All Sports Cable Channels Benefit From Radio Simulcasts

On the heels of ESPN’s announcing it will simulcast “The Herd” with Colin Cowherd on ESPNU networks, its time for all sports networks to visit the simulcast idea. I don’t have ratings number to support my argument, but regional RSN’s and national sports networks certainly lack enough fresh content for a 24-hour cycle and radio simulcasts are cheap alternatives to reruns.

Notably YES Network broadcasts Mike and the Mad Dog (pre-break up) each afternoon, ESPN2 simulcasts its Mike and MIke in the Morning show, while MSNBC showed Imus in the Morning for years, all with varying levels of success. For an ESPN, it creates a deeper interaction with its suite of multimedia offerings. The Worldwide Leader will not necessarily gain new fans, however current viewers increase engagement. Listeners are more likely to watch TV at home in the mornings than tune in on radio, so the show attracts an entirely new group of users that may have watched reruns of Sportscenter all morning. More than ratings, the impact is felt on the website, which receives tremendous interaction via emails and video views.

Mike and the Mad Dog’s YES partnership took advantage of a different benefit, bringing a local show to a national audience. Over the past five years, the show started receiving callers from all over the country. Former New Yorker’s came back to the show, new viewers tuned in out of curiosity. The show certainly lured more viewers than a daily showing of Yankees Classics, the same ten games played over and over again.

Simulcasts allow for deeper sponsor integration. On ESPN, the show’s have more inventory and exposure to offer sponsors. YES’ approach creates new sponsorship opportunities for the show, which they have taken advantage of with overlay since the tandem will only reference WFAN sponsors on the air. Simulcasts open the door for digital deals and cross-platform integration. Deeper viewer/listener engagement, enhanced sponsorship opportunities, and wider public exposure.

In NY, MSG has no reason not to simulcast something. ESPN putting The Herd on ESPNU is a perfect match with Cowherd’s devotion and knowledge of college football and its niche following. Jim Rome has his ESPN show, but many more will tune in to see his radio show. Numerous other local personalities could benefit from regional exposure. RSN’s should consider replacing the third replay of last night’s game or 6 hours of reruns of the sports news show with a live radio show that delivers fresh content. Yesterday’s news won’t cut it in 2008 and beyond.

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End of An Era As Mad Dog Resigns

Radio shows should not mean this much to me, or anyone else – but this one did. For anyone not part of the Mike and the Mad Dog family over the last years, listening to any part of today’s swan song gave a glimpse to how many people they effected and how deeply they effected them. We invited Chris and Mike into our lives for almost twenty years, and they invited us into theirs. Today officially ended an era, not just at WFAN or in New York sports media, but in radio history.

I grew up with Mike and the Mad Dog. Sitting on my kitchen counter listening to the small clock radio as I helped my Dad prepare dinner as a kid. Desperately trying to call in to win Giants playoff tickets, as if a ten year old could ever answer their trivia. Those pre-Internet years when we all relied on the duo to bring the first two days of the NCAA tournament to life because New York was the mercy of CBS’ one game. My annual ritual of sneaking the radio into school with the headphones up one sleeve to listen. Same thing when Opening Day for baseball rolled around.

Delivering newspaper’s for four or five years, through rain, sleet, sun, or snow, they were there. I remember their debut on YES, spring 2002, right during YES’ carriage disputes with the cable companies before baseball season started. But I remember it more because I was watching right before attending my grandfather’s funeral. Over six years later, I had my parents bring me a walkman during a long hospital stay so I could tune in from 1-6:30.

In between, we had all the Yankee playoff runs, especially the magical ’96 season when the production staff made the rallying music before each World Series game. Who could forget Dog’s tirades after the Giants lost in the playoffs in the early ’90’s. The list goes on. The interviews, the callers, the classic moments, the memorable moments. Enough material to put the show into syndication like classic TV shows. All over now.

