Prime Video Changes by Staying the Same

If Prime Video starts winning Tier 1 sports broadcast rights, it won’t be because of a change in strategy.

The hearts of sports executives around the world were sent aflutter after Bloomberg News reported that Amazon’s Prime Video unit is preparing a bid for exclusive broadcast rights to Italy’s top soccer league, Serie A.

Why the fluttering tickers? Because Prime Video has a huge content acquisition budget. (Full disclosure: the author’s longtime Lady works for Prime Video’s content acquisition management [CAM] team.) Because Prime Video has 200 million subscribers. Because the sports industry has been upended by Covid. 

It’s one thing for DAZN, a service with a sub-ten million subscriber base, to swoop in with a big check for some top broadcast rights. Golden Boy Promotions, a boxing group headed by Oscar De La Hoya, may cash that check and figure that fight fans will find them. Boxing is a sport about beating people up; its audience inherently narrow. Soccer (along with football, baseball and several others) wants to be broad. 

Prime Video also wants to catch up to Netflix, Hulu and Disney+. Most of those two hundred million sets of eyeballs aren’t watching Prime Video each night. People subscribe to Prime for the two-day shipping, not for the shows and movies.

Prime Video is willing to spend, sometimes lavishly. $13 million for ‘Late Night’, a festival film starring a TV actress. $200 million for a Sci-Fi film starring Chris Pratt. $10 million per episode for a raunchy superhero series. 

What is top-level Italian soccer worth to a worldwide streamer that needs more viewers?

Italian soccer is very popular in Italy. The biggest stars on Italian soccer teams — none of whom are Italian, by the way — are very popular throughout Europe, and parts of Asia, North America and Africa. There are 38 games in a Serie A season. Each weekend, there are eight broadcast windows. That’s 300 times per year where Italian soccer fans might open the Prime Video app to watch a ball being kicked around for two hours. 

All of those things are good and attractive to Prime Video. All of those things have surely been touted to Prime Video by Italian soccer execs. “$5 million per two-hour soccer game or $10 million for one hour of ‘The Boys’, which is the better deal?”

Here’s the rub: sports ain’t scripted, and scripted shows and films fit better with streamers.

On-demand series and films like ‘The Boys’ or ‘Late Night’ get watched repeatedly by their fans. Live soccer — like all live sports — is almost exclusively a one-time customer experience.

Series and films get watched at varied times, easing the load on the tech infrastructure of Amazon and internet service providers (ISPs). Live sports gets consumed simultaneously by all viewers, often resulting in streaming quality problems during popular games. (Prime Video endured this during the Cardinals-49ers NFL game in December.)

The rights to popular series and films have long term value. Prime Video’s ‘My Spy’ film was relatively popular, and now Prime Video has intellectual property rights for a potentially popular sequel. A popular Serie A match (or NFL game, for that matter) offers no residual value for future sporting events. Sports execs ask for escalating rights fees with every contract renewal.

Lastly — and most unfortunately for sports execs — sports have lost their ability to boost neighboring programming. On Sunday, about 40 million people were watching NFL football on Fox from 8 pm to 9 pm. During the same 8 pm hour the next night, a mere 7 million people were watching Fox’s most popular scripted series, ‘9-1-1’. 

Sports fans have become bifurcated from most general entertainment, robbing sports broadcast rights of their former ripple-effect value. An acquisition of Italian soccer broadcast rights would make for splashy headlines in the media, but Prime Video execs know that Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic offer little in the way of support for adjacent films and series.

Prime Video will win Italian soccer rights if the price is low enough to be justified as an independent sports property. They will not win those rights if Sky Sports — the current owner of Serie A broadcast rights — or some other broadcaster wants Italian soccer rights for reasons beyond game-day audience reach. That’s the likely reality for sports execs, no matter how badly they want Prime Video in the game.

*Lady is the preferred nomenclature for female significant others in SoCal Latino culture. It can be used to refer to girlfriends, fiancés, domestic partners, wives, etc. Yo soy no Latino, but I like the term.

