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The BSM Staff Select the Best NBA Broadcasters

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Morning has broken on a new NBA season. It’s what makes October one of the best months on the sports calendar (to us anyway). You get college football’s murder weeks, the NFL in full bloom, post season baseball, and with tonight’s season opener between the Celtics and the 76ers, the NBA joins the NHL in the sport’s annual honeymoon period where the Carolina Hurricanes can win a Stanley Cup and the Sacramento Kings can hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

If you haven’t checked out our preseason NFL and NHL features, take some time and do that. For those pieces, we relied on the expertise of broadcasters and PDs in cities around those leagues. For the NBA, we are keeping things in house.

We decided to simply tell you who and what we like when it comes to NBA broadcasts. There are seven of us, so we each picked the best show or personality from a different specialty and wrote about what makes them unique and worth listening to, reading, or watching. Matt Fishman picked our radio broadcast team, Jason Barrett picked our TV studio show, Demetri Ravanos picked our TV studio host, David Greene picked our studio analyst, Tyler McComas picked our reporter, Brian Noe picked our TV play-by-play man, and Brandon Contes picked our TV color commentator. Enjoy!

BEST RADIO BROADCAST – THE MILWAUKEE BUCKS by Matt Fishman

Here’s a quick look at the best radio broadcast in the NBA. Whether they’ve been in the league for 46 years like the Phoenix Suns’ Al McCoy or haven’t been alive for 46 years like the Knicks’ Ed Cohen or Charlotte’s Chris Kroeger, the league is full of exciting and interesting radio broadcasters. Growing up in Chicago I was lucky to listen to one of the all-time best NBA radio play-by-play announcers—the late, great Jim Durham. 

My choice for the best radio broadcast is the Milwaukee Bucks broadcast. Play by Play Man Ted Davis is entering his 22nd season behind the mic for Bucks games which can be heard on flagship WTMJ in Milwaukee. For those who haven’t heard the Bucks broadcasts, Davis has some great nicknames for players. This includes the nickname “The Alphabet” for Bucks Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Davis told On Milwaukee, “I’m at draft night, and I’ve never heard of him. And so we have the 15th pick…and it comes up on the screen that we picked him and look at that name that just goes on forever and I thought, ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to have to learn how to say this name.’  I said, ‘it looks like the alphabet.’ 

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Ted Davis also is the “point guard” for two very different broadcasts. He works solo for the road games but is joined by Dennis Krause for color commentary during the Bucks home games. He captures the movement and excitement of the game while seamlessly weaving in all the ticket promos, cross promos and live ads. 

Davis first hit the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks in 1988 and left for the Bucks in the Summer of 1997. 

Honorable Mention:  Dallas Mavericks/ESPN Dallas 103.3: Chuck Cooperstein, Brad Davis; LA Clippers/570AM LA: Brian Sieman; Chicago Bulls/670 the Score: Chuck Swirsky, Bill Wennington; NY Knicks/98.7 ESPN NY: Ed Cohen, Brendan Brown

BEST STUDIO SHOW – INSIDE THE NBA by Jason Barrett

With apologies to The Jump, NBA Countdown, and NBA Gametime Live, TNT’s ‘Inside The NBA’ is the best NBA program on television. Ernie Johnson does an incredible job keeping an out of control freight train on the tracks, while allowing organic discussions, debates, humor and chaos to ensue.

As smooth as Johnson is as the conductor, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal offer unrivaled credibility, and appear to understand their roles and embrace them. They come across like three family members who respect each other and enjoy laughing together, yet won’t hesitate to bite back if they disagree.

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In many ways, ‘Inside The NBA’ feels like a morning show that just so happens to air after NBA games on television. It’s intelligent, funny, candid, credible, and the on-air chemistry is outstanding.

Not to be forgotten is the production team’s work on this broadcast. They’ve done a fantastic job of highlighting humor on this show. Whether it’s seeing Barkley test his donut eating skillsShaq crashing into a tree, or Kenny going inside the screen, viewers are entertained because there’s a lot of thought put into the presentation.

Rather than serving up the traditional recap style show, these guys have created something special. It’s not only the best NBA program on TV, it’s one of the best sports television shows period!

BEST STUDIO HOST – RACHEL NICHOLS by Demetri Ravanos

This was a tough choice, because I like all of what I would consider the “Big 3” of NBA studio hosts (Nichols, Michelle Beadle, and Ernie Johnson). Nichols gets the nod here though because she is the only one that I watch and think “she could carry a show by herself.” She proves that nearly every afternoon as ESPN all too often saddles her with a vanilla co-host or analyst on The Jump.

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Nichols has proven on the show that she can have fun and get great stories out of former players. Just last month she showcased her second-to-none interviewing skills when she held Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s feet to the fire about the culture inside the team’s front office.

