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A Fractured, Rudderless Sport Must Shut Down

“Regardless of money, lobbying coaches, activist players and the meddling of President Trump, college football should abandon its season entirely to avoid the threat of COVID-19 and examine a leadership void.”

Jay Mariotti

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If anything can be redeeming about a pandemic, it’s the weeding-out process. We discover who’s real and who’s phony, who’s empathetic and who’s apathetic, who prioritizes health and who prioritizes wealth — and who doesn’t care if college football players contract COVID-19, get sick, suffer heart problems and transmit the evil droplets to teammates and family members in the very definition of superspreading.

“Play College Football!’’ tweeted President Trump, who is thinking only about himself, his re-election bid and his feeble response to the virus when he types his hot take.

And as quickly as you can say FOUR BILLION DOLLARS, the greedy men desperately trying to keep an industry alive have their convenient bad guy. Meaning, if the SEC, Big 12 and ACC want to continue playing football while the Big Ten and Pac-12 wisely demur, they do have a presidential hall pass, for what it’s worth. The thought of Trump encouraging young people to risk their health, when he’s not the one taking his helmet head onto the field, is as disjointed as American life itself in 2020. But that’s what he has done, taking advantage of a clumsily operated machine with no semblance of unified leadership in normal times, much less during a human catastrophe.

How the MAC fall sports shutdown will impact college football across the  country

In good medical conscience, all the university presidents and athletic officials determining college football’s fate realize the 2020 season should be shut down. They also don’t want to be perceived as leading the charge, fearing political and business-world backlash and social-media barrages. But now that Trump has weighed in, siding with Trevor Lawrence and other #WeWantToPlay advocates pushing for a season, the decision-makers can flip the script if they’re overwhelmed by money pangs and still prefer to chase the TV jackpot: “Hey, if Trump says it’s OK to play, let him take the heat while we backdoor this baby and make our fortunes!’’

I hope this isn’t their sneaky agenda, that they err on the side of science and academia. I pray they not only can spell and pronounce the condition emerging as the flashpoint of this debate — myocarditis, an inflammation of heart muscle that has impacted young people infected by COVID-19 — but realize it’s one of many coronavirus concerns that quickly could turn an unnecessary season into an all-time health and administrative debacle. These are supposed to be institutions of higher learning, not money-grab chop shops employing cheap labor.

Ah, but I am an idealist. Pardon my foolishness. Since the tweets of Trump and Lawrence, the Clemson quarterback and current face of the sport, the groundswell of start-the-season support has been astounding. The door was swung open to self-interests in athletic factories everywhere, with some coaches woefully lacking perspective, as if they’re in the fourth quarter of a playoff game when a human touch is needed. A Big Ten pause wouldn’t stop Ohio State or Nebraska from looking at other scheduling options, according to their coaches, in the first sign that programs are willing to sell souls and form a crazy-quilt season even among a handful of teams. “Swinging as hard as we possibly can right now for these players!! This isn’t over! #FIGHT,’’ declared Buckeyes coach Ryan Day, sounding like an army general. If that isn’t raw desperation, consider Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, bucking the reported wishes of his own university president by presenting facts — facts! — on why the season should proceed. According to Harbaugh, his program hasn’t had a single positive test in the last 353 administered. In his view, it’s why the Big Ten and the other four major conferences should play on.

“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players’ desire to play — but because of facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus,’’ Dr. Jim said. “We have developed a great prototype for how we can make this work and provide the opportunity for players to play.’’

Nick Saban says players safer at Alabama: 'I want to play for the players'  sake' | News Break

What he’s omitting, by design, is the fallout when his players face other teams in a violent, close-contact sport. And when his players are mingling with other students on campus. And when his players are attending mask-optional parties. And that Harbaugh will die another death if he has to wait another year for a crack at Ohio State, the rival he can’t beat. You also wonder about the megalomania of the sport’s overlord, Nick Saban, who is using the Lawrence argument: Players are safer on the Alabama campus than they are at home with their families. Said St. Nick, to ESPN: “I know I’ll be criticized no matter what I say, that I don’t care about player safety. Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home. We have around a 2 percent positive ratio on our team since the Fourth of July. It’s a lot higher than that in society. We act like these guys can’t get this unless they play football. They can get it anywhere, whether they’re in a bar or just hanging out.”

So if they’re going to get the virus, let them at least get it on a football field, goes Saban’s rationale, so his program can bring in its $180 million in revenues. I thought Nick was urging Deep South COVID-iots to wear masks, concerned enough about the virus that he feared a lost season. Now, facing that possibility, Saban isn’t nearly as concerned. It begs a question: Do you trust these coaches? Will they be transparent about testing results when no law requires them to be? They could be lying. Would we ever know?

