Hutson Mason is used to the pressure of replacing a high-profile name. At the University of Georgia, he replaced four-year starter Aaron Murray at quarterback, who left Athens with all sorts of accolades and records. It’s not an easy situation to be in, because it’s likely you’ll constantly be compared to your predecessor.
Now, Mason in a similar situation, as he replaces John Kincade at 680 The Fan, who was let go due to Covid budget cuts, and has certainly earned the right to be called a radio legend in Atlanta.
“This is like replacing another quarterback,” said Mason. “I’m replacing a legend, a radio legend, in a sense, and you just try to be you. You can’t ever try to be somebody else or be the next John Kincade. I try to focus on being myself and letting my natural personality shine. That was my mindset while playing quarterback, you just let the results take care of itself.”
Mason will be with Buck Belue, another former Georgia quarterback who’s been a long-standing host at 680 The Fan and until recently had a show with Kincade for 20 years. The format of the new show will be a little bit different, as the duo will focus heavily on college football, the Braves and everything else local in Atlanta. But two former UGA quarterbacks on one show?
Granted the Bulldogs have the most loyal following in the state of Georgia, more than the Falcons, Braves and certainly the Hawks, but Georgia Tech still exists in Atlanta. How do two former Georgia quarterbacks convince a Tech fan to listen to their show every day?
“For us it’s just going back to what our show identity is, which is local,” Mason said. “We talked a lot about Georgia Tech last week. Now, there’s obviously a preconceived notion that there’s two Georgia quarterbacks, they’re not going to talk nicely about Georgia Tech. My response is, well, give the show a listen and I think you’ll be proved wrong.
“I don’t have anything against Georgia Tech. I think a lot of fans blow that stuff up that players hate a school. A lot of those guys, I played with growing up and I think there’s a mutual respect. Fans feed off that heat of a rivalry a little bit more and I think it carries over when you get to the media. For me, I just say whether it’s Georgia, Georgia Tech or anybody else, I just try to be as honest as possible. I get more crap from Georgia fans for being true and honest to their situation than anybody else.”
After pursuing a career in coaching, as well as short stints in both the CFL and NFL, Mason pursued sports media. Since then, his career has quickly taken off. Along with being granted a daily show at 680 The Fan, Mason now hosts Gameday with Hutson Mason every Saturday morning from 7:00-8:00 a.m. on SportsMap Radio Network. The hope and the goal, is that if networks and affiliates like the show, they’ll tack on another hour as the season goes along. Essentially the show is a preview and storyline show that features one guest a week. With his contacts and name recognition, Mason’s limits for getting big-name college football guests will be endless.
But how did this happen so quickly? How did a guy, who really never thought about doing sports radio in college, quickly blossom into the star he’s becoming? Natural talent has a lot do with it, but more than anything, it’s probably the same reason as to why his football career extended past his SEC days at Georgia.
“I like to be coached,” Mason said. “Yesterday, when I got done with my show (Saturday), I was immediately texting Craig Larson at Sports Map and I was texting people that have a one-hour show and sending them my audio, asking them what I was doing wrong. It’s very similar to how I was in my playing days. Peyton Manning had this whole quote of, I never want to be told by a quarterback coach or an offensive coordinator of what I’m doing right. Tell me what I’m doing wrong. When you ask somebody to give you feedback and critique, it’s awkward. Nobody wants to say, hey man, you need to do this better. But I don’t mind it. I don’t mind being coached and I want to make sure I’m getting better so I try to take that approach in philosophy to my media career.”
Sticking two former Georgia quarterbacks on a show together in a college football centric city is a pretty good strategy, especially if your station strives to be the voice of college football in the South. But at the same time, if you want do do a sports radio show in Atlanta, you better be able to talk about the Braves. Admittedly, Mason didn’t watch a ton of baseball growing up, but he had to learn to talk Braves if he was going to be a host at 680 The Fan, which is also the flagship of the team.
“That was a weak point of my radio arsenal, early on,” Mason said. “I didn’t watch a lot of baseball growing up and this is a heavy baseball town. The Braves are probably larger than the Falcons in this town. I think it’s just taking time for the past two years to just sit down and watch baseball, talk and ask questions about, hey, how do you view the game? What are you looking for? How do I find storylines as I’m sitting down watching? Football is easy. So is basektball. For instance, James Harden is a great offensive player but he can’t win a championship because he’s too ball dominant.
