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Would Programmers Hire Sports Radio’s DeShaun Watson?

“I talked to five program directors. I offered them all anonymity to answer a simple question.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Peter Aiken/Getty Images

No criminal charges made it easy for teams to justify their pursuits of DeShaun Watson. The newest Cleveland Brown still faces civil lawsuits from 22 women accusing him of sexual misconduct. All we have to go on is the fact that a grand jury chose not to indict. Whether that means he is innocent or there simply was not enough evidence to press charges is irrelevant. No charges means no charges.

That is the legal standing. With those civil suits still open, we can’t say that DeShaun Watson has been completely cleared. He isn’t the first NFL player to be accused of mistreating women and he won’t be the last. But, here are the Cleveland Browns betting their mortgage on a 22-team parlay that this will all blow over.

Professional football and radio are two very different worlds. One thing they have in common is that if you have talent and can make a difference in winning whatever game it is you are playing, there is someone willing to weigh the pros and cons of hiring you.

I talked to five program directors. I offered them all anonymity to answer a simple question. This is a competitive business and there are few sure things anymore in radio. If you had the chance to hire someone with the same upside and same baggage as DeShaun Watson, what kind of answers would you need before you made your decision?

Some were clear that even charges were too much of a red flag to risk their brand’s reputation on. 

“I would need him to be cleared of the allegations,” one told me. “I personally wouldn’t be comfortable paying and standing behind someone who has that kind and that many allegations. Twenty two? WAY too much smoke.”

Okay, let’s forget the 22. Let’s just say the guy had a history.

“I want to put my head on the pillow at night,” the same programmer answered. “You don’t have to be a Saint, but that’s a bridge too far for me.”

A different PD told me that as soon as the issue comes up, he would start asking questions. He would want to know how his staff felt, how advertisers felt, even how his wife felt. Those answers would be important, but that wouldn’t be the end of his process.

“I think my most important thing would be the conversation with the man to see if there was any remorse whatsoever and see if he understands the severity of the situation,” this PD said. “At the end of the day I don’t think I would be comfortable pulling the trigger.”

Two of the people I talked to said it isn’t even a conversation they would be interested in having. Their bars would be too high to think they could realistically be cleared.

“I’d stay away unless I was completely convinced there would be no other incidents,” said one.

Another said not only could he not see himself wanting to bring someone with that kind of baggage onto his staff. He couldn’t see anyone in the industry being willing to justify hiring someone that you would constantly have to defend or make excuses for.

“Our talent has a constant and indelible connection to our communities,” he said. “There has to be a comfort and trust level there to make that work. That’s a completely different dynamic than an athlete playing for 60 minutes on 17 Sundays a year.”

Okay, I will give this PD that. Being an on-air presence five-days-a-week for fifty weeks each year is very different than “60 minutes on 17 Sundays a year.” But let’s not pretend this idea is so farfetched. People hire assholes all the time. Sometimes it comes after asking a lot of questions and getting the right answers and good information. Other times it is as simple as hiring the asshole is what whoever was doing the hiring wanted to do.

Right now, you are probably thinking of someone that did something terrible or said something racist on air that got a second chance. Maybe they even got a third. This happens in our industry.

There was only one person that I talked to that I walked away thinking they would be genuinely open-minded when presented with a situation like this. It didn’t mean that this PD gave me the impression that he would be a definite yes. He just seemed more open to the idea that someone with tremendous history and potential could be worth it.

“At the end of the day, talent always wins and I’ve always believed in second chances,” he said, “but if you’re going to lose key advertisers and also key members of your team, you’ll need to honestly evaluate if the risk is worth the potential reward.”

So now, let’s say whether the PDs want the guy or not, he has been hired. Maybe their boss thinks there is just too much money to be made to take a moral stand. I asked everyone if that were the case and the guy was going to be on your air, how would you want him to handle the accusations and charges against him?

It is easy to say that doing anything short of not at all acknowledging them is a mistake, but we live in the age of Google and Twitter and email. All of those digital tools make it very easy for someone else to control your story if you don’t do it yourself. So what is your plan?

“I’d want them to be willing to address it to the extent that they can legally,” said the PD I thought may actually be open to hiring this hypothetical broadcast DeShaun Watson. “Other than that, you have to simply move on. If this talent ends up ultimately being very successful, most people will forget about what happened in the past. People have short memories and in general love a ‘redemption story’. There’s a long list of athletes and celebrities who have rehabbed their images and flipped the script on the court of public opinion.”

The first PD likened his approach to the way Craig Carton addressed his return to WFAN. He noted that the charges were not at all similar, but WFAN and Carton didn’t try to run away from the issues they knew people wanted to talk about. 

“I don’t think you can avoid his past. It’d be disingenuous and insulting to the listeners. I’d want him to publicly address it immediately.”

One PD I talked to had trouble settling on an answer. His initial thought was that of course you would want to get in front of the story, but maybe the answer isn’t that easy.

“On one hand I would want him to address it and ensure everyone that’s not who he is and that he will show and prove that he is worthy of the spot, and then on the other hand if you bring attention to it, then it’s back in the headlines,” he said.

Unfortunately, rarely are PDs judged on whether or not they do the right thing. Maybe a better way to say it is that the right thing for a PD to do may not always be the thing that is easiest to live with. After all, these jobs are about winning ratings battles and generating revenue. If an asshole can do that better than a guy that would never hurt a fly, you cannot simply dismiss the asshole without putting yourself at some risk.

Personally, I wouldn’t bet on it, but maybe that one PD is right. Maybe there is no way a programmer or GM in radio even has to do this much math when presented with a candidate with tremendous upside and just as much baggage. I would like to live in that world if you are dealing with someone accused of doing the things DeShaun Watson is as often as he is accused of doing them. 

That’s not even about morality. That is about never feeling like you are safe. That is ultimately the choice the Browns have made. If it nets them an annual spot in the playoffs and even one AFC title, maybe the Haslem family and Kevin Stefanski will be comfortable with ever really be sure their franchise QB isn’t about to blow everything up for someone he met on Instagram.

All it takes is that happening one time and everyone loses their reputation and most of them lose their jobs. Is that a risk you can live with if you are pulling down radio thousands and not NFL millions?

BSM Writers

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.

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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.

Quick bites

  • 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.

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BSM Writers

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.

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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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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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.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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