22 It

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 6.25.2017


The Canadian Football League (CFL) kicked off its 2017 season with a game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Montreal Alouettes this past Thursday. Unless you are a football fanatic like myself or a Canadian with a vested interest in the two teams on the field, you probably didn’t ever know the game was going on. My hope is that someone at the NFL office or at one of the NFL TV partners was watching so that they could be reminded about an angle that they are missing during their broadcasts. The wide angle or as they call it in America, the ’22’ angle.

Roughriders at Al’s CFL 2017 Opener.

For the uninitiated, the CFL has 3 downs, 12 men aside and unlimited motion. Which means that at least three of the receivers get a head start on their routes before the ball is ever snapped. This requires the TV cameramen to get a wider shot of the field because you don’t know where these guys are going. It’s not a genuine ’22’ angle but you have a better view of what the receivers are doing and how the defense is lined up to defend them.

Why would the NFL or college football widen out the camera shot and show more of the field? Well it could be a source of revenue. Most of us, believe it or not, don’t care about the close up of Tom Brady or the coach on the sideline. We care about how the formation and who is on the field.

The down side is that you may reveal a bunch of empty seats at the stadium caused in no small part by a teams performance and high ticket prices. The upside is that nerdy football fans like myself would pay a fee to get just this angle.

ESPN Megacast during the 2014 National Championship game

The reason why a portion of us would pay for this is that we want to see for ourselves how the defense is lining up, who is coming in and out of the game and have a visual representation of where our team is on the field which let’s guess what our team should or should not do. We don’t want an analyst telling us after the fact or being burden by replays when a team goes without a huddle and we miss the beginning of the next play.

Eventually, having graphics overlay that one could turn on and off would be nice as well. I don’t mean your stats of total yards, etc but a marker on a player so that while viewing the ’22’ angle, a mark or flag can pop up over a player as they come on and off the field which is turned on and off automatically by when they cross the sidelines into the field of play.

While there is a lot of talk about how to improve the in-game experience for fans (none of this talk includes lowering ticket prices or beer mind you), very little is talked about improving the home viewing experience. These are two things could improve the viewing experience immediately. While the graphics overlay may take some doing, it’s hard to believe that having a camera zoom out would be much of a technological feat. Extra costs, I think I pointed out earlier that there are plenty of us who would give you money for this.

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The Gentle Giant

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 6.18.2017

1-4 in the UFC and being on the receiving end of the quickest knockouts in UFC history isn’t the way you’d want to be remembered but I am sure that’s how some will remember Tim ‘The Thrashing Machine’ Hague who passed away Sunday at the age of 34. I don’t remember his record in the Octagon. No I remember Tim as a Canadian version of a gentle giant.

I worked at the UFC for nearly seven and half years. I interviewed countless fighters before and after fights. While I remember a lot of them Tim stuck out. While he was built more like an offensive guard for the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL, he was genuinely the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. Which is why it came like a punch in the gut to find out that Tim passed away after being violently knocked out in a boxing match in Alberta.

Tim taught fourth grade. A 6’4″ 265lbs man teaching English to a bunch of fourth graders five days a week and then finds time to go train combat sports. That still makes me shake my head but it’s one of the big reasons why I remembered him. Calm, polite, pretty much what you would expect out of someone from Western Canadian.

A gentle giant. One who taught children when he wasn’t fighting and That’s how I choose to remember Tim. It’s sad to lose such a nice guy. Rest easy big Tim.

CTV Edmonton

 

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Carnage and Opportunity

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 5.23.2017


It’s what they call in Washington a ‘True Fact’ that cord cutting is affecting the sports world in a major way. North America’s biggest sport rights holder, ESPN, is front and center in this battle of the cord cutting and the traditional way things have been done.  Subscribers are fleeing at a rapid rate (down 12% since 2010) and ESPN along with the sports leagues are trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding or profit from the change. While the traditional powers are nervous, small leagues and up and coming sports are rejoicing.

ESPN has spent billions on sports rights between the NFL, NBA, MLB, college football and others. To give you an idea of how much they do spend a year, they spend over a billion dollars on the NFL alone and they only get one game a week! With the old cable and satellite model being blown up, the network and the leagues are looking at every option available to them which is partially why ESPN’s parent company, Disney, bought into MLB Advanced Media last summer.

The NFL, MLB, MLS, PGA and NBA are already reaching out in different ways to get their live programing to their fans. Whether it is the NFL cutting a deal with Amazon or MLB and MLS signing deals with Facebook, the sports leagues are already preparing for the day when they see a decrease in the value of their sports rights. Gone are the days of multi-billion dollar deals for the exclusive right to show a sport. In the near future the leagues and big time college conferences will have to spread the costs among several outlets.

