Houston has seen a lot of change over the past 14 months. James Harden was traded in January 2020, Carlos Correa signed with the Twins in free agency this week, and Deshaun Watson is heading to Cleveland. You could argue the three-biggest faces in the Houston sports scene from just 18 months ago are no longer in town.
Change has also taken place at ESPN Houston in 2021. Most notably with the daily lineup. Joel Blank has been a long-time voice on the station and was admittedly nervous when he found out he was getting a new co-host. But he also knows that change is inevitable in radio. As changes were happening on his show, and during other time slots around him, Blank embraced the new future at the station.
“I think like anything in life, change gets people on their heels a little bit and they start questioning everything,” said Blank. “But I think overall what we’ve seen is that we’ve got a really, really good group of people that have all found their niche. Everyone is in the right spot and we all truly get along.
“In the past, shows were kind of an island. Every show was their own thing and there was no overriding theme for the station and no marketing targeted to our demographic. It was basically, hey, you have your time slot, you do your thing. Now, we have everyone on the same page and everybody has each other’s backs and it’s been really fun to see the development of the shows and the new talent.”
When Blank was told his new co-host would be Jeremy Branham, he was very familiar with the name but the two didn’t really know each other on a personal level. That was the immediate hurdle for The Killer Bs, who are on the air weekdays from noon to 3 on ESPN Houston. But the two experienced broadcasters figured it out. And maybe even quicker than most people would have guessed.
“I think it’s going better than I could have ever anticipated because I was apprehensive,” Blank said. “Not because Jeremy wasn’t good, but because we didn’t know each other. We lived in parallel universes where we were both doing sports and working for teams, but we rarely crossed paths. Suddenly, we were thrown together and told, hey, make this work. So for that reason alone, you have doubts on how quickly it’s going to come together and what kind of chemistry you’re going to have. It’s just been everything I could have wished for. For a long time on our station, combativeness is what everybody came here for. Now it’s taking a turn to where we can have a passionate discussion but in the next segment we can be on the same page and talking about a totally different topic.”
It’s incredibly comforting for a new host at the station to be welcomed by someone who’s been a longtime voice. Blank has made it a point to be friendly to all the talent on the team.
“Joel has been through a ton when it comes to changes he has dealt with since the pandemic hit,” said Cody Stoots, co-host of The Wheelhouse at ESPN Houston. “One thing I know about Joel is if you have his back, Joel has your back. He will go to bat for his people, even when some of them are new to him. Joel’s passion for his teammates is fun to experience, especially when he’s comfortable enough with you to start giving you a hard time!”
“Joel does a great job at bringing true passion and unfiltered opinions to every show he hosts,” said Jake Asman, co-host of The Wheelhouse on ESPN Houston. “You can tell that he truly cares about the subject matter and doesn’t fake anything to his audience. It’s been great to work with Joel and be his teammate the last four years.”
It seems like all the major storylines that have come out of Houston the past two years have included some level of controversy. Sure, the Astros made a run at another World Series title last year, but the national storyline seemed to still be about the cheating scandal that rocked baseball. Then, there were the uncomfortable conversations about Deshaun Watson and all of the allegations against him.
Those times are behind Houston sports fans. Especially when it comes to Watson and the Texans. For the first time in a while, it seems like the overall conversation can move toward football and building the roster back up. But even with that being said, Blank wasn’t complaining about consistently discussing all the drama with the Astros and Texans.
“It’s certainly been a good time to do sports radio in Houston, because there have been so many topics that carried you through what our normal dead times are,” Blank said. “I think from a Texans perspective, I’ve said this all along, the Deshaun Watson situation was a black cloud that until he was traded, wouldn’t go away. But every black cloud provides shade and that shade is Jack Easterby. He’s still there and people are still bothered by it. I think it’s opened people’s minds that the rebuild can finally start. You can take a deep breath now and say, let’s just concentrate on football.”
Houston is a major market. The city has an NFL, NBA and MLB team, amongst other sports entities. But at ESPN Houston, there’s probably more of a different vibe on the sales side than what you would experience at other sports radio stations in large markets. The station believes in relationships with clients. Not that most major market radio stations don’t, but Blank was told when he joined the station his personal relationships with clients would go a long way towards his success.