Her comments and questions always have an air of strategy to them. She is a terrific reactor to what her interview subject or co-host just said. Nichols never gives off the impression that she is just waiting for someone else’s lips to stop moving so she can spit out her next pre-plotted question or point.

Given that she is the only one of “The Big 3” to be on a daily show, you could be forgiven for thinking Rachel Nichols would be the most apt to phone in her performance occasionally. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a field crowded with talent, no one brings it with more consistency than Rachel Nichols!

BEST STUDIO ANALYST – CHARLES BARKLEY by David Greene

It isn’t even close. “Sir Charles,” is the only analyst who is always willing to say what others would never say. He doesn’t spend his time riding the fence that too many analysts (and hosts) believe they have to in order to keep their jobs. If a team is terrible, or “turrible” as Charles would say, he’ll say it (he once said about the Bulls: “We better not be doing the Bulls this year. Man, they suck! Bunch of high school kids with $70 million contracts.”).

TNT’s Inside the NBA is a terrific watch, mostly because of the overall chemistry, but Barkley is the one that makes it must-watch television. I will never forget when EJ was doing a promo for fans to pay $6.99 to watch a Lakers-Bucks game on NBA.com’s League Pass and Barkley commented, “$6.99?! That game should be more like $1.99, please don’t pay six dollars for that, that game should be sold at the dollar store, c’mon man!”

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Honest to a fault, funny as hell, and an incredible passion for the game. That’s what makes Charles Barkley the Best NBA Studio Analyst.

BEST NBA REPORTER – ADRIAN WOJNAROWSKI by Tyler McComas

I tried to come up with any reason not to choose Adrian Wojnarowski. To be fair, only because I thought it was right to give every other reporter a chance to make this list. However, I couldn’t come up with one reason as to why ‘Woj” shouldn’t be the obvious selection.

Not only is he the best when it comes to breaking news, his on-camera and on-air abilities have significantly improved. He’s asserted himself as a true threat in all facets of media and continues to be the most trusted source in the NBA.

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Living that lifestyle can’t be easy, seeing as your always one text message or phone call away from being dragged from dinner and into breaking the biggest news in the sport. The sacrifices are high, but the rewards have been even higher for Wojnarowski.

With ESPN’s commitment to the NBA, it’s been a blessing for the network that they were able to secure the best in the business. Heck, he’s often the most mentioned name during the NBA Free Agency period. The great ones are often referred to simple by a nickname and Woj definitely belongs in that category.

BEST TV PLAY-BY-PLAY MAN – MIKE BREEN by Brian Noe

There are plenty of talented NBA play-by-play broadcasters these days. However, the premiere TV commentator is currently ABC’s Mike Breen. Possibly the greatest compliment I can give Breen is that he actually makes New York Knicks games on MSG Network better. Each game — whether it’s on ABC, ESPN, or MSG — simply sounds bigger when Breen is on the call.

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Another one of Breen’s great strengths is that he doesn’t take himself seriously to a fault. You can hear Breen’s passion during his trademark “bang” calls following big shots, but he allows color commentators like Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and Walt Frazier to showcase their unique humor and style without getting in the way.

Breen is similar to TNT’s Ernie Johnson on Inside the NBA in that regard. Ernie doesn’t get miffed when Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal stray way off topic to say something hilarious. Breen, too, doesn’t get upset when Van Gundy and Jackson start randomly talking about their favorite finishing moves in wrestling history. Breen laughs and sometimes even contributes to the humor.

That awareness and approach, coupled with Breen’s smooth delivery, make him the best NBA play-by-play voice in TV today.

BEST COLOR COMMENTATOR – BILL WALTON by Brandon Contes

If we’re building a fantasy broadcast in a keeper league, Brian Scalabrine, Reggie Miller, Doris Burke and Sean Elliott are all near the top of the list for TV analysts, but for one season? I’m listening to Bill Walton.

Maybe nostalgia is kicking in, hearing Walton and the late Steve “Snapper” Jones call a Sunday afternoon Knick game as my basketball fandom was built in the 90’s, but his eccentric style of analysis will forever be unmatched.  During any game the viewer is bound to laugh, say “good point” and yell “what?!”

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As analytics will undoubtedly continue taking over the sport, analyst roles will adjust. Already his patented “throw it down big man!” will be heard less as 7-footers convert into perimeter players.

In terms of keeping the listener entertained, there is no one better on a broadcast than Walton. Known for being a versatile player, I have no doubt his innovative and colorful style behind the mic would make him a successful broadcaster during any generation of basketball.

Recently, Walton has worked a toned down schedule focused on college basketball, but he’ll return to the NBA this year to join Ralph Lawler for select games in Lawler’s final season as the play-by-play voice of the Clippers.

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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