ESPN is approaching this transition a little discombobulated. The fact is that live streaming on platforms like Amazon, Facebook and Twitter will not replace the loss of dollars from the traditional cable/satellite/TV world. However, these new platforms are a life saver to niche or relatively new entities like eSports, MMA and others.

ESports were born online and are thriving on platforms like Twitch, YouTube and even Facebook. These OTT platforms are also paying a whole lot less for the sports rights than ESPN, NBCSports and Fox Sports are paying for traditional sports like the NFL and NBA. These new platforms also provide these niche or newer sports the right demographic and a ton of exposure.

What does this mean? A lot more exposure for League or Legends, Overwatch and even the UFC if they play their cards right.

Remember, these niche and newer sports and starting from scratch in a way. An mid eight figure deal for an eSports league or new MMA organization is a windfall for them. The same can be said for a non-power five conference like the Mountain West who floated the idea earlier this year of going to straight OTT model.

The fact is that Disney, Comcast, and Fox are unlikely to retract the amount of cable outlets they have. And if they are unwilling to play these huge amounts for the rights to the NFL, NBA and others then they’ll have to fill the hours on their networks somehow. That could give newer, cheaper sports entities like Riot Games League or Legends or the UFC an opportunity to swoop in provide quality content that pull desirable demos for a reasonable price.

The winds of change are upon the sports networks and leagues. You are already seeing layoffs because of these changes and you are going to see more. But these changes are inevitable and disrupting but not the end all be all. Opportunity does exist for the traditional sports networks and leagues but the have to accept the fact their options may not be as beneficial to them as things were in the past. For the newcomers, get ready for a windfall of money and a lot more exposure. Here’s to hoping that you know how to scale.

NBC Comes Around

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 4.4.2017

NBC Sports announced last week that the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea will be not be taped delayed. That’s right, you can watch curling live on the East Coast and the West Coast at the same time. Of course primetime television in America means that it’s early morning and the next day in South Korea which is 14 hours ahead of New York, so take it with a grain of salt. The bigger question is, what took them so long?

It’s pretty sad that we have to be excited about the Olympics being live on the East Coast and West Coast simultaneously. It is 2017 after all. According to Jim Bell, President of NBC Olympics Production and Programming, That means social media won’t be ahead of the action in any time zone, and as a result, none of our viewers will have to wait for anything. This is exciting news for the audience, the advertisers, and our affiliates alike.”

This is almost comical. A publicly traded company (NBC is owned by Comcast) is actually pointing out that ‘none of our viewers will have to wait for anything’ in a press release in the age of Netflix, Amazon Prime and content on demand on just about every device under the sun.

So what took so long?

Look, it’s TV folks brought up in a TV world. NBC and it’s parent company Comcast make their money with cable subscriptions and ad revenue which means that they will do whatever they can to protect this. In this case a decline in viewership and increase in ‘cord cutters’ means that they have to cave and finally give the audience what it wants which is the Olympics live from coast to coast.

It’s also a fact that NBC wouldn’t be doing this if social media didn’t let everyone know the results of events that were being tape delayed in Rio. This mistake, which resulted in a 17% decline between the Rio games and the London games, shouldn’t have been a surprise but it apparently was to NBC and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It’s pretty mind blowing that NBC didn’t see that coming.

Will the Olympics being live in America be a major deal? It shouldn’t but it’s pretty much a guarantee that NBC will advertise the bejesus out of the fact. But in all seriousness, the Olympics will be in 2018 and they are just now being shown live coast to coast?  I guess it’s NBC’s way of making America great again.

Diary of a Cord Cutter: March Madness Opens The Doors For OTT

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 3.27.2017


March Madness Live was for several years the pinnacle of giving customers what they want. Then they powers that be got greedy. Those powers being CBS and TBS Sports who will spend a combined $19.6 billion to broadcast the NCAA Tournament through 2032decided that a good user experience was just wrong. So they looked backward through the looking glass and forced people to sign in to their cable or satellite provider to watch games online. It wasn’t always like this but the move is a huge opportunity for OTT providers.

When March Madness was first streamed online, for free and without a cable or satellite subscription, it blew the doors off all of the predictions. People asked for it for years and when they finally got it, they responded in spades.

