When Will Software Eat The Super Bowl?

Compared to the massive turmoil across all forms of media, the structure of live sports broadcasts looks relatively similar to the way it did 30 or even 40 years ago. National rights are bid on by the big networks, local broadcasts are owned by regional stations. The only major change is the emergence of the leagues themselves as media companies with the NFL, NBA and MLB all having their own dedicated linear cable channel. The checks have grown exponentially and the players at the local level have all consolidated. But for the most part the business of buying, producing and watching sports on TV is the same.

The next 5 years do not look to be nearly as peaceful. When Yahoo! announced it acquired rights to stream an NFL game this October, the blue print for the future started to be unveiled to the casual sports fan. Bob Iger pulled back the curtain more when he described an OTT service for ESPN as inevitable. Now traditional power CBS is streaming NFL games as well.

The cost to acquire these rights is a huge protective moat as are the length of the contracts. For traditional TV companies content rights is a regular operating expense. But for an outsider trying to enter the market a strong balance sheet could become a powerful weapon. Who has the dry powder to dramatically upend live sports broadcasts and with it all of the TV model? Here is a quick list of the companies that have both the means and a strategic connection to the content. Things could look very different when the next large contracts start to expire. Some of the largest checkbooks in the world are technology players that could acquire sports broadcast rights to bring eyeballs to their platforms.

Which Companies Can Use Their Balance Sheet as a Weapon?

Which Companies Can Use Their Balance Sheet as a Weapon?

Early candidates for displacement are the local rights holders outside the NFL/ NBA/ MLB triumvirate. Can a low cost technology player create a more compelling experience for watching the Columbus Blue Jackets or low level Division I Basketball?  Clearly, yes. It’s easy to see a market for fans of Fordham Football or Siena College Basketball agreeing to a paid service that gives us just these games available (ok, maybe I’m the only one for those 2 teams but you get the point).

The best hope for traditional broadcasters may be the leagues themselves. Consumers cannot just up and switch their viewing habits like they moved from print newspapers. Leagues still get to determine to whom they sell rights. They may find they have a real need to maintain the status quo and give up revenue in order to hold on to governmental protections. Leagues enjoy great benefits such as tax exempt status, anti-trust exemption and low interest debt for new stadiums that could be plucked away if there is not enough consideration to local fans. But eventually even that may not be enough. The decline of the TV business model will thin out the margins of ESPN, Fox and CBS over time and watching Monday Night Football on YouTube and the World Series on Facebook will be the outcome.

Beware the Arrogance of the Present

Most of our grandparents were lovely people. Mine were I know. They also firmly believed, actually, they “knew” some things that we now widely ridicule as silly, ignorant or downright evil. 

Unless you are so confident in the present day that you think we have reached the pinnacle of human thought then some day your grandchildren will think the same about something you hold as completely obvious. In 200 years, the difference between the most enlightened of our peers and the least will be completely indistinguishable. 

So the next time someone holds a belief you find objectionable of course feel free to persuade them to your side but let’s hold off on the excommunication from society. 

Are You Johnny Carson or SNL?

Twitter is abuzz this morning as news hit of Bill Simmons departure from ESPN. What happens over the next few months will go a long way to determine if ESPN built Saturday Night Live or was content to employ Johnny Carson. In a quick survey, sentiment is leaning heavily toward Simmons being the brand, not Grantland.

In the fall of 2011 TechCrunch’s founder, editor and most recognizable name, Michael Arrington, left.  Soon after the blog lost other prominent writers and then, in a larger blow, lost its COO Heather Harde. Way, way too much has already been written about this period. The media consensus was that TC was screwed. AOL had screwed up a great business and the value would soon be absorbed by new entrants like TheVerge and PandoDaily.

But that’s not what happened. The team rallied, new leaders like Alexia Tsotsis, Eric Eldon, and Leena Rao stepped up as writers. Leslie Hitchcock and Jesse Chambers did the same on the business side. Ned Desmond came aboard and provided the leadership needed to first bring about calm and then growth. TechCrunch had a huge year in terms of quality, traffic and revenue on the heels of having last rites delivered. Consensus that TechCrunch was all about Michael Arrington and Sarah Lacy was wrong. We discovered the business had real legs as a brand. It was about the format, the market, and the right leadership and it was a hue launching pad for tech writers’ careers.

