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College Football Crashes, Just As Sports Was Fun Again

“Without the game that serves as our national lifeblood from autumn into winter, it’s time to concede, even after a memorable golf major and various Bubble triumphs, that the COVID-19 minefield is destroying the American soul.”

Jay Mariotti

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God still might be bigger than the coronavirus, but college football and the American South are not. The sport that has been most delusional about the global pandemic, channeling President Trump’s continuing view that it’s merely a bug, finally is prioritizing the health of vulnerable young men over the wealth of TV billions. This is the week when a country grasps what I told Paul Finebaum a month ago on his program, a comment that subjected my otherwise tame Twitter feed to cultural warfare.

Football is the last game that should be played amid a COVID-19 storm, the sporting equivalent of 100 maskless morons dog-piling at a rave. ESPN tried its damndest to brainwash the masses and rescue the sport it literally owns and operates (and the billions it’s about to lose), but commissioners and school presidents from Power 5 conferences are forced to concede that liabilities are trumping the lie. Dabo is devastated, Saban is gobsmacked, Harbaugh is being sized up for a straitjacket and boosters will have to find other people to pay off, but who really cares?

I’m concerned about our national condition.

Without the lifeblood of football — and the NFL can protect a $15-billion season only so long before pulling the same plug — is this where America’s collective psyche turns to mush? Will the legions of COVID-iots who’ve tried to ignore the death toll and ongoing ravages now realize what an autumn without football represents? It means the carnage is staying for a while, with no departure date, leaving the economy in a shambles, our sense of freedom violated and our mental health like so much road barf as we await an absurdist election that will make us a bigger international mockery. With football in Tuscaloosa and Columbus, Happy Valley and Death Valley, and an accompanying pro season, there was a chance to maintain an equilibrium.

Now what?

There is pushback from Gen-Z types who don’t know better, such as the current face of college football, Trevor Lawrence. Stunningly, with his sport teetering, the Clemson quarterback tweeted, “People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play. Players will all be sent home to their own communities, where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19. Not to mention the players coming from situations that are not good for them/their future and having to go back to that. Football is a safe haven for so many people. We are more likely to get the virus in everyday life than playing football.’’ He makes fine points. What he doesn’t mention is the lack of social distancing on a college campus.

Can I at least enjoy Collin Morikawa’s exhilarating victory at the PGA Championship for a nanosecond or two?

Apparently not. College football’s shutdown only reminds us that Major League Baseball is a sickening minefield, dangerously continuing a foolish season as the virus sidelines the Cardinals for a third week. Manager Mike Shildt said some of the infected nine players and seven staff members were hospitalized for brief periods, which should be the breaking point for so-called MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who might want to look at college football and follow suit. Instead, he proceeds with this shameful stagger toward potential tragedy. At least MLB players are paid as they dodge virus droplets — including their own. Protocols still are being flouted even after the outbreaks of the Cardinals and Marlins, with the A’s and cheatin’ Astros engaging in just the kind of wild, dugouts-clearing brawl that spreads the virus. Oakland’s Ramon Laureano, a former Astro, reportedly responded to a mother-related slur from Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron and attacked the Houston dugout.

“Get back to the dugout!’’ umpires shouted, their cries echoing through the empty Coliseum.

They were ignored, just as the players ignore Manfred. He should have foreseen this might happen, considering A’s pitcher Mike Fiers snitched on the Astros, his former team, in what launched the electronic sign-stealing scandal that tarnished Houston’s 2017 World Series title. Look, I realize everyone is bitter about the Asterisks and wants payback. Joe Kelly already exacted it for the Dodgers. Enough. Finish the game before a brawl becomes a superspreader. What exactly does Manfred do again, anyway?

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Then there was Cleveland pitcher Zach Plesac, who left the team hotel and went out in Chicago after beating the White Sox. The Indians made him drive back to Ohio in a rental car, this after Plesac said recently, “Any time you can maintain social distancing, it’s going to be what we focus on. There are common sense situations, where you see things are packed, or going out to the bars and drinking — doing stuff that shouldn’t be important to us right now.’’