“For baseball it’s been a little bit harder for me, and it’s taking a little bit more time, but I feel way more comfortable after three years in radio of talking baseball. For me personally I don’t think baseball is an easy thing to talk about on radio. I don’t think it’s very entertaining, to some extent. It’s slow and there’s not usually a whole lot of juicy story lines in it from a national standpoint. But I don’t mind talking Braves right now at all because they’re so good and so young.”
One of the many benefits of bringing on a former athlete is the contacts that come along with them. Mason might be able to get an interview on the air a lost of hosts might be able to being a former SEC quarterback. So who would we choose, if he could pick anyone?
“Someone I’ve already kind of reached out to, but I want to have on my network show on Saturday morning, is Paul Finebaum,” Mason said. “I’ve gone on his show a couple of times so I’ve reached out to his producer and said, hey man, whenever he’s got a slot open for media, let me know. I want to talk to the quarterbacks, but the communication teams for these athletic departments are such sticklers about getting open interviews. For head coaches, I’d love to have Kirby Smart but they’re just so strict on what access they get. But I really think Finebaum would be a great get for me.”
Maybe there’s something in the water in Athens, but UGA has recently turned out some of the best sports media talent that’s out there. David Pollack, Maria Taylor, Ernie Johnson, and now Mason, have put the school’s broadcasting school on the map.
“My offensive coordinator really never let me do a whole lot of media, because he said I had throw up of the mouth (laughs). Now that I’m in the media I look back at that and laugh and think, wow, what a natural segue into a career.
“The mechanics that radio will teach you, if you can do radio, you can do anything. I’m so happy that I did it because I ended up enjoying it way more than I thought I would. But also those people I talk to were so right, when they said, if you can do radio, if you can entertain people for three hours, and the way it teaches you to think off the top of your head, it’s helped me so much in the booth now that I’m calling games with the SEC Network.”
Covid Is A Convenient Excuse For Lowering Our Standards
“I am sick of hearing lag and noticeably different levels of soundproofing between two hosts on the same show.”
I was probably four hours deep into my all-day football binge on Saturday when I started to think about the overall quality of what I was seeing. This isn’t a column about whether college football is secretly better than the NFL. This is about our industry.
While you may not notice a difference in the presentation on CBS’s top line SEC broadcast or on FOX’s Big Noon Saturday game, it is clear how few resources are being allocated to some of the games further down the networks’ priority list. ESPN doesn’t even send live broadcasters to its Thursday night college football game for instance.
Covid-19 was the beginning of this. It forced every business in the broadcast industry to re-evaluate budgets and figure out how to do games when travel and the traditional set up of broadcast booths simply were not on the table.
This isn’t a problem limited to game coverage either. Plenty of hosts still are not back in their radio studio. Plenty of guests on ESPN’s and FS1’s mid day debate shows are still appearing via Skype and Zoom connections. It is as if we have started counting on our audience not expecting quality any more.
I want to be perfectly clear. I get that this pandemic isn’t over. I get that in many cases, networks and stations are trying to avoid overcrowding studios and in some cases, make accommodations for top-level talent that refuse to get vaccinated. “It’s survival mode,” is the answer from corporate.
Do we still need to be in survival mode though? We are 18 months into this pandemic. The majority of Americans are vaccinated. The ones who aren’t are actively making a choice not to do what they need to in order to put on the best possible show they can.
I am sick of hearing lag and noticeably different levels of soundproofing between two hosts on the same show. I am sick of seeing hosts on crystal clear HD cameras in a high tech studio talk to someone on a dirty webcam that can’t be bothered to even put in headphones so they don’t sound like they are shouting down a hallway.
A good example is the late Highly Questionable. I really liked that show when it was done in studio. I liked a lot of the ESPN talent that popped up on the show even after Dan Le Batard left. I couldn’t watch any more of the show than the two minute clips that would show up on Twitter. I didn’t want to see Bomani Jones behind a giant podcast mic. The low res camera that turned Mina Kimes’s house plant into a green blob gave me a headache. The complete disregard for quality made a decent show hard to watch.
There was a time when the accommodations we made for Covid-19 were totally necessary. Bosses and broadcasters did whatever they had to to get a show or a game on the air. At this point, I am starting to wonder how much of the concessions are necessary and how much are the result of executives that “good enough” is the new standard.
It is totally reasonable to argue that in an age where microphones and editing software are cheap, slick production doesn’t carry the weight it once did. That is true for the podcasters and TikTokers that are creating content in spare bedrooms and home offices. If you’re ESPN or FOX or SirusXM, that slick production is what sells the idea that your content is better than what people can make at home on their own.
It’s soundproof studios, 4K cameras and futuristic graphics packages that make the standard setters in the industry special. Maybe your average Joe Six-Pack can’t put it into words. He just knows that a lot of home-produced content sounds and looks like play time compared to what he sees or hears on a network.