Over the last few years, i.e. since signing this massive deal, CBS and TBS Sports now allow you 3 hours of live streaming until you are forced to sign in with your cable or satellite subscription which of course more and more people do not have. You are allowed to watch the game that is on CBS broadcast channel (which they did stream for free without having to sign in unlike some other NBC does with Sunday Night Football) if you are a cord cutter but you miss out on the games on TBS, TNT and TrueTV.

This is music to the ears of OTT providers like Sling TV, PlaystationVUE and DirecTV Now. All of which offer TBS, TNT and TrueTV with prices ranging from  $25 to $35. A cord cutter could literally sign up for a month, spend $25 and watch all of the games without every having to go to the March Madness streaming website or app. Bonus, they can watch these channels anywhere they want too.

PlaystationVUE was advertising heavily on the March Madness streaming site. They even sponsored the ‘Boss Button’. So while they paid for advertising, they probably got a lot more people to sign up to their service taking people away from March Madness Live.

While these may not sound cheap options they are certainly cheaper than the typical cable and satellite subscription that CBS and TBS Sports are pushing you to.

This was an event cornered by March Madness Live and the logic must have been that since CBS and TBS Sports spent so much on the broadcasting rights that they felt compelled to push people back to a place where their margins are better. This in the end is short sighted thinking and shows that CBS and TBS Sports are not concerned about the end user in the slightest.

And it’s not like CBS and TBS Sports are not making their money on March Madness Live. They have plastered the sites with enough ad’s to make a Nascar fan dizzy and force you to watch a commercial every time you switched games. March Madness Live went from one of the best user experiences to one of the worst in matter of a few years.

It doesn’t matter now if March Madness Live changes its ways and reverts back to when all of the games where free. They have already lost and the OTT providers are coming on hard and welcoming users with open arms.  It is sad to see such a good thing shoot itself in the front due to backwards thinking but on the other hand, there are better options out there.

The Next Big Thing Started Big

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 2.14.2017

Due to my day job, I had the opportunity to spend some time at RIOT Games recently. I knew that e-sports was popular but I didn’t know how popular it was until I spent some time with the RIOT Games folks. Afterwards I began to dig into the sport a little bit more and found some interesting parallels between e-sports the UFC and some of the bigger, established sports like the NBA.

The last ‘big thing’ was the UFC and you could argue that it still is. While the UFC was turned around by the near bottomless checkbook from the Fertiitta brothers and the vision of Dana White, it couldn’t have made it without the rapid adoption of the Internet in the mid to late 90’s. From bulletin boards to chat rooms to user groups, it was this medium that helped keep mixed martial arts alive while White and the Fertitta’s fought to get back the UFC back onto pay-per-view in the early 2000’s.

Full disclosure, I was a UFC employee from 2006-2013. 

Fast forward a decade and a half or so and e-sports is the now the next big thing. While the ‘athletes’ in e-sports wouldn’t last 30 seconds in the Octagon with a UFC fighter, most UFC fighters wouldn’t do well against any of these gamers either. But the Internet and global distribution are what both have thrived on.

It was a long, hard slog for the UFC to build up its global network. They built the brand up in America first and then slowly but surely locked in TV deal after TV deal in various countries around the world while also expanding their online distribution footprint to the point where they launched UFC Fight Pass in 2014.

E-sports on the other hand started globally because it was born online. From Asia to the Americas to Europe, it has been a global sport since day one. It is a sport that is thriving on over-the-top (OTT) networks like Amazon’s Twitch and Google’s YouTube.

lol

While networked gaming goes back two decades (LAN Party in the dorm anyone?) it has flourished in recent years drawing in several big name investors and sports organizations along the way to the point where the NBA is seeing this as a new vertical for the league and it’s teams.

Recently the NBA announced a partnership with Take-Two Interactive to launch a professional e-sports league with teams managed by current NBA franchises.

While other mixed martial arts organizations existed, the UFC was the premiere player. E-sports on the other hand have several big name players from the start like RIOT Games and Activision | Blizzard to name a few. Now with addition of the NBA and major soccer clubs like Ajax and Manchester City, there are multiple behemoths battling it out in the space.

The NBA wasn’t the first to see the benefit of e-sports or sign a major deal. RIOT Games, maker of League of Legends, signed a deal with the Big10 not too long ago to broadcast games between school sponsored teams. So Rutgers may not have a chance against Ohio State on the football field, but in League of Legends, only time will tell.