The Obvious Choice for Giannis

Giannis Antetokounmpo made the obvious choice when he extended his contract with the Bucks

All is well in Bucks Forest! The uneven play in the bubble; the blown Bogdonavic trade; the team’s disjointed look through two preseason games… all are forgotten. Giannis re-signed. In a star-driven league, the Bucks have one of the youngest and brightest.

Judging by Bucks Twitter (a dangerous way to begin a paragraph, to be sure), Bucks fans were sweating this one. The Worldwide Reader, a longtime fan and season ticket holder, was not. Signing a “supermax” extension with the Bucks always made sense for the Greek Freak.

Two recent developments contributed to the obviousness of Giannis’s extension: the ongoing marketing apocalypse and the public’s perception of trade requests.

About a decade ago, the NBA world was obsessed at various times with the Dwightmare and Melodrama. Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony, both perceived at the time to be Championship level superstars, wanted out of Orlando and Denver, respectively. Both got traded to their preferred destination, but both acquired a lingering stain in the eyes of hoops fans.

Carmelo went from being perceived as one of the most gifted offensive weapons in the NBA to a shot-happy ballstopper. Dwight went from the defensive heir to Bill Russell to a locker room cancer. Both men recovered their reputations to a degree last season, but neither remains on his star trajectory of a decade ago. Statues will not be built. Legacies will be more Sprewell-in-Minnesota than Wade-in-Miami.

Recent superstar trade demands have not garnered such backlash. Sure, there is a sad bubble of Boston fans with lots of Spotify stock who hate Kyrie Irving. Angry Spurs fans — at least, those who can fit into a 21-inch wide seat — may boo Kawhi Leonard. The NBA fanbase at large, however, has become forgiving to the players’ perspective. (You can thank LeBron for that development.)

So, Giannis will play the 2021 season in Milwaukee, and definitely 2022. After that? Time will tell. If the Bucks are a middling team with a bare shelf of draft picks, the a trade will be possible. Given the MBA-ization of NBA fans — obsessed with “value”, “assets”, “outcomes” and the like — there will be joy if the Bucks are still great in the summer of 2023, and minimal anger at Giannis if a mutual decision is made to orient his travels elsewhere.

The other factor is money. The Bucks want to sell tickets and, quite probably within the next year or so, direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming subscriptions to local cord-cutting fans. Giannis wants to make a lot of money. Both of those interests are served with a supermax extension.

Prior to the pandemic, an NBA superstar could flee Milwaukee for a higher profile market and recoup any lost salary in endorsement deals. Those days are gone (at least for now). Giannis — and his agent — are acutely aware, the Reader is sure, of the dollar damage Anthony Davis inflicted on himself by poo-pooing the P-Cans. Not only did Davis recently sign a contract for about $45 million less than he could’ve gotten in NOLA, but his next contract calculation starts at that lower number. Giannis will be 29 years-old when the time comes to negotiate his next deal. A second supermax is a distinct possibility which would not have been possible had he fled to New York or San Francisco as a free agent.

The decimation of the sponsorship market and NBA fans’ player-friendly views effectively made a supermax extension with the Bucks a no-brainer. It may have taken a pandemic for it to happen, but Adam Silver’s construction of the collective bargaining agreement has finally had the desired effect of making free agency less attractive to the league’s top stars.

Beating the Bear

NBA television ratings are down, but everything else on TV is down more. That may not be good enough anymore.

A decade ago, the Cancellation Bear became famous in television circles. The Bear was a gimmick that tracked the survival prospects of primetime broadcast television shows, on the now-shuttered TV By the Numbers website. The “Bear” name was chosen as a nod to the old camping cliché, “you don’t have to be faster than the bear, you just have to be faster than the slowest person.”

The Bear idea has existed in television since its inception.

Networks have a limited number of hours of primetime programming. They want to make the most of those hours. It may not be good for the ego to see a given TV show’s audience shrink, but that can be explained away. “Overall TV viewership is down.” “There are more channels than ever.” “More and more people are spending time online.”

It is when a TV show becomes the least-viewed on a network that the threat of cancellation looms. Excuses are harder to come by, and network executives begin looking for programming alternatives.

