This is no time for political grandstanding, hypocritical amnesia and radical policy shifts. Now more than ever, sports must walk its straightest lines and think clearly while remaining true to established practices. Whoever thought the silencing of the national anthem was a good idea — why, of course, it was Mark Cuban! — isn’t someone who should be involved this year in the delicate resumption of full-bore sports, if and when that happens.
So let’s thank commissioner Adam Silver for reminding Cuban that he’s only one of 30 franchise owners and, thus, doesn’t represent the NBA’s ideologies. The anthem will — and should — continue to play inside all arenas, including Cuban’s in Dallas, “in keeping with longstanding league policy,” Silver said in a statement. This league has enough problems amid waning relevance to risk another shakeup in popularity and viewership, all because Cuban can’t decide in his flip-floppy, social-media-addled brainstream whether “The Star-Spangled Banner” should be played before games. Evidently, he now thinks the anthem should be tossed onto the same one-way train to oblivion as Donald Trump, forgetting a truth that all leagues and owners must embrace.
You don’t screw around with tradition when sports fans — the lifeblood of your very business existence — want normalcy in an abnormal world.
I could live without the anthem before a sports event, but that’s an intense debate for a post-pandemic day. At the moment, the sports industry is a piece of china — in the NBA’s case, in part because of controversial relationships in China — and engaging America in a showdown over the anthem is an ill-timed poison pill. After the lowest-rated Super Bowl in 15 years — which followed staggering viewer declines in major events including the NBA Finals, World Series, college football title game, Stanley Cup Final and Masters — the sole aim should be bringing back lost fans and retaining those still watching. But there was Cuban, stirring the pot as only he can, to the point he distracted a new presidential administration that should be solely focused on COVID-19.
“Well, I haven’t spoken with the president about the decision by Mark Cuban or the Dallas Mavericks,” said Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for President Biden. “But I know he’s incredibly proud to be an American, and has great respect for the anthem, and all that represents, especially for our men and women serving in uniform around the world.”
That’s Biden’s way of tweaking Trump — again — when Trump should be treated as a fast-food bag blowing away in the rear-view mirror. It’s not a fray the sports world should enter. What kills me about Cuban is that he’s swerving all over the court about the anthem, like a point guard losing his handle. When Trump first admonished the Colin Kaepernick movement and warned NFL players not to kneel during the anthem, Cuban agreed that athletes shouldn’t kneel for the anthem. “This is America, and I’m proud of people who speak out civilly. That’s who we are as a country,” he said in 2017. “I’ll be standing there with my hand over my heart. I think the players will be (standing). I expect them to be.”
Then last June, as the NBA prepared for a Black Lives Matter-themed postseason in the Disney World Bubble, Cuban no longer thought players had to stand during the anthem. “If they were taking a knee and they were being respectful, I’d be proud of them. Hopefully, I’d join them,” he told ESPN.
Days later, Cuban shifted his position again, tweeting, “The National Anthem Police in this country are out of control. If you want to complain, complain to your boss and ask why they don’t play the National Anthem every day before you start work.”
Flip, flop. How, in one breath, could he encourage an athlete to kneel during the anthem — then, in the next, question why the anthem is played? Cuban finally addressed the disconnect this week by doubling down — the anthem would not be played before Mavericks games at American Airlines Center, a decree that began in the preseason and has continued in the regular season. At first, the NBA agreed. Wisely, Silver changed course hours later. Naturally, so did Cuban, and if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a Dramamine for motion sickness. “We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country,” Cuban said in a Wednesday statement. “But we also loudly hear the voices of those who feel that the anthem does not represent them. We feel that their voices need to be respected and heard, because they have not been. Going forward, our hope is that people will take the same passion they have for this issue and apply the same amount of energy to listen to those who feel differently from them. Only then we can move forward and have courageous conversations that move this country forward and find what unites us.”
Wait, he wasn’t finished. Like a moth noticing light, Cuban attached himself to another TV camera pointing in his direction, telling ESPN’s “The Jump” that he never officially canceled the anthem, which contradicts what he confirmed to at least two news outlets earlier. “We’re always talking to our community,” he said. “In listening to the community, there were quite a few people who voiced their concerns, really their fears that the national anthem did not fully represent them, that their voices were not being heard. … We didn’t make any decision to never play the national anthem — that wasn’t the case at all. We didn’t cancel the national anthem. We still had our flag flying proud up on the wall at the American Airlines Center and everybody had the opportunity to address it and pray to it or salute to it or whatever their feelings are.”
And to think Cuban was considering a presidential bid at one point. For talking him out of it, his wife should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thankfully, the league shut down this firestorm before it gathered any more social-media flames. “Get woke, go broke,” tweeted Anthony Wright, vice president of the Fort Worth Police Officers’ Association union. “I won’t spend another cent on @dallasmavs.”
Countered the ever-opinionated Stan Van Gundy, coach of the New Orleans Pelicans: “This should happen everywhere. If you think the anthem needs to be played before sporting events, then play it before every movie, concert, church service and the start of every work day at every business. What good reason is there to play the anthem before a game?”
Oh, because fans generally appreciate it and are used to it. And because Black athletes who have kneeled always will remember it as a sacred form of protest. Maybe the anthem sparks an important conversation between a parent and child about America. Or, maybe because it alerts people in the beer line that the game is about to start.
Anyway, why are we talking about this again?
And why now?
Sports used to teach life lessons. Now, it spins out of control when its leadership is needed most, unable to remember what it stood for an hour ago. The NFL spent Super Bowl Week patting itself on the back for completing a coronavirus season with zero game cancellations — then allowed Buccaneers fans to roam maskless as they celebrated throughout the game, even moving to different sections inside Raymond James Stadium. Commissioner Roger Goodell promised better social awareness concerning the league’s putrid record of hiring minority coaches and executives — then watched as the Kansas City Chiefs were introduced to the audio of their Tomahawk Chop war chant, which reeks of tone-deaf racism at a time when teams are purging offensive nicknames and customs.
If the NFL truly wanted to make a statement about social distancing, masks and human responsibility in the COVID era, the stadium stands would have been empty. Why did 25,000 people have to be there? Why did so many plastic cutouts have to create a perception of a boisterous sellout when it was just a deception? How many of those fans will test positive for the virus? And will we ever hear about it in a state, Florida, where the governor lies about infection numbers and was photographed without a mask at the game?
When Goodell allows thousands inside stadiums, he invites wild maskless celebrations in the Tampa streets. Just the same, when Tom Brady doesn’t wear a mask during the Bucs’ water parade while downing tequila in his new $2 million boat, he plants seeds in the impressionable heads of millions: “If Brady doesn’t need a mask while he’s partying, I don’t either.” Same goes for North Carolina basketball players who partied without masks last weekend after beating Duke, not to mention the Alabama students raging maskless in Tuscaloosa after the latest national football championship.
As the pandemic rambles on, no end in sight.
It’s not as if Cuban is bored. This week alone, he announced he’s building an $11 million drug manufacturing plant — for his Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Co. — and is launching a live-conversation app called Fireside. He’s front and center at every Mavericks game. He’s still the star of “Shark Tank.” But I think the man wanted to run for President.
And when he couldn’t, he decided to ditch the national anthem.
Until he didn’t.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
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.
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.
- 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.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
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.
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.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
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.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.