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USC and UCLA Moves Will Beg Big Questions of TV Partners

This arrangement will spark two inevitable questions. The first being what becomes of the other teams, the “Group of Five” programs? There are some recognizable names in that group. The second question is what becomes of the NCAA Basketball Tournament?

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Pac 12

“Roads? Where we are going, we don’t need roads.”

Anyone who has seen the 1985 classic Back to the Future likely recognizes that as the movie’s final line. Marty McFly is worried Doc Brown hasn’t allowed his DeLorean ample distance to reach the necessary speed to achieve time travel. But Doc Brown’s car from the future needed no roads. Thursday, the pavement may have run out for the Pac-12 Conference. Unfortunately for them, they may be a relic of the past.

Point your finger of blame at whomever you wish for where the Pac-12 finds itself. Former conference commissioner Larry Scott, Pac-12 university presidents and the greedy Big Ten have all been targets of blame. The hard truth is the departure of USC and UCLA might be the death blow to one of the “Power Five” conferences. But it is hard to blame the two Los Angeles schools for accepting an invite to the Big 10 that will likely lead to an additional $40-$50 million each year in athletic department revenues. There are exactly zero other schools in conferences not named the SEC that would not have entertained the same offer.

Those two conferences run college sports now, it is not even debatable. College football is governed by the “other” Golden Rule: “He who holds the gold, makes the rules.” Make no mistake, this is all about football. Our nation is a football nation and no conference can thrive without a marketable football product. FOX and ESPN have been banging on the doors of the the Big Ten and SEC begging to throw money at them and the conferences have gladly accepted.

The TV deal was the official cause of death for the Pac-12. I am a DIRECTV customer and watch college football on multiple screens from 11am Saturday until the final whistle early Sunday morning. I’ll watch it all, all except the Pac-12 Network games.

On DIRECTV I can watch a live video feed from a spacecraft moving 17,100 miles per hour in an orbit 250 miles from the Earth and I can’t watch Washington State host Oregon. They could’ve at least offered the games on one of those channels for four easy payments of $9.95 and throw in an additional Arizona at Oregon State late night game for just an additional shipping and handling fee.

For years I have said college sports is headed to a new division. The biggest 60-70 football powers will break away to create their own division of football. They will control all the money, all the playoffs and all the TV deals. I believe it will be four “super conferences” and everyone else will be in the cold. That’s correct, college sports will quite literally not need roads because they’ll be flying everywhere.

This arrangement will spark two inevitable questions. The first being what becomes of the other teams, the “Group of Five” programs? There are some recognizable names in that group. The second question is what becomes of the NCAA Basketball Tournament? There’s only a few billion at stake there for the NCAA.

First, I think the “Group of Five” teams play for their own championship and the TV deals will still be there. Ask yourself this: Is the American Athletic Conference TV deal worth more, less or the same to ESPN if the AAC is playing in a division separate from the larger conferences? I would argue it has the same value to ESPN who is filling several networks and a streaming platform each Saturday.

I imagine those teams still schedule games with the bigger conferences, they’ll still get a check to travel and play. In fact, it may be those games that provide the necessary strengthening of the schedule to get those teams in their version of the playoff. That playoff, by the way, will have value to the world of sports content distribution. With Apple, Amazon, YouTube and many others in the game now, there have never been more outlets fighting for live sports content to distribute.

As far as the question regarding the NCAA Basketball Tournament, it would be hard to believe 60-70 schools would break off to maximize profits and still allow the NCAA to control and distribute postseason basketball revenue. This is where a little game of chicken comes in. The NCAA will know their tournament will not work without the power teams. Who doesn’t love a good St. Peters upset of Kentucky? But who wants a St. Peters v. Iona national championship game? 

Likewise, the NCAA will know the money will not be the same for a tournament field that is populated by the best 64 teams from a 70 team group. Can you imagine the play-by-play guy saying: “Now, remember this team is being coached by an interim because they fired their head coach after going 2-16 in conference.” Not exactly the March Madness feels.

No, the NCAA and super conference teams will have to find a mutual agreement that will salvage the tournament as we know it, allowing the NCAA to continue making money but sharing a larger portion of the pie with the teams of the leverage holding super conferences. This will, of course, happen after a great deal of huffing, puffing and slamming of fists.

The one caveat in all of this is the fact that this could eventually lead to the destruction of the NCAA. That is a prospect that will be mourned by many of those that have spent a lifetime in or writing about college athletics and celebrated by many fan bases who cheer for a team under the NCAA’s once watchful eye.

And maybe that is how this movie ends, like the end of Back to the Future. SPOILER ALERT: Doc Brown returns for Marty and Jennifer because of his concern for their children in the future. Maybe this Doc Brown is coming back for the poor soul that will be the new NCAA Commissioner to tell them they have to see what becomes of that organization. 

After all, the NCAA is likely to be among the last to realize where college sports is going, we don’t need roads.