As evidenced by last night’s Jazz vs. Nuggets Game 7, the NBA remains very safe from the Bear. Television networks value the advertiser-friendly 18-49 year-old demographic, and ABC’s Game 7 telecast attracted a 1.0 rating in that demo. Nothing else on primetime broadcast television drew over a 0.7.

A close look at last night’s primetime broadcast ratings puts the NBA’s much talked-about ratings declines in perspective. Sure, the NBA’s TV numbers are down. But ‘America’s Got Talent’, NBC’s signature summer show, is down even more; about 50% from last year. New summer reality fare, like ‘Love Island’ and ‘Tough as Nails’, have not come close to non-fractional, 1.0+ ratings levels in the demo.

It all must feel good to the NBA and its partners. Nobody likes to be needled by the President about disappointing results, even a President they don’t like. To win, win big, and win on a night, Tuesday, not known for NBA games has to be satisfying.

Even with last night’s success, there is a more existential question that bears asking: at what point does linear television’s financial picture start to decline?

An over-reported development of the last few decades has been the decline in broadcast and cable/satellite (“linear”) television ratings. An under-reported development has been the financial strength of the networks who suffer those ratings drops. Even as viewership and demo ratings have declined, advertising and carriage revenues have increased. Marketers have shown a willingness to pay more money for fewer eyeballs, and cable & satellite companies have begrudgingly paid increasing amounts for the rights to package networks for non-cord cutting customers.

In some ways, the NBA is in a different bear chase. Instead of being a TV show running from a bear chasing shows for cancellation, the Association is part of a linear TV ecosystem that being chased by a bear looking to gobble up platforms that aren’t worthy of companies’ advertising dollars.

The pandemic shutdowns have led companies to slash marketing budgets. Thus far, every organization that sells ads — linear TV networks, websites like Facebook & Google, outdoor platforms like billboards & busses — has taken a hit.

At some point, there could be a shakeout. Marketers could decide that linear TV’s advertising virtues — large groups watching, video storytelling, cumbersome opt-outs — outweigh its costs.

For the NBA and other second-tier sports (sorry, but the NFL is alone on the top tier), their financial future is increasingly tethered to that of broadcast and cable/satellite networks. That fact could pose more of a threat than the old days of the cancellation bear.

Ready or Not

For better or worse, WWE signaled a changing of the guard at Payback.

One, two, three. Randy’s shoulders on the mat. Keith Lee on top. It’s a whole new era in WWE. (For now.)

New eras of wrestling are about as common as new eras of Batman movies. As soon as the financials start to plateau, the folks in charge decide to freshen things up. Bale begets Affleck begets Pattinson, as Cena begets Reigns begets Lee.

We shall see, with Lee. Two months ago, two very wise men — Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mark Henry — ruminated aloud that Keith Lee was a rare breed of big man, but not ready. Did the hefty Texan finish his NXT PHD in record time, or is the company desperate? The coming weeks and months will write the story.

Ready or not, the timing of the Keith Lee superpush — ostensibly joined in this quarter-century-later New Generation reboot by Matt Riddle and Big E — makes sense. AEW’s schedule is scattershot until mid-October. Football is not yet here to drink Raw’s milkshake. Thunderdome has attracted curious eyeballs, ostensibly willing to give the product a second (or ninth or tenth) chance.

This is wrestling, and therefore fans will view last night’s Payback results with cynicism. Riddle and Lee are 1.88 meter physical freaks (that’s 6′ 2″ for my American brethren), and Big E is a Sammartino-style powerhouse. Vince McMahon’s affection for the tall, ripped and strong is well known, and ostensibly unchanged.

There is also the followup. WWE’s reputation — earned or not — is for a ceiling made bulletproof glass. Getting a win is one thing. Getting over is another. The victims of last night’s Payback Putsch were Randy Orton, Baron Corbin and Sheamus. Their reputations as office favorites and savvy politicians are well known. They are heels and heels lose. These particular heels have a history of winning when fans don’t want them to win, and of stealing the spotlight from dance partners.