Sure, the anchors are the signature of SportsCenter’s heyday, but it was the stage managers, producers, and other behind-the-scenes staff doing their jobs that really made the show thrive. Those people cost money. The details they took care of may be something 90% of viewers will never notice. They will just know that they are watching a really good show. Those difference makers cannot do their jobs to the best of their abilities if everyone is being piped in from a different FaceTime feed.
In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic we did whatever we had to. As broadcasters, we made compromises. As an audience, we accepted compromises. We were desperate for familiar entertainment and if Zoom is what it took to get it, that was just fine. There was no cure, no vaccine, things were scary and we were all anxious not knowing how long it would all last.
More than 18 months later, things may not be back to normal, but we are considerably less desperate. There are signs of normalcy in the world. Make the commitment to bring back the standard that won you so many fans in the first place.
If Netflix Wants Live Sports, F1 May Be Just The Beginning
“Netflix will shrewdly need to continue to rethink its strategy because its first-mover advantage and long-time industry leading dominance is no longer guaranteed.”
In the past, Hollywood dealmakers and stockbrokers wondered whether another studio or streamer would catch Netflix. Its dominance stemmed from being a first-mover and not having a serious competitor until Amazon and Disney ten or more years after their launch. However, Netflix would eventually have to compete for content, original and licensed, other platforms that offered less expansive ad-based options, and additional content like live sports or a very popular series or movie premiere.
Arguably, the pandemic accelerated the move to digital and it allowed competitors to gain subscribers because people were spending more time at home. More subscribers and additional streaming options for consumers has not caused Netflix to faulter, but it has caused Netflix to rethink its sports strategy. For years, Netflix was dead set again streaming live sports because of their cost and commercials—Netflix does not have advertisements on its platform currently.
Netflix’s popular Drive to Survive docuseries about the Formula 1 (or “F1”) racing circuit, which was renewed for a fourth season, and the Michael Jordan/Chicago Bulls The Last Dance represents a golden era and renaissance of sports documentaries. As much as fans of feature films and television series enjoy learning about actors during and off camera they similarly want to know about sports stars, their coaches, and franchises. In other words, the business of sports is booming in valuation and behind-the-scenes content.
Recently, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings stated that the popularity of Drive to Survive has caused the company to rethink its stance on purchasing live sports content. The broadcast and streaming rights to Formula 1 will become available via ESPN and Sky Sports in 2022 and 2024. Netflix, will have some competition to secure F1 rights, which will drive up the cost. It was also reported by Front Office Sports that the Netflix CEO would require a level of exclusivity for sports rights that other platforms do not normally require. The exclusivity is likely required because Netflix will want to justify the purchase price and to keep-in-line with what Netflix customers expect—exclusive content on the platform.
With Premier League club Manchester United looking to secure a broadcast deal for selling its rights outside of the traditional league format, it might be the perfect acquisition for Netflix. An exclusive team vs. an entire league would also be less expensive and more targeted. One aspect of uncertainty for all streamers is their subscribers overseas, particularly in untapped China. The international market is far from settled or established. Netflix also has a large operation in India so possibly cricket via the Indian Premier League (“IPL”) could be a rights purchase to consider.
In 2018, the original content on Netflix only accounted for 8%. This means that 92% of the content on the platform just a few years ago was all owned (at least partially) by someone else. That statistic has changed because Disney+, Paramount+, Peacock, HBO Max, Apple+, and many others have since been created and stocked or restocked with content. Controlling interest in Hulu was even purchased from FOX by Disney. Disney and Amazon now both rival Netflix in terms of subscribers. Netflix will shrewdly need to continue to rethink its strategy because its first-mover advantage and long-time industry leading dominance is no longer guaranteed.
As Comcast-owned NBCUniversal CEO Brian Roberts recently said, purchasing sports rights can be difficult. Sports rights are expensive. Exclusive sports rights are even more expensive. Sports rights only become available every five to ten years. Networks and streamers are highly competitive to secure those rights with the hope of landing viewers, subscribers, and advertising dollars.
Will Netflix get into sports rights bidding? In the past, the digital entertainment giant has been steadfast is its non-sports approach. However, the market has changed and is flooded with more competitors now. Netflix has to change to meet its customer and the market needs.
Formula 1 presents an interesting scenario for Netflix as a buyer and partner. F1 is a popular league internationally and growing in the United States. Two new F1 races in Miami, Florida, and Austin, Texas, in addition to season four of the Drive to Survive Netflix series are sure to drive traffic, pun intended, and interest in the racing sport.