BSM Writers

Your Football Conversation Has To Be Different

I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Brian Noe

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Radio

Rejoice! Ball is back, baby. Life is just better when football season is included; am I right? (That was a rhetorical question because I know I’m right in this case.) Like many people in this country, I’m all about the pigskin. Outside of my family and friends, there aren’t many things in life that I love more than BALL.

With all of that being established, a simple question still exists: is there such a thing as talking too much football on a sports radio show?

I think it isn’t as much what you’re talking about; it’s how you’re talking about it. For instance, it isn’t good enough to lazily say, “Ehh, we’ll start off by talking about the game last night.” Well, how are you going to talk about it? Do you have anything original, interesting or entertaining to say? Or are you just gonna start riffing like you’re in a jam band hoping to accidentally stumble onto something cool after six minutes of nothing?

Talking about football is like opening a new burger joint. Hang with me on this one. There are so many options — Burger King, McDonald’s, Five Guys, Wendy’s, In-N-Out, etc. — that you can’t expect to have great success if you open a run-of-the-mill burger joint of your own. Having an inferior product is going to produce an inferior result.

It comes down to whether a topic or angle will cause the show to stand out or blend in. Going knee-deep on a national show about the competition at left guard between two Buffalo Bills offensive lineman doesn’t stand out. You’ll get lost in the shuffle that way.

A show needs to constantly be entertaining and engaging. One way to check that box is with unique viewpoints. Don’t say what other shows are saying. Your burger joint (aka football conversation) needs to be different than the competition. Otherwise, why are you special?

Another way to stand out is with personality. It’s impossible to have unique angles with every single topic that’s presented. A lot of hosts recently pointed out that the Dallas Cowboys committed 17 penalties in their first preseason game against the Denver Broncos. But Stephen A. Smith said it differently than everybody else. That’s what it comes down to; either say things that other shows aren’t saying, or say them differently.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh made a comment recently that too much of anything is a bad thing. So back to the original question, is there such a thing as too much football talk on a sports radio show?

Variety is the spice of life, but quality is the spice of sports radio. If a show provides quality, listeners will keep coming back. It’s really that simple. Sure, hosts will hear “talk more this, talk more that” from time to time, but you know what’s funny about that? It means the listeners haven’t left. The show is providing enough quality for them to stick around. If the quality goes away, so will the audience.

It’s smart for hosts and programmers to think, “What’s our strongest stuff?” If that happens to be a bunch of football topics, great, roll with it. I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick said something interesting last week while visiting Atlanta’s training camp. Vick was asked which team’s offense he’d like to run if he was still playing today. “The offense Tom Brady is running in Tampa,” Vick said. “Pass first.”

The answer stood out to me because throwing the ball isn’t what made Vick special with the Falcons. He was a decent passer and a dynamic runner. The run/pass blend made Vick a problem. I totally understand wanting to prove doubters wrong, but there are a lot of athletes that get away from what they do best while relying on something else that isn’t their specialty.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook is not an outside shooter. He’s brutal in that area. Yet Russ will keep firing threes at a 30% clip. Why? Attacking the rim and working the midrange is his game. You don’t see Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul bombing threes if they aren’t going in. He kills opponents with his midrange skills all day.

It’ll be interesting to see how Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa approaches this season. He’s received a steady diet of “can’t throw the deep ball.” Will he try to a fault to prove doubters wrong, or will he rely on what he does best? Beating defenders with timing and accuracy on shorter throws is where he finds the most success.

Working to improve your weaknesses makes sense, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of going away from your strengths. How is it any different in sports radio? If a host isn’t strong when it comes to talking basketball or baseball, it definitely makes sense to improve in those areas. But if that same host stands out by talking football, at some point it becomes like Westbrook jacking up threes if the host gets too far away from a bread-and-butter strength.

Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the only player in the Baseball Hall of Fame that was unanimously elected. He relied on his cutter — a fastball that moved, a lot — about 85% of the time. Mo didn’t say, “Man, my four-seam fastball and changeup aren’t getting enough respect.” He rode that cutter all the way to Cooperstown and legendary status.

Rivera is a great example of how playing to your strengths is the best approach. He also shows that quality trumps variety every time. Let’s put it this way: if 85% of a sports radio show is football content, and the quality of that show is anywhere near Mo caliber, it’s destined to be a hit.

One of my buddies, Mike Zanchelli, has always been a hit with the ladies. I think he came out of the womb with at least 10 girls in the nursery showing interest in him. He had a simple dating philosophy: “Always. Leave them. Wanting. More.” That might work in dating, but I think it’s the opposite in sports radio. Most listeners don’t hear the entire show. If they’re in and out, wouldn’t you want them to hear your best stuff when they are tuned in?

That’s why I say screw variety. That’s why I wouldn’t worry about overserving your audience an all-you-can-eat BALL buffet. I think it’s much wiser to focus on producing a quality product regardless if it’s well rounded or not.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Has Gone From Playing Checkers to Chess In Two Years

Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different.

