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Rodgers, Watson And The QB Drama Inferno

Franchise-hopscotching that first boomed with NBA superstars, and continued with Tom Brady, is now the NFL’s hottest and most divisive story — and we can thank 21st-century athlete entitlement for that.

Jay Mariotti

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From the day he slings his first touchdown pass in Pop Warner ball, the quarterback is a pampered, fussed-over golden child. The path leads him to high school, where college coaches bribe him, classmates worship him, girls slide into his DMs and analysts project him as a pro prospect before he learns to drive. This 24/7 stroking eventually brings riches, fame, power … and, too often, an ego bordering on megalomania.

And when that ego is insulted and bruised, while the TV pundits scream that he’s underachieving and not worth his money, the golden child summons all the clout in his life portfolio to demand a trade and protect his legacy.

5 NFL Star Players Who Could Be Traded Next This Offseason

Only now, the NFL’s escape hatch is more crowded than a rogue vaccine site, thanks to an unprecedented barrage of get-me-out-of-here-ism that isn’t a good look for some of football’s biggest names. At the front of the line is Aaron Rodgers, whose considerable self-esteem again has regressed into pouty finger-pointing after dropping to 1-4 in NFC championship games. In itself, this is a stunning and potentially historic development, the idea that Rodgers, going on 38, would demand a trade and seek bigger success in San Francisco, Los Angeles or Las Vegas. But it’s even more astonishing when he’s joined on the upward-mobility train by two quarterbacks, Deshaun Watson and Matthew Stafford, who also are likely to wear gold Hall of Fame jackets someday.

At the most important and glamorous position in team sports, never has the possible activity been more volatile. Already, numerous franchises are plotting deals, which is catnip for commentators and columnists who won’t be spending Super Bowl week in Tampa during this pandemic postseason and need fodder extending beyond Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. Nothing tantalizes sports fans more than trade rumors involving superstars. Thus, with so many QB situations in flux throughout the league, the blast furnace is burning about Rodgers maneuvering his way to the 49ers or Rams or Raiders, or Watson forcing a trade to the Jets or Patriots or Saints. Hell, think of all the other teams that need QB upgrades now or in the near future: Colts, Bears, Steelers, Broncos, Panthers, Washington, Falcons. Do the Eagles really think a head coaching change, Doug Pederson to the obscure Nick Sirianni, can fix Carson Wentz? And what about the Packers, Texans and Lions if Rodgers, Watson and Stafford are gone?

Suddenly, no one cares about the NBA, the NHL, college basketball, the endangered start of baseball spring training or, at least until late next week, Super Bowl LV. It’s all about who gets Rodgers and Watson, and, to a lesser extent, where the less-demonstrative Stafford lands along with other QBs on the move. Oh, the fake news soon to be disseminated by agents and front offices alike — hold your nose, America.

Rodgers becomes more polarizing by the minute. The man is never happy, even after a presumptive MVP season when he seemed to forge a relationship with coach Matt LaFleur. Ten maddening seasons since his only Super Bowl victory, he was going to be distraught if the ending didn’t include a cigar and the Vince Lombardi Trophy. So when his offensive line broke down against Tampa Bay’s fearsome rush and some of his weapons were shrinking violets, sure, he was going to be upset — especially when losing to Brady, who, in his first NFC season, has as many conference titles as Rodgers.

But where Rodgers lost me was in his post-game Zoom conference. Rather than accepting defeat like a dignified grown man, he spilled more of the whine that sometimes makes him unlikable. Yes, LaFleur blew it Sunday — as pointed out here and pretty much everywhere — when he snubbed Rodgers on 4th-and-goal at the enemy 8-yard-line, preferring a field goal with 2:09 left instead of trying to tie the score with the MVP. Brady ran out the clock on a 31-26 victory, and next thing you knew, Rodgers was all but singing about his native state, “California dreamin’. On such a winter’s day …”

“It’s a good question,” he said when asked what was next. “I don’t know, I really don’t. There’s a lot of unknowns going into this offseason now. I’m going to have to take some time away, for sure, and clear my head and just kind of see what’s going on with everything. But it’s pretty tough right now, especially thinking about the guys that may or may not be here next year. There’s always change. That’s the only constant in this business. It’s a grind just to get to this point. And that makes the finality of it all kind of hit you like a ton of bricks. That’s why it’s a gutting feeling in your stomach.”

Rodgers laments Pack's uncertain future: 'Myself included' | WLUK

He soon shifted the tone from frustration to sadness. “(The Packers have) a lot of guys’ futures that are uncertain — myself included. That’s what’s sad about it most, getting this far,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, it’s going to be an end at some point, whether we make it past this one or not, but just the uncertainty’s tough and finality of it all.”