The Reader may be showing his age, but in some ways Payback harkened back to the post-New Generation days of the old WWF.

In early 1996, the Federation was built around four new babyfaces: Shawn, Taker, Bret and Warrior. “The New Generation” was mentioned incessantly on television, as contrast to WCW’s belabored promotion of 80’s stars Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Randy Savage as titleists. The experiment failed; Bret fled to Hollywood in March, Warrior blew up in April and Shawn’s house show gates — the business’s second-most important metric at the time, after pay-per-view buyrates — disappointed after he became champ.

By mid-1996, with Nitro reliably beating Raw’s TV ratings every week and the nWo emerging as wrestling’s hottest angle of the decade-so-far, Vince course corrected. Mankind (as Mick Foley) beat Undertaker at King of the Ring, then doubled up via a falls-count-anywhere match at SummerSlam. Stone Cold won King of the Ring, then started calling out Bret Hart. Psycho Sid returned, and immediately entered the title picture.

Foley, Sid and Austin were all in their thirties, just like Lee, Riddle and Big E. All were known to wrestling fans. All were short of being major stars. All had pockets of hardcore fans who viewed them as worthy future world champions.

As was the case with the risers of 1996, Payback’s beneficiaries work very different styles. That variety may aid their attempted ascension.

Humility often begets clarity, and Vince McMahon has been humbled. He now realizes that AEW is more than a hipster’s haven. Their TV ratings have remained stable, his have cratered. That clarity may result in earnest pushes for Lee, Riddle and Big E. The tired cliche of rising WWE talent having their legs cut off by the veteran stars may not apply here.

Tonight’s Raw and Friday’s Smackdown are important. Successful rebuilding projects have advances and they have setbacks. What they tend not to have is careless missteps. The championship spotlight may be focused elsewhere, but it’s time for all three men — and their dance partners — to shine.

High Profile, Low Stakes: CBS Tries All-Star Racing in Primetime

One of the Worldwide Reader’s favorite #sportsbiz journalists, Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand, broke the news this morning that CBS is getting back into the auto racing business with a six race, All-Star stock car racing series called Superstar Racing Experience (SRX).

Once the home of stock car’s major league, NASCAR, CBS has been off the pit wall for twenty years. Stock car racing, which typically involves modified street-legal cars circling a purpose-built oval, was at one time considered a contender to major American sports like baseball and basketball.

The price for the right to broadcast NASCAR increased alongside the sport’s media profile, causing racing to exit the tiffany network in 2000. CBS has long shied away from paying premium prices for non-premium sports. Consequently, Formula 1, NASCAR and IndyCar rights cycled between ESPN/ABC, Fox, NBC and Turner/WarnerMedia for the past two decades without the Eye batting an eye.

Times have changed, and changed quickly. News specials, game shows and sports broadcasts that were once considered too sliverish for network TV’s broad reach are now viewed as plum primetime fare. Witness this summer’s highest rated prime time shows: ‘America’s Got Talent’ and ‘Celebrity Family Feud’.

CBS’s SRX is a muffintop project: an attempt to keep the good parts while tossing away the bad. Gone are D-shaped, mile-and-a-half ovals that have become reviled by hardcore racing fans. Short tracks — both dirt and pavement — will take their place. Car development is essentially prohibited, as a former pit crew chief will be charged with providing twelve identical cars for twelve entrants. SRX’s 2021 season will include only six races, all on Saturday nights. Pit stops are eliminated entirely. The goal is to distill racing down to the best “on track driver”, while creating a reliable network television product.

Ultimately, what SRX aims to deliver is a celebrity red carpet disguised as a sporting event. All the big stars are invited. It’s not about being the “best” auto racer. Strategy, car optimization, tire & fuel considerations have been artfully minimized.

The business plan for SRX is interesting, especially considering the ongoing advertising apocalypse. Six months ago, the idea of getting sponsors to buy ad time and put up visible on-track signage — Outfront Media, one of the world’s largest purveyors of ad signage, was once part of ViacomCBS — for primetime All-Star races on CBS was a no-brainer. If marketing budgets haven’t improved a year from now, SRX could stall before its green flag.

