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Why Did The Sports Media Fall In Love With Ted Lasso?

“A quick Twitter search turns up familiar names like Mina Kimes, Adam Schein, Mike Golic Jr and so many others singing the Apple TV+ show’s praises.”

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It is hard to find someone that doesn’t like Ted Lasso. Look at Twitter, and you might find people that wear never having seen the show as a badge of honor, but it is rare you find someone that says they watched the entire first season and hated it.

It is a nearly perfect show, balancing smart comedy with beautifully played emotional moments, both uplifting and devastating. This isn’t at all what you expect when you read that Apple made a TV show out of a series of commercials starring Jason Sudeikis.

Ted Lasso Season 1 Review, How to Watch
Courtesy: Apple

While most people that watched the show gave it high marks, one group that seemed to be particularly in love with Ted Lasso was the sports media. A quick Twitter search turns up familiar names like Mina Kimes, Adam Schein, Mike Golic Jr and so many others singing the Apple TV+ show’s praises.

What is it about this show that connected with us? Sure, it is set in the sports world. But it can’t be that simple, right?

For the uninitiated, Ted is a division II college football coach that is hired to coach a Premier League soccer team, by the team’s new owner, the jilted ex-wife of the team’s former owner. Her goal is to run the franchise into the ground, but Ted, full of relentless positivity, is determined to find his definition of success. It features diva superstar players, personnel fights with management, a coach trying to change a culture, and plenty of interaction with the media.

Could it be that simple? Is it about being able to see ourselves as part of this character’s universe?

Mike DeCourcy, who covers college basketball for Sporting News and Big Ten Network, says that Ted Lasso, the character, is not like any coach most of us has covered. Part of the idea of the show is that the guy barely knows the rules of soccer. His plan is to succeed by building a team culture. Maybe those guys exist in the American sports landscape, but they would never be as honest about it as Ted is.

“I think those of us who’ve covered sports appreciate it because there is truth in Ted’s philosophy, and there is good in the sports we write and talk about and essentially allow to consume our lives,” DeCourcy told me. “We all know there are some involved who are not good people, or are up to no good, but there still is something essentially wonderful about the pursuit of excellence. At his core, that’s what Ted is communicating.”

Lauren Brooks covers the Jaguars for 1010XL in Jacksonville. She too is a Ted Lasso fan. I asked her if she could picture herself interacting with Lasso and other media members.

“Ted Lasso’s first press conference was as cringe-worthy as a Michael Scott meeting in the Office, but over time, I came to appreciate Ted’s unwavering honesty and vulnerability,” she said.” Often in sports, pressers contain cliches and we don’t glean much insight from them, but Ted had a way of disarming the media, even crusty Trent Crimm, and providing worthwhile information.”

The personal connection might help for some. For me personally, it was about just how good the writing was. When the show went for comedy, it delivered with moments like Ted answering his boss’s question about whether or not he believed in ghosts with “Yes, but I think it’s more important they believe in themselves.” When the show went for the heartstrings, it tugged as hard as it could.

Evan Cohen, of SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio says the kindness and positivity of Ted Lasso was almost aspirational.

“We all can hope for kindness in ourselves, our teams and our fellow citizens but Ted Lasso gave us an ability to see, hear and copy it. It is tangible evidence that the belief in good can be strived for and realized…even if it is a scripted made for TV series.”

That relentless positivity is obvious central to who Ted Lasso is as a character and what the show is as a narrative. Would we have accepted it free of any cynicism if Ted Lasso had debuted in any year other than 2020? How much did the political climate and the dark cloud that was Covid hanging over our heads for so long contribute to the fanbase’s passion?

“I think the timing of it was huge. It came when we all needed joy and positivity,” says Matt Jones, of Kentucky Sports Radio and ESPN Radio, before noting that he doesn’t think that means there is no way the upcoming second season won’t elicit similar emotions and responses. “Finding the balance between uplifting and not cheesy is hard and since this walked the line so well, if it does it again, I for one will be very excited.”

Jason Martin of 104.5 the Zone in Nashville thinks that 2020 may have played a role, but the signs were there for a long time that a show like this would find a dedicated audience.

“We all needed to escape into something and for many, the idea of a truly likable lead, a decent person, on a show with zero politics, no time to preach any message other than decency and grace, that was going to resonate. But if you’ll look, WandaVision, The Mandalorian, Loki, and certainly Ted Lasso are ALL examples of shows with characters to root for and universes that weren’t designed to wreck your day.”

