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Content Grab Bag: Seth Harp’s Biggest What Ifs

“We’re all in this together, right? That’s why Barrett Sports Media is creating a content grab bag and we’re asking everyone to pitch in.”

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Good hosts and shows aren’t struggling for content right now, but who knows how long it will be before we get live sports again? Sure, the NFL Draft is coming up, but do you know what you’re going to do once the stories generated by that event have run their course? Hell, we’ll have been without sports for nearly a month and a half at that point.

We’re all in this together, right? That’s why Barrett Sports Media is creating a content grab bag and we’re asking everyone to pitch in.

Got an idea that can help someone else? Do you have a perfect bit in mind, but maybe your situation has changed and now you have nowhere to pull it off? Don’t let it go to waste! If you want to contribute, reach out to Demetri Ravanos on Twitter.

Our first contribution comes from Seth Harp, former program director and host at 97.3 the Game in Jacksonville, Florida. No NCAA Tournament, no Masters, and no anything else is going to lead to a lot of “what if” conversations. That was the inspiration for his contribution.

Seth Harp on Twitter: "Today was one of those days. I couldn't ...

Exploring Sports What Ifs

by Seth Harp

What if? Two words that sports fans ask themselves as they search the depths of their grey matter for endless answers. Today Kansas and Dayton Basketball fans are asking the same question. Could Lakers and Bucks fans be asking themselves the same question in a few months?  

Just this spring alone we could fill an entire archive. What if Tiger successfully defended his Masters Title?  What if a Mid Major won the NCAA tournament?  And to add a dark layer – What if sports continued to be played and we lost some major stars and personalities because of arrogance and greed?  Thankfully we will never have to answer that last question.    

As we enter a sports “No Man’s Land”  I wanted to spend some time asking What if ? For the purpose of this exercise, I’ve set three criteria.    

First we eliminated scenarios that involved players with chronic injuries. What if Grant Hill could’ve stayed healthy? What if Terrell Davis stayed healthy? Too much room for maneuverability.   

Second, I eliminated trades and draft picks. What if Portland drafted Michael Jordan? What if the Charlotte Hornets didn’t trade Kobe Bryant?  What if the Red Sox kept Babe Ruth? This would’ve turned into a Star Wars sports scenario. I just didn’t have the strength or patience for that! 

Finally, I eliminated what I call “grandiose scenarios”. What if the AFL and NFL never merge? What if baseball eliminates segregation earlier or waits longer? The possibilities of these scenarios are too fantastical and the infinite far too great. Instead this exercise will be isolated to one time events and decisions – a single lynch pin that was pulled.   

With that, here are my top 5 “what ifs” in sports history.

5. What if Kenyon Martin doesn’t break his leg during the 2000 NCAA tournament?   

Broken dreams: An oral history of when Kenyon Martin's injury ...

Kenyon Martin was the best college basketball player in the country for Cincinnati and Bob Huggins during the 2000 season. They spent 12 of 18 weeks ranked #1 back when that meant something. Martin won the Rupp Trophy, Wooden Award, Naismith Trophy, etc. You see where this is going. 

Martin broke his leg against St. Louis in the Bearcats first game of the Conference USA tourney.  They ended up losing to the Bilikins by 10.  They had just beat St. Louis by 43 points in their regular season finale. The committee rewarded Huggins and Cincinnati for a great season and kept them as a #2 seed. They were able to beat UNC Wilmington in the opening round before falling to Tulsa in the second round. Michigan St would go on to beat Florida to win the national title a few weeks later. This remains Tom Izzo’s only title at Michigan St. Do he and the Spartans beat a healthy Martin and company? 

A non-power conference team still hasn’t won a title since UNLV. An awkward landing 20 years ago would continue this streak into the third decade of this century. How much longer will that last? Dayton, Gonzaga and San Diego St would’ve loved to have taken that test. 

4.  What if Ted Williams didn’t miss 5 seasons of his career due to war?   

FLYING CHANGED KID’S LIFE

Ted Williams may always remain the pinnacle of character on and off the field for sports figures, the George Washington of baseball. He did miss  three full seasons (1943-45) and the better parts of (1952-53) as a fighter pilot. What would have Ted Williams career numbers have been if the World didn’t lose its collective in the middle of the 20th century? 

