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.

NBC Sports Fails Again

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

We’ve been critical of NBC Sports on this site but we feel for good reason. They put themselves before the fans which is a problem. From the pre game shows they sneak in when the TV listings state that the game should be starting to NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus suggesting that NHL players shouldn’t grow beards during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Well let’s add the Tour De France to this list of how NBC Sports and their parent company Comcast stick it to the fans.

NBC SPORT TOUR DE FRANCE

It’s the 102nd running of the Tour De France and while cycling is a niche sport in the United States and lacks a Lance Armstrong-esq personality, the event is still one of sports most grueling physical and mental tests. It’s niche classification apparently makes it ok for NBC Sports (owned by cable giant Comcast) to charge fans for online access. While it’s only $30 for the entire tour – which runs until July 26th – it’s still something that sets a bad precedent.

Previously NBC Sports and other networks like ESPN have allowed fans to watch broadcasts online after authenticating a cable/satellite subscription. NBC Sports is now putting that aside and saying ‘nope, that’s not enough. You fans need to pay more.’

This hurts cycling fans and in the end hurts the sport. While the backlash will be minimal due to the small cycling fanbase, one can only image what would happen if NBC Sports pulled the same move during the Stanley Cup Final citing lack of interest due to one of the teams being a ‘small market’ team.

Is the $100 plus cable/Internet bill not enough for NBC Sports parent Comcast to cover the costs of broadcasting the Tour De France? Does the extra $30 from from say 10,000 fans put them over the top? We really doubt it. Especially since Comcast had revenue of $68 billion in 2014. It’s just another case of NBC Sports (and Comcast) sticking it to their customers.

Make no mistake, we would be complementing NBC Sports right now if they sold online access to the ‘cord-cutters’ but allowed paying cable/satellite subscribers free access….but they’re not. It’s feast or famine and at the end of the day it’s bad business. You would generate more revenue by going this route. The passive or new cycling fan who has a cable/satellite subscription could watch. The hard-core cycling fan could watch too even if they are a dreaded ‘cord-cutter’.

NBC Sports approach is short term thinking to a long term issue. It only proves once again that NBC Sports (and Comcast) puts profits in front of the fans/customers and they are still too naive to realize that without the fans/customers there would be no profits.

 

Out Thinking Viewing Habits

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

When you stop and think about it for a minute it can truly boggle your mind. Much like a brain freeze from drinking something cold too quickly. That might have been what people had when they thought they were making well informed decisions when it came to scheduling the Stanley Cup Final and the NBA Finals.

Game one of the Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning was played on Wednesday evening. Game two….not until Saturday? Two full days off after playing one game. Strange but when the scheduling also cost the Tampa Bay area a few Garth Brooks concertswell we are pretty sure that there are some unhappy folks in the Tampa St. Pete area. While Brooks and the venue are trying to find dates to reschedule the shows, we’re pretty sure one show could have fit in if game two was played on Friday instead of Saturday.

2015 Stanley Cup Final

To add insult to injury, NBC Sports lies about the start time of the game…again. As we have pointed out many times on this blog, NBC Sports is a major offender when it comes to advertising what time a game of any kind is going to start. While the start time for game one of the Stanley Cup Final was advertised as 8pm EST, the puck was actually dropped at 8:22pm EST (6:22 MST as you can see.)

The NBA Finals are a whole nother story. The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers potential seven game series is scheduled to be played on Thursdays, Sundays and Tuesdays. It’s bad enough that both teams have been sitting for over a week which we assume is so that both teams could be “healthy”. But in all fairness, is anyone really healthy after an 82 game regular season and three playoff series?

There has to be somebody, somewhere who has numbers to back up these scheduling decisions (not to sure about the start time decisions though).The fact is, play the damn games. Do you really think no one watches TV on a Friday night? You also lose the energy around these series when you take these breaks. While it may seem like a smart idea on paper, not having a game on a Friday night and then scheduling one against ‘Game of Thrones’ is just plain dumb.