For many, the appeal of Ted Lasso is, well, Ted Lasso. Steve Woods of 97.3 the Fan in San Diego points out his favorite scene is in the coach’s first meeting with his new boss and his unflinching honesty about how bad the drink he is offered is.

“We all would’ve choked the tea down,” Woods says. “All of us. He didn’t.”

Woods insists that in a profession where we cover so many people putting on an act for the cameras, Ted Lasso appeals to the sports media because the lead character is incapable of being anything other than himself at all times.

“Wouldn’t all of us like to cover  Ted Lasso? Someone who is genuine and takes the time to get to know you?  Someone who understands the absurdity of it all, while also remaining kind.”

This isn’t the first show that has created a strong sense of community. Think about the crazy live Twitter conversations that go on during episodes of The Bachelor or the immediate reaction to the disappointing finale of Game of Thrones. What is interesting though is that we all found Ted Lasso on our own time.

Apple TV+ has less than a third of the subscribers as Disney+. There was no overwhelming promotional push for Ted Lasso. Jason Sudekis is well-known to Saturday Night Live fans, but he isn’t the A-list star some other Apple TV+ shows had. Why did this break through? How did this show create a community with all of us discovering it at a different time?

Martin says it is about trusting friends’ opinion. Ted Lasso found its community through being good and earning word of mouth advertising.

“It’s such an easy recommendation from me to anyone, with the language and content caveat of course, because I haven’t ever left a Ted Lasso episode and not felt a little bit of joy that wasn’t as easy to spot prior to watching it,” he says. “It’s an infectious show, because hope and grace and kindness are so needed and we all quietly crave them in others toward us and crave others to feel about us the way we do about Ted. It’s an inspirational show about flawed people, but not evil people, all trying to live… who collectively grow as human beings. Not to mention Sudeikis seems like a pretty great guy. His rise is starting to remind me of Keanu Reeves… of which we could use more of both.”

I wondered if it is an echo chamber kind of thing. Certainly my Twitter bubble loves Ted Lasso. How does that translate in the real world though?

Woods told me that he and his partner Ben Higgins have brought the show up several times on their morning show and know that it isn’t just a small echo chamber of people that love the show.

“We get great response when we talk about it every time. Jason Sudekis remains at the top of our bucket list interview sheet. I have seen plenty of edgelords tweeting how they didn’t like it. I’m the most cynical human I know and I hate almost everything and I’ve watched it 4 times. I’ll probably start my 5th go around tonight.”

It’s a good time to follow the exploits of AFC Richmond. The show scored an unfathomable 20 Emmy nominations earlier this month. That is more than any comedy in its first season in history. Every actor with significant screen time was nominated for one of the major acting awards, including Sudekis, who is a shew-in to win Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.

Season 2 is on the horizon as well. It drops this week. Fans are excited, but nervous.

Like I said earlier, Ted Lasso’s is a dedicated fanbase. It would be devastating if season 2 isn’t on par with the first.

DeCourcy has his predictions and hopes for what we see next. He told me that all he can do is trust that Ted Lasso’s cast and crew are aware of the standard they set with the first season.

“I honestly can’t be sure where the story goes next, but I trust the creators because they delivered so perfectly the first time around. One thing I feel pretty strongly about: Jamie Tartt (a pretty boy, superstar-in-the-making character) registered so powerfully with viewers that there has to be another chapter for him. When England lost the European Championship to Italy on penalties, you’d be amazed how many Tweets I got that said, ‘Jamie Tartt should have taken one.'”

Martin has seen season 2 already and reviewed it for 104.5 The Zone’s website. As he puts it, “there’s a lot of story to pay off” this season and those payoffs are there. His thoughts on season 2 are overwhelmingly positive, but I asked him to avoid any specifics.

“In the first few episodes of the new season, a lot of things are addressed, one new character arrives with an important role, and the cold open is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, because you’ll be laughing.

“Ted Lasso doesn’t LOSE what made it special, even if there’s a new degree of depth to some of the characters and their own realities.”

That is good news. So many of us have very high hopes and will not be happy if they aren’t met. What will be really interesting is the debate that comes next: Is a Ted Lasso recap good content on a Friday?

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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