On the first Sunday night of the 2022 Major League Baseball season, ESPN likely hoped that its new alternate Sunday Night Baseball telecast, the Kay-Rod Cast, might produce a viral moment that fans would share across social media into Monday and beyond.
Yet it was the traditional Sunday Night Baseball telecast — featuring the new team of Karl Ravech, David Cone, and Eduardo Perez — that produced the “Hey, you gotta see this!” highlight from the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees match-up.
In the fourth inning with the Red Sox leading 3-1, the Yankees had runners on second and third base with only one out. A base hit by New York’s Anthony Rizzo would likely tie the score unless a spectacular defensive play was made. Boston’s Enrique Hernandez was anticipating such an opportunity if the ball was hit to him in center field and said so while he was wearing a microphone for the SNB broadcast.
“I’m gonna try… Well, depending on how hard it’s hit, if it’s hit hard, he’s probably not gonna go home. But I don’t want Rizzo to advance to second base on a hit, so I gotta keep the ball down, I guess.”
Rizzo then smacked the ball into left-center field, forcing Hernandez to make the play he anticipated.
“Here it is,” he said as he ran toward the ball. Hernandez fielded it, then made the throw to home, his momentum carrying him into the air as he put his strength into the relay. But Rizzo didn’t hit the ball hard enough for Hernandez to have a realistic chance of making a play at home, and both Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Jose Trevino scored for the Yankees to tie the score at 3-3.
Hernandez essentially provided play-by-play before the play, then made the actual play. For all the acclaim Tony Romo gets for predicting play calls while broadcasting the NFL for CBS, we’ve never seen the quarterback do that as he was executing the play on the field.
We’ll probably never see that during a live football telecast. NFL Films mics up plenty of players for game footage, but it doesn’t air until being thoroughly edited. Not just to catch not-suitable-for-TV language, but to make sure the audio makes for compelling television. The same applies to the NBA and NHL. The action moves too fast and the players are in each other’s faces far too often to create coherent audio safe for all-ages viewing.
Most of the attention MLB has gotten for its new streaming broadcast deals with Apple TV+ and Peacock has been negative to this point. The outlets are new to the viewers, the broadcasting talent is largely new to a national platform. The productions will surely improve as everyone involved, including the audience, settles in and doesn’t carry the expectation of something that’s never been done before.
At the very least, the Friday Night Baseball streaming broadcasts on Apple TV+ had to look familiar. Sure, there would’ve been criticism if nothing new had been provided. But show viewers that they’d be watching a baseball game just as if it was on SNY or MASN, and presumably there would have been some relief.
Rather than present something new, perhaps the Apple TV+ telecasts (produced by MLB Network) should have focused on improving something that’s already been done. For instance, mic’ing up players in the field. We’ve seen this on ESPN and Fox baseball broadcasts before to varying degrees of success.
But thanks to Enrique Hernandez on Sunday and Joey Votto last Thursday, ESPN appeared to come up with something fresh and exciting by putting microphones on players in the field for its first two national MLB telecasts of the season.
Votto, in particular, was a revelation. Baseball fans already knew he might be the most interesting man in the game. He’s shared his struggles with anxiety, depression, and mental health publicly. Right now, Votto appears to be very comfortable with who he is and he’s experiencing a resurgence at an age (38) when most players are in decline or nearing the end of their careers.
ESPN couldn’t have chosen a better person to mic up during its debut telecast for the 2022 MLB season. Votto was funny and engaging, joking with Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies when he reached first base, explaining his new approach to hitting, and even calling a little bit of play-by-play. And for those who didn’t know or may have forgotten, he provided a reminder of how much movement and fast-twitch action is involved in playing first base, which often appears to be the most stationary of the infield positions.
Votto’s commentary during the fourth inning was easily the highlight of an eventual 6-3 Reds win over the defending World Series champions on Opening Day. At the very least, it provided viewers with the rare in-game interview — and on the field — that was truly enjoyable, insightful, and informative.
How often do fans actually enjoy these intrusions into a game broadcast? For that matter, how often do the players and managers being interviewed enjoy being asked to say something while involved in a game? These diversions are almost always seen as an unnecessary gimmick for TV and add virtually nothing to a broadcast. No one would miss them if they were eliminated.
Well, maybe until now. The bar has been raised.
To be fair, ESPN chose just the right guy in Votto for its season-opening telecast. And Votto shined with the opportunity. If he wants a future in broadcasting, he almost certainly has it. If he’s more comfortable being mic’ed up at first base, put a table right near the first-base coach’s box. MLB and the teams involved wouldn’t mind, right? It’s Joey Votto!
And with Hernandez, ESPN had the right guy in the right place at the right time. That’s obviously not always going to happen. The next player who gets mic’d up might not get a ball hit to him through that entire inning.
(While we’re being fair, asking relatively new broadcasters — especially on a national stage — like Melanie Newman and Stephen Nelson to also juggle a mic’d up player with play-by-play duties would have been asking a lot. So Apple TV+ was right not to do so, if producers were ever considering such a move for these debut telecasts.)
But for the first two broadcasts of ESPN’s new Sunday Night Baseball team, mic’ing up a player on the field worked wonderfully and legitimately added something insightful and fun to the telecast. It also created the viral moments that baseball needs so badly as it competes for younger viewers on social media and demonstrates that game broadcasts are still worth watching. That could attract new audiences and keep old viewers far more than MLB putting its product on streaming outlets for additional revenue.
Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable
After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.
Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.
Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.
The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)
OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.
What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY
Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.
This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.
I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.
I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.
What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.
I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.
“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”
Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.
“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “
“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”
OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.
However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.
“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.
“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”
Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.
That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.
Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”
I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.
I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.
I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.
By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”
Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:
Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”
If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.
Media Noise – Episode 75
A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.
Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM
Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.
Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.
I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future.
Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?
Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.
How is advertising on Bleav different?
We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content.
What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see?
The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space.
SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like?
We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?
There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple.
At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram.
If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.