Exhibition baseball games are more important than they’ve ever been for the players. Obviously, everyone needs to get back in game shape after a long absence, but most importantly, they’re needed for the acclimation of playing in an empty stadium with no atmosphere to speak of.
But the players and managers aren’t the only ones in the ballpark that needed the weekend and the early part of this week to get used to their new surroundings. Broadcasters need this time, too, as each one tries to figure out the right flow of doing a game with no fans or even via a monitor away from the actual game.
So how different will baseball play-by-play be in 2020? I reached out to three broadcasters to gauge both what they’ve already experienced as well as challenges they’re anticipating.
Tyler McComas: Your first broadcast was Saturday night between the Yankees and Mets. Were you able to be at Citi Field or did you have to do the game from Yankee Stadium?
Michael Kay – Yankees play-by-play announcer on YES: Yankee Stadium because we’re not allowed to travel, even to Citi Field. There’s just no room in the booths.
TM: With that being said, how was it broadcasting the game off a monitor for the first time?
MK: It was a little strange. Not as strange as I thought it was going to be. I usually don’t work off a monitor. I broadcast off the field. So that was odd, having to call everything off a monitor.
Also, you’re taking the home team’s feed. My director and producer usually follow what I say and give me shots as I’m going, but that’s not the way it’s going to be this year. So I almost had to follow the SNY cameras everywhere they were going. We had one camera to ourselves, so that was a little bit odd. I’m not complaining, everybody has to do it. As long as we have baseball, we suck it up and do it.
TM: The players need these games to get acclimated to the environment, or lack thereof, in the ballpark. Can the same be said for you?
MK: Absolutely. It can’t hurt. Practice makes perfect and this is stuff that we’ve never experienced before. It really is important, we’re doing all three of the exhibition games and I think it was a really good idea to do it, because it does give you a sense of what it’s going to be like. It’s not going to be that much different from the real game we do on Thursday, so it really was a great call to do it. It serves the fans, as well as us in the broadcast booth.
TM: You’re used to being around the players and managers, maybe at dinner or even on the field during batting practice. I’m sure you get nice nuggets of info during that time, which you can repeat on the broadcast. You’re not going to have that this year. Does that make prep more difficult?
MK: Well, you just have to prep in the best way that you can. Pretty much what baseball is doing, is what football has done its entire existence, which is kind of marginalizing what you know. They pick who’s going to go on the Zoom call, you can’t have any one-on-one time, and that’s one of the hallmarks of being a baseball broadcaster.
You walk up to somebody in the clubhouse or you see them behind the batting cage and you can pick stuff up. It’s going to be very different that way, because you’re not going to have those stories. If you’re someone who’s been watching baseball for a long time, then you might notice it. I know that I’ll notice those stories won’t be available, but it’s just the world we’re living in right now.
TM: The Yankees might have the best team on paper it’s had in a long time. Coupled with the fact everyone has to watch the games on YES, is the silver lining to all of this that the broadcast might get the highest ratings it’s ever gotten?
MK: I guess that would be a silver lining. We’re going to provide some kind of diversion and hopefully approach normalcy for people, so that’s a good thing. People are looking for live events to watch. The Last Dance got huge numbers on ESPN and that’s not even a live event. NASCAR has done well, golf has done well and I’m sure baseball is going to do great, as well. I’d rather the ratings be just a little bit lower and we have everything back to normal in the world.
TM: I’m sure you’ve watched and listened to various games over the weekend. Did you pick up on anything that you can use for this season?
Tom McCarthy – Phillies play-by-play television announcer: We did a game on Sunday night on TV. We did the Orioles and Phillies exhibition game. I had done some intrasquad games last week on the YouTube channel, so we kind a got a feeling of how it was going to be and that was really helpful. All of us broadcasters have done this before in a very minimal way.
I did the Caribbean World Series seven years ago for the MLB Network when they first launched. I’ve done a handful of tryouts for CBS and for NBC Sports Philadelphia. I kind of had a feeling of how it was going to work but I think the intrasquad games last week and last night’s game really helped us. Tonight is a test because it’s the first time that we’re doing a game off the monitor, with the Phillies playing at the Yankees.
McComas: How do you feel about the piped in crowd noise? Is it a blessing in that it provides a sense of normalcy to the broadcast or is it more of a hindrance, in that it drowns out the ambient noises the game still provides?
McCarthy: I didn’t find that it was at all cumbersome. I thought it was actually good. I even thought it was going to be a little bit louder and I think there’s a chance that’s going to happen as we move forward. I didn’t find it to be intrusive at all. Are there different ways you could do it? Sure, absolutely. I think we’ve all learned that we have to be open minded with everything during this because it’s so different and so weird.
TM: How important are these exhibition games for you, seeing as no fans will be in the stands?
Ken Korach – A’s play-by-play radio voice: I think it’s really important. I really do. It’s not so much that nobody will be in the stands, although that will be an adjustment, but they’re piping in crowd noise over the PA and that’s a whole story in and of itself. But the biggest things, number one, is that on Tuesday, the A’s are playing the Giants in San Francisco. That’ll be our first time doing the game from the Coliseum. We’ll be calling the game off the TV monitor, obviously that’s the biggest adjustment.
The other thing, there’s a certain trepidation of getting back into the groove and seeing how it all feels in the press box. Getting to get be back in the press box and seeing how it’s all going to feel for a couple of days before the regular season starts, I feel like that’s really important.
TM: From a technical standpoint, how are you approaching the positioning of your crowd mic?
KK: We have a mic that’s right next to or by the home plate screen. We do that for the crack of the bat. We also have the ability to pick up on the TV sound effects. I don’t think that’s going to change a whole lot. You’ll be able to hear the crowd noise coming in over the PA system, so I don’t think the mechanics from a technical standpoint is going to change a whole lot when the team is at home. Now on the road it’s a huge difference, because we are relying on getting the audio. Let’s say the A’s are playing in Houston and we’re in Oakland, we’re going to rely on the audio coming back from Houston. That’s going to be a different technical challenge.
TM: Are there any advantages to the unique situation that radio play-by-play broadcasters are presented with this year?
KK: Obviously I haven’t done a game yet, but I don’t see any advantages to it. I really don’t. I listened to a couple of the games over the weekend to get a feel for it and I feel like it’s necessary to have the crowd noise. Everyone knows there’s no fans in the stands, you’re not trying to fool anyone, but having that nice little hum in the background, it sounded pretty good to me when I heard the games that I heard on Saturday.
The biggest thing is that you live for those moments when the game is on the line in the ninth-inning and the crowd is really giving off a ton of energy, so you’re not going to have that. For us and the players, you rely on that energy and you’re not going to have it. But we all kind of know that going in.
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.
This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.
Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.
This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.
The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.
Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.
NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.
Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.
Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.
Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.
A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.
It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay.
MLB Network is another option
If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.
- One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
- CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
- The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.
The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.
First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.
Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.
Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.
It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do.
Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.
Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?
I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?
That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.
After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else.
There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.
Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.
Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.
Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.
I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.