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Big Cat’s Right, But What If Barstool Doesn’t Care?

“The equity and goodwill your company has built with you is only as good as how you are treated tomorrow.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Dan Katz, better known to the Barstool audience as Big Cat, was not shy about airing his grievances with company brass on Friday morning. On his SiriusXM show The Yak, Big Cat took Dave Portnoy and Erika Nardini to task over not consulting him about the opportunity for Portnoy to interview President Trump. He went so far as to say the interview betrayed the foundation on which Barstool was built.

If you haven’t already watched the ten minute rant, you should. Actually, calling it a “rant” isn’t exactly fair. Yes, the guy is speaking from a place of emotion, but Katz isn’t unhinged. He makes valuable points that hosts and programmers should take to heart.

Let’s start with the big question. Is interviewing the President of the United States in the White House Rose Garden, mere months before an election, a betrayal of the Barstool brand’s identity?

Katz repeated the phrase “we can’t pretend now that we don’t do politics” multiple times during the segment. He said that when he first signed on with Barstool he was told that the brand wasn’t going to get into politics, that Dave Portnoy was only focused on comedy. Joe Biden’s campaign reached out to Barstool to have the former Vice President appear on Pardon My Take earlier this year, but Katz passed because he says he and co-host PFT Commenter always viewed their show and the Barstool brand as a place where people come to escape from those kinds of subjects.

Portnoy’s interview with Trump might change the way Barstool is viewed in the short term by some. Barstool’s founder and president definitely came off as very chummy with the President of the United States. Even without explicitly saying so, it does give the appearance of a tacit endorsement from the brand. That matters when a brand has built itself around the fierce loyalty of its fans.

As for longterm repercussions, that is kind of hard to say. Barstool is not Outkick. Even if there is a segment of the Barstool fanbase that wants to “own the libs,” it isn’t the brand’s entire identity.

The mistake Barstool made is allowing this to be in the Trump campaign’s hands now. If the President invokes Portnoy’s or Barstool’s name in speeches or ads, that is going to fundamentally change what Barstool is in the eyes of a lot of people. Forget that scenario. Let’s say Katz and PFT decide there are no restrictions anymore, and they schedule Joe Biden on Pardon My Take after all, that changes the perception of Barstool too. Rather than simply being “Stoolies,” some fans will feel the need to pick a side in a war of escalating internal political tension.

Pardon My Take | Podbay

Big Cat also took Portnoy to task for not doing a tougher interview. “Politics are serious, man. You can’t do a political interview and not be serious,” he said.

To a certain extent that is true. If you’re John Oliver or Trevor Noah, you better be able to prove that you have the chops to keep up in a serious conversation about the subject you have built a career telling jokes about. But I don’t know that I entirely agree that politics is a subject that has to be approached the same way by a comedian as it does by Wolf Blitzer.

Look, while I have never had a sitting president on my show before, I did ask John McCain in 2012 if he thought he could medal in Olympic fencing if I gave him a year to do nothing but train. When he was making the rounds as a surrogate for Hillary in 2008, I did tell Bill Clinton that the first time I remembered hearing him speak was when I was 11. He showed up to the Alabama/Arkansas game in 1992 and was interviewed at halftime. My question to the former president was “Did you know that Alabama team was good enough to win a national championship?”.

If you aren’t someone that lives in the political world, not only is there room for humor and friendliness in these interviews, but I would argue not using those tools at all is a bigger betrayal to your audience than failing to demand answers for detention centers at the US/Mexico border. Those are horrible and do demand answers, but maybe Dave Portnoy is smart enough to know he’s not the one that is going to get them.

The final question I think is worth addressing is how does Big Cat move forward as a part of Barstool from here? In his rant, Katz made it clear that he was personally offended by having to learn of Portnoy’s visit to the White House on Twitter like the rest of the world. He said this is not how he ever expected the company to treat him after so many of the power players involved told him how valuable he was to the Barstool brand and promised that he was a partner in the decision making process. He shared that with Barstool fans, a group he is every bit as synonymous with as Portnoy.

As Big Cat sees it, there are only two explanations as for why Portnoy and Barstool CEO Erika Nardini didn’t consult him on the decision to interview President Trump, and both of them mean the same thing.

“One is they didn’t want to talk to me because I would probably be the only dissenting view, which means that when there’s tough decisions to be made and Dan might disagree, we just won’t ask him so we don’t have to hear his view. That means my opinion doesn’t matter. Or two, they just said straight up ‘his opinion doesn’t matter.’ Either way, my opinion does not matter at this company the way I thought it did 12 hours ago, and that’s the part I’m struggling with.”

At some point, everyone in this business questions where they stand with their employer. It’s why hosts and PDs leave for new jobs in new markets. It’s why GM’s leave to start advertising agencies. The equity and goodwill your company has built with you is only as good as how you are treated tomorrow.

I can’t say I know enough about what Barstool thinks of Dan Katz. I would assume as one of their most popular personalities, he is viewed as a valuable commodity. The Coach Duggs phenomenon should prove to any doubters, in or outside the company, that Katz’s audience will support virtually anything he does. But does Barstool believe it owes him more than anyone else on its roster? I don’t think that is a question with an obvious answer.

Long ago, when I was 15-years-old, I worked for Oldies 106.5 in Mobile, Alabama. My first program director was a British guy named Tim Rose. He told me a truth about radio that hits you like a ton of bricks at some point. Our job isn’t to play music or entertain the audience. Our job is to make sure they stick around long enough to hear the Kia commercial that plays at the bottom of the next stop set.

Barstool operates in the same way. It may be classified as a media company, but what it actually is is a marketing machine. Dave Portnoy and Erika Nardini don’t care what the content is exactly. All they care about is that it is good enough to engender a legion of Stoolies to buy t-shirts and drink mix and spend their money at Penn National casinos.

Given his own personal popularity and the juggernaut that is Pardon My Take, Dan Katz would be justified to think he is indispensable. It would make total sense for Stoolies to not think they ever have to picture a Barstool without Big Cat. But what if Barstool doesn’t see it that way?

Barstool Sports crashed NFL conference call with funny prank | Larry Brown  Sports

It is totally feasible that the company may see its brand as well-established enough to survive the hit of losing its most popular content creator.

It is a bitter reality of this industry. As you build your own brand, you are also building the brand of your platform. Some talent outgrow their parent company, but not everyone does and sometimes the ones that don’t will surprise you.

So many of the criticisms that Dan Katz levied at Dave Portnoy and Barstool are fair. Portnoy’s interview with Donald Trump does fly in the face of what Barstool was founded on. It does compromise the image of the brand. Barstool is being used as a political pawn. The bosses do owe their most popular personality an explanation of what is about to happen before he has to read about it on Twitter. All of that can be true, but if enough MAGA types show up to buy Barstool t-shirts all because of one interview, the company doesn’t necessarily have to care.

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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