Don’t Tune In Too Soon

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

‘Won’t get fooled again’ is how the song goes and it’s appropriate when it comes to NBC sports broadcasts. Why? Cause NBC Sports was up to their old tricks again with the NHL’s Stadium series.

This past Saturday the Stadium series was in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium. While the guide claimed that the puck was going to drop at 6:30pm PST in reality the puck didn’t drop until around 7:25pm.

What happened in between? The usual NBC jibber jabber. Interviews with has been celebs (Tom Arnold? Really?), beach volleyball and a KISS concert.

Yes, a KISS concert.

Cause nothing screams outdoor hockey like KISS.

We’re not sure but at some point NBC and the NHL forgot that this is a hockey game. Not only that, this is a game between two possible Stanley Cup contenders.

The Anaheim Ducks are the best team in the NHL right now (currently at 83 points) and the Los Angeles Kings are not far behind (66 points as of Tuesday morning). What about insight on the game? How the teams match up?

Nope.

More NBC yapping about how awesome this venue is. That’s great guys, but can we play some hockey?

As for the game the following day in New York, it was delayed because of a glare from the sun. Minus that it was the same thing. The guide said one time and the puck wasn’t going to be dropped until later.

Guide

So for the game on Wednesday, folks the puck isn’t dropping until 4:30pm PST. DO NOT BUY INTO THE NBC SPORTS NETWORK PROMOS THAT STATE 3:30pm PST.

New Year, Same Old Yapping

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

2014 WINTER CLASSIC

New Years Day brings with it new hope and a full slate of sports. From Bowl games to Premier League matches and of course the NHL’s showcase event the Winter Classic. Unfortunately a new year didn’t mean a NBC Sports. They were up to their same old talking tactics of telling viewers that a game was at one time but in all reality it was at another.

VIEWING GUIDE

The Winter Classic was scheduled to begin at 10am PST. They dropped the puck at 10:30am. What was in that 30 minutes? The typical NBC yapping. Multiple people talking about everything from the conditions to the crowd to the actual game.

Meanwhile 106,000 waited in traffic, long lines and sub freezing temperatures. All the while NBC, and we assume Canadian announcers too, talked away stating the obvious.

GAME TIME

This is typical of NBC Sports (their MLS coverage is well documented on this site) and it’s becoming the norm with other broadcasters as well. Later in the day ESPN and the Rose Bowl had a designated kickoff time of 2pm PST when in reality they kicked the ball off closer to 2:15-2:20.

It can’t all be blamed on the broadcasters though. The leagues and the viewing guides deserve some blame. Lord knows what broadcasters paid for the rights and have to create as much commercial time as possible to try and make a profit on these events. This is a business after all. On the other hand, the NHL and NBC are leaving people in the freezing cold, waiting.

The question becomes at what point do people turn away? Is this alienating the fans, not only in the stadium but also at home? It’s hard to say but one has to imagine that the fans have a breaking point. You’re starting to see it with attendance at games. In fact, three NFL teams are facing TV blackouts this playoff weekend including the Green Bay Packers.

There is a threshold to be reached. Where that is no one knows. However it is only fair for broadcasters to say exactly what time actual play will begin. In the mean time get use to more talking and less playing at the beginning of broadcasts.

Networks Must Share The Blame

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

There was an article on Yahoo last week talking about the low TV ratings this year for MLS. While the article didn’t dive into possible reasons why (except to point out that NBC had the Olympics last summer) there some major reasons that come to mind and the networks need to share some of the blame.

Last season was NBC Sports first season broadcasting MLS. While they do some by innovative things like having the color commentators between the benches they have some serious flaws that they have refused to correct. The major one being that they, and the league, continue to promote kickoffs a half hour before the actually happen. They have a pre-match show that runs some 25 plus minutes even though the programming guide says differently.

