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The Hypocrisy of ‘Stick To Sports’ Mentality

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In the thick of the “controversy” surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest in 2016, critics of the former 49ers quarterback accused him of not sticking to the script of solely being an athlete – a script he never agreed to when he signed his original contract with the team.

A narrative was pushed that he was “going too far” and taking attention away from the game of football. During that season, NFL ratings took a nosedive. Some attribute it to cord cutting but many credit Kaepernick’s protest with helping to take viewers away from the league because they were “disgusted” with Kaepernick’s alleged “disrespect of the military and the flag,” both of which he has unequivocally denied intentionally trying to do.

If you still need an explanation of how taking a knee came to be and the intents behind it in 2022, here’s an interview with former NFL player and retired Army Green Beret Nate Boyer explaining to NPR how he came up with the idea because I’m tired of explaining it. 

As events continued to transpire in our society involving unarmed black men and police brutality, the lack of concern from some continued to heighten. On Fox News, primetime host Laura Ingrahm told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble” when James and Kevin Durant discussed social issues during an online sponsored content video for Uber.

Former President Trump even called NFL players who protest and participate in their constitutional right “sons of bitches.” Even though sports, culture and policy have always collided throughout human history (ask anyone who was around for the 1968 Olympics), after a certain part of the country got uncomfortable with being confronted about the mistreatment many minorities faced in one of the most developed countries in the world – everyone in the sports world was told to shhh.

I find it interesting that despite that edict, many conservative outlets have STILL found their way into the sports world. Fascinating might be the better word.

  • Vidgo, a smaller streaming service with more than 25,000 subscribers, originally distinguished itself from other services by saying it was the home for college sports. The startup says 80 percent of games aired on television are available through their service. They’ve now decided to pivot, according to FierceVideo’s Matthew Keys, and will focus on targeting middle America. Their first hire for original content you can find exclusively on Vidgo? Bill O’Reilly. He launched a show this week where he breaks down news, sports and cultural subjects. His first two interviews for the new show were Joe Namath and Rob Gronkowski, who endorses Vidgo. The conversation with Gronk had nothing to do with politics and was a discussion on the effects of violent hits in football. 
  • Gettr, a conservative social media app run by former Trump White House Communications Director Jason Miller, was a major sponsor of DAZN’s celebrity boxing match between KSI and Swarmz. They broadcasted “exclusive livestreams of the pre-match press conferences, weigh-ins, public work outs and a studio watch along of the fight with a GETTR live chat featuring live reactions,” according to a press release on their website. Users on the platform include Andrew Tate, Enes Kanter-Freedom, Charlie Kirk, Nigel Farage and Steven Crowder among others. 
  • The Daily Wire hired former ESPN sideline reporter Allison Williams as a correspondent after she refused to follow ESPN’s company-wide vaccine mandate. She says the decision was made because of her desire to have a second child. The company also recently launched a daily sports podcast known as “Crain & Company” that features a former college football coach. According to The Daily Wire’s website, the podcast discusses the biggest stories in sports “without the woke nonsense spoiling other sports shows.”
  • Outkick is a sports blog that publishes stories from a conservative point of view and is owned by Fox News Media. Its founder Clay Travis also makes weekly appearances on Fox & Friends to talk about sports adjacent subjects and has a stint on Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff.
  • The Blaze features a sports and cultural podcast with former Fox and ESPN personality turned conservative commentator Jason Whitlock
  • Fox Nation is the home to sports adjacent programming, features many high profile sports figures and even hired a former sports correspondent – Abby Hornacek – to produce shows for the service.
  • Sinclair Broadcasting owns majority of the regional sports networks in this country as well as national sports network Stadium.
  • LIV Golf could soon be forced to buy time from Sinclair affiliates in order to air their competitions in the U.S., according to The Washington Post. Nexstar, which just bought The CW, and Newsmax, which has wide reach on many smart TVs and is branching out beyond its conservative roots through a straight news show with Greta Van Susteran, could also potentially be destinations for the brand.

I don’t think it’s my place to say whether these endeavors are good or bad things. The viewers and dollars generated will decide that for itself. I just find it interesting that sports, culture and policy are only separated when it is inconvenient for some. I think that’s categorically unfair. Sports is an escape from reality for many but it should still be okay for all athletes and sports personalities to embrace all parts of who they are no matter where they are. 

Unless something is being said that is extremely derogatory and disrespectful, no one should be ashamed about what makes them who they are or how they feel. I probably don’t want to hear a player or analyst’s viewpoint on the midterms during a Ravens game broadcast but if they wanted to express it outside of the game, that’s okay.

If someone wants to wear a MAGA hat to the locker room, that’s okay. If someone wants to raise their fist in salute of the Black Lives Matter movement, that’s okay. We have to allow people to be people no matter how or what they feel. Athletes are people too. They are not robots that are made to just “stick to sports” no matter how much some people want them to be.

It’s so ironic to hear the pitches behind some of these shows and platforms and how they’re taking the “woke” out of sports when SportsCenter  and the mainstream sports media was never breaking down the latest presidential polling or tackling political subjects in their rundown. The MOST they ever did is allow hosts of color to explain their experiences.

If being black or being a woman or your sexual orientation is political, then I don’t know what isn’t political. The conflation of politics and race has had detrimental effects on causing change and making an impact. It took George Floyd’s death for some people to finally and ironically “get woke.” 

And just so I’m not being unfair, there is also a similar movement happening on the left side of the aisle as well.

  • The Majority Report with Sam Seder, a YouTube page with over a million subscribers that leans left, recently launched a weekly sports podcast of its own called “The Emma Sports Vigeland Network” hosted by Seder’s co-host on his main show Emma Vigeland. Vigeland promised in episode one to provide a pro-player and pro-union perspective on sports.
  • The Young Turks has a popular sports YouTube page with over 700,000 subscribers
  • Roland Martin’s Black Star Network and Urban Edge Network recently signed a deal with the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference to carry football and basketball games on the HBCU League Pass app as well as Martin’s social media platforms which reach around 4 million people, according to Martin at a press conference last week announcing the agreement
  • Keith Olbermann’s latest venture – a podcast with iHeartRadio – features a mix of political observations and sports news. It even uses theme music formerly used at Olbermann’s last television home, ESPN.

Stick to sports? It never stuck in the first place.

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BSM Writers

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.

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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.

Quick bites

  • 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.

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BSM Writers

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.

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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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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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.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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