TechCrunch was not the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or other weekly late night talk shows. Those have been proven to be a product that works with the right personality (Carson, Letterman, Leno, Fallon) but can falter quickly with the wrong one (Craig Kilborn, Arsenio Hall). It was Saturday Night Live. As long as you keep the format and culture, you can continue to bring in new casts and do great work and continue to launch careers after Gilda Radner and Will Ferrell are gone. Martha Stewart Living and Oprah appear to be very tied to their founder. The Huffington Post and Business Insider have built businesses that could now withstand the departure of its founder. Which category does Grantland fall into?

John Skipper seems to think he’s Lorne Michaels building SNL with Simmons in the role of Chevy Chase or Eddie Murphy. I’m not so sure but I clearly remember seeing bets pile up against us 3 years ago. Writers at Grantland will have the chance to step up and take over. Executives at ESPN can show they’ve built a real brand that attracts real talent. Simmons will get the chance to show he is more than just a great writer but a savvy digital business person as well. As long as the podcasts and mailbags continue the fan base will be satisfied but if a business is created along the way will take longer to discover.

And Not Or

I love Twitter. Really, I do. I use it as my primary news source for most topics. I use it to keep in touch with people and I use it to promote my business. But what Twitter does not do well is nuance. It’s really difficult to convey complex ideas in 140 characters. The modern media model in general does not support nuance. Blunt force carries more impact drives more traffic and creates more revenue. This model is present on tv and radio as well but is at its most obvious online.

To have a real discussion about complex issues you need nuance. The most important subjects are not black and white. Too often end up in discussions that only allow for “or”. When we are stuck in “Or” mode, we lose the ability to learn from multiple aspects of a story. We end up conflating ideas that are connected in the news cycle but while related are not actually dependent on each other.

The danger of this thinking was evident in Ted Cruz’s comments on Net Neutrality. He didn’t understand the topic but because Obama was for it, he was against it. Had the president come out in favor of pizza he would have been suddenly anti pizza.

But you can see topics everywhere that could be more robust if not for the insistence on Or. We can have massive racial issues that lead to Freddie Gray tragedies and police departments are over armed in this country and citizens need to have more responsible and less violent responses at times like this.

There can be real problems within Islam that need to be fixed by Muslims and some Muslims are being needlessly persecuted.

Uber might very well have cultural problems at the management level and be an amazing product that transforms the economy and creates massive economic opportunity for its employees and knocks down entrenched special interests that only benefit a few.

Floyd Mayweather can be an amazing athlete who is thrilling to watch and be an abomination of a human being.

This trend extends into and severely limits our public discourse on topics like abortion rights, legalization of drugs, taxes, healthcare, and sexual harassment among others. We limit our ability to solve the problems in these areas because we use language in a limiting way.

We need to get out of the realm of Or and back into discussions that allow for And. Or else.

Breaking – Ebola.com Traffic Soars

Top 8 Ebola-Related TechBlog Headline

TechCrunch – Marc Andreesen backs YC Alum with $42M Seed Round to Build the Uber of Ebola Vaccine Delivery

Engadget – Android Users Immune to Ebola

Business Insider – 13 Reasons Jeff Bezos Claims Ebla Virus Won’t Slow Holiday Slaes

Ars Technica – We Took Apart a Raspberry Pi Powered Laptop Used by Doctors in Liberia Without a HazMat Suit

Re/Code – What I Heard About Ebola Walking the Halls at Yahoo!

The Verge – Ebola Is Not Strong Enough To Take Down Our CMS

CNet – iOS Ebola Detector App: 5 Stars!

Techmeme – Check out our sister site – VirusMeme

 

Pedro’s Mustard Stain

Trips to Yankee Stadium were typically not much fun for me in the late 90’s. The Sox continued to trot out a roster that had only two players worth watching – Nomar and Pedro. Nomar was still in the phase of his career in which he was a hitting savant. He could seemingly hit any pitch on a line somewhere. Basically any game could be a 4 hit night for him. He definitely was one of the guys you did not leave the room for when his at bats were on tv.

But Pedro…, well, Pedro was on an other level.

Pedro was dominating hitters in the midst of the steroid era. His ERA+ from 1997-2003 was 215! That is, he had an ERA less than half the league average and was doing it when home runs were flying out of ballparks at crazy rates. So needless to say when Pedro was pitching in the Bronx on a warm September night I told Trish this was an event that could not be missed. That was 15 years ago today.

