The fanboy reaction is to unlock your slackened jaw, pop your eyeballs back into their sockets and scream, “Holy (preferred profanity)!!” With Trevor Bauer appended to a rotation already sozzled with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and David Price, allowing Julio Urias to close, it’s possible the Dodgers never lose a ballgame again. In a sport in which few teams are trying to win, no one can say the nameless, faceless Guggenheim Baseball people are wadless.
Staggering is not the word for their cannon-hoarding. Try sick.
“It wasn’t about the money for me. It’s about being part of something that’s bigger than myself — being part of an organization that can win,” said Bauer, who will be paid a guaranteed $40 million in 2021, more than the projected payrolls of three major-league clubs and more than any single-season-salaried employee in MLB history. “I want to win a World Series. I’ve come in second in both college and the big leagues. I’m tired of it, so I want to come in first.”
And I’m sure he will, which will lead Bauer to return the following season — assuming there is one — for $45 million, about $1.3 million a start, if he avoids slicing his pinky finger on a drone and isn’t suspended for using pine tar that accelerates his spin rate.
Which brings us to the proper reaction, much more sobering, fueled by 21st-century sensibilities and a grasp of what sports should mean in a community. Why would this franchise, blessed not only with its first championship in 32 years but a heavenly tradition inside a spectacular canyon navigated via Vin Scully Avenue, risk a muddy, ineffaceable splotch on the classic “Dodgers” jersey script by signing a narcissistic, boorish, social-media-addled loner? Why risk disrupting precious clubhouse chemistry that is borderline miraculous in a pressurized, major-market, high-expectations franchise? Why pay Bauer, whose otherwise erratic career only recently soared to a Cy Young Award plateau, significantly more than the beloved Kershaw, long established as a first-ballot Hall of Fame and worthy of a statue at Chavez Ravine?
I understand why Dodger Stadium is a temporary COVID-19 vaccine site. I don’t understand why it’s the new home of a toxic pitcher who has insulted transgenders, sparked the online bullying of women, joined the chorus that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. and ridiculed the importance of purging the Cleveland Indians’ nickname and logo. It was only 2 1/2 months ago when the Dodgers, citing “economic devastation” and 2020 losses of more than $100 million, laid off an unspecified number of employees.
Now, they’ve committed $102 million to a Twitter Twit who also has the leverage to opt out the next two winters (and most certainly will before the third). Have they forgotten this is the organization of Jackie Robinson and Dodger Blue, supposedly one of sport’s safest havens? Isn’t Los Angeles a liberal bastion influenced by all sorts of Hollywood titans who won’t like Bauer from their dugout seats even if he posts a 1.73 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 36 percent strikeout rate, as he did last season in dominating the National League?
To use my own expletive, what the f—k are they thinking? They don’t even need him, having assembled a staff loaded with other big arms who can start, such as Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin. Dodgers executives Andrew Friedman and Stan Kasten claim to have vetted Bauer. If so, was the process performed with blinders as they dreamed of a postseason blur: Bauer, Buehler, Kershaw?
“There is some stuff that’s more public with Trevor that definitely was something that we wanted to dig into,” Friedman said. “In our conversations, he’s alluded to past mistakes he’s made. We came away from it feeling good about it. Now, obviously, time will tell, but I feel he’s going to be a tremendous add, not just on the field, but in the clubhouse and community.”
How dare Friedman speak about the community when, for six seasons, the Dodgers blacked out 70 percent of their potential southern California television audience while immersed in the greed of a $8.35 billion cable deal? For every fan who calls a talk show and cheers the deal, there’s a parent who’ll have to explain to a son or daughter why Bauer wrote of the LGBTQ community, “I identify as a 12 year old.” Or why Bauer repeatedly fired mean tweets at a female college student who cried when his followers continued to harass her. Or why he sparred on social media with a female media member, based in New York, who said her life was bombarded by death threats and Holocaust jokes.
The Dodgers navigated a pandemic season with relative ease, ego never entering the equation despite the presence of numerous star players. This screwball could sabotage it all — regardless of what he says about maturity and perspective, about growing up in suburban Valencia as a Dodgers fan and sitting in the left-field bleachers with his father, listening to Scully on the radio.
“Everyone makes mistakes in the past,” said Bauer, who turned 30 last month. “I try to learn from them. I try to learn as quickly as I possibly can, try to understand other people’s viewpoints on things and be better in the future. I think if you look at my history as a baseball player, my history on social media, my history as a person, for those who know me well, they’ll see that I apply that process to everything that I do. I’m committed to doing that moving forward, as well. And ultimately I’m here to be a positive impact on anyone that I can be, both in the community, in the clubhouse, on the field, at the stadium, whatever the case is.”