Will the Indians be the next team shelved by a virus outbreak? It’s daffy to think a hollow crackdown — Manfred claims he’ll ban offenders from the postseason — will compel all players to wear masks in dugouts and stop fighting, high-fiving, spitting, hugging, remaining in seats on planes and going out at night. Earlier in the Astros series, the A’s mobbed hero Marcus Semien, with Austin Allen leaping high to join the scrum. If MLB somehow outlasts a shotgun regular season, there’s no chance, without a Bubble, that an expanded postseason will survive when an infected team simply can’t be shut down for a week.

“I don’t know what our future looks like at this point,’’ said Cardinals president John Mozeliak.“For all of the optimism we had a couple days ago, it’s frustrating for everyone involved.I haven’t slept in days.’’     Any wishful thinkers still left in sports? Still want to accuse me of negativity when realism is the word? It’s a shame, because before Sunday’s barrage of news, I felt something comforting, almost assuring, about having the remote control in my hand again all weekend. Sports wasn’t “back.’’ But it was there, after a long absence, as I remember it well.

Push a button and there’s Big Boy Golf in San Francisco, where Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka should have been striking bodybuilding poses while Bryson DeChambeau was channeling his inner Mark McGwire. Weird as it was watching Hans and Franz on the links, it was weirder amid the unearthly silence of a municipal course, where leaders kept track of rivals’ scores not by crowd roars but phone apps and video boards. Still, it was a major sports event, at long last.

And we were talking about it, especially the part about Koepka telling the world how his supposed friend, Johnson, gags with 54-hole leads in majors. Of course, Johnson did just that in a mad scramble that had seven players tied for the lead at one late point. But Koepka imploded himself. So, who broke out of the pack? Not Hans, not Franz, but 5-foot-9 Morikawa, more poised than all of the aforementioned, maybe because he has been working with a sports psychologist since he was eight. Abusive, perhaps?Not when you saw him chip in from 40 feet to take the lead on No. 14, then rip a monster drive to set up an eagle at No. 16. Behold the lowest final round by a PGA champion in 25 years, the youngest player to break 65 in the final round of a major victory — ever. Was a legend born at Harding Park, not far from where Morikawa starred at Cal? The last three players to win the PGA at age 23: Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

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Too bad there was no gallery to salute him. He was left to sit with his girlfriend, beside a lonely parking lot, waiting for the victory ceremony — where he dropped the lid off the trophy. What a shame that his glorious drive, which might become the launching point of a legacy, was greeted by just a few claps instead of a monstrous noise blast. “This is the one time I really wish there were crowds right there,” Morikawa said. “I heard some claps but not a ton.’’

Let’s hope he’ll hear many roars in the future.     

And that fans can deliver them.

Even if seasons are fleeting and the coronavirus ultimately shuts down ballparks and Bubbles throughout North America, sports had managed to keep us talking about … sports! Flip the channel to see Mike Trout hammer another home run, change another diaper and suffer another loss with a scandalous franchise that doesn’t deserve him. Flip again to watch the transcendent Luka Doncic one-upping Giannis Antetokounmpo, prompting his lucky Mavericks coach, Rick Carlisle, to literally applaud, compare him to Larry Bird and say this after his 36-point, 19-assist, 14-rebound freak show: “Luka is not only a great basketball player, he’s a great performer. I’d pay money to watch him play.’’ He meant inside the NBA Bubble, where there is no paid admission, but you do have the Clippers trolling Damian Lillard, the Raptors thinking repeat and the greatness of T.J. Warren — T.J. Warren? — in tech-enhanced, pixelated visuals that look crystalline.

Oh, and are Western Conference teams actually plotting against the Lakers, trying to finagle the scary Trail Blazers into the No. 8 seed and put LeBron James out of his sequestered misery with a first-round postseason ouster. “I miss the hell out of my family,’’ said James, whose team clearly has Bubble issues beyond homesickness. “My wife, my kids, my mother. And so on and so on. So, it’s a huge challenge. You can’t replicate actual presence when you’re waking up and you’re in the living room or you’re in the kitchen or you’re outside playing with your kids or playing with your daughter, playing video games with your boys or working out with your boys. I’m not there.’’