The investments by the NBA, soccer clubs, and the Big10 makes a lot of sense. Live sports have been under fire for a couple of years now. While previously seen as ‘DVR proof’, the recent decline in TV ratings for the NFL and the decline in attendance at sporting events has sent the leagues, conferences and even teams scrambling to find avenues of growth. While starting an e-sports team does not in anyway correlate to increased TV ratings or more butts in seats at a Denver Nuggets or a Purdue football game, it does provide the leagues, conferences and teams a chance to not fade into irrelevancy and leverage existing advertising and marketing partners by providing them a young desired demo.

This is good news for consumers and players in the e-sports realm. There is choice, diversity and no one entity running the show. It also means that e-sports will succeed by whatever revenue standard you put up against it. Wall Street and the NBA have a tendency to not bet on things that are doomed to fail and anytime you get college kids involved, there is no telling the innovation and growth e-sports could really have.

The NBA partnership with Take-Two and the RIOT Games deal with the Big10 can be a blueprint for other leagues and conferences to follow. If these can show short term success and projected long term growth, others will quickly jump on the bandwagon.

E-sports has an opportunity to be the biggest “sport” in the world due to it’s immediate global reach and massive backers. It is doing it differently by not having a concentrated center of power, an individualized rule set for each game and it’s reach across every existing sport and continent. Drop in the explosion in OTT providers from Twitch, YouTube and Facebook Live and you have the makings of something that can, over time, do something that UFC set out to do, eclipse soccer as the world’s dominate sport.

Further Reading

SF Chronicle

Venture Beat

Chip’s Revenge

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 2.9.2017

Arguably the best coach in NFL history, Bill Belichick, may have inadvertently pulled a page out of his friend Chip Kelly’s book to win Super Bowl 51. Belichick’s team didn’t run a no-huddle, up tempo style however the amount of plays they ran and dominate time of possession had to of put a smile on Kelly’s face as the New England Patriots went on to win their fifth NFL title.

 

KELLYKelly may have been fired from two NFL head coaching jobs in under a year but some of his philosophies are grounded in truth. If your team has the ball then the other teams offensive isn’t on the field. If you run more plays than your opponent then odds are that in the 4th quarter that defense will be tired. Both proved true during the Patriots win over the Atlanta Falcons.

The Patriots ran 93 offensive plays to the high powered Falcons 42 and dominated the time of possession. They had the football for over 40 minutes while the Falcons had it for just a little over 23. While Kelly’s teams would normally reflect the the Falcons time of possession, the Patriots were able to adapt Kelly’s philosophy on their way to victory.

Super Bowl 51 TOPAt one point Fox play-by-play announcer Joe Buck pointed out that the Falcons offense had not been on the field in over an hour (that included the extended halftime). You add that up and it’s no wonder the Falcons defense seemed powerless to stop the Patriots offense in the last quarter plus of the game.

While you can point to several factors as to why the Patriots defeated the Falcons for their fifth title, you cannot deny that time of possession and the amount of offensive plays that the Patriots ran was a major factor in the outcome. It’s one that Kelly would be right to be proud of.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Low Hanging Fruit

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 1.18.2017

It’s a bold new OTT world and some are failing to adjust. While they can blame it on whatever they want (contracts, technological restrictions, etc) in the end it’s a fear of the new. It’s a choice to be resistant to change and a longing for the way things were vs what they can be. That’s why ESPN, NBC and others are stumbling into the OTT/ on demand  world and can’t seem to recognize the easy wins staring them in the face.

30 for 30 error

The prime example being ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. While you can view this content on various OTT channels like Netflix and Amazon you may still have to pay for it. So first you have to pay some to get ESPN and if you are unavailable to watch it or don’t have a DVR then you have to pay to watch the rerun.

If you can actually find the 30 for 30 you are looking for on ESPN’s poorly designed page, you have to put up a bad video player and God forbid you have to pause the video and go to the bathroom. Then you have to pretty much start over. It’s shocking how some solid story telling can be give such a poor platform but a multi billion dollar organization.

YouTube has a better player and user experience. ESPN could leverage a solid 70-30 split and give fans access to some fantastic stories and not have to pay for the infrastructure costs but that would appear to be too easy.

NBC is an over the air broadcaster. Yes they have NBCSports which you can only access via a pay service (cable, OTT, etc) but why does a user have to authenticate their cable subscription to watch a sporting event online that is free over the air?

Why would you have to do that? Well there are several common cases. First, you’re not home and you would like to watch the game or event. Second, you can’t get the local NBC affiliate’s signal due to where you live.Your internet connection is not subject to line of sight limitations, so why do you have to sign up and pay to watch something online that is available for free over the air?

How bout the NFL Network and their inability to provide their series Timeline and A Football Life until after the current ‘season’ ends?