“Lance Zierlein, who does our morning show, gave me some advice when I left the Rockets and I came to do sports radio,” Blank said. “He said, you’re going to absolutely kill it, but the one thing you have to know when it comes to clients is, you have to treat them like they’re your friend and you have to develop a relationship so that you are friends. Because friends have a hard time saying no and walking away from friends. So therefore, the better relationship you can develop, and the more you can carry the torch for your friends, the more your friends will stay by your side through thick and thin.
“He’s been so spot on with that. So many of my clients are my friends and so many of my friends come back to me and say, hey, we’re seeing results because you speak from the heart and believe in us, therefore your listeners believe in you, and we’re seeing them come through the doors.”
The Killer Bs have a catchy new slogan when it comes to the Texans. “Embrace the Suck”. At some point, it feels like Blank and Branham will eventually put that on a t-shirt. That’s the main storyline moving forward: the after-effects of the Watson trade and what the franchise does moving forward.
What’s not a major storyline is another deep NCAA Tournament run from the Houston Cougars. Thursday night, UH will take on No. 1 seed Arizona to move on to the Elite 8. No, the Cougars aren’t a blueblood hoops program, but they’re one of the more successful programs in the past five years, which includes a trip to last year’s Final Four. Yet, another run isn’t moving the needle much in the Houston market.
“It’s crazy. Kelvin Sampson and I go way back,” Blank said. “We worked together for the Rockets. Jeremy is the play-by-play voice of the Cougars. It’s almost frustrating because Jeremy and I are both basketball guys at heart but the city’s just not that fired up about college basketball. It never has been. I think when the Cougars make these runs, they’re kind of blips. The number 1 story for us has been Deshaun Watson and the 1B story is Carlos Correa.”
The NFL Is Maximizing The Value of Everything It Produces
“What’s important is that the NFL doesn’t think, “Hey, this is great for us,” and leave it at that. The league thinks, “How can we get even more value out it?”
You’ve got to hand it to the NFL; the league rings every last droplet of value out of its product. It was announced on Tuesday that the defending champion Los Angeles Rams will host the Denver Broncos on Christmas Day. The NFL has released the dates and times of nine games for the upcoming season so far. (Give it five minutes and two more games might be unveiled.) The gradual striptease is leading up to the full schedule release on Thursday, May 12.
Think about this for a second. Let’s start with the fact that the full NFL schedule reveal is an event. It partially makes sense (because the NFL is so popular). At the same time, it makes no sense whatsoever (because it’s a freakin’ schedule release for crying out loud). What’s important is that the NFL doesn’t think, “Hey, this is great for us,” and leave it at that. The league thinks, “How can we get even more value out it?”
That’s winning thinking.
It reminds me of something sports radio veteran Rick Scott once told me. He said, “You know, Brian, you make a little tweak here, a little change there, and pretty soon you’ve got a great radio station.” It works the same way with the NFL. The league certainly doesn’t get everything right, but it doesn’t leave any meat on the bone when it comes to maximizing value.
The NFL will offer five international games this season, including the first regular-season NFL game ever played in Germany. Not only has the league committed to playing more games in new places, but it also released the dates of those games prior to the full schedule reveal. That’s a double dose of maximizing value.
|2022 NFL International Games|
|Week 4||Oct. 2||Vikings-Saints||London||Tottenham Hotspur Stadium|
|Week 5||Oct. 9||Giants-Packers||London||Tottenham Hotspur Stadium|
|Week 8||Oct. 30||Broncos-Jaguars||London||Wembley Stadium|
|Week 10||Nov. 13||Seahawks-Buccaneers||Germany||Allianz Arena|
|Week 11||Nov. 21||49ers-Cardinals||Mexico City||Estadio Azteca|
We also know that the Chiefs will host the Chargers on Sept. 15 to begin the new era of Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video. In Week 2, there will be a Monday Night Football doubleheader featuring Titans-Bills followed by Vikings-Eagles on Sept. 19. No word on the date of that monstrous Jags-Lions tilt yet. We’ll have to wait until Thursday.
What the NFL is doing with its gradual schedule release is actually work and life advice. It’s a PSA on the importance of maximizing value. We should always look for creative ways to connect with people in our work and personal lives.