Does this sound like a man who wants to finish his career with LaFleur and Brian Gutekunst, the general manager who drafted a quarterback, Jordan Love, in the first round last spring? Or a man who soon was on the phone with his agent, discussing immediate possibilities beyond Green Bay? Rodgers feels he doesn’t get proper love from management — meaning, he wants more control over the roster and his offensive weapons. The bosses think his $134-million extension, which he signed in 2018 and extends through 2023, is ample respect. They dealt with his moods last year, when he voiced resentment about Love. It’s safe to assume they don’t want another offseason of misery, though, at this point, they only can kiss his ring … his only ring.

When asked if Rodgers will return next season, LaFleur said, “I sure as hell hope so. I mean, the guy’s the MVP of this league. He’s the heart and soul of our football team. So, hell yeah, he better be back here. He’s our leader, and you know, just so appreciative of him buying into what we’re trying to get done around here and leading that group. His voice carries a lot of weight in that locker room and just, you know, I feel for him. Him being in this situation and for us not to get it done, man, it hurts.”

Also, it’s not as simple as the Packers striking a quick deal. They could send Rodgers to the 49ers for some combination of draft picks and Jimmy Garoppolo; or to the Rams, who have soured on Jared Goff; or to the Saints, who must replace the retiring Drew Brees. But if Rodgers leaves now, Green Bay is stuck with $31.5 million in salary-cap dead money. If he demands a trade with a retirement threat, they’d have to cede to his wishes and eat the money. In cities throughout the league, fans are urging their teams to acquire Rodgers. “Hasn’t he always been a Hollywood QB? With the Malibu house? And the actresses and Danica Patrick?” they’re asking in L.A. “Shouldn’t he come home for his final years?” they’re asking in northern California, where he grew up in Chico and played at Cal.

The excitement about Watson might be more palpable. Only 25, he has a good decade ahead of him as a dual-threat machine. And unlike Rodgers, his complaints in Houston are greeted with more sympathy. No pro franchise in American sports is more chaotic than the Texans, and Watson has left zero doubt: He wants out. He’s disgusted that owner Cal McNair views him as the help and has allowed the mysterious Jack Easterby to wreak organizational havoc, such as blocking Watson from voicing his opinion about the general manager vacancy, filled by Bill Belichick-disciple Nick Caserio. Even if the Texans do the right thing with their head coaching vacancy and hire Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy — a Mahomes whisperer who’d mesh ideally with Watson — reports say Watson wants no part of a Houston future regardless of the coaching hire.

The New York media, devastated when the Jets won just enough games to lose presumptive top draft pick Trevor Lawrence, are pushing the Jets to land their first superstar QB since Joe Namath (the 2008 Brett Favre experiment was ill-fated). A better trade partner for the Texans might be Miami, which could offer Tua Tagovailoa and picks. Or the 49ers, who have eyed Stafford, he of the eight 4,000-yard passing seasons, but know how Watson could thrive in a Kyle Shanahan system.

“You can’t say anything with certainty,” Shanahan said when asked about his QB outlook. “You don’t sit here and make promises on anything.”

It could be Watson ends up in New York, Stafford in Indianapolis and Rodgers in Vegas, where Jon Gruden could ship Derek Carr to Green Bay while Love develops. Or, maybe Rodgers makes amends with the Packers and tries again. Or, knowing his whims, maybe he retires as a big-game loser who is mocked in memes. The Cheeseheads have had the good fortune of watching Rodgers for 13 starting seasons after watching Favre for 16 seasons, yet they’ve also suffered as both wobbled through drama in their late 30s. So far, Rodgers’ problems haven’t approach the spectacle level of Favre. But if he keeps losing in the playoffs, who knows how ugly this becomes?

Brett Favre's take? Packers 'burned a bridge' with Aaron Rodgers by  drafting Jordan Love | Pro football | madison.com

Of course, Brady launched the Great Quarterback Exodus when he waited out Belichick and left New England, seeing a better life with the Buccaneers. Now that he has proved his point, Rodgers and Watson are right behind him. In the bigger picture, this is the latest installment of the ongoing 21st-century series, “The Business Entitlement Of The Corporate Athlete.” If LeBron James and Kevin Durant could bounce around to better situations, for their careers and lives, why not elite NFL quarterbacks?

Sometimes, you wonder if this rampant get-me-out-of-here-ism has become a bigger deal than the championship seasons themselves. I would say none of it is good for football or sports, but would the blinking banks of talk-show callers on hold agree with me?

Probably not.

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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