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Marquee Sports Network Built on Cubs Passion & Proven Talent

Seth Everett talks to Marquee Sports Network GM Mike McCarthy about surviving the pandemic just as the network launched.

Seth Everett

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On February 22, 2020, there was not a way anyone involved in the Marquee Sports Network’s launch could have foreseen the challenge the Covid-19 pandemic would bring to the sports world. They aired seven Chicago Cubs’ Spring Training games, and then suddenly, a brand-new regional sports network would be without sports for months.

How to Get Marquee Network - CHICAGO style SPORTS

“I think if you were drawing it up, you probably would not want to launch a network in a pandemic,” said Mike McCarthy, General Manager of Marquee Sports Network. “I feel pretty comfortable saying that. We really didn’t have a choice because the Cubs games had to air somewhere. It wasn’t an esoteric decision for a sitcom. It was more of a ‘this was our pledge to our fan base and our carriers and we’re going to do it.’ And so, we did it.”

Marquee is a year old regional sports network operated by Sinclair Broadcasting Group and the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are the primary source of programming and have been since the 2020 launch.

The conversation with McCarthy was wide-ranging and went way beyond the Covid issues.  Still, McCarthy went out of his way to point out that the staff going into lockdown barely knew each other and had to rally with new teammates almost instantly.

“We started producing shows from home on laptops and zoom calls,” McCarthy said.  “We were doing it every night. We were quite sure we weren’t the only RSN to do it that often.”

“Some shows were better than others,” he added. “A couple of them were pretty clunky, to be honest with you. But we got through a lot of growing pains of getting to know each other.  Once the real baseball games began was most likely a godsend to us.”

Previously, McCarthy was president of New York’s MSG Network, vice chairman and chief executive of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, and chief operating officer of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.

Since team-owned RSNs began at the beginning of the century, there has been a mixed success.  The YES Network and SNY (Sportsnet New York) have had both strong ratings and profits.  However, lesser-known RSNs like the Minnesota Twins-owned Victory Sports was over after the 2003 season.  The Kansas City Royals had the Royals Sports Television Network and lasted four years.

McCarthy believes that Marquee’s success is not necessarily tied to the Cubs’ success or lack of it on the field. After breaking an 87-year championship drought in 2016, the Cubs were at a fever pitch in the Windy City. Still, is Marquee’s success directly tied to the Cubs’ on-field success?

“It’s a fascinating question,” McCarthy replied. “It comes to this particular alliance because what has Cubs history been up? It’s been the lovable loser but loved. The WGN family made the Cubs almost everybody’s second favorite team. I mean, this passion that they have for the team is really not tied to success on the field.”

Cubs announce general manager for Marquee Sports Network - Robert Feder

“We know we benefit from it (the team winning),” he added. “The ratings show that. I know it may sound a little cliche and maybe anybody in this role would say it, but I’ll tell you, this might be one of the few teams in sports where the winning and the losing is really just part of the appeal.”

One topic I asked McCarthy about was streaming. Cord-cutters have many issues seeing local games without the subscription from a cable company.  Marquee does have distribution deals with Fubo-TV and AT&T TV, which are streaming services.  Still, MLB.TV only offers out-of-market games.

“I think those are more complicated scenarios to consider,” McCarthy addressed the topic. “We love the relationships we have with our cable partners, and FUBO/AT&T. There’s a lot of people speculating on what the future holds. We feel like our traditional broadcast partners are very important to us. We like to think we deliver a nice product to them, and we think, identify a solution for streaming fans by way of our other partnerships.”

One of the biggest hires McCarthy made for the 2020 season was the Cubs’ main play-by-play voice. After the 2020 season, longtime voice Len Kasper departed the Cubs to become the radio play-by-play announcer for the cross-town Chicago White Sox. Speculation on who Marquee would hire was rampant on social media. 

That speculation ended when longtime ESPN play-by-play man Jon “Boog” Sciambi was named the new Cubs TV voice.