I sat down with the guys from The Mac Attack in Charlotte for a Q&A last week. Morning host Chris McClain told me something interesting about widening your reach as a host.
“You’ve got to have content out there all the time,” McClain said. “We grew up in an era where you’re doing a four-hour show. They call it your shift in radio. ‘Hey, how did your shift go?’ I’ve got to get out of that mindset. We’ve got to have stuff that is recycled throughout the day on social media. Anything extra you can do. We like doing a lot of videos that let people laugh at us a little bit. That’s the one thing we’ve got to keep getting better at. You can be in people’s lives and minds all the time. It doesn’t just have to be that four hours.”
Amen to that. Some hosts work really hard to deliver a good show. It blows my mind that a lot of that hard work can be completely wasted if a portion of the audience isn’t listening in real time. If you cooked a great meal, but many people couldn’t make it for dinner, how would they know if it was a good meal or not? They would have no idea.
That’s how it works in radio. If some of the audience can’t make it for the meal, you have to take the meal to them. Post stuff. Be where they are. Deliver your highlights to them. You can either throw away the uneaten meal you worked so hard on, or you can package it up and place it on the doorstep of your audience.
The gradual NFL schedule release also shows us the importance of staying in front of people. The league could unveil the entire schedule in one day and leave it at that. Instead, releasing it gradually keeps the league in the headlines. It’s content that leads to discussions and staying on people’s minds.
That’s how digital should work for radio hosts. Like Mac in Charlotte said, it’s important to get out of the radio shift mindset. We can’t operate in four-hour radio chunks anymore. We have access to our audience 24 hours a day through digital. It would be crazy not to take advantage of that. The NFL definitely doesn’t waste any opportunities to stay top of mind. Why should we?
Another thing the NFL does well; the league finds out what their audience likes and gives them more of it. The NFL is like, “Oh, you like this schedule release thing? Well, let’s give you more of it spaced out over multiple days. Oh, you enjoy the NFL Draft? Let’s spread that out over three days. Oh, you love Christmas Day football? Well, let’s give you a tripleheader this year.”
The Browns-Packers game on Christmas Day last year averaged 28.6 million viewers on FOX. Twenty freakin’ eight point six million freakin’ viewers. Good Lord. The Colts-Cardinals nightcap averaged 12.6 million viewers on NFL Network. That was the second-highest viewed game in network history. NBA commissioner Adam Silver just fainted.
The NBA has played games on Christmas Day since 1947. The NFL doesn’t care. The NFL pulled a gangster move in 2021 and is doubling down this year. I’m sorry, tripling down. Roger Goodell and the team owners are kingpins that went to their rival’s turf, started selling their own product and said deal with it. The takeaway for radio people is to find out what’s working with the audience, and hammer it even further. Sell more of what your audience is buying.
The NFL’s approach is a great lesson; don’t let anything go to waste. That’s a great philosophy in radio too. How can this segment be better? Where can we distribute the best parts of the show? How can I connect with my audience on social media? The NFL is constantly thinking that way. If the NFL hosted a radio show, it wouldn’t just crack the mic during the show and call it a day. It would be hustling to promote and stay top of mind. The most popular league in the country sees the importance of staying in front of its audience and maximizing value. It’s a pretty good idea for you to take the same approach.
On Sunday Night, Everyone Is Watching Karl Ravech
“What I like about my story over the years at ESPN from 1993 to the present is that it’s constantly changing and evolving.”
Karl Ravech injured his knee while playing soccer at Needham High School and needed to make a decision on what he wanted to pursue as a career. Always having an interest in both sports and writing, Ravech made the decision to attend Ithaca College as a communications major. Throughout his time in upstate New York, he worked hard to take the next step in his career by quickly immersing himself in the professional world, serving as the sports director at NewsCenter 7 in Ithaca, N.Y. and a freelance producer for WCVB-TV in Boston, Mass. – all while attending classes.
Upon his graduation, Ravech attended SUNY Binghamton to earn his master’s degree in management and leadership. Just as he had done previously, Ravech worked in the professional world as he pursued this degree, now as a sports anchor and reporter at WBNG-TV in Binghamton, N.Y.. In 1990, Ravech earned his degree and relocated to Harrisburg, Pa. and was nominated for two local Sports Emmy awards for his reporting on baseball and golf.