From an entertainment point of view, SRX has the Reader’s interest. Netflix’s ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ series turned the Reader into an ardent F1 fan, but American motorsports have yet to attract the same affection. IndyCar vehicles look like F1 cars, but their performance is visibly inferior. NASCAR is a different animal, but its rules and championship system are a major turn-off. The lack of car development and minimization of race strategy are big dings against SRX, but with the right drivers and production, it could become a must-watch next summer.

Brother, Can You Get ROI on $100 Million?

A pre-pandemic investment in LeBron’s SpringHill makes headlines. Finding a return in a post-coronavirus world is a different game.

Kudos to Bloomberg, and to New York Bureau Chief Jason Kelly (who also writes #longform, I guess?). This morning they went viral with a press-release-as-journalism feature on investment, past successes and future plans for LeBron James’s SpringHill company.

Such articles are catnip for media outlets starved of Actual News. If your beat is sports, entertainment or finance, not much is happening. Money is tight, games aren’t being played, movies & series aren’t being shot. What a perfect time to talk about the King and his empire.

To keep the Worldwide Reader societally compliant, LeBron and business partner Maverick Carter must be complimented. They come from humble roots. They are successes beyond anyone’s expectation. Their taste for the mood of the media is impeccable.

(In fact, the Reader would even argue that the notorious ‘The Decision’ was genius. Bloomberg calls it a mistake, but any seasoned pro wrestling observer knows of the thin line between love and hate.)

Unsaid in Bloomberg’s article (or in any of the other countless re-blogs of which the Reader is aware) is that a pre-pandemic media company now has $100 million to spend in a post-pandemic world.

To paint it with a fine-tipped brush, SpringHill is and always has been focused on goodwill and sponsorships, not excellence and transactions.

Critical praise pours in for ‘The Shop’, ‘Shut Up and Dribble’ and other social justice-focused content. Audiences remain scant, and their relationships to HBO and Showtime subscription growth are dubious at best.

General audience productions such as ‘The Wall’ and ‘Space Jam 2’ are far from critical darlings, which is fine. Nobody gives awards to ‘Black-ish’, but it remains a huge earner for ABC Studios and its producers.

The problem for SpringHill’s more accessible fare is the ongoing advertising collapse. NBC paid SpringHill for ‘The Wall’ because marketers were willing to pay NBC to advertise during the show. ShapChat made deals with SpringHill for the same reason. Many — perhaps most — of those ad dollars have evaporated.

The post-coronavirus entertainment game looks increasingly transactional. “Will people pay for this?” is the quintessential question. (Shout out to Peter Vecsey for that last line.)

If ‘Space Jam 2’ sells tickets, LeBron is golden. If SpringHill develops the next successful black sitcom, they will succeed. Netflix and Amazon Studios want high concept game shows. That helps.

The all-time success story of private equity in Hollywood was Legendary Pictures. Thomas Tull rounded up a ton of money, helped finance some huge box office hits (the ‘Hangover’ and ‘Dark Knight’ trilogies, among others), and sold to the Wanda Group out of China for $3.5 billion.

The investment in SpringHill is much smaller, but the goal remains the same: produce hits. Only now, critical praise and free-to-air eyeballs won’t be enough. For their investors to receive the return they are hoping for, LeBron & Mav will need to make stuff that people will pay for.

NFL Traveling Fanbases, Ranked by Tier

All thirty-two NFL teams’ fanbases, ranked in Tiers 1 through 5 by how well their fans travel to road games.

Since every sportswriter with a cable modem is doing Rankings(!) and since the NFL schedule is released today, here are my Very Amateur Rankings of TOP NFL TRAVELING FANBASES

Tier 1: Packers, Steelers, Raiders

Other teams jack up prices & have their buildings overwhelmed by the traveling fans of Tier 1 teams. Being a fan of one of these teams is great in the sense that you always have plenty of support when traveling to road games. In another sense, it sucks because you always have to pay inflated ticket prices. (Something the Los Angeles-based author is all too familiar with, as his brother is a deep Packers fan from Milwaukee, and they meet up for one Packers road game each season.)

