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No One Can Justify Remote Broadcasts In 2022

“The number of networks behaving this way is dropping, but the fact that there is still a list is absolutely maddening.”

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Baseball broadcasts are still being held hostage in several cities. There has been no ransom demanded or locations given for a money drop. It’s a shame too, because the hostage holders are the very networks and teams these broadcasts are seen/heard on.

While the country is trying to get back to normal, some broadcasts are still not traveling to games. Yes, I’m serious. The number of networks behaving this way is dropping, but the fact that there is still a list is absolutely maddening. 

I’ll say it as bluntly as I can. There is no excuse for broadcasters not to be traveling. None. Yes, in 2020 it was the only way. Today it’s more NO WAY. The fact that networks, radio stations, and teams are fighting this is ridiculous. For those claiming to want the best broadcasts they can possibly get to serve a fan base, not allowing travel is hypocritical. 

MASN issued a statement as to why it wasn’t allowing broadcast teams to travel. It read “The global pandemic required all of us to learn new lessons in innovation, resourcefulness, and resilience. MASN is carrying forward some of those lessons.”

These teams are taking heat from the media and from the fans. Rightfully so. I felt for Bob Carpenter on the Nationals’ television broadcast, when the picture was lost during Washington’s game at Pittsburgh. What do you do? How are you supposed to do your job? You can’t. There was also confusion over a player entering the game.

This is so unfair to the broadcasters and worse, to the fans. 

The Orioles had several issues too. Fans complained about delayed commentary, like when a key error was called several seconds after it was already seen by fans. During one spring training game, an on-site MASNsports.com reporter handled the broadcast because of technical difficulties. It’s not the broadcasters’ fault at all. Blame those that deserve it – RSNs that are trying to save a buck. 

Finally, the folks at MASN caved to the ongoing pressures. The Nationals broadcasters were in San Francisco for the series on April 29th and the Orioles were back on the road for a series with the Yankees April 26th. Victory!

It took embarrassing glitches, numerous mistakes, and finally social media critiques by the team’s fan bases. There was no reason for this to even be an issue. 

The folks making the decisions seemingly don’t understand how difficult it is to broadcast a game while you’re at the park, let alone trying to follow the action from miles away. If the decision-makers actually did “get it,” it would not have taken all that it did to get this situation corrected.

Broadcasters are ultimately judged on how they perform. Putting the added stress of not being able to actually see the game doesn’t help their cause. Some fans are quick to criticize without knowing the circumstances and the degree of difficulty these professionals are performing under. 

The situation in Anaheim is a little different, but the results have been the same. The Angels’ play-by-play man on television is Matt Vasgersian. He is calling games from Secaucus, New Jersey with the rest of the crew in California. Vasgersian also works for MLB Network, so remote broadcasts are needed in his case. He plans to do up to 100 games for the Angels this season. But the telecasts have been riddled with issues. In mid-April, the Angels were in Texas to face the Rangers. Vasgersian calling the game from hundreds of miles away had the call of a Mike Trout homer that was way behind the picture on TV. Then Vasgersian initially called a home run by Jared Walsh a foul ball. 

“My frustration is high,” Vasgersian told The Athletic recently. “I don’t take myself very seriously…But I take the work seriously. So, if your work is being criticized and clowned on, that stinks. And yeah, I don’t like the idea of that.”

Again, don’t blame the broadcaster.

At this moment, the Angels aren’t planning to travel their radio crew this year. The Orioles seemingly have no plans to let the radio broadcasters follow the television team on the road. The Blue Jays won’t let the radio broadcaster travel either. This is unacceptable as well. It’s much more difficult to call a remote game on radio.

I know, because I did it during the 2020 season with the White Sox. We didn’t complain about it then, because the pandemic was raging and we were working. Less than ideal, but the games were going on. 

The biggest issue as I recall, you couldn’t just trust your eyes. There were multiple monitors in front of me. One had the program feed, there was a tiled screen with the scoreboard, bullpens and an all-9 wide shot of the field. That picture was tiny. To try and pick up a ball in the gap on that monitor was hard to do. I was basically flying blind.

You had to do the best you could and go against everything you knew in play-by-play. I mean, I wanted to be fast to the call like normal, but I had to wait. It seemed like an agonizing amount of time to make sure things happened the way I thought they might. I made plenty of mistakes, I will admit, but I was doing the best I could.  

Brian Anderson backed my thought on the situation. The Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster said in an interview reprinted by the Washington Post, that calling a game off a monitor requires an announcer to rethink years of muscle memory.

“In the stadium, you see contact and you can immediately react. But on the monitor, you would have to wait two beats,” he said. “You fight every instinct to say something because you have to sit there in silence and wait for the next frame because you can’t be wrong. And two seconds can feel like an eternity.”

Like I said, you can’t just trust your eyes and normal thoughts. 

“My eyes can travel 300 feet in a split second,” Anderson said. “But on the monitor, batted balls can look like a foul ball. You can also use your ears at the park, how the ball sounds off the bat. That’s one thing I really lost — how it sounded and how the player reacts when he hits.” he said. I’ll add too, that baseball is probably the hardest to call off of just a monitor. The ball can go in multiple directions and you are at the mercy of a good director and camera operators.”

There is another problem with the broadcasters not traveling with the team. Now that things are becoming more normal again, announcers and reporters have access to the clubhouse again. Those that are on site are getting to develop relationships and are finding out things that the team broadcasters aren’t. I can only imagine how unprepared even the most prepared broadcaster is feeling when he/she doesn’t get word of something that everybody else knows.

Every announcer will tell you that there is value in being there. Going all-in on the team you’re covering is important. Now, even Zoom press conferences are being phased out creating an additional challenge to get information when you aren’t there. I’m getting frustrated for these folks just writing this. 

2020 forced everyone into pivot mode. We all had to be creative on how the product was delivered. The layout and monitor setup we started with in Chicago changed as the season went on based on our needs. It was great to see the cooperation level back then. It was a “whatever you need” mentality. What we all need in 2022 is for teams/networks/radio stations to stop making excuses and get our broadcasters back on the road. 

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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