“It’s a different kind of gig,” McCarthy added. “I think that’s why it interested Boog. If I told you the people that raised their hand in this, it would knock your socks off. I mean, this is one of those jobs. It has nothing to do with me or Marquee, which was a baby.  It’s the Cubs and their relationship with their fans.”

“People said to me, ‘you might want to look into like a Boog Sciambi-type. A guy that’s a real student of baseball, but a regular guy that everybody can identify with. We did better than getting a Boog Sciambi-type. We got him.”

Sciambi continues to do national work for ESPN. When he misses a game, longtime play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins fills in. She became the first woman in Cubs history to call a regular-season game. 

Beth Mowins: Announcer makes history with Chicago Cubs - Chicago Tribune

“I’ve been lucky to work with women broadcasting pioneering roles, like Doris Burke at the (Madison Square) Garden.  Beth is confident. She is not demure. She’s legit. You hear it in her voice. You see it in her body language. She’s right where she is supposed to be. And it really went over well here in Chicago, which was not surprising.”

McCarthy added that Mowins being a Syracuse University Newhouse graduate was held against her. Us Orange-folks tend to stick together.

BSM Writers

3 Tips For Working With A Difficult Co-Host

Everyone is way too sensitive to what
are totally understandable and even innocuous barbs from an irreverent personality.

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Robert Sutton wrote one of the more important business books I’ve ever read: “The No Asshole Rule”.

Yes. That’s the title, and while I’m probably pushing the bounds of good taste here, Sutton
successfully lobbied the Wall Street Journal to use that very term so I’m hoping that will serve
as satisfactory precedent for my editors here at Barrett Sports Media.

Sutton went so far as to define the term as “a person who leaves another person feeling
oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled”. He then set about proving these individuals
were toxic to an organization, sapping productivity and driving out competent co-workers. His
underlying message was two-fold:

1) You should avoid working for orifices;

2) Any company employing an orifice should seek to expel him or her from the
organization.

It’s a really good book, but it’s of limited use if you don’t control who you’re working with.

What do you do when you’re partnered with an orifice?

Now, I happen to have given this matter quite a bit of thought over the five years I was part of a three-man show that included one of the funniest, most offbeat, and occasionally frustrating
people I’ve ever encountered. He was a crucial component to the success of our afternoon
drive show and every so often would do something that would understandably enrage
someone he was working with. I’m not going to specify who this was because I do like Jim Moore and don’t want to hurt his feelings, but he was the ultimate wild card who made tons of people laugh and more than a few snarls.

He liked to reveal the inner workings of the show whether it was a planning meeting or
something that occurred off-air. He referred to this as “pulling back the curtain.”

After I stumbled over my words, he looked at me and said, “You’re absolutely brutal.” It was
hilarious, and we played it for years as a drop.

Amid a segment in which we were discussing something about Richard Sherman, he
declared that I was sounding like a typical talk radio host trying to make something out of
nothing. I laughed at that, too.

A few weeks later, as we discussed the weekend series in which Seattle became overrun with
Blue Jays fans coming down from Canada, he criticized something I’d written for lacking
objectivity and declared the whole segment dumb. I was furious, and while I did my
best to hide my anger during the rest of the segment, we shouted profanities at each other
during the break and I didn’t speak to him outside of our time on the air for the rest of the
week.

Meetings ensued. Apologies were made by both of us. My point here is not to re-litigate what
happened or try to justify the anger I felt at the time. I was overly sensitive to a pretty harmless critique. I was also fed up with someone who consistently did things that made me feel belittled and de-energized. He was acting more like a heckler than a co-host, and this posed a specific challenge for me because I was leading the show.

I was not alone in that regard. He’d anger other co-workers, too, and many of the players and
even teams that we talked about whether it was Richard Sherman threatening to have his press
credential pulled, Michael Bennett, saying he should be “fired and suspended” among many
other profane observations after a particular column. Hell, Gary Payton stood up ready to fight
him before a playoff game in 1996 after an interview that started with a question about Payton
getting IV fluids after the previous game in the series.