Forget why this happened or who’s fault it is. Both unanswerable questions. Celebrate the show for what it was – the best sports radio talk show ever, at any level. Now what? Both will certainly have success going forward, however the spotlight is on each, forever compared to what they did together.

Francesca starts his journey Monday, same time, same channel, new format. Expect things to remain status quo. He’ll remain on YES as well, though less entertaining for television without the gestures and tirades of Russo. Francesca announced he has full reign to re-create the program and plans to recruit new talent to appear regularly, not a new full-time partner.

Russo, on the other hand, opened himself to more risk. Rumors have him accepting a national deal with Sirius/XM satellite radio. Today he spoke of missing the hotness of New York sports, plus his contract release has a no-compete with ESPN Radio in NY, not satellite, further indications he will end up along side Howard Stern for a newly merged company desperate for listeners.

More questions rise than answers. Other RSN’s in New York have to consider Mad Dog for a program, if not a simulcast, now that he’s not obligated to YES. MSG is particularly hurting in the sports department, and could use some fresh blood, while Russo would fit right in on SNY, although he may overshadow the other FAN talent already in place. His personality translates and histriconics translate to more entertaining television on a daily basis than Francesca does. Mike operates well in a more controlled network setting, the exact format his successful Mike’d Up on WNBC follows. Russo will resurface on TV somewhere.

Looking at the bigger picture, what will this do to sports radio? We’ve already seen a seismic shift to the Internet in recent years, will this break-up have a ripple effect. It sounds far-fetched to think one little radio show in New York could change the whole landscape, but this same show already did change the landscape when it first started. Now, a whole generation of followers may choose to move elsewhere. Does ESPN radio in NY win? Does Francesca or Russo in solo efforts win? Does some new trend emerge from this? Will WFAN produce another star from the Mad Dog replacement?

The questions can go on all weekend, as could the stories about the show and the last 20 years, and all the moments we shared with this dynamic duo. Something in me died when I read the news last night. More importantly, I’m grateful for the last 19+ years, and like all the other listeners out there, I’m happy to have lived through this amazing run.

Costas Now Panels Touch a Nerve

Leave it to HBO Sports to tackle the juicy topics. Last night’s Costas Now, a live townhall format broken into five different panels covering different topics in sports media, invited the major players from both sides of the debate created engaging, inspired debate – at least in three or four of the panels. More than entertainment, last night’s guest provided insight to how the major players actually feel about these hot button topics. This show, and hopefully more in this format to follow, somewhat make-up for HBO’s decision to bounce Inside the NFL next season, great football program in a land littered with excess.

Buzz Bissinger, representing print media in a discussion on the impact of blogging and the Internet, clearly had a personal agenda. One of the kings in today’s blogosphere, Will Leitch of Deadspin, received the brunt of Bissinger’s emotional attack. Citing excerpts from Deadspin that included lewd language, Bissinger launched the same tired argument shared by most traditional, veteran media members – blogs are not real journalism, they degrade what the real journalists do, it’s unprofessional, no substantiating facts. His tone was overly confrontational, emanating the feeling that Bissinger personally blamed blogs (and Leitch) for killing off his beloved newspaper industry, making them irrelevant, which is absolutely not true. Representing bloggers, the so-called immature and obscene group in the argument, Leitch came off more professional than Bissinger, allowing the old-timer to spew venom without losing his cool.

If anything, Bissinger was culpable of the exact accusations he made of the blogosphere – misinformed, uneducated, and solely opinionated. Generalizing blogs as garbage is an extremely slanted opinion. By now, after all these years of pristine journalism experience, the concept of sample size. Using one or two blogs to generalize comments about thousands, or millions that exist is inappropriate. I take offense, as I work hard on this blog and a few others to state facts, while publicizing my viewpoints for the benefit of discussion, and to establish a reputation to market myself since I don’t have access to the public forum Bissinger, and others are afforded. If blogs are killing journalism, why do most major media outlets now host blogs, luminous writers post blogs almost daily. Did he forget them?  Clearly, Bissinger is Internet illiterate, unaware of the benefits of blogs, podcasts, and the like. He only knows that new media will eventually kill off those in his generation that fail to adapt, and he acted defiant in accusing bloggers everywhere for making him less relevant in today’s world.