Ravech was hired as an anchor by ESPN in May 1993 and has been a fixture at the network since, working in a variety of different on-air roles. He is now the primary play-by-play announcer for Sunday Night Baseball, occupying the seat behind the microphone for Major League Baseball’s biggest matchups every week. Getting to this point in his career has been a journey that has required Ravech to consistently adapt and develop, and, in turn, has augmented his versatility.
“What I like about my story over the years at ESPN from 1993 to the present is that it’s constantly changing and evolving,” said Ravech. “I think the fact that it hasn’t stayed stagnant is what’s wonderful, and the Sunday Night Baseball booth is sort of the next iteration in [my] career.”
Ravech began hosting the overnight edition of SportsCenter with Mike Tirico and Craig Kilborn upon his being hired, and became the primary host of Baseball Tonight and postseason baseball studio coverage starting in 1995. After recovering from a heart attack he suffered while playing pickup basketball with colleagues in 1998, Ravech hosted golf coverage for the network as Tiger Woods became the youngest golf pro to ever win a Grand Slam, and also continued his baseball duties.
Starting in 2006, Ravech began his immersion into the broadcast booth when he became a commentator for Little League World Series broadcasts. Each year, he makes the trip to Williamsport, Pa. to call the action on ESPN and ABC showcasing young, talented baseball players while also telling their stories off the field. Additionally, Ravech has served as the voice of the College World Series on ESPN since 2011, calling the championship action each year from the Charles Schwab Field at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
The style of both of these broadcasts differ from calling a Major League game in that there is more time to delve into the backgrounds of each of the players and tell the unique stories they bring – especially for those participating in the Little League World Series.
“I’d love to be able to bring that same level of joy to a college game or a Major League game, but I think it’s obvious that it’s a little more serious,” said Ravech. “You’re talking about, in the professional ranks, people that are getting paid; and there’s a lot of pressure on the college kids and their fan bases are very passionate.”
Much like a performer, one of the roles of a broadcaster is understanding and catering to their audience; that is, to understand exactly why a person may be watching or listening to a game and what they seek to gain from it. When a broadcaster is able to pull back the curtain and see the game from the perspective of an audience member, it allows them to foster a deeper connection with the audience as a whole and modify the broadcast accordingly.
“The little league crowd that’s on TV is very different than the one that you get for a College World Series game and certainly for a Major League Baseball game,” explained Ravech. “They have baseball in common, but I don’t think that the expectation when you watch the Little League World Series is to dive too deep into Xs and Os… It’s really about why most people came to the game, which is to enjoy it and have fun with it.”
Being aware of the viewing audience has been central to Ravech’s early success as the new primary voice of Sunday Night Baseball, as it differs from the viewers he had previously been communicating with on Monday Night Baseball, a role he took on in 2016. Yes, calling games on Mondays and Wednesdays undoubtedly required ample preparation; however, Ravech’s new gig has required a shift into how he applies his preparation to the broadcast.
“On Sunday night, [everyone is] watching, which means you have got to be as prepared by talking to the players and coaches as you possibly can be because the people who are consuming it know as much about the team as you do,” said Ravech. “It’s not as if we are preparing any differently, but you’re certainly paying a great deal of attention to just the two teams.”
Throughout his time at ESPN, Ravech had worked extensively with Eduardo Pérez: a former Major League player and experienced analyst. Whether it was in the booth at the College World Series or calling Korean Baseball Organization games remotely in the middle of the night during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the duo has developed a synergy on the broadcast.
Pérez is able to extrapolate unique storylines during the game because of his profound ability to communicate with those around him.
“As we walk through the stadiums, he is talking to people who are doing everything in the building – whether they are operating an elevator; whether they are the general manager; whether they are a player; whether they are welcoming people into a clubhouse,” Ravech said of Pérez. “He knows everyone, and those connections make him so valuable.”
Someone Ravech has been familiar with over his years living in New England is former all-star pitcher and YES Network analyst David Cone, albeit from covering him as a player and watching him on television. Ravech called ESPN being able to land Cone this offseason “the last piece” to assembling the new booth, all while Cone is still slated to call 50 Yankees games on the YES Network this season. Prior to the 2022 campaign, Ravech and Cone had not worked together; yet just a few games into his new job, Ravech has been impressed with his colleague.
