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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.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Mark Cuban sees a bubble ready to burst
Mark Cuban image courtesy Sports Illustrated

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.

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WWE’s Paul Heyman Joins the 2024 BSM Summit

“I am thrilled to share that on Wednesday March 13th in New York City, we will welcome a man who has experienced every part of the wrestling and entertainment business both on-air and behind the scenes.”

Jason Barrett

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The final few weeks leading up to the BSM Summit are my least favorite time of the entire process. Between last-minute preparations, unexpected changes, laying out a schedule that fits everyone’s schedule, giving speakers direction, and handling the creative for the banners, programs and what appears on the screen, it can be overwhelming. This event isn’t created and produced by a large organization. It’s done by BSM’s small team and a few volunteers. There is no production team. That’s me. There is no sales team. That’s Stephanie. The creative squad that brainstorms ahead of the show? That’s me peppering Dave Greene, Demetri Ravanos and Stephanie Eads with every single thing that pops into my head.

I share this because on Monday I’ll be releasing our full schedule for the 2024 BSM Summit. You’ll find it on BarrettSportsMedia.com/Summit. If you type in BSMSummit.com it will take you to that page. I’m also hoping to announce our final collection of speakers. You guys will like some of the folks coming to speak who we’ve yet to announce.

Booking this event month’s in advance could be easily done. I could execute a radio conference in my sleep. But I’m not interested in easy. I’m focused on delivering a two-day event that unites professionals across the entire media universe, many who you may never share space with again. I believe in this concept because it helps you learn, stay sharp, discover what others do to create success that you may not have thought about, and in the process, you build new connections.

Creating an event that dives into radio, podcasting, social media, newsletters, television, video execution, sales and promotions, the economic climate, and programming strategy, requires thinking outside the box and swinging for the fences. Think about it. Where else are you going to hear the CEO of a radio company one minute, two local sports talk show hosts the next, four digital executives after that, four social media superstars once they’re done, and cap it all off with discussions about business, entertainment, and the future? It may not be perfect or rolled out the way a few would prefer but it works for us. By the time we hit the stage on March 13-14, that’s when the six months of hard work pay off and the fun begins.

Speaking of fun, if you’ve been to a Summit before, you’ve heard me connect the world of sports media to professional wrestling. The battle for audience attention, understanding how to leverage social media, incorporate advertising, create interest in on-air talent, and design programming to capture ratings are something the two world’s have in common. We’ve been fortunate to have Shawn Michaels and Eric Bischoff speak at prior shows but never have we had a speaker involved who’d be part of the upcoming main event for WrestleMania.

I am thrilled to share that on Wednesday March 13th in New York City, we will welcome a man who has experienced every part of the wrestling and entertainment business both on-air and behind the scenes. It is an honor to have the great Paul Heyman joining us at this year’s Summit.

If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Heyman, here’s the cliff notes version of what you need to know. Currently, Paul serves as the special counsel for WWE Universal Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns. Reigns has been world champion for 1269 days, and the storyline he’s involved in (The Bloodline) has been a massive hit on television and digital for the WWE. Roman will be competing in the main event at the WWE’s largest show of the year, WrestleMania with Heyman in his corner. The event has become so big that The Rock has returned to become part of the story.

As an on-air character, Heyman is gifted in his ability to command the audience’s attention. His promos are always well thought out, well executed, and interesting. Learning about his process as a talent and what goes into creating a compelling monologue is going to be a real treat for on-air folks in the room.

In addition, Paul is an accomplished writer, executive, promoter and booker. He’s served as the lead writer for both WWE RAW and Smackdown, leading both to the top of the ratings charts. He’s also been on the other side as the leader of an underdog promotion (ECW) tasked with building a brand and competing against the top dog, WWE. Paul is also well versed in advertising having co-founded the Looking4Larry Agency, which is known for its wildly imaginative campaigns for 2K Sports, NASCAR, Smart Cups, Monster Trucks, EA Sports and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Las Vegas.

Talent have praised his creative ideas and ability to design and structure compelling television. Audiences have emotionally connected to his on-air commentaries, and on Wednesday March 13th, BSM Summit attendees will learn what it takes to create, cut through, and command the room’s attention when I sit down with Paul Heyman for an in-depth conversation.

A reminder, tickets for the 2024 BSM Summit are on-sale through BSMSummit.com and the BSM Store. Prices will increase on March 4th so act now and save money before it’s too late. I hope to see you in NYC in three weeks.

