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How Are ESPN and TNT Treating the NHL?

“Last week, I watched a game on both outlets and was a little surprised at what I saw.”

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It’s a new era of television for the National Hockey League. Gone are the days of NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA and wherever else the games were airing. While I enjoyed the NBC telecasts, mainly because of Doc Emerick, it was time for something new. There was a need to freshen things up and get the NHL in front of different eyes and perhaps even a younger audience. 

The league is now in business with both ESPN and TNT. The deals are each for 7 years. ESPN is paying around 400-million a year, while Turner is paying around 225-millon annually. ESPN has the ‘upper hand’ in the broadcast arrangement because ABC will air four of the next seven Stanley Cup Final series every other year starting in 2022. Turner will broadcast the three Stanley Cup Final in the years between. 

Before the Cup Final, the two networks will split the first two rounds of the playoffs and the conference finals.  Turner will have the broadcasts for the annual Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.

I realize at the beginning of this column I said there was a need to ‘freshen things up’. While the games are on new networks, there are some familiar faces and voices still bringing you the action. I still say it’s ‘fresh’ because the presentation is a lot different and some of these voices have been cast in new and better roles, showing off personality and deep knowledge of the NHL. 

The broadcasts on TNT and ESPN are very different. That includes the pregame, intermission and postgame shows as well. Last week, I watched a game on both outlets and was a little surprised at what I saw. Keeping in mind, the studio shows featured some different cast members than the opening week of the season. Wayne Gretzky was absent from the TNT set and John Buccigross, who is sharing hosting duties with Steve Levy, was at the helm of the ESPN studio show. Also keep in mind that both shows were dealing with the serious subject of the Kyle Beach sexual assault case against the Chicago Blackhawks. Beach had just been interviewed by TSN and the subject matter was deep.  

TNT STUDIO SHOW

NHL on TNT Face Off is hosted by Liam McHugh, the former host on NBC’s intermission reports under the former contract. This night he was joined by Rick Tocchet, Anson Carter and Paul Bissonnette on the show. 

McHugh is a seasoned pro, that actually gets to show off a little personality on this show. With NBC it seemed as though, McHugh was limited to a much more, straight forward approach, which allowed at times, a little humor. This TNT production allows him to really loosen up and run the show with fewer restrictions. His personality really comes out. He recently told the AP, basically the same thing. 

“It felt like they wanted me to do what I do best, which is interact, and to keep a loose show,” McHugh said. “In the past, and it definitely occurred, I self-edited or I held back at times. In most cases, that’s gone. … And that was something that really appealed to me, it was more natural to me.”

Tocchet is an 18-year NHL veteran and coached for 6 seasons including the last four for the Coyotes. Tocchet can offer perspective as not only a high-level player, but as a coach just last season. He understands the mindset of today’s hockey player and that insight will be good as he gets more comfortable in the role. I like that he’s raw right now. 

Bissonnette is the wildcard of the group. He’s probably the one most likely to drop a ‘bomb’, but that’s not an act, it’s all real. Hopefully he will be able to contain himself, but there’s no telling. During a Bleacher Report fans’ Q&A he told everyone what he’s most excited about, in joining the TNT crew. 

“The advice I keep getting, especially from Wayne, is just be yourself. Turner tells us they want us to be ourselves. That was really refreshing. I’m excited to just get in there and let it fly with the guys. Whether it’s diving into a serious topic or breaking a video down, it’s just gonna be a very good time and a lighthearted feeling to the broadcast. Just having fun and just bringing my silly, goof personality.”

Carter is smooth on the set. No subject seems too much for him. He’s got a very calm demeanor about him, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t passionate. Watching him react to the Beach story and the Blackhawks, saying how it hits home to him with two daughters was powerful. Carter also made the comment that the hockey community is so close knit that the Hawks upper management failed to ‘take care of Kyle Beach’. 

This production is terrific. It is very closely modeled after Inside the NBA on TNT. It’s irreverent at times, but mainly it’s fun. TNT showed us photoshopped pictures like the NBA show and also included instant reaction from fans and some famous folks on Twitter and social media. It’s almost like the folks at TNT are saying, ‘if you’re a fan of our NBA show, wait until you see what we can do for the NHL’. I loved the pacing of the show and everyone having a chance to take a ‘shot’ at the other. 

TNT's NHL broadcast lineup: Schedule, play-by-play, analysts and hosts for  2021-22 season | Sporting News

This show featured a pregame interview with Oilers’ star Connor McDavid. Tocchet had the line of the interview when he prefaced his question by saying, “Hey Connor thanks for putting me on this panel, having to coach against you the last four years.” It was a fun interview that had its serious moments, but mainly showcased the personalities of the panel and of McDavid. The latter is so key for the development of the NHL on television. You have to let viewers get to know some of the big-time players and this was a mission accomplished. 