NBC Pre Show

This main reason leads directly into the second, the late night kickoffs. This season their will be 11 games that kickoff at 10pm EST or later on NBC Sports Network. Add in the 25 -ish minute pre-match show and the ball is not being kicked off until 11pm EST at times.

When we look at the other major broadcast partner for MLS, ESPN makes some of the same mistakes. Between ESPN and ESPN 2 they will broadcast 9 games starting at 9pm EST or later and all 9 of those matches are on Sunday evening. The rematch of last seasons MLS Cup Final (Houston at LA Galaxy) was broadcast at 11pm EST on Sunday May 5th. Was there another major event on ESPN 2 that day?

Late Night MLS

To dig the point home, this past month (August 25th to be exact) one of the biggest games of the season didn’t kick off until 10pm EST…on a Sunday night. This match saw US Men’s National Team star Clint Dempsey make his home debut in front of 66,000 plus fans in Seattle as they took on arch rival Portland. It wasn’t exactly a battle of cellar dwellers either, this match had big playoff implications.

Did ESPN really expect the casual fan to stay up until midnight on a Sunday? This is MLS. Not the NFL.

An issue that cannot be ignored either is that some of the biggest fan bases and the last 4 MLS Cup Champions are all out west. Let’s face facts, if Columbus and Sporting KC are not playing well it’s not going to hurt the TV ratings all that much. But when major market teams like DC United and Chivas USA are two of the worst teams in the league, that is enough to yellow card any set of TV ratings. Add in the wildfire that is Toronto FC and things may not be looking great north of the border either.

What the article also didn’t touch on is attendance. According to Sports Business Journal (Volume 16 issue 18) as of August 12th there are 10 teams in positive territory year over year in attendance and 9 in decline. The worse? Chivas USA which is down 36%.

Add this up and their should be some concern in the league office but the fact remains that the networks share some of the blame here. Network executives are not as smart as they think they are even though they like to think they are.

MLS needs to take more control over what games are shown and if all possible, when they are shown. They can do this as they begin the next set of TV contract negotiations. Without this change, ratings may continue to decline regardless of how many Clint Dempsey’s are brought back to the league.

How ESPN (and others) Screw College Football Fans on DirecTV

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

One could argue that ESPN was all about the College Football fan. No matter the game, ESPN seemed to carry it on one of its many platforms. Now, ESPN has taken a step backwards. It has let an old TV mindset takeover and in the process screw the College Football fans in the digital age.

ERROR CODE

Last season, it was a College Football fanatics dream. If you were on DirecTV (which a lot of sports fans are because of NFL Sunday Ticket) and had an internet connection (pretty standard in 2013) you could watch multiple games at one time via DirecTV and ESPN3. On DirecTV you had your main games you flipped between, your XBOX 360 had another game or two via ESPN3 (any game on ESPN3, ESPNU and even ESPN2 was accessible), and yet another game via ESPN3 on your laptop. This year, unless you are a TV and internet customer of the cable provider (Comcast cable and Comcast internet for example) you can only get games shown exclusively on ESPN3. If you do have this, you’re in great shape. If you have DirecTV, we’ll you’re hosed.

Unable to play via XBOX 360

Why was something available last year and not this year? Probably because contracts got renegotiated at some point between last season and this season and with all of the conference realignment going on that is probably a safe bet.

But why would ESPN, the profit center for Disney, backtrack on showing games? Isn’t showing more games, and selling more advertising a great way to make money? Is ESPN really worried about people the digital world cannibalizing the TV profit? What is this, 2006?

In ESPN’s defense, they are not the only one who do this. The Big Ten Network does not allow you watch a game online if it is being broadcast of the Big Ten Network (as we’ve been told by the DirecTV customer service rep).

The bigger questions still remain why? Why treat TV and online separate when as recently as last season they we’re considered almost equal? Why must you have a TV and internet subscription to watch games on laptop, XBOX or tablet? Why isn’t an internet subscription enough? Why limit your customer base to those who have a cable TV subscription? By cutting out the DirecTV customers your losing 20 million people in the US. 

