So here we have the non sequitur of all sports non sequiturs: Alex Rodriguez finalizing a deal to purchase the Minnesota Timberwolves. If there is even one common denominator between these parties, please speak up. At least Donald Trump was swinging in the same state when he tried to buy the Buffalo Bills.
A-Rod? The land of 10,000 lakes meets the man of 10,000 lies. He comes from baseball, a sport he scandalized with steroids usage and cover-ups and now butchers as an analyst on ESPN and Fox. He has led a glamorous life, in New York and Miami and points between, cold-calling Warren Buffett to be his mentor in what has become a relentless, post-career entrepreneurial whirl. He is still with entertainment megastar Jennifer Lopez, I believe, and they tried to buy the Mets in the city where both were born, which made sense.
The Timberwolves? They are a nondescript, unglamorous basketball team in MinneSOOOOOOOODA, home of ice fishing, county fairs, venison jerky, the headquarters of Target and that creepy, cult-like Skol chant/horn blow before Vikings games. I remember covering a Yankees-Twins playoff series, in the inflatable Metrodome, when the locals heartily booed Rodriguez, even when they’re known as nice folks. It’s safe to assume they don’t like him because, you know, America doesn’t like Alex Rodriguez.
Feelings aside, he’s the new front man of a franchise owned dubiously the last 27 years by Glen Taylor, a native Minnesotan, and coached to its only Western Conference finals by the late Flip Saunders, who oozed Minnesota. I, for one, cannot imagine Rodriguez moving to Minneapolis, though it would present an opportunity to wear an extravagant fur coat for photo ops. Nor can I see Lopez joining him there unless she seeks a Paisley Park seance with Prince. A-Rod’s partner in the proposed $1.5 billion deal is a close pal, e-commerce king Marc Lore, who sold his first major web project — which included Diapers.com (an A-Rod joke in there somewhere) — to Amazon for $545 million, then got Walmart to pay $3.3 billion for another startup.
Resources? Check. Starpower? Check. But in what is quite possibly the most provincial state in all the land, the disconnect is overwhelming. I would suggest Rodriguez hold his first press conference not at Target Center and not in a Gucci suit, but in a flannel shirt and jeans at Loon Cafe, down the street, where he can start with the Minnesota Wild Rice Soup before diving into the Crusted Walleye Sandwich.
Order and guzzle a Grain Belt Premium on draft. Then go blow the Gjallarhorn, which is what they call the Skol horn, even if they have to transport it from U.S. Bank Stadium. Then burst into “Little Red Corvette.”
That way, maybe the boos aren’t as nasty.
The positive angle, of course, is that Rodriguez brings his Latino heritage to a pro sports industry that sorely needs diversity in the upper ranks. Another real-world responsibility looms: Once the transaction is completed within a 30-day exclusive negotiating window, Rodriguez and Lore immediately assume roles as civic leaders amid ongoing racial tensions in Minneapolis. As the prospective owners were preparing their visit, clashes between police and hundreds of protesters followed the fatal shooting of a black man Sunday, with the National Guard called in not far from where George Floyd was choked to death by police. The NBA is a predominantly Black league. Ready or not, Rodriguez has to be involved in all community issues as Timberwolves owner.
As a sportsman, he’s determined to succeed, meaning he won’t stand for losing. But it’s a massive stretch to think A-Rod, despite his three MVP awards and World Series title ring, is the magical corporate leader who will repair the underachievement and dysfunction that has relegated the Wolves to the NBA dregs. What does he know about basketball when he makes mistakes in the booth every baseball broadcast? He’d better learn quickly, because at 14-40, the Wolves are plunging toward the NBA’s worst record for the third time in 11 years while assured of their 15th losing season in 16 tries. Not that there aren’t valuable pieces on the roster — a prized big man in Karl-Anthony Towns, a former All-Star guard in D’Angelo Russell, a rising scorer in Anthony Edwards, a young two-way stud in Jaden McDaniels. Hell, Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs could arrive in the draft.
But there’s something about this operation that seems eternally unfixable. Assuming the deal goes through, Rodriguez and Lore — who already have been disappointed once in losing the Mets to Steve Cohen — don’t assume complete control of the franchise from Taylor until 2023. By then, who knows what the wreckage will look like? If the Wolves don’t finish in the top three of the lottery, they lose the pick entirely. Towns, never happy in Minnesota, continues to be the subject of trade talks. I know little about the coach, Chris Finch, and I do this for a living.