Please. What has he learned, if anything, about staying off social media every time he wants to play bully? Should he invest in a punching bag? “I’m not going to go into specifics on everything, on all the conversations I’ve had with people across all walks of life over the past couple of years and all the things I’ve learned,” Bauer said. “I can say I have learned from those, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people to try to understand other peoples’ perspectives, and I’m doing my best to be better in all walks of life. I am committed to being better on social media, on being better on the field, in the clubhouse, in life in general.”
Progress? I’d say Bauer simply was being polite while flanked by his bosses at an introductory Zoom conference. Because only hours before, he’d taken to one of his various social media platforms to scold an autograph seeker who’d apparently ruffled him at a hotel. Was that really necessary — in his first days as a Dodgers? Said Bauer: “I love seeing fans in public. I do just think there needs to be a little bit of respect for personal space when someone is at their place of residence, just as human beings. We are people, too.”
If he wants respect, he’ll need to reciprocate. That’s why his interactions in a championship clubhouse will be scrutinized by teammates, manager Dave Roberts, franchise executives and media alike. Think of the enormous figures on this team — Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Buehler, Price. How will they respond if Bauer is behaving like a jerk? How will manager Dave Roberts handle things when this team has dealt with minimal controversy in his tenure, purging Yasiel Puig when his talent wasn’t worth the hassle? As it is, Kershaw has left his future open-ended, hinting to the Los Angeles Times that he might prefer finishing his career close to his Dallas home, with the Texas Rangers. Much as Friedman is safeguarding against Kershaw’s departure with Bauer’s signing, might he also be pushing Kershaw out the door?
Especially if, say, Bauer gets the ball on a particular October night when Kershaw or Buehler want it?
Bauer’s online sins are as revolting, in a sense, as the racist remarks and bullying that cost Chris Doyle his position as Jacksonville Jaguars’ director of sports performance. It was a hideous idea made worse by the ugly social-responsibility record of new head coach Urban Meyer, who hired Doyle without vetting the events that led to his ouster at Iowa last June. Not until the move was denounced by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a watchdog group monitoring the lagging process of Black coaching mobility in the NFL, did Meyer reverse course and force Doyle’s resignation. Did he not learn anything from his turbulent reigns at Ohio State and Florida? Has he already alienated Black players on his roster before his first NFL game, with the media vultures who tailed him in the college ranks already swirling in Duval County?
“At a time when the NFL has failed to solve its problem with racial hiring practices, it is simply unacceptable to welcome Chris Doyle into the ranks of NFL coaches,” wrote Rod Graves, executive director of the Alliance. “Doyle’s departure from the University of Iowa reflected a tenure riddled with poor judgment and mistreatment of Black players. His conduct should be as disqualifying for the NFL as it was for University of Iowa. Urban Meyer’s statement, `I’ve known Chris for close to 20 years,’ reflects the good ol’ boy network that is precisely the reason there is such a disparity in employment opportunities for Black coaches.”
Said Meyer, explaining why he made Doyle one of his first hires: “I vet everyone on our staff. The relationship goes back close to 20 years and a lot of hard questions (were) asked, a lot of vetting involved with all our staff. We did a very good job vetting that one. I met with our staff and I’m going to be very transparent with all the players like I am with everything. I’ll listen closely and learn and also there’s going to have to be some trust in their head coach that we’re going to give them the very best of the best and time will tell. … The allegations that took place, I will say (to the players) that I vetted him. I know the person for close to 20 years and I can assure them there will be nothing of any sort in the Jaguar facility.”
Meyer could purge his mistake by simply removing Doyle.
The Dodgers can’t. They just committed tens of millions to the bank account of a similar cad.
The 2021 season, as you know, might be our last hit of baseball for a while. Amid a volatile labor climate, who’s the biggest critic of Rob Manfred? Trevor Bauer. Last summer, he chastised the commissioner for stalling tactics before a truncated 2020 season finally got underway, tweeting at Manfred: “You’re holding a losing hand. Unfortunately, it’s a losing hand for everyone involved, not just you. There’s some saying out there about not killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Check it out on the ole google machine. It’s worth knowing.” In Cincinnati, his ramblings don’t matter. In LA, might they prevent the first MLB repeat since 2000?
His Twitter handle is @BauerOutage.
If the lights go out at Dodger Stadium this season, you’ll know who shut down the good times and killed a possible dynasty.
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.