Tier 2: Cowboys, Patriots, Eagles, Bears

High prices, noticeable road fan contingents, but rarely overwhelm the home crowd. Not saying home crowd overwhelmings can’t happen, but they are reserved for downtrodden fanbases, a la Patriots fans taking over the Redskins stadium last season.

Tier 2.75: Rams, Chargers, Jets, Giants

These cities are too good. A major aspect of having a great traveling fanbase is having a city that people want to leave. Who wants to leave New York or Los Angeles? Certainly not millennial hipsters. If these cites were mediocre like Chicago and Boston, their traveling fanbases would likely join them in Tier 2. In reality, their fans travel like Tier 4, or lower.

Tier 3: Broncos, Vikings, Texans, 49ers

Similar to Tier 2, but prices are a bit lower, road fan contingent is a little smaller. Road fan traveling starts to get dicey in Tier 3. For example, a Broncos game in Los Angeles or Kansas City will surely see thousands of fans in Orange & Blue. In Jacksonville or Buffalo? Likely only a smattering of those two complimentary colors.

Tier 3.33: Dolphins, Redskins

Sleeping giants. These fanbases could end up in Tier 2 very quickly — or at least Tier 3 — if the franchise gets good. The 49ers used to be in this tier, before their Colin Kaepernick-led resurgence. Teams in Tier 3.33 have the added issue of recent Championship success by other teams in the market: Miami Heat, Washington Capitals & Nationals.

Tier 4: Chiefs, Browns, Seahawks, Colts, Ravens, Saints, Bills

What separates Tier 3 from Tier 4? Not too much, really. Tier 4 is the last tier where road fans are capable of overwhelming the home crowd. (Though it rarely happens.) What puts Tier 4 teams a step below Tier 3 is the fact that some games featuring Tier 4 road teams will have very few visiting fans. Tier 3 teams almost always have a noticeable traveling fan presence somewhere in the stadium.

Tier 4.5 (SEC country): Falcons, Titans, Jaguars, Panthers, Bucs

Not much to add here. These fans would rather drive the RV to Tuscaloosa or Talladega than fly to Detroit.

Tier 5: Bengals, Cards, Lions

Bad news: you’re in the bottom tier of traveling NFL fanbases. Good news: all you need is 30 years of Brett Favre-followed-by-Aaron-Rodgers to reach Tier 1.

Welcome to Aussie Rules Football

Hello, non-Australian sports fans! I want to give a quick overview of Aussie Rules Football.

Every sport is shut down right now, except the Australian Football League (AFL). They play Aussie Rules Football. Aussie Rules Football is not Rugby.

Aussie Rules Football is played on a cricket field. Cricket fields are massive! They are in the shape of an oval, approximately 171 yards long and 146 yards wide. (Those are the dimensions of the Melbourne Cricket Ground [aka MCG aka The G], which is where the biggest AFL matches happen.)

Aussie Rules Football is about kicking the ball. Players can touch the ball with their hands and carry it. Points are scored by kicking the ball.

Here’s a diagram I made for a guy in a bar:

The dots at the top and bottom of the field are huge goalposts.

Goals (6 points) and Behinds (1 point) are scored by kicking the ball in between the goalposts. There is no crossbar. The ball can fly through the air or roll across the ground. Points are scored as long as A) the ball was kicked, B) no player touched the ball in-flight, and C) the ball passes through the goalposts.

Aussie Rules Football has a lot of punting, as it would be called in the NFL. When you hear “rugby style punter”, that is BULL. A guy punting the ball as he’s running is an Aussie style punter! Watch an AFL game, and you will see a ton of punting while running.

There are a bunch of guys on the field at the same time. Eighteen for each team, I think. I haven’t figured out the nitty gritty of Aussie Rules strategy yet.