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In the days after the Big Ten news leaked regarding some of the details of their upcoming media deals, I was hankering for more information. I wanted more insight as to the “why”. Why did the Big Ten leave such a long-lasting and prosperous relationship with ESPN. I just couldn’t imagine it and it’s why I wrote about it last week.

It was in that pursuit of knowledge that I tuned into a podcast favorite of mine, The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast. The show’s hosts are deep into the weeds of sports media with John Ourand at the Sports Business Journal and Andrew Marchand at the New York Post. It was Ourand who was dropping dimes of news on the Big Ten deal last week. I wanted to hear him dive deeper, and he did on the podcast. But it was a throwaway line that got my wheels churning.

“This is about the third or fourth deal in a row that ESPN, the free-spending ESPN, to me has shown some financial discipline” Ourand said. “They are showing a bit of financial discipline that I hadn’t seen certainly when John Skipper was there and pre-dating John Skipper.”

I had to keep digging and folks, it’s true. ESPN is essentially Jimmy Pitaro in the above quote, the Chairman of ESPN. Since taking the role in 2018, he was put into an interesting position of being in the middle of a lot of big money media rights deals that would be coming due for renegotiation soon. The rights fees for EVERYTHING were going to balloon wildly. But in the last two years, he has comfortably kept the astronomical rates somewhat within shouting distance.

The big one, the NFL media rights deal agreed to last March, saw ESPN pay a very strong 30% increase for the rights. However, other networks involved had to pay “double” as Ourand so succinctly put it. He also personally negotiated with FOX to bring in Troy Aikman and Joe Buck to make their Monday Night Football booth easily more recognizable and the best in the sport. ESPN in that deal, that did NOT include doubled rates, got more games, better games, and more schedule flexibility. ABC gets two Super Bowls in the deal too. Simply put, Jimmy Pitaro set up ESPN to get a Super Bowl itself, but for now his network will take full advantage of the ABC network broadcast when the time comes (2026, 2030).

The recent Big Ten deal was massive because the conference spent forty years with ESPN and decided to reward that loyalty with a massively overpriced mid-tier package. ESPN balked at the idea. In their back pocket lies a lot of college football media rights deals with a lot of conferences including one that will be a massively profitable venture, the SEC package. ESPN takes over the CBS package of the “top” conference game. Yes, it paid $3 billion for it, but it’s a scant $300 million annually. Sure, that’s over 5X what CBS was paying annually but CBS signed that deal in 1996! I need not tell you all of the advancements in our world since Bob Dole was a presidential nominee. ESPN now gets to cherry-pick the best game from the best conference and put the game anywhere they damn well please to maximize exposure.

The F1 media rights extension is massive because of two things: one, they got it cheap before the sport littered your timeline on weekend mornings and two, when they re-signed with F1 this summer they paid way less than other streaming networks were reportedly willing to pay. The brand, the savvy worked again. ESPN takes a small risk for a potentially exploding sport and much like CBS did with the SEC for 25 years, can make massive margins.

I can keep going, and I will with one more. Sports betting. The niche is growing like my lawn minutes after the summer rainstorm. Pitaro has said publicly that sports betting “has become a must-have” and he’s full-frontal correct. ESPN is in an odd spot with their clear lineage to Disney, but it’s obvious something massive is going to come soon with ESPN reportedly looking for a deal in the $3 billion neighborhood.

Pitaro has been positioning this company from a position of strength. He pays big money for big properties, but knows when he’s getting taken advantage of and most importantly, isn’t afraid to pull his brand’s name out of the deep end.

ESPN may have an issue with dwindling subscribers, but that’s an everyone problem. The difference is ESPN is constantly trying to get you from one network ship you think is sinking into another network life raft. If you want to leave cable or satellite and go streaming, you can. ESPN+ is there to pick up the pieces. Or Sling (with an ESPN bundle). Or YouTube TV (ESPN is there too). Or a myriad of other ways. They are positioned so well right now to be where you think you want to go. Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN have been amazing at doing whatever they can to keep you paying them monthly.

The network has been aggressive with media rights deals but these newer ones have been diligently maneuvered by Pitaro. It was a choice to essentially back the SEC for the next decade, and to put more money into the potential of F1. The effort was a conscious one to keep a tight-lipped mission to bolster Monday Night Football’s booth. It was an understated strategy to reinvest in the NHL. Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different. The old adage of “pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered” may have applied to the network under different leadership, but these aren’t eating pigs. These are boars.

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BSM Writers

The Producers Podcast – Big Baby Dave, Jomboy Media

Brady Farkas

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Big Baby Dave has his hands in everything for Jomboy Media. He joins Brady Farkas to talk about how he brings a unique sound to each show he works with.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3A7FJ4a

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3bZ7NgG

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3dB4FrO

Google: https://buff.ly/3JVC5NG

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

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