“He recognizes that in order to communicate properly we, collectively, have to understand what it is that we’re talking about – so you’re not just throwing terms out there that may sound good but you don’t know what they are – and he’s very aware of that,” Ravech said of Cone. “He’s the complete package when it comes to an analyst in 2022.”
Along with being the voice of Sunday Night Baseball, the College World Series and the Little League World Series on ESPN, Ravech has also served as the voice of the SEC basketball tournament since 2017. Being on the call for high-stakes matchups, such as the Kentucky Wildcats against the Tennessee Volunteers, or on Sunday Night Baseball, the New York Yankees against the Boston Red Sox, is an exciting part of Ravech’s job throughout the calendar year. But no matter the sport; no matter the league; no matter the game – there is a consistent aspect of Ravech’s vernacular he is cognizant of every time he steps behind the microphone.
“I think my style, whether it’s in the studio or in the booth, is to really engage with the analyst,” said Ravech. “That part of it is, I think, a common trait through all of my broadcasts and I want to continue to do that.”
Having the ability to engage in genuine conversation with his analyst comes in actively listening and molding the conversation to fit most optimally with what is being discussed, even if it means departing from what he had originally planned. In this sense, he sets his partners up for success during the broadcast, part of the reason why he has been adept in working with different personalities in varying atmospheres across different sports.
“If you listen, then your follow-up questions will not necessarily be ones that you have written down already,” explained Ravech. “[Your analyst] has opened up this door, and you better be able to be willing to walk through it with them because they’re trying to say something and you’ve got to get it out of them.”
While Ravech, Cone and Pérez call Sunday Night Baseball games in the style of a traditional broadcast, there are several elements of the entire viewing presentation that demonstrate ESPN’s willingness to adapt to changing media consumption trends. One of these elements includes the addition of the new KayRod Cast, which became the most viewed alternate broadcast during a Major League Baseball game during the season debut of Sunday Night Baseball. The broadcast, featuring New York Yankees play-by-play announcer and 98.7 ESPN New York host Michael Kay, along with all-star third baseman Álex Rodríguez, diverts from the traditional style of broadcast through longform conversation, special guests and commodifying the act of watching a live baseball game.
“Baseball to me is an ideal platform for things like the KayRod Cast,” Ravech opined. “I think David, Eduardo and I spend a great deal of time focused on the game, but I think there are times where you can veer off and get into some entertaining conversations, and I certainly know that the guests that are on the KayRod Cast offer opportunities like that as well. Baseball lends itself to things like ESPN is doing right now, and I’m grateful to be in one of those booths.”
One of the elements within the traditional Sunday Night Baseball broadcast that lends to the commodification of the sport is putting mics on players. It’s a new element in Sunday Night Baseball this year. Fans have been given a firsthand perspective, essentially divulging the in-game mindset of a Major League player. Occasionally though, the action finds the interviewee mid-sentence during a game, as it did Francisco Lindor recently – and those are moments where all the broadcasters can do is watch and hope for the best.
“You’re kind of holding your breath that he makes the play instead of his being, in some way, distracted by the conversation,” said Ravech. “We’re incredibly sensitive to that. We try to, for the most part, stay out of when they are at the plate; there’s no talking to them. But in the field, they understand that this is an opportunity for them to share with the consumer at home a real on-the-field view that people would not otherwise get.”
Appearing as the featured player on Sunday Night Baseball garners plenty of significance and gives players the opportunity to connect with their fans and the larger viewing public. Having the chance to share your perspectives on national television during a game has become a badge of honor, and players from each week’s matchup have nominated a player for the next week’s game to wear the microphone. So far, ESPN is batting 1.000 in that department, as everyone who has been nominated has appeared on the following week’s broadcast.
“Joey Votto was very different than Ozzie Albies [who] was very different than Kike Hernandez and Francisco Lindor,” explained Ravech. “The list is great, and every one of them has provided unique looks into the game and their positions and their communication styles and skills while they’re on the field and in the dugout.”
Occasionally, a player will opt to stay on the microphone for an extended period of time as Phillies outfielder and reigning National League Most Valuable Player award-winner Bryce Harper did a few weeks ago. Harper was the designated hitter for that night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers and stayed on the microphone for four innings of the contest.
