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Remote Broadcasts Affect Announcers and Sports Fans

“Broadcasters want to be at the games and the fans want the broadcasters to be at the games.”

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Dallas Morning News

What makes a good play-by-play announcer, especially on radio, is the ability to paint a picture and to make the audience feel like they’re part of the game. Of course, the best way to do that is for the announcer to feel like he or she is part of the game, because the objective is to transfer the emotion and the feel of the game to the fans who are listening on the radio and watching on television.

But we currently live in a world where sometimes the play-by-play announcer has to paint that picture and call a game without actually being at the game.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many broadcasters have had to pivot and call games remotely from a studio watching on a monitor. Play-by-play announcers, for the most part, were able to call home games in person, but going on the road wasn’t permitted for quite a while and there’s no doubt that it has an effect on a broadcast when calling a game remotely. 

“The biggest challenge is that I can’t watch the entire rink like I normally do,” said longtime New York Islanders radio voice Chris King. “I’m forced to watch whatever the director decides is the most important thing to watch which usually is the puck carrier or the area around the puck and nothing away from the puck whatsoever. You only have one view and you need to see a lot more than what the director is showing you.”

When the National Hockey League returned to play in a bubble for the 2020 playoffs, King did not travel with the team to Canada so he had to call games remotely from a studio with the NHL providing a video feed and the natural sound from the arena to make the broadcasts sound as if he was actually at the game. There are a number of things a play-by-play announcer can miss out on when he or she is not at the game.

Let’s be honest…you’re at the mercy of the director of the telecast.

“It’s a one goal game and the Islanders are down late,” said King. “You know at some point that they are going to pull their goaltender. The problem is that when you’re watching on a video screen, they’re only showing the attacking zone for the Islanders. They’re not showing when the Islander goaltender is racing off the ice.”  

King couldn’t look down to the other end of the ice to see if the goalie was leaving for the team to bring on an extra attacker. He had no choice but to start counting the players in the offensive zone to figure out if the goalie had skated over to the bench.

“If I counted five Islanders, I would guess that the goalie is still in,” said King. “If I counted six Islanders, I would guess that the goalie is on the bench.”

It’s not easy to call a game remotely and I’ve learned that firsthand this year as the play-by-play voice of the National Lacrosse League’s New York Riptide. I’ve been a play-by-play announcer for all sorts of high school, college and professional sports over the years but I had never called a game remotely at any level until this past December. 

I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a play-by-play announcer and I can’t tell you how many times that I sat in front of a television with a tape recorder “announcing” a game.

I never thought I would do something similar to that professionally, but there I was this past December 10th calling the New York Riptide game in Philadelphia on a monitor in a studio at the radio station. One of my worst fears became reality when I was calling the game and while the ball was in play, the director cut to shot of a coach on the bench.

What do I do?

At first, I thought I would just make up calling the play-by-play for a couple of seconds but I instead chose to be honest and say that the feed cut to a shot of the bench. There was also another time this season when doing a road game when we lost the feed of the game for a few minutes and our broadcast changed from calling a game to doing a talk show for a few minutes. 

While the pandemic has subsided to the point where fans have returned to the arenas and stadiums and the announcers, in many cases, have begun to return to the road games, calling a game remotely isn’t something that you can completely blame on the pandemic.

In fact, there are teams, leagues and networks that have been having broadcasters work remotely for years. 

“I have called numerous games over the years remotely,” said veteran play-by-play announcer Dave Leno who is the voice of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union and has also called play-by-play from a studio for the Big Ten Network, U.S. Open Tennis and Japanese baseball games. 

“The biggest obstacle when calling games from the studio is we can only call what we see,” said Leno. “When we’re on-site, we can add more color to the broadcast- whether it be identifying a a player off-screen, describing the atmosphere and the crowd is impacting the game, spotting potential subs getting ready to enter and dissecting playing conditions.”

While announcers have called soccer matches and other various sports remotely over the years before the pandemic, hard-core sports fans have certainly noticed a difference through the pandemic in watching or listening to a game and quite frankly it’s been an adjustment for a lot of broadcasters who may never have had to do this. Whether you’re a local announcer, a play-by-play voice of a prominent sports franchise or even a network broadcaster, it’s much harder to paint a picture and tell the story when you’re not at the game and you don’t have direct access to players, managers, coaches and staff.

“I’ll always be in favor of calling the game in person vs the studio,” said Leno. “Taking that walk from the car up to the stadium then to the press box and into your broadcast booth just hits differently than walking into a studio and starting at monitors for a few hours.”

In many ways, sports fans have certainly been dealt an inferior product when watching or listening to a game with remote broadcasters. It’s not a knock on the announcers because, as I can attest to, it is much more difficult when you’re not at the game. You can’t go down to the locker room or even the field, court or ice and talk to players and coaches, get some inside info or simply find out about injuries and lineups.

“I want to be able to call the game as accurately as possible,” said King. “That is so important to me and I can’t do that off of a TV screen.”

And if the announcers can’t see something or get a feel of the game, it doesn’t just affect their job…it also makes it more difficult for the fan to follow along.

“Calling the game from a studio or at home, just doesn’t give that same ‘big-tim’ production feel,” said Leno. “The broadcaster and crew have to sacrifice a bit, and in turn so does the fan.”

Broadcasters want to be at the games and the fans want the broadcasters to be at the games. You can’t do as good a job as being at the game whether its for public health reasons or for budgetary concerns. 

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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