Waylon Jennings once said, “Everybody deserves a chance to do it their way at least one time.”
I think we all agree with Hoss on that one. However, it shows me that he probably wouldn’t have been cut out for life in corporate sports radio. Granted, it’s certainly not the case in every situation, but there’s several instances where hosts are held back because of how management tries to shape and portray a show. Not everyone in sports radio gets to do it ‘their way.’
There’s nothing more attractive to a host than the idea of doing a show their way with no restrictions. That’s why Jonathan Hutton, Chad Withrow and Paul Kuharsky couldn’t say no to Clay Travis when he pitched the trio on bringing their show to Outkick. Travis made it clear he wanted Outkick 360 to be exactly what Hutton, Withrow and Kurharsky wanted it to be. And with no restrictions.
“He told us in the beginning ‘I’m hiring you guys to do your show, I really like your show. I’m never going to tell you what to talk about or what to do, because you know what to do’,” Withrow says.
It was an incredible pitch from Travis. Soon after, he offered the trio a deal to come to Outkick. Now, there was a huge decision on the table. Should they continue with their nine-year run at 104.5 The Zone in Nashville or take a chance with Outkick?
“We knew we all wanted to stay together,” said Withrow. “We were on a three-year contract and I think we had a one-month open negotiating window. Clay Travis and Outkick came to the table and we all had the same representation with a lawyer that repped all three of us. Clay laid out his vision and pitched us. Cumulus had a chance to match that and they didn’t. We had an option at Cumulus and could’ve stayed but it came down to who was the best position for the future. We decided, hey, in five years where do we want to be and where should we be? We decided Outkick was the better option.”
“All of us not staying together would have been foolish,” said Kuharsky. “I’m not confident our old place saw the value in that. I’m limited in what I can say there, but they were asking me to make changes regarding my website that were not in the realm of possibility for me. At that point I knew there was going to have to be some sort of alternative and I was fortunate Outkick offered us something where we could continue to be ourselves and say and do what we want without restriction.”
The show’s producer, David Reed, didn’t even have the slightest idea the trio were on the verge of moving the show.
“I didn’t know they were leaving until their last day on air,” Reed said. “When I found out they were leaving to do their own thing, my intentions were to stay at Cumulus because I thought we all were staying. When that all came to be I wondered, what does my future look like here?”
Outkick 360 went live in mid-March and was instantaneously a hit. It helped that the show already had a large following, as the much anticipated launch was met with several listeners from their old show.
The promise Travis made to the show has stayed true. Outkick 360 makes its own rules and isn’t micromanged or questioned by anyone at the network. That includes their lack of political talk on the show. When some people think of Outkick, they think of the strong conservative stances Travis regularly takes. But just because it’s worked for him, he knows it’s not for everyone, nor does he want every show on Outkick to have strong political takes.
“He said, look, I’m after you guys because I love your show and I love what you do,” said Hutton. “I wouldn’t invest in your show to change it. He has never come to us and told us that we have to do things a certain way. He’s a fan of doing what works. We’re 90 percent sports and he may be 90 percent politics. What he sees in us is a great balance. If Outkick is the tree, we’re the sports branch. We’re proof that you don’t have to talk Republican or Democrat to do a show at Outkick.com. For me, that was important.”
That means Outkick 360 is about football – NFL, college, more NFL and SEC. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the summer or in late November, football rules the airwaves on the show. But since the move from terrestrial radio, the video component of the show has taken content to another level.
“For example, Hutton has a deal with a polo shirt provider and they sent him a shirt that he didn’t like that looked ridiculous,” said Withrow. “He presented it to me on air so I got to show it on camera. I also hated the shirt so I threw it to my producer who liked it. Just little things like that are some new things we can do. We’re still scratching the surface.”
That story is a great example of how live video has given the show even more personality than it had before on terrestrial radio. As Outkick 360 figures out how to navigate it and bring even more content to life, there’s a chance the show will see its best days.
“I think it has the chance to be much better, because people are able to tune in and see our live reaction to go along with our daily conversations,” said Hutton. “I think there are tons of sales opportunities that will be cashed in on very soon and I like the idea of being available, literally everywhere. I think that makes it better. Once we have the radio part of it back, I think the sky’s the actual limit of what we can do on the platform.”
Outkick is booming these days. Especially with the recent news that Fox has bought the website, which they reportedly intend to operate as an independent brand. For Hutton, Withrow and Kuharsky it was the perfect time to join in on the expanding company.
But the interesting twist is that Travis was a friend with each of the trio before he recruited them to Outkick. It’s an interesting dilemma to think about calling someone a friend one day, and then a boss the next.
It’s funny with Clay because there’s not a huge difference,” said Withrow. “He really is always the same guy. He was always that way with us. We could tell some things were going on in the last few months, there was definitely some stress. He was a little different at times and a lot more business-like. But he’s always the same guy.”
Outkick 360 is great because of its content, freedom and personality. But the reason it will continue to grow is the chemistry each host has with one another. It’s genuine enough for listeners to take note of how much they care for another. That’s key. If you can find a show where every host genuinely cares about the well-being of the others, anything can be accomplished.
“We just hit it off right from the start,” said Kuharsky. “We get along really well and we’re really good friends outside of work. That’s not always the case with other shows. The depths of our friendships are the key to that and people tell us that a lot when we spend time with listeners.”
The depth of that friendship extends into the production side with Reed. After a couple of months and an incredibly loyal move from Travis, Reed is now back with his old pals and running the controls.
There’s a chance Outkick 360 would have been Waylon Jennings’ favorite sports show, for no reason other than they have the freedom to do it their way. If Outkick chooses to build more shows on the network,it will have a great chance to lure even more high-profile talent, based on how Travis has managed Hutton, Withrow and Kuharsky.
“That’s what we had been wanting to do for a long time,” said Outkick 360 producer David Reed. “This is our chance to do it the way we want to do it without anyone telling us different. That’s not going to happen with Clay Travis at Outkick.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
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.