Francis Scott Key, a lawyer who dabbled in epic poetry, wasn’t inspired to write what became “The Star-Spangled Banner’’ so Mark Cuban and Ted Cruz could politicize it in a Twitter war. He authored it knowing the U.S. had withstood a British naval attack on Fort McHenry, where, by “the dawn’s early light,’’ a flag of 15 stars and 15 stripes flew triumphantly “through the perilous fight’’ at Baltimore Harbor.
His words were intended to reflect pride, unity, fortitude, hope.
But 206 years later, our national anthem has become the symbol of an ugly confrontation we don’t need in a divided and churning America. The media-moth Cuban, who might be mounting a late run for office beyond his ownership of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and “Shark Tank’’ advice duties, happens to believe — as I do — that athletes should kneel during the pre-game playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner’’ if they so choose. Cruz, the Texas Republican who kneels at the feet of President Trump, doesn’t agree.
Nor does Mark Davis, a Dallas-based talk host who started this battle by tweeting, “I am so ready to be in on this year’s #Mavericks home stretch: so much promise, so much personality. But the minute one player kneels during the anthem, I am OUT. Surely, @mcuban can lead the way for #Mavs, #NBA to do whatever gesture they wish without insulting the nation.’’
Cuban should have left it alone, rejecting Davis as another conservative radio guy with a gasoline can. But it is not humanly possible for Cuban to shift into low gear on any subject. “The National Anthem Police in this country are out of control,’’ he replied to Davis. “If you want to complain, complain to your boss and ask why they don’t play the National Anthem every day before you start work.’’
With that, we were subjected to another nauseating flap that compelled me to ponder the unfathomable: It it time to to stop playing the national anthem at sports events until America shows it deserves it? When an 1814 song isn’t even sacred amid the toxic fumes of rhetoric, what is?
“Really??!?’’ Cruz fired at Cuban, deftly mixing an exclamation point with question marks. “NBA is telling everyone who stands for the flag, who honors our cops and our veterans, to `piss off’? In Texas, no less? Good luck with that.’’
Cuban: “Have some balls for once @tedcruz. Speak to me. It’s my tweet.’’
Cruz: “Yes, Mark, my communication (in) tweeting out my response to the world was meant somehow to keep it a secret. Because you’re very scary. I’m a Rockets fan, but more than happy to cheer on the Mavericks (great team this year). It’s sad to see you telling so many Texans to `piss off.’ ‘’
More Cruz: “Speaking of balls, tell us what you think about China. I’ll wait.’’
More Cruz: “Still no answer from @mcuban. Let’s try simpler. Mark, tough guy, can you say `Free Hong Kong’? Can your players put that on their jerseys? Can you condemn the CCP’s concentration camps w/ 1 million Uyghurs? Can you say ANYTHING other than `Chairman Mao is beautiful & wise?’ ‘’
Cuban, finally: “I can say Black Lives Matter. I can say there is systemic racism in this country. I can say there is a Pandemic that you have done little to end. I can say I care about this country first and last.’’
More Cuban: “Why is it, @tedcruz, that you take such pride in standing up to and speaking truth to the Chinese, but you have no ability to stand up to and speak the truth to @realdonaldtrump ?’’
Cruz: “I agree Black Lives Matter. I agree there is a pandemic & we have taken extraordinary steps to defeat it. Where did that pandemic originate? Why did Communist China COVER UP the Wuhan outbreak & arrest whistle-blowers? And why are you terrified to say ONE WORD about China?’’
OK, enough. I’m sending both children to their rooms and grounding them through Election Night.
I am pleased to report that Cuban’s platform — taking a knee during the anthem — was on full and proud display Monday night in the Bay Area, where Colin Kaepernick launched a national movement four years ago. Responsibly wearing a mask in a pandemic, Gabe Kapler, the first-year manager of the San Francisco Giants, joined two of his coaches and several players in kneeling or standing before an exhibition game in Oakland. News reports described African Americans mixing with Caucasians, but simply, they were human beings on a collective mission.
This is why the national anthem was written. This is why the national anthem is played before sports events. And this is why America is divided, starting in the White House, where Trump took in the Giants’ gesture and, of course, turned to Twitter himself. “Looking forward to live sports, but any time I witness a player kneeling during the National Anthem, a sign of great disrespect for our Country and our Flag, the game is over for me!,” the president posted.
Speaking to his team before the game and in recent days, Kapler said each player could decide whether to join him without fear of repercussion. “I wanted them to know that I wasn’t pleased with the way our country has handled police brutality, and I told them I wanted to amplify their voices and I wanted to amplify the voice of the Black community and marginalized communities as well,’’ he said. “So I told them that I wanted to use my platform to demonstrate my dissatisfaction with clear systemic racism in our country, and I wanted them to know that they got to make their own decisions, and we would respect and support those decisions. I wanted them to feel safe in speaking up.’’
The scene was unusual in Major League Baseball, an industry with an alarming lack of African American presence on all levels. A Los Angeles Angels pitcher, Keynan Middleton, knelt and raised his right fist before a game in San Diego, and a night later, Joey Votto joined several Cincinnati Reds teammates in kneeling. “I’m very proud that (Middleton) stood up for his beliefs. I really am,’’ Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s not easy to do that, a young man like himself, being the only one out here doing that. He’s a wonderful young man, and he’s among a lot of wonderful young people in our country that are gonna demonstrate in that way.’’
In a social media post, Middleton explained why he knelt alone. “Racism is something I’ve dealt with my whole life,’’ he said. “As a Black man in this country, it is my obligation to want to better the future for generations to come. Over the past few months, I’ve been out in the community taking part in peaceful protests and having the difficult conversations that are needed for change. Before, pioneers like Jackie Robinson, a Black man, didn’t have a voice in the game of baseball. The foundation laid down and sacrifices made by Jackie and others is the reason why I have the platform I do. I will not allow that to go to waste.’’
Expect the statements to be commonplace before games inside the NBA Bubble and whenever the NFL resumes play. Hopefully, the scenes will restore honor and glory to the anthem — and the flag. “We’re going to have 60 chances in the regular season to make the same decision that we made today, to either stand or kneel or do something different,’’ Kapler said.
Before 2016, “The Star-Spangled Banner’’ sometimes seemed like a formality in sports. I stood at hundreds of games, habitually looked around at faces — athletes, coaches, spectators — and saw fans who couldn’t wait for the music to end and action to begin. Some players cared enough about their country and faith to close their eyes, but others grew fidgety, swaying back and forth. I saw broadcast networks, such as Fox Sports, exploit the anthem as a blatant attempt to pump patriotism.
Then came Kaepernick. Now, we have a night in baseball no one saw coming. Rather than make a folly of Francis Scott Key, the social-media warriors should stop pounding their devices and applaud Keynan Middleton for his courage. That includes you, Ted Cruz. And you, Donald Trump.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
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.