TimelineIt’s almost comical that the NFL Network wait’s to post things online. These should be online right after the initial airing. Fine give it 48 hours, the point is that these are great stories that you can charge money for. Being the capitalist organization that the NFL is, wouldn’t it make sense to make their original content available as many places as possible, on demand as quickly as possible?

These are all examples of low hanging fruit that provides nothing but wins for content providers. The difficult part isn’t doing them, it’s changing the mindset. Execs are being taken kicking and screaming into this OTT/on demand world. They at times seem paralyzed by what to do because they saw their cross town colleagues get chopped down to size and then forced, with no leverage, into the arms of Steve Jobs.  If only video consumers could be so lucky.

More Mouse Davis Than Bill Walsh

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 1.10.2017

Over the years we’ve written quite a bit about Chip Kelly. We’ve written how he wasn’t right for the NFL and we’ve written that he could be the next Bill Walsh. With many things, the truth falls somewhere in between.

Chip Kelly 49ersChip Kelly was fired from two NFL jobs in little over a year. The second wasn’t his fault as he was dealt an absolute oil spill but the first was his fault. More importantly there has been some talk out there that Kelly wasn’t able to adjust to the NFL. He didn’t disguise his looks and become, in a word, predictable.

NFL defenses may have figured out a way to stop Kelly’s ‘blur’ offense but the NFL also adopted some of his ideas and methods.

While at Oregon, Kelly made trips to New England to talk about the hurry-up offense with Bill Belichick and his staff. Belichick and Kelly have become good friends and there is a possibility, however remote, that Kelly could slide into the OC spot if current Patriots OC Josh McDaniels gets another head coaching gig with, ironically enough, the San Francisco 49ers.

The fact is that a lot of teams, college and pro, use some of Kelly’s principals in their offenses. It’s a lot like how every one criticized Mouse Davis’s Run’N’Shoot offense when it debuted in the NFL way back in 1989.

Many criticized the offense and in it’s purest form wasn’t very successful at the NFL level. However aspects of the offense have made it into just about every current NFL offense. Using the pass to set up the run, single back sets and having wide receivers read the coverage along with the quarterback.

Kelly’s offense and training methods are seeing a similar bubbling up across the league. Kelly embraced sports science and employed a ‘sport science coordinator’ while with the Eagles. Other NFL teams have begun to embrace the idea of maximizing athletes performance after Kelly blazed the way.

Teams have also incorporated some zone read plays, allowed their quarterback to run more often, and of course using the hurry-up or no huddle offense throughout the game instead of just at end of a half.

While Kelly may not have revolutionized the game like the late Bill Walsh did so many years ago, he did influence it significantly like Mouse Davis did back in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Kelly’s NFL career will be judged by wins and losses but he has contributed much more than that.

 

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Hulu Enters the Fray

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 1.5.2017

Hulu finally announced that they are entering the live streaming fray to compete against DirecTV Now, Sling TV and PlayStation Vue. This has been rumored about for several months but was finally announced this week at CES. Will this be a viable option for sports cord cutters? On the surface the answer appears to be yes.

Hulu announced that the price for the package will ‘under $40’. Translation: $39.99 (Really guys? You think this still works on people?) Second, and this is what has the press buzzing, Hulu got CBS to sign on. This means that you can watch NFL on CBS games (apparently only the game in your local market but they weren’t clear on that) and the elusive CBS Sports Network with this package.

To go along with the CBS Sports Network, you will also get all of the ESPN and Fox Sports channels. In essence you are getting as many channels sports wise than what Sling TV can offer. Although Hulu made no mention of the league networks (NFL, NBA, NHL, etc) or of the collegiate channels (Pac 12, BigTen, Campus Insiders) much less NFL RedZone.

While the selection and price point seem too good to be true, in my experience it usually is.

Hulu Pricing ModelLet’s not forget that Hulu was the online provider that brought us the most ridiculous pricing model known to the Internet. How? By convincing you to pay them to allow you to watch commercials. Also because Hulu is run by studios (Comcast, Disney, Time Warner, 21st Century Fox) which means that they see things through the TV lens. However, they are not dumb and they saw the backlash on DirecTV Now’s rollout and packages that did nothing but move the cable and satellite bundling to a new domain.

Hulu has a chance here but details are too vague to see if this is going to be a true option for the sports cord cutter. Basically no one in the cord cutting universe offers all of the ESPN, Fox Sports, NBCSN, League and Conference networks and CBS Sports Network for under $50 a month. That is a hard thing to do and we’ll have to wait and see if Hulu can do it.