Print media will not disappear, those that embrace new media will continue to be the best reporters around. Remember, bloggers without press credentials still rely on so-called mainstream media to deliver sports news, they then open a new forum that engages the fans interactively, rather than only dictating to the fan. This generation of sports media has room for both, contrary to Bissinger, and his slanted view. Braylon Edwards was the third member of this panel, virtually a silent partner, and not the best selection. HBO should have tapped one of the many athletes who maintain personal blogs. If his team was not busy mouthing off to the media, Gilbert Arenas would have fit perfect – or any of the bloggers on NBA.com, or star players that maintain their own website. Curt Schilling is never at a loss for words, appeared in many segments of the show, has anyone heard of 38pitches?

Sports radio, the disruptive predecessor to Internet blogging, opened the show. Aware or not, HBO put Michael Strahan next to Chris “Mad Dog” Russo on stage, immediate cause for fireworks. Strahan has refused to speak to Russo and radio partner Mike Francesca after they pulled a traditional sports talk two-face on him eight years ago, playing nice during an interview, then bashed him on the radio afterwards. And Strahan is one of many on that list. It opened an interesting dialogue on the fine line between pleasing the athlete and pleasing the fan. Russo lamented, and rightfully so, that he accentuates the negative because thats what fans want, that’s what fills the lines up, drives the ratings, brings in money – all measures of success in sports radio. Criticizing athletes opens radio personalities to creating these rifts with the players. Sports talk is for the fan, driven by the fan. Strahan can criticize Russo for not confronting him directly during an interview, he can’t chastise him for attacking his play, or his actions. Athletes are public figures, playing sports, a game for the fans. If Michael Strahan holds out of training camp for contract reasons, radio hosts have a right to the opinion that he’s wrong, he may cost the team a game, he should not be a captain. Fans hold these same opinions, they tune in to hear opinions, they call in to state opinions, they show up at games to express their feeling. Yes, talk show hosts need to be more upfront with athletes, say their peace. But, at the same time, athletes need to desensitize and realize its a job, just like playing the game is their job, and its not personal. Athletes are just as responsible. When they act like Strahan, shutting off the media when they don’t like what they hear, it forces talk show hosts and even print to more carefully choose words around the athletes. Then when callers want to attack a player’s performance the media has to engage in that debate – it’s their job.

Because neither Russo, Francesca, or Mitch Albom, the third member of this debate, engage in the Howard Stern side of talk radio the issue of guy talk on sports radio did not gain much traction. The prevailing thought of Program Directors and talk show hosts trying to make a name for themselves that edginess and sex drives ratings, sports alone can’t, is wrong. Mike and the Mad Dog prove it everyday, most of ESPN Radio does. Pop culture always has a place, especially as sports and entertainment become more intertwined, but sports alone can be presented in an entertaining fashion. The key is engaging the audience. Hosts that rely on alternative topics to attract fans simply lack sports journalism skills.

Skipping the fluff panel that was sports television, manned by Joe Buck, Dan Patrick, and Mike Tirico, where the lack of an alternative voice to challenge the sports personalities turned this into a boring session of laughs and game of who can answer the questions without criticizing the employer the best. They all failed. Tirico tried to make it serious, but Buck refused to allow it. Sadly, many interesting topics fall into this area, start times for the games that Buck broadcasts and its impact on next generation fans, Fox’s modernization of game coverage, the on-field interviews of coaches and players during the game, live mic’s in locker rooms, diminishing ratings, thoughts on games slowly migrating to the Internet and if that changes their coverage, the question of broadcasters remaining unbiased to teams. None of these were seriously addressed to my dismay.

