Now that they’ve turned the coronavirus into an intercollegiate sport — Nick Saban rallies late to thwart the nasal swabs! — and now that NFL teams routinely play games just days or hours after closing facilities, we see what the football megalomaniacs are doing now.
They are raising fists, thrusting middle fingers higher than the heavens and telling all health-minded Americans to bug off, that they have important work to do the next few months. This work is so critical to humankind that Saban had a state trooper meet him at his home after the coach’s “fifth consecutive negative” COVID-19 test, that according to the Alabama team physician, who, of course, couldn’t have reported otherwise without Saban firing him on the spot. The state trooper then escorted St. Nick from “self-isolation,” which involved Zoom-spying on his team every day and night, over to the team hotel so he could join meetings seven full hours before Alabama played Georgia, a game that never, ever could have proceeded without Saban on the sideline.
Most anywhere else in America, a 68-year-old man who tests positive is quarantined for at least 14 days as an elevated risk, which protects him and others from spread. In the warped and corrupt sphere of college football, the athletic conference grounded in the country’s virus-dumbest region — the Southeast — already had devised a farcical and nakedly suspicious plan to cover coaches in case of a “nuisance” such as a positive test. Never mind that Saban looks like a complete fraud and hypocrite after imploring people all summer to wear masks and even scolding the school mascot, Big Al, for not covering up. Never mind that Saban, if he was sincere about COVID, would have responsibly stayed home and allowed the able Steve Sarkisian to take over. His ego needed to coach. Alabama needed him to coach. CBS needed him to coach and drive prime-time ratings.
So he relied on a nine-day-old combination of hokum to clear him: The Southeastern Conference’s “Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Test Force Protocol,” in conjunction with “The University of Alabama System Health and Safety Task Force,” indicated Saban was given five tests via two labs after his positive test on Wednesday — and all magically turned up clean. The final test was flown by private jet to to an “SEC-approved lab” in Mobile, which, in case we’re supposed to be impressed, happens to be in Alabama. “Out of an abundance of caution,” said the school statement, which smacks of, “Oh, we really didn’t have to do all of this, but we’re covering ourselves in case those fancy, big-city doctors scold us.”
And when his return to the sideline finally was complete, with Alabama upholding its No. 2 ranking in a 41-24 win, what did Saban do? He DANCED WITH HIS PLAYERS, WITHOUT HIS MASK, INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM — as captured in a Twitter video since deleted by his staff — before, ahem, voicing appropriate fear for the virus. His words didn’t reflect his actions.
“I think I gained a lot of respect (for COVID) thinking I had this even though we’ve done everything to set a good example relative to social distancing, wearing the mask, washing hands,” Saban said. “I think everybody should have the proper respect because, I’m gonna tell you, when they tell you that you’ve tested positive, that’s not a good feeling. Now I wasn’t sick. All right?”
Sure, Nick, sure. Whatever you say. After all, you’re bigger than life.
On the same weekend, the Jacksonville Jaguars became the latest NFL team to shut down their building after a positive test. But because the infected person was a practice-squad player, the Jaguars quickly said their Sunday home game wouldn’t be impacted — despite the 12 practice-squad players placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Aren’t they in the same facility as active roster players, coaches and team personnel? This as the New England Patriots, already slammed by the Cam Newton-Stephon Gilmore virus whammy, were placing four players on the COVID-19 list — including starting guard Shaq Mason and running back Sony Michel — after another player tested positive. Not that it stopped an already-postponed home game with Denver from happening — and Newton from devolving into a turnover machine in a bad loss. Until now, the NFL needed only one positive test to move games. Now, the league is coldly trudging forward with the schedule, virus be damned.
Didn’t the Tennessee Titans assume they’d be safe after a solo positive test late last month, only to play matador to a massive virus outbreak that eventually infected 24 people and played havoc with the NFL schedule? Are we expected to just forget and ignore the league’s numerous fires, which suggest more NFL outbreaks are inevitable as cold weather emerges and COVID cases rise to national levels not seen since July?
That’s what King Football would like America to do. Shut up, sit back and be happy that we still have games to watch, while the NFL makes its billions, the Power Five conferences make theirs and broadcast networks make theirs. Think about whether it’s Russell Wilson’s year in the NFC, or if Tampa Bay’s trash-talk riddling of Aaron Rodgers gives Tom Brady a shot to join the Rays and Lightning in a pandemic title threesome (no chance). Ponder whether the rejuvenated, balanced Steelers can upend the Chiefs in the AFC, as they head to Nashville next weekend for an early showdown. And why the interim Texans coach, Romeo Crennel, blew a game when he eschewed an extra point (it would have put his team up by eight) and chose a two-point conversion that failed, allowing Derrick Henry and the Titans an opening they seized. In college ball, fantasize about — ugh — yet another Clemson-Alabama rematch, about the only decipherable projection for a four-team playoff amid out-of-whack schedules and belated Big Ten and Pac-12 starts. They want us to appreciate, you know, the entertainment.
So what if they get us all infected? So what if they’re falling victim to virus impatience and fatigue at the absolute wrong time? So what if we have no idea if they’re being transparent about test results — positive, negative, false positive — with huge money on the table? So what if the host of the NFL’s ever-popular “Red Zone” show, Andrew Siciliano, missed work for the first time in 15 years because he has COVID? What if Saban still had the virus? He could have passed it on to players, who could have passed it on to loved ones and other students on a campus already ravaged.