I took the previous two years of Williams seasons and two years following each war for the most accurate assessment. Here is what I came up with. For the WWII he missed out on 182 hits per season. His home run average would’ve been 36 per season along with RBI 124. Add in the missed numbers during the Korean War shortened season he missed out on 219 base hits 44 more home runs and another 161 RBI.   

Williams’s actual career stats: 2654 hits, 521 home runs, and 1839 RBI

His career stats if he played instead of going to war: 3419 hits, 673 home runs, and 2496 RBI 

Williams would have ranked second only to Ruth in career Home Runs and would still hold MLB’s record for career RBI.   

3.  What if baseball doesn’t go on strike in 1994?  

Two-Montreal-Expos-fans-remember-the-strike-of-1994-before-the-game-between-the-Expos-and-the-Arizona-Diamondbacks-during-NL-action,-Thursday,-Aug.-12,-2004-in-Montreal.-(CP-PHOTO/Francois-Roy)

Trying to get a handle on everything that could’ve happened here is like trying to ride a rabid bull while you are drunk and blindfolded. When the 1994 baseball season stopped in August here are just a few things that were taking place.  

  1. The Montreal Expos were 74-40 and had the best record in baseball.  Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez and the list goes on. The Expos were loaded.    
  2. The Yankees were 70-43 and were looking for bullpen help. They were interested in Cubs closer Randy Myers. The Cubs were said to want a skinny minor league shortstop by the name of Derek Jeter in return.  With the strike looming the Yankees never really pursued it.    
  3. Giants 3rd Baseman Matt Williams had 43 HR.  This was a HUGE deal.  Just 18 HRs away from Roger Maris. Before McGwire and Sosa’s Steroid surge, the single season HR was the sports Holy Grail. Williams’s pace put him at 59. What drama that would’ve been. 
  4. Tony Gwynn was hitting .394 – Would Gwynn have been able to supplant Ted Williams as the last .400 hitter? Probably not.  But it would have been a fun September.   

2.  What if Drew Brees picked the Dolphins instead of the Saints in 2006? 

Timeline | Saints 50

Brees will likely go over the 80,000 career passing yard threshold this season. If he stays ahead of Brady, it will be at least a decade before any other player even approaches his statistical level. If Drew Brees would have picked South Florida over the Big Easy back in 2006, Nick Saban likely stays and never leaves for Tuscaloosa. This has such a cascading effect it almost violates my fantastical rule I employed at the beginning of this piece.

Saban’s 5 titles and decade of dominance are in their own category.  Here are just a few butterfly effect scenarios that play out if he stays with the Dolphins.

  1. Saints never win a Super Bowl
  2. Tommy Tubberville doesn’t lose job (Cam Newton probably doesn’t go to Auburn then)
  3. Urban Meyer Stays at Florida
  4. Tim Tebow wins a 3rd Title 
  5. Les Miles and LSU win multiple National Titles
  6. College Football coaching salaries rise but don’t sore 
  7. The Dolphins are actually competitive and relevant 
  8. The Patriots dynasty looks a lot different with Brees in division

1.    What if Baseball had PED testing in place during the mid 90’s?

Labmax Testing Kit – IRONGYM7

Oh wow! Well, what does baseball look like today! Now we look back on the steroid era in baseball with the arrogance of first class passenger on the Titanic.   

Here is what is likely different.   

Roger Maris single season HR record of 61 still stands. Bonds (73), McGwire (70 and 65), and Sosa (66, 64, and 63) all go away.   

Hank Aaron’s career HR record still stands. 755 still sits atop the mount. Today we would wonder if Albert Pujols would limp to the finish line for a crack at it. He would likely need around 4 healthy seasons to do it.   

Bond’s adjusted career line would be 585 home runs and 1700 RBI. That give him a Reggie Jackson statistical career and is probably good enough to make him a first ballot Hall of Famer.  

Roger Clemens doesn’t win 4 more Cy Young awards. Clemons won over 162 games after leaving the Red Sox to join the Blue Jays following the 1997 season. He finished his career with 354 wins.  Does he even get to 275 let alone 300 without some juice?

Baseball would have an almost entirely different history. The question is would we have consumed it? 

What are your greatest sports what ifs? What are your listeners’? Come with a few theories on how things unfold in your alternate history and watch the reactions and willingness to play along explode!

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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