“It was incredible,” recalled Ravech. “We got a chance to talk to one of the biggest names in the game for four innings; he almost became a quasi-analyst with us. It was really neat, and I think the viewer benefits from it.”
As Ravech’s career continues, he seeks to improve in all areas of his work and try new things if the opportunities arise within ESPN’s broadcast portfolio. While there is always the chance of opportunities presenting themselves at different media outlets, Ravech affirms that since the network continues to innovate and remains the leader in coverage, he wishes to continue working with them.
“I think [ESPN] is going to continue to evolve for sure,” said Ravech, “and I feel very comfortable about the direction they’re going to go in and continue to ride along with them.”
Any additional career endeavors that Ravech desires to pursue will be because he had actively pursued them, and he is excited to discover what lies ahead in his career.
“I’m not one of those who looks at it and says, ‘I want to call a World Series. I want to call a Final Four,’” said Ravech. “If that all happens, then there will be a reason. I’ll have sought those out, as opposed to the way this has happened – which is you kind of just keep moving around and finding your lane like water does down the sidewalk. That’s the beauty of it; it’s organic – there’s nothing linear about it.”
Ravech has worked with a wide array of broadcasters throughout his career at ESPN, including Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Stuart Scott and Chris Fowler, and has spoken to aspiring broadcasters on numerous occasions as well. One broadcaster he has had the opportunity to mentor firsthand is his son Sam, who has grown to become a play-by-play announcer on the SEC Network, ACC Network and ESPN, making his debut for the latter at 22 years of age.
Through mentoring his son and other young broadcasters, Ravech has learned that having authenticity in the on-air work that you do allows for one’s true personality to shine through no matter the sport being played or medium on which the broadcast is being disseminated.
“I always encourage Sam to be himself. Don’t try to be somebody else; don’t use somebody else’s voice; don’t try to speak the way they do,” said Ravech. “Be you, and hopefully over the course of a long time, people will come to respect you [and] your work.”
Sometimes, getting opportunities in sports media comes in being uncomfortable; that is, broadcasting or talking about a sport with which you may be unfamiliar or having to relocate outside your home market to accept a job. By working to transform feelings of discomfort into those evoking contentment, sports media professionals can successfully learn to grapple with change, and be prepared for it the next time it happens.
ESPN saw potential in Karl Ravech in his early years at the network and has been open and receptive to giving him opportunities both inside and outside of baseball as time goes on. In order for Ravech to grow as a broadcaster though, he had to work to enhance his craft – but none of that would have been possible had it not been for Ravech being open to and embracing change.
“Be malleable. Be flexible,” said Ravech. “That’s what I would tell anyone, whether it’s my son Sam who I’m incredibly proud of, or anybody getting into it. You just never know which way this career is going to go and the things it’s going to expose you to. You just don’t.”
The Big Ten Could Change The College Football TV Landscape Forever
“It appears the Big Ten could be the first major conference to embrace major streaming services carrying its top games.”
The college football world, and the college football Twitterverse, was lit the night of September 22, 2018. The fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners were being taken to the wire by Army, a team that still runs the triple option in an age when offenses routinely throw the ball 40+ times per game. The National Championship picture was already going to be blurred a bit and we’d barely even started the season. We all left our games of choice in search of the end of regulation and the eventual overtime only to find a relic of days gone by, the game was only available on a pay-per-view telecast.
In the days before massive conference media deals, the pay-per-view games were a regular occurrence, normally reserved for the Southwest Louisianas and Pacifics of the world visiting town. For you kids, Southwest Louisiana is now The University of Louisiana and Pacific once played football, sort of. Not even regional telecasts had an interest in those games, so you called your local cable company and shelled out $39.95 to watch a poorly produced telecast of an absolute bludgeoning.
Incidentally, one other way you could watch these pay-per-view games was if you had access to one of those C band satellites. In my youth, it was a sure sign of wealth. It looked like your neighbor had raided a NASA facility and stolen a satellite at gunpoint. You couldn’t hide them, either. They would sit out in the middle of your lawn like you were trying to communicate with beings from a neighboring solar system.