What I have figured out is some basic Aussie Rules Football rules, such as:

-If a teammate catches a punted ball CLEANLY (cannot be tipped; I’m unclear on how much bobbling is allowed), it’s called a Mark. After a Mark, the player who caught the ball gets a Free Kick. No opposing player can go beyond the spot of the Mark (a “catch” in the NFL) to defend. Free Kicks after “taking a Mark” are a common way to score.

-A player can choose to eschew the post-Mark Free Kick and run with the ball. Which brings us to…

-RUNNING. Running with the ball is allowed in Aussie Rules Football. The limitation is, a player can’t run very far without bouncing the ball, like in basketball. In the NBA they call it dribbling, in the AFL they call it taking a bounce.

-How many steps before an AFL player has to “take a bounce”? I have no idea! It appears to be a referee judgment call. Personally, I have never seen a foul called for taking too many steps without a bounce.

-PASSING. NFL style passing is not allowed in Aussie Rules Football, but volleyball style fistbumps are. Fistbumps are called Hand Passes.

-KICKING. Kicking the ball is always allowed, unless someone else possesses it. Running punts, standing punts, walking punts, soccer style kicks off the ground; you’ll see them all in Aussie Rules Football.

-Safety is a big deal. They wear no pads, and they tackle! Tackling is allowed only between the waist and the shoulders.

-The refs do a lot of “jump balls”, as NBA fans might call them. If someone gets tackled to the ground and can’t cleanly handpass or kick the ball, then there’s a jump ball. If the ball goes out of bounds, the ref does a jump ball by tossing the ball backwards as high and far as he can, like a bride tossing a bouquet to her bridesmaids.

I am not an Aussie Rules expert! That said, here are some game strategies I’ve picked up:

  1. Marks are very important! Some teams use short kicks to move the ball up the field, trying to get in position to score.
  2. Possession is huge. Once a team has possession, they’ll often try to do a lot of short punts (often in an attempt to get Marks) and Hand Passes (which, remember, are actually volleyball style fistbumps) in order to move the ball between teammates as they go upfield.
  3. There is lots of jumping for possession of an airborne ball (like NBA rebounding!).
  4. There is no “blocking” or “line of scrimmage”. The player movement is more akin to soccer, although there is no offsides.

I hope you all check out Aussie Rules Football.

I am writing this on the evening of March 19, 2020. The next game on FS1 (Fox Sports 1) is on March 20 at 7:45 pm Pacific time.

If you really enjoy Aussie Rules Football, you can get an NFL Sunday Ticket style package via the Watch AFL app. Last year I paid $120 for the package. If allows you to watch every AFL game, right through the Grand Final (which is like the Super Bowl, at least in the Australian state of Victoria [where Melbourne is located]).

The Sinclair/YouTube TV Reveal

Sinclair’s RSN unit upset the Yankees by leaving them out of a YouTube TV deal. In hindsight, it wasn’t surprising.

The best twists are the ones nobody sees coming, yet are obvious in hindsight. It is an old movie axiom with many examples. Nobody expected Luke to be Darth Vader’s son. Then it made sense that Darth wanted him alive.

Today’s announcement of long-term YouTube TV carriage for Sinclair RSNs (regional sports networks) provoked surprise for the Worldwide Reader. Not because a deal happened, but because Los Angeles and New York were left out. Fox Sports West and Fox Sports Prime are majority-owned by Sinclair. YES (home of the Yankees and basketball’s Nets) is partially-owned. None of the three will be carried by YouTube TV in the near future. Never before had an RSN owner allowed a Pay-TV provider (cable, satellite, streaming packages) to carry some of its channels, but not all.

Before today, prevailing #sportsbiz wisdom was that RSN owners were married to all-or-nothing carriage deals. RSN financial health was greater, so it was thought, when RSN owners were able to prevent Pay-TV providers from picking and choosing which channels to offer.

The situation in baseball’s AL Central division provides a prime example of the theoretical need for RSN owners to stick with all-or-nothing carriage.

The Minnesota Twins garner the highest local TV ratings in Minneapolis during the summer months, year after year. The team made the Playoffs last season, and is expected to contend again.

The Detroit Tigers have seen local TV ratings plummet since as the team has struggled. The team is “rebuilding”, and expectations for a contending season are minute.