There was a section of the old Yankee Stadium in the first few rows of the upper deck that was great. You could see the entire field clearly, noting the movements of the defense as they anticipated a particular pitch. It was the best place to watch baseball outside of Fenway. When Trish and I arrived we climbed to the upper deck through the left field section. Arriving at the top level, we were directly over the Sox bullpen with Pedro warming up. I watched as the bullpen coach placed a 2 inch strip over sections of the plate or off the plate. He never missed a spot. It was truly amazing. Here was a guy throwing 96, hitting spots only 2 inches wide while the ball was also moving side to side and up and down. Never thought a bullpen session could be captivating.

Pedro’s second pitch hit Chuck Knoblauch. 2 pitches later Varitek threw him out stealing. Pedey knew what he had that night and was just toying with people. From there out it was a thing of beauty. 2 Strikeouts in the 2nd and 3rd, striking out the side in the 5th. From 7th inning on the Yankees did not hit a fair ball, 8 K’s and a week foul pop to first. At the end of the 8th inning, Ricky Ledee struck out swinging for the 3rd time.

Now I’d been going to Sox games in the Bronx since my freshman year at Fordham. I knew how to avoid the unsavory aspects of the crowd. But I finally let go, standing up and cheering for the Pedro’s 14th K. As I turned back to take a seat, an object was coming toward my head. I ducked but it was too late. Thud. I had been hit in the head with a hot dog. I looked back and saw other fans congratulating the hurler who threw his pitch as accurate as any Pedro threw that night. Hitting a man with a hot dog from 45 feet is hard to do. What’s more, as I looked down I could see that this was a nearly complete dog with relish and mustard. The guy had invested a good $5 on this chuck. I had to give him credit.

The mustard left a stain on my hat. It was a stain I wore with pride until it finally faded 10 years later. I wore that same mustard-stained hat on October 20th 2004 when the Sox completed their comeback in the Bronx and again on October 27th that year.

The hat still sits in my closet; too torn and weathered for me to wear regularly. But I took it out in October 2007 and again last year. I will wear it again next year in Cooperstown I suppose.

Hey Lebron, Get Off My Lawn!

Since the end of the NBA finals the refrain has been heard, “it is a travesty that NBA players are building super teams.” Several All-Time Greats will certainly come out and say they never would have left their team to join up with others to win championships.

This is a garbage argument.

Jordan, Russell, Wilt, Kareem, Bird, Kobe, Duncan, Magic, Jerry West and Lebron are the Top 10 Players of All Time according to Bill Simmons with a bit of editorializing from me to move Lebron into the group. These all time greats did not have to build super teams the way Lebron has because they were made for them. Together they have won 46 rings (including 5 that Kareem and Magic won together) representing 70% of modern NBA Championships.

I will gladly accept that a transcendent NBA player makes others on his team better. He can take a nice starter and make him an All-Star. But any player that ends up in Springfield was going to be an impact player regardless of who his teammates were. So to prove this point I’m going to use a higher bar.

So, how many of these rugged individualists bravely won multiple NBA Championships as the lone super star that carried their team. Umm, that would be zero.

That’s right, none (0, Zilch, Nada) of them have been won without at least one other Hall of Fame player on the roster. To find an NBA HOF’er who won multiple NBA Championships as the only HOF player on the team, you have to look to Isiah Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons. I’ve had to make some assumptions on who will be elected to the Hall among active players but these are generally not close calls (Pao Gasol, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker).

Here is the breakdown of the NBA’s Top 10 with the number of championships and the number of other Hall of Fame players on each championship team.

Player Rings 0 1 2 3 4
Jordan1 6 0 ‘91, ‘92, ‘93, ‘96, ‘97, ‘98 0 0 0
Russell2 11 0 0 ‘66, ‘68, ‘69 ‘62, ‘64, ‘65 ‘57, ‘59, ‘60, ‘61, ‘63
Kareem 6 0 ‘71, ‘80 ‘82, ‘87, ‘88 ‘85 0
Bird 3 0 0 ‘81 ‘84 ‘86
Kobe3 5 0 ‘00, ‘01, ‘02,  ‘08, ‘09 0 0 0
Duncan4 5 0 ‘99 ‘05 ,‘07, ‘14 ‘03, 0
Magic 5 0 ‘80 ‘82, ‘87, ‘88 ‘85 0
Lebron5 2 0 0 ‘12,’13 0 0
Wilt 2 0 ‘67 ‘72
Jerry West 1 0 ‘72

Given these numbers, any team’s chance of being truly dominant and creating a dynasty is clearly dependent on having multiple Hall of Fame players.The complexities of the salary cap are one driving force. The other is that the league has gone from 8 teams in 1957 (Bill Russell’s rookie year) to 22 in 1980 (Bird/ Magic) to 23 in ’84 (Jordan) and now 30.

