the University of Colorado to finish earning his communications degree, which he had started in the ‘90s before joining the NFL but came up three credits short. He was motivated to complete his degree to set an example for his son and also make his late-father proud. While returning to study at the university, he was able to broadcast his show remotely from the college campus.
With his communications degree in hand and experience working in both terrestrial and internet radio, Stewart was approached by the Bleav content network to take his talents to the podcasting space. The network, which was founded by Bron Heussenstamm, has sought to produce premium content for all types of sports fans. It has shows for each NFL and college football team with a host and at least one former player, along with those that cover the game at large including Stewart’s podcast titled On The Edge with Slash.
The platform also has shows pertaining to Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League among other sports entities and produces over 1,000 hours of new content per month. This content is distributed both on Bleav’s platforms, along with SiriusXM, SportsMap Radio, and TuneIn, giving it the potential to find large groups of listeners and a chance to continue to expand.
“All of the parties that are connected in some capacity have a chance to be a part of it,” expressed Stewart. “You end up finding yourself being able to have some fun with it and know that you just want to be mindful that everyone’s listening.”
Stewart officially joined Bleav last month and described his podcast as one that will be “tough but fair” keeping with his belief in transparency. Being “on the edge” describes the trajectory of his career, according to Stewart, largely due to his desire to become a quarterback after initially joining the Steelers out of the draft and playing largely as a wide receiver. Now, he hopes to apply that same mindset in order to craft a podcast sound that stands out among the multitude of others available to consumers today.
“When I say ‘tough but fair,’ I’m going to apply it in a way that’s not going to be so diplomatic and politically-correct if you will in following the narrative of what everyone is talking about,” Stewart said. “I’m going to talk about the truth of what it is I see; what I think is fair or not fair; good or not good, and I don’t care who it is.”
Stewart hosts the podcast with Joe Ceraulo and together, the duo seeks to improve the show with each new episode. Moving from working in radio to podcasting, many of the same principles apply and Stewart does not recognize there to be too many differences between either medium.
Yet podcasts are continuing to gain more popularity in terms of aural content and can reach more people than terrestrial radio, even though many stations are now producing original podcasts and/or putting full-length shows or smaller segments on-demand as podcasts.
“Radio was the wave at one time [but you had to] make sure you have enough towers in the air so you get enough reception so it can go as far as it can go with enough satellites,” Stewart said. “[With] podcasting, I can reach anywhere…. Podcasting is the new wave now – it’s the hot ticket today – but radio will always exist; I don’t think it will ever leave.”
In addition to his regular podcast, Stewart recently joined a new sports betting podcast with Ceraulo and sports handicapper Brandon Lang titled Bleav Me. The movement of sports betting into sports media has been quite pronounced in the last year, not only because of the legalization of sports betting in certain states around the country, but also because of genuine fan interest in it and the new revenue streams created from various sportsbooks.
Now, the implementation of sports betting into all types of programming, whether it be studio shows or live game broadcasts, and also the creation of new programming with it as the central topic, is becoming something more commonplace by the day.
“It’s truly a joy to have a chance to be in this space because… this is the lay of the land now when it comes down to how this thing is created and made,” Stewart said of his move into podcasting. “….It’s fun. It gets you back out there in a different way and more of a modern way because not everyone can catch you on television but a lot of people can actually catch you through the media outlets to give you an opportunity to be heard.”
Bleav describes itself as an omnichannel content network for professionals and produces sports and entertainment content in the form of podcasts and other original programming. Stewart believes the platform is set up well for sustained success because of the talent it has brought on to produce compelling and appealing multiplatform content distributed to various outlets.
“If you give [the audience] good quality content that they can utilize in this space of podcasting and television if you will or live streaming, then the Bleav network is believable,” Stewart affirmed. “….I believe in the opportunity that they’ve given me and the platform that they’ve given me, and it’s my opportunity to show my style, who I am on the networks and give them as much as I can so those who are listening can believe me and believe in what I’m doing.”
Many athletes have moved into the sports media space over the years, and there are plenty of recent examples of athletes who have started in the industry while still remaining active players. According to Stewart, it takes believing in oneself to enter into the space and remaining true to your own experiences and opinions within the various mediated communication platforms.
Yet it is essential to remember that many fans want to continue to hear from their favorite players, especially when they retire, and working in media is one way for athletes to do that and preserve the connection to those fans.
“Back in the day it used to be about the helmet and not who the person was,” Stewart said. “….Now there’s a human element in this space because there’s more athletes getting involved with television, radio and podcasting. If [they] can believe in what they know and know what they believe in and give it to the audience, [fans] are going to love that player that they once loved.”
For Kordell Stewart, his journey in sports media is far from over as he seeks to grow his new podcasts with Bleav. Being able to genuinely be himself by discussing his career and displaying his versatility in media is his way of continuing to live up to his nickname “Slash,” as he uses his past experiences and exudes his passion for football to position himself to become a compelling listen to new consumers and expand his reach.
At the same time, he serves as a source of inspiration to the next generation of athletes and media professionals finding ways to amalgamate their talents in whatever endeavors they seek out – even if they are told by others to just stick to what they are best at.
“Sometimes when I’m out here working, those who are the bosses sometimes like for people to do what it is that they’re good at to allow that void or that space to be solidified so they can create more spaces,” Stewart said. “In my mind when I really think of it, it’s almost like they say ‘A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.’ If you can do more – the more, the merrier…. You don’t want to minimize yourself.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, Derek serves as a production manager, broadcaster, voiceover artist, technical director, audiovisual editor, and media engineer for Hofstra University’s WRHU. He has also worked on New York Islanders radio broadcasts. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @DerekFutterman.
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.