They’re trying to wear us down, of course, like a strong running game, only through denial and deceit. I don’t know how many times I have to write it: Without the use of Bubbles — and the NFL reiterated it has no plans to move to a restrictive environment — football is dangerously pushing its luck by not pausing seasons, waiting until someone becomes seriously ill as a result of this self-serving delusion.
And even then, it probably would take someone to die before these commissioners, from the NFL’s Roger Goodell to the SEC’s double-talking Greg Sankey, think about stopping a season. At least the players are being paid in the NFL. College players not only are assuming health risks without pay, they’re being brainwashed by masculinity-related pressures within the system — sit and you’re less of a man — if not overtly then subtly. In the SEC, I’m not sure if anyone would care if a kid died from COVID. That’s how blind they are to the pandemic, as enabled by President Trump. This is the league where Ed Orgeron, coach of defending national champion LSU, thinks most of his players have contracted the virus — though he isn’t sure — and openly hopes they achieve herd immunity. This is the league where Georgia coach Kirby Smart, interviewed before the Alabama game in a stadium with only 21,000 fans, said, “It’ll be a raucous environment’’ … before catching himself. This is the league where Florida coach Dan Mullen sounded brain-dead when he demanded The Swamp be packed with 90,000 breathing, expectorating fans for an LSU game that thankfully didn’t happen — it was postponed when the Gators, pounded by a virus breakout, didn’t have enough scholarship players.
“Coaches sometimes say things outside of their area of expertise,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “And they’re really good at what they do. Dan is really good at calling ball plays.”
Mullen also is really good at playing the fool — he, too, eventually tested positive for COVID, finally conceding, “I am proud of how our players, staff and campus community have navigated this unprecedented time and hope all continue to be safe.”
This is the league where Sankey, the boss, is a flim-flam man. He keeps scolding SEC programs for “not following proper COVID-19 protocols” and threatening $100,000 weekly fines, writing in a memo, “Do not relax — and do not let those around you relax — because of a few weeks of success.” He did sock Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Tennessee with financial penalties for mask violations, yet on a weekend when two conference games were postponed, Sankey let Saban jump out of quarantine and into his sideline windbreaker in no time. By coaching only hours after testing positive, then dancing maskless with his players afterward, Saban was setting a lousy example for the millions watching the game — the same lousy example set by the rest of college football and the NFL.
Too many Americans are thinking now, “Hey, if Saban was back in three days and all of these NFL games are happening despite daily positive tests, how serious could this stupid virus be? It’s a hoax!” And anyone who thinks the recklessness will change if Joe Biden is the president doesn’t know the stubbornness of a football coach, player or fan. Or the irresponsibility of a broadcast network, a betting operation or anyone else who makes money off a football season amid a pandemic.
Decades from now, assuming Planet Earth hasn’t imploded, scholars will look back at 2020 and ask, “Why were those men and boys playing football and perpetuating spread?” In a world presumably more health-conscious by then, they’ll be appalled to learn it was about money and money only. The university presidents who are supposed to teach and protect young people only put them at risk. And the NFL, which foolishly thought the virus would have subsided by now, is presiding over a tsunami, callously rescheduling games while advertisers squirm, wondering when a tenuous landscape will explode. The league, in a cosmetic attempt to show it is serious, is forcing players and team staff members with any symptoms to go home, with the league’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills explaining, “Because there’s so much overlap (in symptoms), we have to assume it could be COVID.” All of which only will dilute the quality of play, already suspect in a league of calamitous injuries — be well, Dak Prescott — and all-time record scoring that seems kind of phony. Yes, we love spectacular offenses. No, we don’t like defenses that can’t tackle or scheme.
In a country where 46 states and the nation’s capital are experiencing COVID surges, as we near the holidays amid a creeping reality that THIS is our world now, these crazy men are still trying to wedge in football games. It’s easy for NFL owners and university administrators to stay inside their bunkers and preside over bank deposits. It’s easy for broadcast executives to sit in their handsome homes and feel good that the lights are still on. But who’s thinking about the players? Or the long-term ramifications of COVID, including a mysterious brain fog that some survivors compare to dementia?
The attitudes won’t change when the Titans, Team COVID, are 5-0 and actually taking football inspiration from those 24 positive tests. Said quarterback Ryan Tannehill: “What this team and this organization has been through, to really fight that off, shake that off … I think it makes a statement.”
Shake it off? That quickly, a coronavirus outbreak is nothing but a Taylor Swift song?
Nor will the attitudes change after Nick Saban — for all we know, still carrying an infectious disease — bursts from his house and whips those Bulldogs just as he whipped that ol’ virus. “I have a tremendous amount of gratitude to the unbelievable number of people who texted or sent prayers,” he said. “It was just phenomenal and I believe in things like that so I think all of that helped. I’d like to thank all those people for their support and help and the relationships and people I know all over the United States — calling, checking, texting. It’s heartfelt, and I really appreciate it.”
And his players? “They handled the disruption really well,’” he said.
The football victory, you see, is all that matters in life.
Even if it leads to the symptoms of death.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.
This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.
Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.
This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.
The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.
Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.
NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.
Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.
Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.
Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.
A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.
It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay.
MLB Network is another option
If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.
- One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
- CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
- The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.
The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.
First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.
Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.
Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.
It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do.
Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.
Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?
I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?
That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.
After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else.
There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.
Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.
Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.
Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.
I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.