On one end of the cable programming block, Tiger couldn’t putt, which is tough when he’s nearing 45 and still four major titles shy of Nicklaus. “It’s getting tighter and getting harder to win events,’’ said Woods, 21 years older than Morikawa. On the other end, Connor McDavid was losing in his home arena to the mediocre Blackhawks and costing the NHL a chance to market him. Cars and horses were racing elsewhere, commingling with UFC fighters. And is that a live shot of a 43-year-old wellness entrepreneur throwing a football in Tampa?

This would seem to be a sports fan’s pleasure beach, a cornucopia of events power-blasted your way at all hours of the day and night, even if it requires an extra $5 for a “Spectrum TV Sports Pack’’ in Los Angeles when zero refunds were issued during months of two-decades-old game reruns. Some of what we’ve seen is damned impressive, such as the quality and intensity of competition. I saw Devin Booker, on a weekday afternoon, drain a spinning, turnaround jumper while smothered by Paul George as the buzzer sounded and his rear end dusted the floor. He has been so good that Draymond Green, moonlighting for TNT, was fined $50,000 for tampering when he said, “Get my man out of Phoenix. It’s not good for him. It’s not good for his career.’’ The NBA and NHL — along with golf, the ultimate in sports social distancing — are giving us content that sometimes seems as good as the norm. Is it because athletes have nothing else to do, no longer dealing with previous everyday demands? Is it because 20,000 people aren’t booing and cursing their moms that NBA players are hitting higher percentages of free throws and corner three-pointers inside the Bubble?

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“Seriously, it’s a great stage to play,’’ Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni marveled. “There’s not a lot of distractions. It’s the same court every night. You get your shooting, depth perception and all that. It’s pure basketball. You see some of the talents these guys have, are coming out. I think it’s only going to get better. The playoffs are going to be terrific.’’

As for Trout, again the talk of baseball? “I was hoping now that Trout was a dad, the dad bod might have snuck up on him, but that isn’t the case,” Mariners manager Scott Servais cracked.

A jerking knee wants to ask, then: Is sports, miraculously, adapting to the coronavirus and positioned for a long haul of completing seasons and crowning champions?

Your conscience, balanced by a daily life fortunately not governed by that remote and the screen it controls, is quick to interrupt and beg the usual restraint. College football and baseball interrupted, too. It reminds the jerking knee: The resumption of games is still very funky and fraught, with TV ratings ebbing and flowing, and if you think otherwise, continue to imagine hundreds of 3 1/2-hour scrums where sweating, panting, spitting, bleeding and colliding football players are practicing the very antithesis of distancing.

The lords of college football are concluding the season is unplayable, with the Mid-American Conference becoming the first FBS league to postpone an entire season and Colorado State suspending the sport indefinitely amid reports of racism and verbal abuse. The NFL should be next, especially when Aaron Donald, among the league’s most feared defenders, reveals himself as a raging COVID-iot so unfazed by the virus that he refuses to wear a league-recommended face shield. “Once you are out there grinding with the guys, you kind of block all that out and it’s just football again,’’ Donald said. “I need air when I’m out there running around and breathing with them, long drives and stuff. I feel like, we’re out there, we’re playing up close. There is nothing you can really do. If a guy got it and I tackle the guy, then I probably got it because he is going to be sweating and spitting and slobbering all in my face.’’

photo credit - PGA Championship

If you don’t believe me about the lunacy of it all, ask Tiger. Captured by a boom mike on the course, Woods and McIlroy sounded like talk hosts while discussing sports and the Big Corona. “Once one person has it in in (an NFL) locker room, they’re all going to get it,” Woods said.

“MLB is doing well,’’ said McIlroy, who must be living in a cave.

“If they have one more outbreak, they’re done,” Woods shot back.

So, um, yeah, the biggest error one can make is getting used to Sports In A Pandemic. Enjoy and savor it, while you have it, but also know it’s the very definition of temporary and makeshift, uneven and volatile, and that any of it could end at any time for any reason — even chicken wings at a strip club — in a catastrophic year on Planet Earth when the worst still could be ahead. I’m not even referring to the direct spread of COVID-19 possible in all corners and nooks of sports leagues. The danger is the accompanying weariness that comes with the oppressive, stifling, 24-7 challenge of playing hide-and-seek with an invisible monster that doesn’t care about sports.