Crunched for time in this 90-minute event, the session on athlete and media relations was cut short. When John McEnroe can’t get an opinion across, you know they need more time. Interesting seeds for future discussions came up, notably Selena Roberts, a fantastic print journalist formerly of the NY Times now at Sports Illustrated, using an example of her inability to speak with Lebron James to prove how athletes have distanced themselves from the media. Another great topic, worthy of having an older athlete from the era when players and reporters drank scotch at the bar together, a seasoned reporter that has witnessed the shift, and a modern athlete that leads the sheltered life. Tiki Barber and McEnroe, while experiencing both sides of the fence, are not the best examples since athletes tend to open up to former athletes more than true media members. Again, worthy of more time, different panel.

Perhaps the touchiest subject ended the night, racism. Jason Whitlock and Michael Wilbon, both African-American, pull no punches about the misgivings of black athletes, they play no favorites, however Costas raised the pervasive issue facing white media members. If he, or I, or any regular white American discusses race relations that criticize an African-American for feeding a certain stereotype, the commentary is considered racist. When Whitlock or Wilbon present the same case, it’s praised. Both journalists argued that’s not the case, cited examples such as Tony Kornheiser, who engages in race talk with Wilbon on PTI, and a few other notable writers. The examples are far and few between, Costas is exactly right. White reporters face a double-edged sword, high-risk, low-reward place for entering the discussion. Having a Whitlock and a Wilbon, who see the reality, realize that its the Barry Bonds witch hunt was not race related, regardless what Bonds thought, is great for sports media, great for the social perspective of this country. Unfortunately, that watchdog must be the same race as the people that criticize, simple as that.

As time expired, Costas announced another townhall style show dedicated to the race in sports topic is scheduled. HBO deserves a star for hosting this informative, interesting show. For a first attempt, they get an A-. Most things worked, some aspects should change, but the live audience, live panel, hard issues make this format of Costas Now a keeper.

1050 Goes Conservative With Stephen A. Replacement

Monday 1050 ESPN Radio in New York unveiled its revamped afternoon lineup to replace the Stephen A. Smith show. In a move lacking any boldness, the national Mike Tirico show was extended one hour, now airing the entire show from 1-3 PM, and the Michael Kay Show adds a fourth hour to cover the second vacated hour. No surprises, no impact.

Smith, the lone major African American figure on the NY sports talk circuit, flashed his signature bold personality over his three year run at 1050, at time making for entertaining radio. Never afraid to voice an opinion, Smith adeptly tackled race issues and sports, and excelled in his comfort zone of basketball. Quality guests, authoritative information, Smith showed off his flair for radio with NBA talk. Ten years ago, or maybe a few years from now, that would earn stripes – and ratings – in New York. With the Knicks a disaster, basketball sits a distant third to baseball and football.

Despite ESPN’s attempt to balance the show by teaming Steven A. with various cohorts during his stint, all of them white and less flamboyant, the show lacked appeal when baseball, football, or dare I say hockey came up. The cohosts job was to supplement Smith outside basketball and provide a sounding board on race topics, which they did, but it diminished the entertainment value.

The show also fell victim to inconsistency. Time slot change aside, ESPN gave Stephen A. five  jobs, creating overexposure and lack of commitment to any of the gigs. You tuned in each day not knowing who would be behind the mic, or if Smith would be in Denver talking about Allen Iverson when New York could care less. Fault ESPN for that. Without radio Smith goes back to his full-time basketball analyst role for the network.

Ratings talk, and if Smith’s original afternoon soiree that started at noon could not crack into WFAN’s ratings, moving head-to-head with Mike and the Mad Dog at 2 PM gave him no chance. 1050 is basically conceding afternoon’s to WFAN with this move, not rattling the cage, not rolling the dice. In fact, 1050 will probably lose more listeners by extending a national snoozefest rarely relevant to New York, driving more listeners to WFAN.

Smith definitely has a place on New York, born and raised in Queens, his dynamic personality and local flair demand it. When and where remains to be seen?