Starring in his own movie, “Dabo Vs. The Virus,’’ Clemson coach Dabo Swinney declared after a practice in pads Monday night that he and his team will play football regardless of what the ACC decides. If you’re keeping score, that’s Clemson, Ohio State and Nebraska so far in the rogue league. “I fully support what we are trying to do at Clemson and elsewhere in college football to have a season. I’ve made my decision, and I have a football team that has made their decision, and hopefully people will respect what we want to do,’’ Swinney said.

“This game is important to so many people. I wish everyone could have seen our practice today, the energy, competitiveness and fun — just trying to win the day. This is the safest environment we could have our guys in, without a doubt, as opposed to not getting tested every day at home or not being in such a sanitized environment as we have here. Everything here is mitigated. We have had one player test positive since early July. We all know there is risk with the virus. If you told me we wouldn’t get the virus if we canceled football, I’d be the first person to sign up. But if we cancel football, the virus doesn’t go away.’’

Clemson's Swinney: "Awesome" to return to field amid virus | WCIV

Yet if you cancel football, Dabo, that’s one less way of spreading it during hundreds of college games, which are taking an average of three hours and 24 minutes these days. Why so long? Answer: Commercials, which reimburse media companies for the lucrative amounts they pay to conferences for rights, such as the $2.25 billion the SEC has negotiated with Disney/ESPN.

Then you have the politicians, such as COVID’s best friend, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. `The Southeastern Conference and ACC — I think most of those institutions do want to play because I think they do understand, you know, how important it is for the well-being of their student-athletes,’’ he said. “So yeah, I’m 100 percent in favor. We’ve got to play.”

All of which only brainwashes players who don’t know better. “Years of work will come down to votes from presidents and execs who haven’t even witnessed our protocols and safety measures with their own eyes,” Ohio State captain Justin Hilliard tweeted. “Our guys are safe.’’

Or so says Ryan Day, anyway.

Has anyone checked with the kids who don’t want to play? Or their parents? Jake Curhan, a Cal offensive lineman, is part of the grass-roots unity group demanding compensation and other benefits to play the sport. His research turned up numbers different than those of Harbaugh and Saban: A scientist estimates an infection rate of 30 to 50 percent if a season is played, with as many as three deaths. For direct proof of how the virus ravages the system, Harbaugh should have mentioned a Big Ten player, Indiana offensive lineman Brady Feeney, who fears heart-related issues after contracting the virus.

IU freshman Brady Feeney tested positive for COVID, still dealing with  symptoms, according to mother | Hoosier Sports Report

“COVID-19 is serious,’’ tweeted Feeney, an incoming freshman. “I never thought I would have serious health complications from the virus, but look at what happened. We need to listen to our medical experts.’’

Feeney’s mother was more outspoken, writing on Facebook: “Here was a kid in perfect health, great physical condition, and due to the virus ended up going to the ER because of breathing issues (and spent) 14 days of hell battling the horrible virus. … Now we are dealing with possible heart issues! He is still experiencing additional symptoms and his blood work is indicating additional problems. Bottom line, even if your son’s schools do everything right to protect them, they CAN’T PROTECT THEM!!’’

If you wonder why we don’t hear from more parents, well, wouldn’t you be intimidated by the money hoarders? Protest too loudly, and your kid is canceled in the sport. From the first time a coach stepped into a recruit’s living room, we’ve heard the sales pitch about “taking care of your son at (Power 5 program) as we build his bridge to manhood,’’ or some b.s. of the such. In truth, the young athlete is a servant. He will keep a scholarship and perks as long as he contributes to generating massive profits that cross well into nine-figure, two-comma territory for a football behemoth. And if he isn’t a good soldier, in the parlance, he’ll be shipped away. After all, football money accounts for more than 60 percent of a major public university’s total annual operating revenues. It’s a pity if your son develops heart issues, but, hey, the games must go on.

The stance is too familiar. It mirrors what Trump has said for months about the virus death toll: “People are going to die,’’ he says, wanting to believe the number is a pittance when the World Health Organization says it’s 750,000 globally. Donald, why risk young lives in the name of football? Pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who was to have been the Opening Day starter for the Boston Red Sox, opted out of the baseball season after a COVID-19 infection led to heart problems. Why aren’t we focusing on the illnesses, the patients?

President Donald Trump Tweetstorm – The Saturday Edition – Deadline

Do I really have to answer that? The president again has been allowed to politicize and mock the health crisis of our lives, this time giving oxygen to a football season that should have been canceled months ago.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled. #WeWantToPlay,’’ Trump tweeted.

No, the politicians, coaches and universities have too much at stake for their season to be cancelled. #Money #Power #Ego #Deceit.

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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