If the fans stop caring — and in the Twin Cities, the Wolves rank behind the Vikings, Twins, Wild, college football and maybe college hockey in interest — might A-Rod want to move the franchise? He can’t go to New York, where the market has two teams. He can’t go to Miami, home of the Heat. But he could take the Wolves to … Seattle, where he played seven seasons for the Mariners and where an arena renovated for the NHL’s expansion Kraken — as in crack, the substance the nickname-chooser had to be using — awaits a breathlessly missed NBA team.
Taylor told the Star Tribune, the newspaper he owns, that language in the pending paperwork will require Rodriguez and Lore to keep the Wolves and WNBA Lynx in Minnesota. “They will keep the team here, yes. We will put it in the agreement,” Taylor said. “At this point we have a letter of intent, but when we make up the contract we’ll put that in there. That’s no problem. That won’t be a problem.”
Try telling the courts. Taylor, 79, says he trusts A-Rod and Lore anyway. “When I met them and talked to them and just in the conversation what they were after — they’re bright people, very bright people, very competitive,” he said. “I could see them challenging me which I liked to have. … They said, `We got to learn about basketball. We’d like you to stay around and help us run it for a while.’ Then we’ll switch over. Those meet all of my goals.”
The agreement materialized in a matter of days, with Rodriguez and Lore approaching Taylor in early April and quickly flying to meet him and his wife at their winter home in Naples, Fla. Evidently, A-Rod is no more enamored of his broadcasting career than we are; he couldn’t wait to jump at this chance, and the networks will need new baseball voices. Is it possible A-Rod, impulsive to a fault, suddenly will pull out because he’s getting scorched in columns such as this? Or because a wiser business opportunity presents itself? For now, he’s all in, awaiting approval by league owners. “We look forward to entering this phase of the process with Glen Taylor,” Rodriguez and Lore said in a joint statement. “Our respect for him and the legacy he has built lays an amazing foundation for what’s to come. We are excited by the prospect of getting to know the Timberwolves organization.”
The players, who grew up watching Rodriguez on ballfields, were as startled as anyone by the news. Towns went so far to tell a shoplifting story from his childhood, revealing that his mother — one of seven members of his family to die from COVID-19 the past year — helped him pilfer an A-Rod jersey from a New Jersey Walmart store when times were lean and money was tight. When he tried on the jersey and told her it fit, she said, “Great. Leave it on.”
“I have that jersey still to this day in my house. That jersey meant everything,” Towns said. “I wouldn’t recommend doing that to the young kids watching this. Don’t do that. But if you’re struggling and really like a player, I’m not going to say anything.”
Now, A-Rod is positioned as his boss. “Just to have his charisma and his aura, it’s going to make a lot of people gravitate toward here,” Towns said. “The fans, to be able to have such a star like that as an owner, is going to bring an awareness to this team.”
Finch can’t wait to meet the new boss. “I’m sure he understands sports at a very high level,” he said. “It certainly will bring some sex appeal to the organization, the city, to the team. I think the more skill sets and personality types you can bring to any kind of leadership group, the more it’s going to be reflected in the overall mission.”
If A-Rod wants to watch practice, will Finch kick him out? “You want them to feel intimately involved with the process, the team and everything else that goes around it. You want them to be an active partner,” he said. “I’m not the type that’s going to try to exclude them from their own team. And again, that’s super high level. My job is to coach the team and make the players as best as possible. That’s my day job, and that’s what I focus 99 percent of my time on.”
Wasn’t Kevin Garnett, greatest player in franchise history, supposed to be part of a group buying the Wolves? Oh, he didn’t get along with Taylor, and a bid never materialized. If I’m Alex Rodriguez, I’m thinking twice about spending two years of the Life Of A-Rod learning the ropes under an all-time NBA loser. Then I’m wondering about that walleye sandwich and how quickly I’d tire of it.
Then I’m wondering about distressed franchises in Major League Baseball and thinking, yep, I have a better chance of fixing the Pittsburgh Pirates than the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Or, he can just huddle his new players in a meeting and give them PEDs.
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.