Could DirecTV help? Sure but their iPad app is…well horrible. You can only watch certain channels and only within your home. That’s like buying a car and only being allowed on certain streets.

There are answers out there. The short-term one is Slingbox. This device will make a comeback but not without a price. You’ll need another DirecTV receiver in another room. Kind of a bummer and a lot more money.

The long-term answer is for ESPN, the Big Ten Network, NBC Sports Network, and Fox Sports, to come up with a digital answer…not to say that they don’t already have one.

For example, when ESPN3 shows CFL games, there are ads during the commercial breaks of the broadcasted game. Yes it’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison but not really. Why can’t ESPN, FOX, NBC and others run different ads online as they do on air? It’s not like they aren’t doing it already.

What is really sad is how unprogressive ESPN and others have become. They are taking steps back instead of forward and giving credence that the ‘any device anytime’ line is really just lip service.

What happens now is that fans will use pirated streams to watch the games. Nobody wins there. If the folks at Fox Sports, NBC, and the Big Ten Network (partially owned by Fox by the way) were smart they would flood the digital space with live, free streaming and sell the bejesus out of it. It’s a white space that can be stolen right from under ESPN’s nose. Then again, maybe this is another reason why the digital world will never overtake TV.

The Fans Came Back to the NHL. Sort of.

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

With the 2nd round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs rapidly approaching we thought it would be a good time to look and see if the fans came back to the NHL. There was lot of concern in January when the lockout shortened season got underway that the fans would not return but it appears that those fears where all for not.

Many teams enticed fans to return with special promotions as we pointed out in a post earlier this year. Now we have some actual numbers to back up the consensus out there that hockey really is back, especially locally. According to Sports Media Watch some big hockey towns like Pittsburgh, Boston, Chicago, and New York have seen fans return to their TV’s in droves. NBC Sports Network has also seen an increase in it’s ratings with seven of the eight highest rated games coming this season.

Attendance appears to not have suffered as it was once feared. While nothing can make up for the business that was lost last fall when the lockout was in full swing, fans do appear to have returned.

It’s not all wine and roses however. NBC has seen a decline and surprisingly enough the Boston Bruins 1st round playoff battle against the Toronto Maple Leafs is down in the ratings compared to a year ago. That’s right, the Bruins TV partner NESN has seen a decline in the TV ratings.

There is still a long way to go for the NHL. The Phoenix Coyotes are still run by the league, Vancouver and Montreal were knocked out in the 1st round of the playoffs (not much the league can do about that though) and there is now the extraordinary challenge of putting on a hockey game outside in LA.

That’s right, the LA Kings will play the Anaheim Ducks outside at Dodger stadium next January. It’s one of several outdoor games planned for next season in the newly created Stadium Series. These stadium games do well ratings wise and attendance wise. It’s another way the NHL is trying to get fans back to hockey. Although, as we pointed out earlier, hockey fans apparently haven’t gone anywhere.