It strikes me there are two explanations for all of this: 1) Everyone is way too sensitive to what
are totally understandable and even innocuous barbs from an irreverent personality. 2) This
personality has a way of annoying and antagonizing those he’s around, and while this makes
him incredibly entertaining, it can make a sustained working relationship difficult. To put it in
in Sutton’s terms, this particular person had a habit of leaving others feeling oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled.

With that in mind and based on personal experience, here’s my guide if you find yourself
working with an orifice:

I. Accept them for what they are
I stopped wishing my co-host was anything other than what he was. This was entirely personal
and had nothing to do with my co-host or the people who supervised him. I accepted that he was a remarkably funny and unique character, who was crucial to the show’s success, and every so often he was going to act up in a way that angered the people around him. I just accepted this as the cost of doing business and when he did act up, I’d remind myself that I shouldn’t expect anything different.

II. Set ground rules
Establish very clear boundaries that should not be crossed. In this particular case, it was to
state that the time to declare a segment or idea stupid or unworthy of discussion was before
the show as opposed to during the show. I didn’t care if he understood why this was the
case, he just needed to know it was.

III. Don’t take the shenanigans so seriously
We always say a show requires cooperation and trust, and no one tells you what to do when a
lack of cooperation erodes that trust. One answer is to demand better cooperation, but I found this was futile and led to more frustration. I came to view the lack of cooperation as part of the
show, something that could be commented on and even laughed at. There was a rogue
operator in our midst.

Did these changes make the show better? That’s a question for the supervisors and the
listeners. I know that it made the show more sustainable because it made me less angry. I
stopped seeing my co-host as a malicious saboteur and started viewing him like a pro wrestler
who occasionally stopped following the script. Sometimes, his punches would feel like live
rounds. He was working stiff, his insults sharper. Sometimes he’d no-sell, commenting on the
general pointlessness of the discussion rather than actively participating in it.

Demanding he follow the script was never as effective as deciding that his whole act could be
part of the show was.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise Episode 85: Vin Scully Really Was That Good

Demetri Ravanos

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BSM Writers

LIV Golf Bungling Of Charles Barkley Deal Questions Competency

Barkley could’ve been a face that is used in more interview appearances across sports networks and cable news to address the controversy and clear the air even more than he already had done so previously.

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Charles Barkley

It’s already been more than a week since Charles Barkley announced he is staying with Turner Sports and I’m still left in shock and bewilderment. Barkley’s decision to stay at a show that has won multiple Emmy Awards, gave him a whole new set of fans and friends, and even has its own documentary doesn’t surprise me. LIV’s disorganization and inability to make these conversations an actual negotiation is what truly shocks me.

In an interview with GolfWeek, Barkley told the publication “no, they haven’t offered me anything.” He declared that working at Turner was his priority and “I’m not gonna keep Turner in limbo. So that’s my priority.” Let’s rewind the first sentence he uttered, though. And I quote, “they haven’t offered me anything.” You had sports fans and personalities across the world nervous, scared, and panicked that we would lose Barkley’s hilarious antics during NBA coverage forever not even to give him an offer? Are you kidding me? (Just want to note that this is one of my favorite Barkley sayings.) What is wrong with LIV and who is running their media strategy?

Barkley told The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand that he sat down for dinner with LIV Tour leader Greg Norman two weeks ago and came away believing that the tour would find itself with a television deal in the U.S. If this is the case, how does LIV not come to dinner with a ballpark estimate of how much they want to pay and an idea of what they want Barkley to do for their brand? You have a once-in-a-lifetime moment to secure a deal with sports media’s most outspoken personality and you don’t even come to dinner with an offer?