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Sports Broadcasts Should Remain Political-Free Zones

There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.

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A cartoon depicting political candidates talking sports
Credit: Maia Lathrop / Clarion

Political thoughts and ads are everywhere. It seems like everything these days is politicized. Sports hasn’t escaped either. Athletes take stands, some commentators have made their political positions well known too.

In this case, politics is more of a catch-all term. It doesn’t just mean Democrat or Republican, it can mean making a comment on any hot button issue in America or anywhere else. Controversies that create a public stir. We’ve had a few over the course of the last few weeks that drummed up lots of emotion and certainly could have been avoided.

The most recent example took place last weekend at the NBA All-Star Saturday on TNT. As I’m sure you know by now, Kenny Smith had some things to say about the Steph Curry/Sabrina Ionescu 3-point shootout. Such choice things as, “She should have shot it from the women’s line, that would have been a fair contest.” Ionescu more than held her own, with 26 points which would have qualified her for the men’s finals in the event. Smith’s partner Reggie Miller didn’t make things much better, when he chimed in, “According to you, you want her to be playing with dolls.” Smith’s response: “Playing with dolls is good, too.” The fallout was swift thanks to social media.

Smith went on to Stephen A. Smith’s ESPN show earlier in the week to defend his commentary. “I think it’s much ado about nothing, honestly,” Smith said, when asked about the controversy. “Most people who know basketball understood what I was talking about. Actually, I was advocating for her, more than anything else, because basketball is muscle memory. So, he practices from one range, she practices from another.” Smith further explained, “Most people just don’t check the tape, they want to just check the bait. My history and track record speaks for itself,” Smith said. “I was clueless why people thought I didn’t want equality.”

Can. Worms. Opened. I get it, social media can make things appear one way when they are intended in another. My question to Smith and Miller, why make the commentary at all in that moment? Ionescu is a terrific basketball player and shooter. Everybody knew the rules going into the exhibition, so why make a stink about it? Or, if the need outweighs the caution, how about putting some notes down on paper so that you aren’t taken out of context? There are ways to make the commentary smoother. It’s not like the event was a surprise.

Talk shows fall into a different light. That’s all about opinion and it is likely up to each individual to understand how far to push it. Hosts should know their markets and from there can figure out what may or may not work. Topics like these generally lead to more fan engagement, because everyone has an opinion. It’s up to the host or hosts to keep the topic ‘on the rails’ or it becomes a free for all.

When it comes to announcers, hosts and reporters in the industry, mistakes can happen. I get that. It’s live and sometimes thoughts can go awry. We’ve seen it countless times. My question is this, why even go there? What is the benefit? Some like to try and make a name for themselves, to be controversial just for the sake of “look at me” or “listen to me” and trying to make headlines. That’s kind of sad to me. There is more to lose than to gain in these cases.

We’ve seen cases of misspeaking and/or controversial ‘hot button’ statements made on air that have proven costly to livelihoods. One of the more recent moments took place in May 2023. Glen Kuiper and the A’s were in Kansas City and had visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum earlier in the day. He was discussing the visit on air when he dropped the n-word. His claim was that his pronunciation of “negro” was misheard. After an investigation, he was fired. Kuiper was one of the best local television announcers.

Before that Reds announcer Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic, making a homophobic remark. Brennaman was pulled from the broadcast mid-game and suspended. The Reds later told Brennaman that he would not be returning, which prompted his resignation. To his credit Brennaman owned it and is trying to improve himself as a person. He’s been forgiven by the LGBTQ+ community in Cincinnati, after he attended several meetings with leaders. They weren’t easy as he told me a couple of years ago, but he made the extreme effort.

If there’s one entity in sports broadcasting that needs to stay out of the fray, and be ‘politic proof’ it’s the sports broadcast and telecast. The booth needs to remain pure. It needs to be a sanctuary for fans and broadcasters alike. There aren’t many fans that are tuning into a baseball, basketball, football or hockey broadcast to learn about your opinions about anything else but the game. Fans look to escape that when listening to or watching a game. Sports is the place we go to forget about the real world for 3-4 hours at a time.

We all have opinions about things in the sport and out of it. Opinions about the game you are broadcasting is what you’re there for, right? For example, I can’t stand the ‘ghost runner’ at 2nd base in extra innings in Major League Baseball. It’s gimmicky and takes away from the way the game was meant to be played. Me expressing that opinion as the game heads to extras is appropriate, as long as you don’t lose track of the game. My thoughts on the Presidential race or a Senate race is inconsequential in the scope of my baseball broadcast. Be engaging to your audience about things they care about in the moment, the game.