Players, pundits, analysts and fans who claim this is not how it should be done are simply old cranks who don’t like that Lebron, Carmelo and others are intelligently adapting to an NBA with an ever increasing number of teams. It is now a league in which you cannot build a team with 4 or 5 Hall of Fame players through the draft, free agency and trades unless the players acquiesce to it.

Winners find a way to win, I agree. But why doesn’t this way count?

Notes

1) ‘96-’98 teams also included Dennis Rodman who was no slouch

2) Assumes KC Jones elected as a coach. These numbers increase if we assume as a player.

3) Assumes Pao Gasol is a HOF’er

4) Assumes Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli are HOF’ers. ‘99 Championship team also included Sean Elliot pre-Injury

5) Assumes Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen are HOF’ers

Instagram and the 12 Yr Old Birthday

My daughters turn 12 today.

Here’s the Instagram-iquette for a tween birthday just in case you were wondering.

1) The night before, prepare video or photo montage accompanied by appropriate music celebrating your friend. The more pictures and more confusing the sequence is the better since it means you’ve known them longer

2) Tag as many people as possible even if don’t really know them well

3) Sit and wait for likes

4) For the recipient, wake early and begin writing comments back to each poster. Be sure not repeat comments or forget someone. This could prove costly

5) Attempt (in-vain) to get your parents to not post embarrassing pictures of you but instruct them on the proper way to post so as many people see it as possible.

6) Skip breakfast if needed in order to accomplish these tasks.

7) Like nearly all of the other birthday wishes to your friend. Reading them is optional.

8) Remain adorable despite the faux-maturity you are craving.

The Irony of Baseball History

My favorite college professor, Rev. Mark Massa, introduced me to Reinhold Niebuhr’s classic The Irony of American History more than 20 years ago. Niebuhr posited that irony was the best lens through which to view American history. And not Alanis Morissette irony, real irony. For example, it is truly ironic that a land settled by religious pilgrims became the first nation to explicitly separate government and religion. Nearly every year that passes something happens in the US that proves just how right he was.

The most recent is the HOF voting being by the Baseball Writers Association of America. You see, election to the Baseball Hall of Fame is akin to sainthood to some of the writers who bear the responsibility of voting on the Hall. Drunkards, philanderers, cheaters or racists are all expressly forbidden. So writers have decided to punish known and rumored users of performance enhancing drugs by keeping them out of the Hall.

The result is, ironically, a less-important Hall of Fame.  Every time the honor is withheld for these reasons, the honor itself becomes less valuable as do the votes these writers cherish. The very act of using the HOF votes as a weapon weakens them. Mr. Niebuhr’s thesis is proven once again.

Shooting Ducks

Two recent media events point to be a selective misunderstanding of the First Amendment in America today and it’s relationship to free market capitalism.

When A&E chose to suspend Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty they were not following government orders to silence someone whose comments were rightfully deemed ignorant and hateful by many citizens. Was the network taking a moral stand based on principles? Maybe. More likely they were making a business decision that they would lose more viewers, advertisers, employees and dollars through silence than thru the suspension. It was a business decision that is not regulated by the government.

Today’s New York Times highlights an issue that is strikingly similar to the Duck Dynasty affair. The Times details the blacklisting of Dick Metcalf, a gun journalist who dared to question the hard line NRA stance on gun rights. When readers and advertisers became outraged at the writer’s stance, his employer made the same financial decision AMC did and parted ways with the writer.

Depending on your level of cynicism, the NYT and the “I Support Phil” group are either ignorant of the Constitution or choosing to apply different arguments on similar issues to fit their position on the issue. The typically free-market loving right should be supporting A&E’s freedom to make the best financial decision for their shareholders but instead they decry the infringement of Phil Robertson’s first amendment rights. The Times implies that Guns & Ammo magazine caved to financial interest instead of supporting Metcalf. Again, maybe the magazine was taking a moral stand supporting the 2nd Amendment, but they were likely just making a business decision.

The First Amendment prevents the government from restricting speech, not corporations. When media companies like A&E or Guns & Ammo dismiss employees for their speech the companies are exercising their 1st Amendment rights while making free market capitalist decisions.