Through all the fun, this show was able to turn into a very serious and informative program. With the seriousness of the Kyle Beach and Chicago Blackhawks situation, balance had to be struck. It was time to be serious and the balance was struck well. Carter was well spoken during the segment and spoke from the heart when he said, “this really hits home to me, I have two daughters,” he continued to call out the former Hawks executives, saying the hockey culture is all about looking out for each other and “they didn’t protect Kyle Beach”. 

NHL ON TNT BROADCAST

Game broadcast has a familiar tone to the NBC telecasts of the past. That’s because this booth featured Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk and Keith Jones, guys that used to call games for NBC and NBCSN. 

I think Albert is always solid. He has the ability to rise to the occasion when the moment calls for it and at the same time, he knows when to clear out to let Olczyk do his thing. Olczyk is hands down the best hockey analyst in the game, with a great feel for television and the game of hockey. He’s a great ambassador and a great teacher of the game for those that may have tuned in for the first time. Jones also moves from the NBC studio to the “inside the glass” position for the TNT broadcast. Unlike Pierre McGuire who made it more about himself than the game, Jones is now afforded the chance to analyze what he’s seeing at ice level and provides great insight. 

The TNT scorebug is great as well. It’s just big enough not to be obtrusive. It’s clean and colorful and has excellent information. The thing most hockey fans truly appreciate about the TNT ‘bug’ is that the ‘Shots on Goal’ stay on it at all times. 

ESPN STUDIO SHOW

In watching the first few minutes of this particular show, it kind of gave me the same feel as the old NBC telecast. It’s a little more “buttoned up” than the TNT show. Hockey lover Buccigross hosted this installment, he will split time with another hockey guy, Levy in hosting the show for the season. Both will also call games on ESPN’s coverage of the NHL. The ESPN studio show has two analysts. They are well known names to hard core and casual hockey fans. Mark Messier and Chris Chelios make up the panel. They are decorated players and big names in hockey circles. 

Messier brings a wealth of experience and success to the ESPN show. He’s a six-time Stanley Cup champion and Hall of Fame center. His prior television experience includes work as an in-game analyst for the All-Star Game and making occasional guest commentator appearances for NHL on NBC. Messier is somewhat soft spoken on the ESPN set. But what he says packs a punch thanks to his credentials. You can tell he takes meticulous notes on each game he’s watching, now it’s just a matter of being able to speak without having to refer to them on air. Messier seems a bit fidgety in his chair at times, but that will change as he gets a little more experience. I was happy to see that he’s not so super serious all the time, playing well off his teammates on set. 

Chelios is also a Hall of Fame player. He’s currently an ambassador for the Blackhawks. He previously worked for Fox Sports 1 back in 2013. He was part of the coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Chelios is the ‘fun-loving’ side of the ESPN studio show. He smiles a lot and genuinely looks like he’s having a great time. He is dialed in on the current players in the game and is not afraid to express opinions. Chelios handled the Kyle Beach situation very well, when pressed during this particular show. While he still works for the Blackhawks, he didn’t mince words in stating how awful this situation was. Chelios looks very comfortable in the chair and is able to get Messier to smile and engage during the show. 

NHL ON ESPN BROADCAST

There is a ‘newness’ to the telecast, just because it’s been so long since ESPN televised the NHL. Sean McDonough was named the lead play-by-play broadcaster and this night he was joined by a former NBC voice, Brian Boucher and reporter Emily Kaplan.

McDonough is a terrific broadcaster, versatile and solid. He’s called MLB, NCAA and NFL games. His foray back into hockey is taking a little time to get back on solid ground. It’s a different sport with different flow than the ones he’s more recently called. There were a few times that he was a little slow on the action. I’m sure as the season goes on, that will change, but right now it’s noticeable. 

Boucher is solid as well. He was a rising star in the analyst world at NBC, so it makes sense that ESPN scooped him up. Boucher has a deep working knowledge of the NHL and has a clear and concise way of presenting information to the fans at home. 

ESPN to Present NHL Games and Studio Coverage with Innovative Production  Approaches and New Technologies - ESPN Press Room U.S.

The ESPN scorebug is simple, maybe too simple. It doesn’t provide much other than the essentials, like the score and time left, etc. It’s larger than the one on TNT, but it features less. Shots on Goal are not regularly a part of it, once in a while the SOG is flashed up, but it’s not a fixture. The bug does expand to include penalty, power play time. I think it needs some work.  

Overall, from the one watch of both networks, I’m kind of partial to the TNT telecast as a whole. From the studio show to the game broadcast, it just seemed more upbeat and cleaner. I think both broadcasts are a step up from the NBC broadcasts. Both are taking a few more chances visually. Whether it be penalty time actually displayed on the ice (TNT) or unique camera angles that capture more of the game from different perspectives (ESPN). Hockey is in good hands for the next seven years.

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

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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