From a Pay-TV provider’s perspective, the Twins’ RSN (Fox Sports North) is a must-have, while the Tigers’ (Fox Sports Detroit) may not be. Sinclair, owner of both FS North and FS Detroit, surely would not want DirecTV, or any other Pay-TV provider, to drop the Tigers and keep the Twins, just because one is down and the other is up.

YouTube TV was not allowed to cherry-pick Sinclair’s RSNs team-by-team. The ultimate deal was to exclude the United States’ two gorilla markets, only.

Like the Keyser Soze reveal, excluding New York and Los Angeles RSNs makes sense in hindsight. For YouTube TV, the deal always made sense; Pay-TV providers would love to pick and choose which RSNs they carry. For Sinclair, the deal was a necessary sacrifice to keep their RSN business solvent. They need carriage fees and they need eyeballs to offer advertisers.

YouTube TV may have only 2 million subscribers today, but it is the clear leader in streaming Pay-TV. Playstation Vue has been shuttered, AT&T Now is hemorrhaging subscribers, Sling is mostly a Dish alternative and Hulu is mostly known as an on-demand service. People seem to like the YouTube TV interface, the service is reliable and the $50/month price is reasonable.

Sinclair’s RSN unit decided that YouTube TV wasn’t worth losing, even if it meant upsetting the Yankees.

Supply-Side Mahomes

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs could become a dynasty that leads the NFL to new heights… or they could become a one-hit wonder, like so many before them.

Basketball is the offensive game; football the defensive one. Michael, Kobe and LeBron walked with ring-filled fingers. The pass rushers, linebackers and secondaries of the Packers, Steelers, Niners and Patriots have done the same.

The 49ers dynasty is a prime example of offensive perception trumping reality. Montana, Rice and Craig fill our memories. Their first three Super Bowl victims — the ’81 Bengals, ’84 Dolphins, ’88 Bengals — are the ones who entered the big game with a seemingly unstoppable offense.

The Bay Area’s other two red & gold Super Bowl victories? One-hit wonders. The ’89 Niners ran circles around defenses, until the Parcells/Belichick Giants stifled them (and the offensive juggernaut Bills) in 1990. The ’94 Niners quickly ceded control of the NFC to the Cowboys and Packers.

As a native Wisconsinite, the Worldwide Reader has vivid memories of the hype following the lone Packers Super Bowl victory of the Aaron Rodgers era. (Full disclosure: the Reader has long been more of a Brewers & Bucks fan.) The idea that the Green & Gold could go nine seasons without another Lombardi trophy was dismissed. “How could that happen? Top QB, prime weapons, great coach, young defense.” It happened.

Sports business is a supply-side game. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” is one cliché that applies. Rank & file UFC pay-per-views do better when Conor McGregor is around, Sixers vs. Celtics drew better TV ratings when the Warriors had Kevin Durant, and so on.

(The Reader must digress on how perpetually amusing it is to see sports journalists have no understanding of sports business. “The most exciting season in years,” NBA media folk surmised. Instead, TV ratings are crashing, merchandise sales are down, and ticket resale prices are soft for everyone but the Lakers.)

If — and this is a big “If” — the Chiefs become the dynasty that some envision them becoming, it will lift the NFL to new business heights. A legacy team… a charismatic quarterback… annual rivalry games against Los Angeles, the Raiders, Denver… The Mahomes Era could be the NFL’s biggest yet.

When an entity is so dominant — as the NFL is today within the world of American sports and television — some will anticipate a decline. What makes pro football better than basketball or baseball or any other team sport? Or individual sport? Someday, football has to return to their level.

Or does it? Amazon was the dominant force in online retail and cloud storage three years ago. Has Amazon declined since 2017? Has Marvel Studios? Has Netflix?

The future is never assured, of course. Narcissism can bring any person or organization down.

On February 3, 2020, the future of the NFL looks brighter than ever. In the parlance of pro wrestling, a new Monster Heel has gotten over. If Mahomes and the Chiefs keep winning, people will offer their money and attention en masse to see if anyone can bring them down.