Formula 1 is a sports league that will cost less to purchase streaming rights than a traditional American “Big 4” like the NBA, NFL, or MLB. Formula 1’s structure is also centered at the top so it would be easier to make an exclusive deal that Netflix seeks. The remaining questions being, will Netflix pursue Formula 1 sports rights to increase its streaming platform subscribers and compete with others? Second, will Netflix be the first to offer commercial free live sports programming—for a premium price—or offer in-screen ads and additional during-break inside looks, content, and analysis? Or will Netflix act more like a traditional broadcaster and offer advertisements to pay down its purchase price? One will know more after a few laps around the sun.
Manningcast Is Best Experienced As A Fan, Not As A Broadcaster
“I still would’ve watched the game had the alternate not been available, but with the Manning breakdown of each play, I was watching an otherwise meaningless game on the edge of my seat.”
Much has been written on this site already about the ESPN alternative to a traditional Monday Night Football broadcast, the Manningcast. Andy Masur asked if it worked and questioned the network pulling its audience in two different directions. Mark Madden said the concept undoubtedly works, but the content is poor.
Both articles are good reads. Both provide another level of insight from those in the industry and how they view this unique/high-profile concept. Industry views provide solid insight to the success and quality of the show itself, what works – what doesn’t. But if we can’t sit back and take our industry glasses off, and just look at this broadcast as sports fans, I feel we’ll never see it in clear view.
I’ll admit, for me, it took me no more than 5 minutes of watching week 1’s Ravens vs Raiders game to say “yeah, this isn’t meant for me”. I didn’t like the non-traditional approach of the broadcast, it felt like it lacked the energy of a traditional sportscast. The stadium volume was turned way down, the excitement was more in the conversation they were having with each other, rather than the game itself. It took me out of the moment of the game, rather than allowing me to get sucked in.
Now, in fairness, I kind of went into it with a narrow mind, thinking that would be the case. I am not someone who has the desire to flip around during the College Football Playoff broadcasts and catch the coaches corner or studio chatter, I want the game.
Bottom line is, I hated the Manningcast when I watched it in Week 1. I even went on the air the next day and trolled members of my audience that were effusive in their praise of it. In the limited sample I provided for myself, I had come to the conclusion that this broadcast wasn’t made for REAL football fans (insert caveman sound effect here) and that only the most casual viewer would want to watch this SNL wanna be of a football broadcast.
However, week 2, I decided I was going to be more open minded to it. I made it a point to break away from the traditional Packers vs Lions broadcast and watch the Manningcast, no matter how painful. I was completely wrong in my initial opinion.
Was Peyton Manning wearing a helmet and acting a little too zany for my taste in week 1? Yes. Is the guest connection quality well below what we should find acceptable in broadcasting? Yes. But that’s where I made the mistake. I was looking at this broadcast through the eyes of a broadcaster and not as a sports fan.
Peyton Manning’s charisma jumps off the screen, he is elite at describing what he sees on the field in a way that no one else can. Eli can be a little dry, but he’s low key funny. And they have real chemistry together, as they should. They are family after all.
The thing that hooked me the most was just how invested Peyton was in the plays on the field, he really gets into the game, truly invested in the success and failure of the quarterbacks. There was a moment in week 2 when Jared Goff threw the ball to an empty patch of grass 15 yards down the field and was subsequently called for intentional grounding. You could see Goff yelling at the referee, pleading his case. Peyton surmised, probably accurately, that Goff was telling the ref that the ball was thrown to the right place and that its not his fault the receiver didn’t run the correct route. Peyton then carried on and told stories of when this type of thing would happen to him when he played for Indianapolis and Denver. I was hooked.
I realized that I was far more invested in week 1 as a stand alone football game, I’m from Baltimore, I have a lot of love for the Ravens. Being invested in the game itself doesn’t lend as much flexibility. As a fan, you to want to hear about anything else but the action on the field. However, when watching two teams that I have no personal interest in, the Manning broadcast took on this new life. It created a level of interest for me as a REAL football fan that I otherwise would not have had. I still would’ve watched the game had the alternate not been available, but with the Manning breakdown of each play, I was watching an otherwise meaningless game on the edge of my seat. I felt like I had a front row view to a football clinic, held by two of the most accomplished players in league history.
Personally, I could live without the guests. I am not as entertained by the back and forth with Rob Gronksowski or Pat McAfee as it seems the majority of social media is, but the Manningcast does a brilliant job of bridging the gap between the hardcore football fan and the casual observer. It’s an absolute hit and I’ll be locked in for the next one.
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