I hate when people tell us in the industry to “stick to sports”. Nothing grates on me more. I keep thinking, oh, because I talk about sports, that’s all I know? So, all that doctors know about is medicine then, right? It’s a simple-minded criticism, but I have to say, in these cases, in a booth, we should stick to the sports aspect of things.  There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.

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Jeff Rickard Understands The Benefits of Attending the BSM Summit

“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Jeff Rickard is one of the truly familiar faces of the BSM Summit. He’s not involved in the planning or with the company, but it’s an event he never misses.

“It went from a small group in Chicago the first year to recognition from everyone in our industry, and there’s a lot to be gained when we all get together from different markets and cities,” said Rickard of the event’s growth. “We’re not competing against each other. Instead, we’re there to bring each other ideas, lift each other up, and give each other not just support necessarily, but different ways of looking at and doing things. It allows you to kind of take some energy from another building and bring it back to your own.”

Since the BSM Summit first launched as an invite-only event, Rickard has held jobs in Indianapolis, Boston and Charlotte. In fact, it was at the 2022 Summit in New York where he had his first meeting that would lead to him taking the reins at WFNZ.

Different jobs have come with different situations. Rickard has been able to talk with fellow attendees about translators, transitions to FM, and building digital strategies. He appreciates the networking opportunities that exist at the Summit, but the access to new points of view have helped him grow as a programmer.

“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot,” he says. “In the last, I don’t know, three to four years, I think BSM has helped that along the way.”

The “radio is dying” narrative is a popular one. We can pretend that it only exists outside of our industry, but how many of us know someone very much inside the industry that exclusively speaks the language of doom and gloom when asked about future goals and plans? 

Rickard says that coming to the Summit is a necessity for anyone stuck in or around that mindset. Radio may not be as popular as ubiquitous as it used to be, but there is still enthusiasm for sports radio. That is something to feed off of!

“Local sports radio, if done right, will always attract an audience, because [listeners] can go to Sirius XM and they can go to ESPN and they can get the main stories of the day, and they can talk about the Chiefs winning another Super Bowl, and they can talk about if the Golden State Warriors being past their prime,” he says. “That’s all great, but if you’re in Indianapolis or Charlotte and you want to hear about respectively the Pacers or the Hornets, you know that we’re going to be talking about them. I think we’ve learned about the things that our local audience is going to want.”

Lessons Rickard has learned at past BSM Summits have had a major impact in Charlotte. WFNZ’s cume isn’t just up since he arrived. It has nearly quadrupled. 

According to Rickard, that is the result of valuing all perspectives. He’s a programmer, but that doesn’t mean he is only paying attention to sessions featuring other programmers. He also isn’t focused only on executives that could offer him the next opportunity. Rickard encourages any programmer that attends the BSM Summit to come and take notes when talent from other markets are on stage. 

“You have to realize that they’re not on a level below you. They are in large part you’re partners,” he says. “I always enjoy listening to guys that are highly successful, at those summits, talk about what motivates them, what they’re thinking about, how they go ahead and put a show together. There’s a reason we hire those talented people because they’re really good at what they do. They’re really good at attracting an audience, and they’re better at holding that audience. That’s why they’re speaking at a conference like BSM.”

Day-to-day operations are always on the minds of the people that attend the BSM Summit. When Jeff Rickard comes to New York next month though, he wants to hear conversations about the bigger picture. Whether it is from the stage or at networking events, he wants to be part of the conversations that are fundamental to the future of radio as a medium and broadcasting as a business. The one at the forefront of his mind? Audience measurement.

“We’ve been dealing with Nielsen for a long time,” he says. “There’s good, there’s bad. We all understand the system and how it works. But with so many of our listeners coming to us now through an app or coming to us by downloading what we’re doing online, they’re coming to us straight to the website. We’re starting to be able to kind of pick and choose our own numbers. We can see with certain day parts and certain guests or certain topics that, ‘wow, a lot of people checked into the app at that particular time.’ 

“So I think moving forward, the biggest thing for our industry is how do we continue to more accurately assess who our audience is and what’s really happening there on a moment to moment basis. I think we’re getting better every year, but I’m curious to see what the industry believes is the future for the next ten years, because I don’t think we’re using it now.” 

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