Monday, November 2, 2015

The State of Sports Podcasts

  After five months of inactivity, Bill Simmons finally returned to podcasting last month with the appropriately named ‘Bill Simmons Podcast’. Simmons’ new podcast has his usual breezy commentary on the NFL and NBA with his friends Cousin Sal, Joe House, and Jack-O. The commentary is the backdrop for sports bets Simmons and company are planning or the triumphs and travails of Simmons’ preferred Boston teams and teams from his adopted Los Angeles home.

  I missed being able to listen to Simmons and having him back podcasting is like hanging out with a familiar friend that has been away for a while. There was one problem with Simmons’ return. Since I only make my long commute to West Des Moines for work two days a week instead of five I now had too many podcasts and not enough hours to listen to them. In the past six months I had replaced Simmons’ B.S. Report with the CBS Eye on Football podcast and ESPN made up for the absence of Simmons by increasing the podcasts of the Grantland.com sports and pop culture site that Simmons created for them. The Zach Lowe Report was on more often and the Jalen Rose/David Jacoby podcast increased to five times a week from once a week to reflect the assignment of Rose and Jacoby to a nighttime slot on ESPN Radio.

  This was too much to listen to already and the start of a new NBA season meant an increased frequency of the CBS Eye on Basketball podcast which is a must listen for me. I was about to have to make some difficult choices when Simmons hired away some of the writers he originally brought to Grantland.com. This is part of a trend of Grantland writers finding new employment following the departure of the site’s founder. How did some writers changing jobs affect me? Bill Barnwell and Rober Mays of the Grantland NFL podcast used part of their October 13th podcast to say farewell to their departing colleagues. That part of the podcast was edited out by Grantland editor-in-chief Chris Connelly. This led to a boycott of sorts and there was no Grantland NFL podcast for two and a half weeks. More podcast reductions came when ESPN’s radio broadcast of the baseball playoffs and World Series pre-empted the Jalen & Jacoby radio show at least three times a week so there were few podcasts from them during October.

  Last week the Grantland NFL Podcast resumed and with the baseball season coming to an end (meaning five Jalen & Jacoby podcasts a week) I was finally going to have to face my difficult listening choices but ESPN announced Friday afternoon that they were suspending operations of Grantland.com. The announcement said they were going to be folding the Grantland content into ESPN’s other digital properties but when Simmons departed ESPN last May the company affirmed its commitment to Grantland and that it could stand on its own with or without Simmons. That ‘commitment’ lasted only five months and ESPN recently laid off 4% of its workforce. I can’t see the Grantland podcasts continuing on another ESPN property unless they are generating revenue in and of themselves which I doubt they ever did.

  I always thought ESPN was the biggest moneymaker in sports broadcasting and they may well be but in researching this post I saw that ESPN lost over 3% of its subscriber base at the same time as its rights fees for baseball, football, and basketball live broadcasts have skyrocketed. With over 90 million subscribers paying their cable systems for ESPN programming in addition to ad revenue I have to assume that ESPN is still a huge moneymaker but the thing to remember is that ESPN is owned by the Disney megacorporation and is expected to not only make money – they must make the amount of money their corporate masters command or heads will roll. Corporations understand far better than governments that when revenues decline expenses must be slashed in order to balance a budget which is more complicated for a company like ESPN whose budget includes their profit.

  At the time Simmons was removed from ESPN programming I wrote that it was because of his comments about the NFL, one of ESPN’s most valuable business partners. I may have been too hasty. If ESPN knew they were going into cost cutting mode it would make sense to remove some of their higher priced talent. Simmons was making $5 million a year at ESPN and while that would maybe cover one half of one NBA game that the network is paying $1.5 billion annually to broadcast every little bit counts and live sports broadcasts is an ESPN hallmark much more than Bill Simmons. ESPN has constantly created television personalities via their Sports Center shows like Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Rich Eisen, Chris Berman, etc... With few exceptions ESPN has watched most of these personalities move on to other networks to cash in on their Sports Center created fame and ESPN has the gone on to create the next generation of personalities through Sports Center.

  I would never pay to listen to a podcast and I even fast forward through the ads so if ESPN, Bill Simmons, and CBS are creating these podcasts to make money from me they are out of luck. Now that baseball season is over for five months I have 5 Jalen & Jacoby podcasts and 10 CBS and Bill Simmons podcasts a week loaded into my iPod for me to listen to. This represents around 15 hours of listening for five hours of commuting. For now I’m listening to a couple of hours of podcasts in the morning during work which takes on the quality of background noise like a radio instead of providing entertainment during an interminable commute. I try to save the CBS Eye On Basketball podcasts for the commute because I find them the most informative with the Jalen & Jacoby podcast next in preference. Choosing what to listen to during my commutes and what to have as background noise was a difficult decision but I’m glad that I’m able to have so many quality podcasts to make to decision difficult.

  In my last post I ripped Iowa State Cyclone football coach Paul Rhoads and the Cylones promptly proceeded to make me look like a fool with a 24-0 shutout of the Texas Longhorns. Luckily my basketball predictions were anything but foolish as I went an easy 3-0 with only the Grizzlies-Pacers game needing a little divine intervention as the Grizzlies came back from a double digit third quarter deficit to a double digit win to cover the spread. I see several promising games on tonight's schedule but only one game I choose to wager on and risk my $300 profit. As always I will be placing my mythical bets using the Betonline.ag lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money being wagered.

Milwaukee Bucks at Brooklyn Nets
What was expected to be a promising season for the Bucks has started as a disaster with a humiliating home blowout to the Knicks and last night's blowout in Toronto sandwiching a respectably close loss tot he Wizards. Tonight the Bucks head to Brooklyn to take on the 0-3 Nets who have looked equally abysmal. Both teams will undoubtedly thinking this game is their chance to finally get a win and even though the Nets are better rested I will pick the youthful Bucks to run the Nets ragged. I'll take the Bucks on a $110 bet to take the road win or at least cover the point and a half spread and win me $100.