LIV could’ve used Barkley to finalize a deal with a TV network. John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reported on his sports media podcast this week that LIV’s TV deal, if it ever happens, will most likely be a time buy. If Barkley was added on, I guarantee some sort of rights fee would’ve been included. There is no sports network –scratch that– no TV network on this planet who would miss out on the opportunity to bring Barkley on board as a contributor even if it means airing subpar golf with segments that could go viral, get aggregated by the biggest websites in the universe and fill air time. It’s Charles Barkley!

Because of Barkley’s relationships with sponsors who are closely aligned with Turner, and Turner not wanting to lose the former NBA All-Star, I don’t even think it is out of the question that Turner could’ve been a potential rightsholder if Barkley signed on. Warner Bros. Discovery’s operations involving the PGA Tour are mostly outside of the United States market except Golf Digest. Between TNT, TBS, and HLN – all networks that have aired exhibition golf matches in the past – Turner has plenty of room to air the telecasts. Coincidentally, Turner already has a relationship with Saudi Arabian golf. CNN International aired a monthly series about golf that was sponsored both digitally and on-air by Golf Saudi, an organization that promotes Saudi Arabian golf courses. For those who are against the notion that LIV should even exist, the idea of associating yourself with Golf Saudi might be even worse since LIV plays in different countries for each tournament.

Barkley could’ve been a face that is used in more interview appearances across sports networks and cable news to address the controversy and clear the air even more than he already had done so previously. Having a recognizable face promote the brand could’ve eventually taken some of the pressure off and focused the attention on actual golf action happening. They could’ve even used Barkley for viral pieces that go up online, podcasts, and an alternative broadcast where he brings on his friends as guests – a “Manningcast” copycat. A charitable component helping poor communities which Barkley has a passion for could’ve been implemented as well. The opportunities were endless but LIV couldn’t even manage to bring an offer to the table. A dinner with no offer is such a useless gesture. It’s like being 7’7” with zero NBA talent – too tall for nothing.

Now, more than ever, I just can’t take LIV Golf seriously. It feels like an exhibition that is rightfully challenging an organization that has been glorified in its perch for too long yet doesn’t have the right tactics of taking the PGA away from its throne.

Ironically, the PGA Tour will be offering its athletes more prize money than LIV next year. The tour will always be aligned with the majors – who haven’t toed a line yet but could at some point if each separate organization decides it is too far against their code of ethics to allow in LIV athletes. And interestingly, despite LIV living on YouTube, the PGA Tour is working on a docuseries alongside the majors for Netflix that could help draw a younger, more unique audience to the sport than LIV does despite its attempts to add live music to their tournaments, stream all of their events and add sleek, more modern graphics than what PGA telecasts offer. Most of all, the PGA Tour has all of the major media companies in the bag for themselves for years to come.

The tour has also made mistakes in aligning itself with Fox News. In the past couple of weeks, Greg Norman has granted the network two exclusive interviews and has allowed their golfers to sit down for interviews on Tucker Carlson Tonight. We can’t neglect the fact that Fox News is one of the highest-rated networks on television and that Tucker Carlson Tonight sometimes beats the broadcast networks in primetime ratings which means LIV is getting a huge amount of exposure through these sit-downs. But it is never smart for any sport to politically align itself on one side or the other. Just ask the NBA. If you’re going to sit with Fox, sit with the other news and sports networks who I’m sure have undoubtedly asked you to speak with them as well so that your nonpolitical organization looks fair and balanced. Hell, sit down with us at BSM! I’ll talk to you. Don’t be afraid to take some heat if you want the discussions about the politicization of your league to go away at some point. It just makes more business sense to stay as neutral as possible and the Fox-ification of LIV is bound to turn some more people off who don’t agree with Fox’s way of thinking. (Random sidenote: Something tells me not to be surprised if LIV Golf ends up on Fox News Media properties like Fox Business Network and Fox Nation. Both networks have aired sports programming of some type in the past and present.)

LIV may live for a long time because they have the funds to do so. It is questionable and maybe doubtful if it will ever live with a purpose.

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