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How Does The NBA Let This Happen To Fans?

“Carriage disputes are between two big businesses. Let suits fight suits over money. Fans being helpless is outdated.”

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Altitude TV

Thursday night’s NBA playoff series between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail-Blazers was not seen by thousands of fans because of an ongoing carriage dispute between Altitude TV and Comcast/Dish subscribers in the Denver metro area.

The game aired on NBA TV but was blacked out in Denver.

Denver Nuggets 120, Portland Trail Blazers 115: Three takeaways | Denver  Nuggets
Courtesy: NBA.com

In short, thousands of people could not see Nikola Jokic put up a double-double in the Nuggets’ 120-115 Game 3 victory and there wasn’t a darn thing they could do about it.

The details of the dispute between Altitude are irrelevant for this conversation. Despite having smartphones, smart TVs, and/or a computer, there is not a legal way to see the game. (Yes, there are ways to get a VPN, mask your location, and bypass the blackout – it’s not illegal but it can violate terms of service.)

The playoffs should not be hard to view. There needs to be an a la carte option.

“The legal constraints supersede the technology,” said Tom Richardson, SVP of Strategy at Mercury Intermedia & digital media professor in Columbia University’s Sports Management Graduate Program. “This is sports after all. Does that surprise you?”

Some regional sports networks make deals with streaming services such as Hulu Live or YouTube TV. Marquee Sports Network in Chicago has a streaming deal with FUBO TV but not any others. Therefore, fans are at the mercy of the TV service they have signed up for. A digital one is easy to cancel if need be while Dish or Comcast requires a contract that is difficult to break out of.

In Los Angeles, the Dodgers played over a season without their Sportsnet LA network available on DirecTV. The Clippers stream their games on some services but not others.

SNY airs on Hulu Live. The YES Network and MSG TV do not. This is bigger than that.

If this is about streaming TV, the customer has an option. The key problem is for the over 65% of US households that still have cable.

The NBA needs to either a) make sure its playoffs games are all nationally televised or b) offer a paid option for fans to purchase coverage of this game.

On the surface, that seems unfair. This is the playoffs. There needs to be that option to see the games. It’s worth shared revenue between the regional network and the NBA. Currently, the contracts are not constituted to allow for such an option. Still, there should be a playoff exception, and it should be part of future agreements with RSNs.

I’m not suggesting these games should be streamed for free. On a recent Twitch show, I said that if 75,000 Nuggets fans were without the game, approximately 20,000 fans would pay $19.99 for Nuggets-Blazers Game 3.

“It’s so easy just to stream the game,” Richardson added. “Why not? Well, contracts simply don’t allow it. That’s why they are going to be beholden, as is any club to their media deals, which have been comprised of a lot of different kinds of restrictions.”

For the most part, the NHL airs its games nationally. There have been playoff games aired on CNBC as well as NBCSN and the main NBC. Why? Because it is the playoffs, and that is the best content the sport has to offer.

“Media distribution and the platforms are going to continue to evolve,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told me recently on my Sports with Friends podcast. (I wrote about my entire chat here.) “There need to be opportunities to get within the game because the number of distribution platforms has never been greater.”

Carriage disputes will continue to happen. The Dodgers upset a lot of fans when Sportsnet LA was not on DirecTV. In 2021, look at all the technology options, and stop making fans so helpless.

If the price for the game was even higher, wouldn’t a sports bar benefit from paying $50+ to show the game? Bars opening across the country is supposed to be a good thing. Instead, a bar cannot show a game and has no control. It’s almost like we get all the way back from this pandemic only to see the players and owners at a labor impasse as the country opens fully.  Wait – that’s baseball.

Richardson spoke about how ESPN+ is doing a great job offering Bundesliga to fans across the USA. That spoke to the point of this column.  As rights deals continue, make sure fans have the OPTION to see the game.

“You would think that in light of the challenges to all these, um, leads and media companies, they would want to foster, um, a media environment that is workable for all parties and interests, especially fans.”

Altitude goes dark in Denver | Colorado Hockey Now
Courtesy: ColoradoHockeyNow.com

Carriage disputes are between two big businesses. Let suits fight suits over money. Fans being helpless is outdated.  

We have the technology. We can rebuild it.

BSM Writers

Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content

Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.

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USA Today

When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.

“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.

Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:

1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”

2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.

The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.

I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.

Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”

There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.

First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.

The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.

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BSM Writers

The Client Just Said YES, Now What?

We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.

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One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!

We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.

When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.

They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.

A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 74

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This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.

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