NBC Sports Double Standard

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard
NBC Sports owns the rights to a few sports including the NHL and MLS. While they do an outstanding job with the NHL (especially during the Stanley Cup playoffs) the do a very poor job with the MLS.
This past weekend the MLS had three games starting at the 1pm Pacific Standard Time. Two were regional broadcasts and the third was on the NBC Sports Network. One game was Montreal at San Jose. That match kicked off at 1:07pm. The NBC Sports game, New York at Columbus, kicked off at 1:25pm. Both were regular season matches and yet one game kicked off nearly 20 minutes sooner.
If you’ve seen MLS coverage on NBC Sports you’ll notice that this is the norm. They talk. They call it a pre game show but the guide on DirecTV says otherwise. While NBC Sports does do some things fairly innovative (like having their color commentator, in this case Kyle Martino, announcing from the sidelines as opposed to the booth) it still doesn’t excuse the fact that it takes an MLS game on NBC Sports almost an extra 20 minutes to get the ball kicked off.
Contrast this to NBC Sports coverage of the NHL. During the Stanley Cup playoffs they have enlisted the help of all of NBC’s other properties so that they can broadcast each and every playoff game live. This means using NBC’s financial channel CNBC. They also start their games 10 minutes after the scheduled start time. That’s right, they drop the puck 10 minutes after coming on the air with the game.
Why the difference? Why does a nationally broadcast MLS game on NBC or NBC Sports Network take 15 more minutes longer to start as opposed to an NHL game on the same network? It falls under NBC Sports method of operation, talk.
NBCSports.com covers every sport. Their pages are titled PRO FOOTBALL TALK, PRO BASEBALL TALK, and PRO HOCKEY TALK, etc. Does that sound appealing to you? Talk? That may be the most uncreative categorization in the history of the web. It reflects how NBC Sports views itself. It’s not bout the sport for them, it’s about them and what they have to say. In other words, they love to hear themselves talk.
NBC TALK
Can NBC improve the MLS experience? Yes, kick the ball off. It’s that simple. You can still keep a short intro if you want but don’t make it longer than 10 minutes. Fans of the teams and the sport do not tune in to watch people yap and to admire a combo feature. They tune into to watch the game.

NBC SPORTS….JUST KICK THE DAMN BALL OFF

When Comcast purchased NBC from GE you knew some changes were coming. Versus turned into the NBC Sports Network which now broadcasts MLS matches and CFL games. But as much as things change they always stay the same. NBC Sports continues to put themselves before the fan and the viewer.

NBC broadcast the first NFL game of the season between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants. They star this by dragging out a 90 minute pre game show and right when you think they’re going to kick the ball off they give us an open telling us who the Producer and Director of the show are. They then drag it out a little more with the commentators giving us….I don’t know, more insight I guess. They do the same thing with MLS on the NBC Sports Network. It’s says that kick off is at 4pm but in reality the ball is being kicked off at 4:30. Meanwhile fans and players are left standing around as NBC tries to educate us some more.

Here’s a news flash NBC, KICK THE DAMN BALL OFF. No one cares who the Producer or Director is, and I come from a world where I may know these people. I’m not here for a rock concert or a highlight show or pre game interviews. I’m here for a game.

The kicker to all of this is the flat out pandering of the broadcast. Guys it’s a second half not a second act (actual graphic). This is a football game not a Shakespearean play. I know Toyota is a big sponsor but I can go without the extended commercial with Eli Manning at halftime.

Now NBC Sports is not all bad. They do do some innovative things like streaming the Sunday Night Football game online with multiple camera angles or placing the color commentator on the sidelines of MLS matches. He’s right between the benches and can give more insight on tactics and the momentum of the game.

While they have been innovative they also take massive steps backward with just boneheaded maneuvers. I hate to tell NBC this but I’m not watching The Voice so stop showing me ads for it. I’m here to watch football or soccer and I know I’m not alone.

I understand why MLS will go along with what NBC wants to do because it’s helping the MLS gain more viewers and they are still trying to gain a significant foot hold in the American sports spectrum. Why the NFL does I don’t know. The NFL recently made a rule stating that if you get thrown out of game you’ll have to go through a class to be allowed in the stadium again. I suppose they’re trying to make the NFL game a more family oriented environment but if they are trying to do that then why do they allow NBC to kick the game off at 8:30pm EST on a school night?

I can’t criticize NBC when it comes to the Olympics because I didn’t watch them. Why? Re-read the above. If NBC screws up the NFL and MLS why would I trust them to broadcast the Olympics?

NBC can fix these things. It’s not hard but they have to first get off their high horse and stop thinking that ‘they know what people want to see’ cause they don’t. I want to watch sports and if you’re not going to show it to me then I’ll just watch a channel that will.