Fatigue is the lurking saboteur. The mental health of thousands of athletes and support personnel is at risk, which increases the chance of a protocol violation, intended or not, that could cause the one outbreak that bursts the NBA Bubble or melts an NHL Igloo or ends a baseball or football season. We’re actually expecting athletes to remain isolated, some for months, with little more than wine shipments, video games, ESPN/TSN and league-organized activities for entertainment? Hasn’t the chirping of a proximity sensor — when venturing within six feet of another human being for 10 seconds, the pandemic version of traveling — already gotten old?

We’re barely a week into August. The NBA season ends in mid-October. And who’s grumbling all the time? The one icon the league is depending on most in the Bubble. “It’s a very weird dynamic. I haven’t played in an empty gym in a very, very long time,” James said. “I’m just trying to find that rhythm and lock in. It’s very dark, extremely dark. You can literally hear a feather hit the ground.’’

Funny how Doncic doesn’t care about such issues.

It’s the mental exhaustion, the limitations of humanity, that could bring down the grand sports plan. This is a marathon, and the participants are just passing the 3-mile mark of a 26.2-mile race. If I’m Manfred, I’m heeding every word uttered by Trout, who didn’t have to return to the Angels after his wife delivered their first child but did anyway. Trout, who has wanted daily COVID-19 testing from the beginning, reiterated his thoughts that MLB could doom itself with every-other-day swabbing.

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“I’ve said this from Day 1: If you don’t have testing every day, it’s going to be tough,’’ he said. “You’re always trying to catch up and trying to catch it. You know, if we get tested Friday, we have to wait two days to get the results back and you don’t know what’s going to happen in between. You’ve seen it with the Marlins. You’ve seen it with the Cardinals. It’s definitely scary for baseball. I’ve been saying this the whole time, it only takes one person to screw this up.’’

Say, Zach Plesac.

The racial injustice scenes have been proud and emotional throughout sports, even in unusual places such as hockey rinks and NASCAR tracks — and loaded with expected vitriol from the White House. Pulling out his playbook from the Colin Kaepernick years, President Trump used “Fox and Friends’’ to rip the NBA for its emphasis on Black Lives Matter and sideline kneeling protests after he helped open doors for the league’s restart.

“I think it’s disgraceful,’’ Trump said. “We work with (the NBA). We work very hard trying to get them open. I was pushing them to get open. And then I see everyone kneeling during the anthem. It’s not acceptable to me. When I see them kneeling, I just turn off the game. I have no interest in the game. And the ratings for the basketball are way down, if you know. And I hear some others are way down, including baseball. Because all of a sudden, now baseball’s is in the act (of kneeling). We have to stand up for our flag. We have to stand up for our country. We have to stand up for our anthem. And a lot of people agree with me. Hey, if I’m wrong, I’m going to lose an election. OK. And that’s OK with me. But I will always stand for our country and for our flag.”

You knew what was coming next. “The game will go on without his eyes on it,” James said of Trump. “I can sit here and speak for all of us that love the game of basketball: We could care less.” When told of Trump’s remark that he has done more for Black people than any U.S. President “with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln,’’ James said, “You trying to make me laugh right now?’’ Clippers coach Doc Rivers, too, responded in kind, referring to Trump’s stance as “disgraceful.’’

photo credit - Fox News

For the record, ratings for basketball aren’t “way down,’’ but they aren’t what they were before the pandemic. Baseball ratings were in the crapper to begin with. That said, it’s important that sports understands this about 2020: Now more than ever, people need games to escape the strife, not exacerbate it. That’s what we’ve discovered this sinister summer. As the world burns, we still care about Collin Morikawa, the over-under on Aaron Judge’s home runs and why an NBA Finals featuring Giannis and Luka — the world’s two best players? — might be the most fun. The coronavirus can’t bury sports conversations.

But it can bury sports.

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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