My friend had one of these satellites and we spent hours watching random things like Spanish language shopping networks. Where else can you buy an authentic matador cape for four easy payments of $39.95? We also found news analysts awaiting their live shot window while applying one more coat of make-up or adjusting their toupee. It occasionally kept us out of real trouble, even if it wasn’t the height of entertainment. But, I digress.
The concept of the stand-alone pay-per-view game seemed to have been dealt a near fatal blow with the massive ESPN and FOX deals with the major conferences. It was finished off and buried with the launches of the conference television networks. Technically, almost all the games are “pay-per-view” in that I pay my provider each month for the sports channels but I no longer have to find a channel I otherwise never use and watch color bars in anticipation of an announcer I never see trying to sell me on the importance of a game in which the home team is favored by five touchdowns.
The imminent Big Ten Conference media deal is going to be a big one but, according to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, it may include something many college fans have never encountered, major games only available on streaming.
Warren told ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg that Amazon and Apple will be potential major players in the future deal. It would be a departure from the normal business plan for the two streaming giants to settle for games featuring a directional school playing a Big Ten power. That means the real possibility of a meaningful Top 25 Big Ten game being available only on a streaming service.
The NFL is already in this bed with Amazon. Notre Dame has also dipped their toe in this pool with a 2021 game exclusively available on Peacock. There has yet to be a conference go all-in to this degree. It appears the Big Ten could be the first major conference to embrace major streaming services carrying its top games. Somebody had to be first, as the Big Ten was with the Big Ten Network, and you can be sure every conference commissioner is watching.
There is a certain comfort to finding games in the way you always have. I imagine dialing up Amazon Prime for the big Wisconsin at Penn State game will have the same feel as dialing up the random channel for the old school pay-per-view.
My family is uniquely prepared for this as we have, apparently, chosen to purchase our streaming services like we are buying them in a Sam’s Club family pack. The Amazon deliveryman visits my house so often I asked my accountant if I could declare him a dependent on my taxes. The Big Ten won’t be sneaking a streaming game past me!
This will come with a certain amount of criticism, no doubt. Many fans pay for their satellite or cable packages primarily for their favorite team’s games. Now, my conference of choice will ask me to add a streaming service on top of this. It’s a smart move by Amazon or Apple. Big Ten fans will sign right up and promptly forget to cancel as soon as the season ends and the $14.95 will keep being drafted whether you watch Severance, or not. My wife and I gave the first Severance episode 15 minutes and moved on to Bridgerton. For your information, I only watch Bridgerton for the well-written dialogue.
This feels like a seminal moment in sports TV, not unlike the 1995 Duke-North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham. That was the night ESPN chose to televise college basketball’s most-watched rivalry on ESPN2. It forced cable providers, and viewers, to say: “Wait, big games will be there too? It’s not just Jim Rome and Jim Everette fighting?” In the length of a two-overtime classic Tar Heel win, ESPN2 became a necessity for any true sports fan.
Now, you’ll have to pry the Michigan-Ohio State game out of FOX’s cold dead hands but, if Amazon or Apple wants this to work, they’ll pay the money that would put any other Big Ten game in play for them. That is the only way you convince the average fan to pay more for the services they don’t already have. Money obviously isn’t an issue for Amazon and Apple, Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook could realistically be under the impression they are actually buying the physical states that make up the Big Ten.
If Amazon is the winning bid, their football profile is off to an impressive start. The Sports Business Journal reports they are among the leaders for NFL Sunday Ticket to pair with their current national games, a deal believed to be worth $2 billion per year. Add major Big Ten games to the mix and it won’t be long until other conferences are interested in joining the platform.
For Apple, it would be a new sporting venture to pair with their national MLB games, giving them an extended profile. Not shockingly, they are also in the mix for the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package according to Sports Business Journal. All of this means I could eventually watch one of these games on my watch. We truly are living in the time of The Jetsons.
If not now, soon. Amazon and Apple don’t just go away. Clearly, they are interested in being major players in sports streaming and have the money necessary to get a seat at that table. If not the Big Ten, another college conference will be on board, but make no mistake – the Big Ten would be a major pelt on the wall for either company. Speaking of walls, this news may mean it is time to add another TV to yours. Amazon has some great deals right now.