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Volume 26 No. 204

Media

Durant recently debuted "The Boardroom" on ESPN+, where athletes discuss the business of sports
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Durant recently debuted "The Boardroom" on ESPN+, where athletes discuss the business of sports
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Durant recently debuted "The Boardroom" on ESPN+, where athletes discuss the business of sports
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

Warriors F Kevin Durant is adamant that "he, not the media, will deliver the message" of where he will play next season after he hits free agency, the latest example of athletes attempting to "curate their own messages through digital production houses while circumventing traditional journalism outlets," according to Logan Murdock of NBC SPORTS BAY AREA. Durant recently rolled out "The Boardroom" series, which debuted on ESPN+ in February, and gives athletes the "opportunity to interview each other about the business of sports." That came after LeBron James in '15 founded Uninterrupted, which is "designed to give athletes a direct-to-fan platform." Stephen Curry last year "signed a deal with Sony to form Unanimous Media," and next month is set to release a Facebook Watch series titled “Stephen vs. The Game.” Curry's partnership with The Players Tribune has also "produced a platform" for him to "promote equality for women and veterans." Durant believes "athlete-focused companies started more as a reaction to the media landscape than as a means to partner." Warriors F Draymond Green, who has partnered with James' Uninterrupted, said, "For years, your story has been told by everybody else and it’s not always in your words. I think it’s important that whatever that message is, you want it to be told. It’s your message at the end of the day." Durant believes that the "athlete-driven media revolution has ruffled feathers." He said, "A lot of media companies are sad about that. Which is causing a strain between the players and the media because obviously they all want to keep their jobs. They all want to tell their stories, but the players are telling it better" (NBCSPORTSBAYAREA.com, 4/22).

HARD TO PLEASE? ESPN’s Jalen Rose said, "Players still control the narrative and they ultimately decide where they’re going to end up. They get a chance to announce it how they choose." ESPN’s Seth Greenberg said "every player is going to control the message" and Durant was "playing games with the media." Greenberg: "It is what it is. Control your message, that’s fine, but you can't shut everyone else out.” ESPN's Mike Greenberg added, “He doesn't like it when people take shots at him and all of this is still residue from all of the criticism that he received, not for the way he announced that he was going to Golden State, but for the fact that he went to Golden State” (“Get Up,” ESPN, 4/23). NBCSports.com's Kurt Helin tweeted, "Durant says he wants message to be his, not media's. Of course, it’s not that simple. What drives interest in his free agency is fan interest, not simply media obsession. Our playoff game stories draw far less traffic than FA or Laker coach stuff" (TWITTER.com, 4/22).

The NBA is continuing to see a sharp drop for its playoff viewership through the second weekend of games. The audience for telecasts across TNT, ABC, ESPN and NBA TV -- 2.66 million viewers -- is the lowest figure since at least ’11, when NBA TV numbers were first publicly available. Games are down 18% compared to the same point last season, and down 19% from two years ago. The absence of LeBron James in the postseason for the first time since ’05 also continues to impact numbers, as did head-to-head competition with The Masters on the opening weekend.

THROWING SHADE: TNT's Charles Barkley last night prior to Bucks-Pistons and Rockets-Jazz continued his criticism of the quality of the first-round NBA Playoff games, saying facetiously, "America, these are going to be two barnburners tonight. This Bucks-Pistons game, y'all got to watch this game." After a promo was aired for the two games, Barkley then said seriously, "You should just skip these two games and go to 'Inside the NBA'" (TNT, 4/22).

POINT OF CONTENTION: ESPN's Ryen Russillo shared his thoughts on the NBA possibly returning to a best-of-five series for the first round of the NBA Playoffs, saying, "When it's a one-year sample of ratings going down, that is not the time to try and tweak everything." The Ringer's Bill Simmons said it is "still unclear" why the NBA in '03 made the first round a best-of-seven series "other than being f---ing greedy." Simmons: "It was just pure, unadulterated greed." He added, "The whole thing about, 'They need those extra games,' we never end up playing the extra games." Simmons: "You know what would be cool? A really exciting series" ("The Bill Simmons Podcast," TheRinger.com, 4/22).

Thunder G Russell Westbrook's postgame behavior with the media continues to garner reactions from those covering the NBA. NBA TV's Leigh Ellis called Westbrook's "next question" answers "petty," and said Westbrook is "showing no respect whatsoever to the questions that are fair questions and holding onto that grudge." Ellis: "It reflects badly not only on him but the entire organization." NBA TV's Tas Melas said Westbrook's attitude is "dangerous" because the NBA is "very popular because the players are very accessible." Melas added if players decide that they "don't want to talk and are petty and just don't want to do that part of the job, that could lead to people not loving the NBA as much as they do." NBA TV's J.E. Skeets said the situation is an "embarrassing look" for Westbrook and the Thunder organization ("The Starters," NBA TV, 4/22). ESPN's Byron Scott noted Westbrook is the "face of a franchise" and his act is "sending a bad message." He said it is part of a player's job to "answer questions" ("The Jump," ESPN, 4/22). ESPN's Clinton Yates: "This makes the league look bad. Petty is what the league traffics in, and this is very much petty in the highest form." But ESPN's Tony Reali said, "What's a priority for the NBA is for things to go viral, things to be entertaining" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 4/22).

ON THE OTHER HAND...: The Ringer's Bill Simmons said of Westbrook, "It's really bad behavior but that's one thing. On the other hand, I don't really care because those press conferences are so inane and they're such a waste of time that I kind of agree with him, like, 'I don't want to f---ing be here.'" Simmons added, "I hated the 'next question' stuff that Westbrook was doing, but I also hated the reaction. People are like, 'Hey, they're just trying to do their job.' What's their job, to get a terrible answer from Westbrook, who's never going to say anything?" ("The Bill Simmons Podcast," THERINGER.com, 4/22). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said he does not believe Westbrook's behavior should result in a new league-wide policy because Westbrook is a "wild card, he’s a rebel." Wilbon: "His brand is enjoyed by people who want him to say, ‘Next question.’ ... I don’t want to get upset about players when it’s basically Russell Westbrook we’re talking about" ("PTI," ESPN, 4/22).

SILVER LINING? The majority of Westbrook's animosity is aimed at Berry Tramel, a columnist for The Oklahoman, and during an ESPN Radio appearance last night, Tramel wondered if NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern would have a better handle on Westbrook than current commissioner Adam Silver. ESPN's Mike Golic said, “David Stern would drop a hammer quicker than Adam Silver, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. But what would even David Stern do? David Stern may have a stern talking to with him, but do you really think that will make Russell Westbrook go, ‘You know, you’re right. I'm going to mellow out and answer his questions?’ I don't think it would happen" ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 4/23).

Manning was rumored to be ESPN's top choice for the "MNF" booth position for months
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Manning was rumored to be ESPN's top choice for the "MNF" booth position for months
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Manning was rumored to be ESPN's top choice for the "MNF" booth position for months
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Peyton Manning joining the "MNF" booth "would have been the biggest hire in the sports broadcasting world in many, many years," but after Manning turned down the job, ESPN now has to "figure out who does fit," according to Frank Schwab of YAHOO SPORTS. If ESPN sticks with play-by-play man Joe Tessitore and analyst Booger McFarland, it "could work." McFarland was "very good in his role last season," even "often overshadowing" Jason Witten. Schwab: "It just wouldn't be a big splash, like Manning would have been" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/22). SPORTING NEWS' Michael McCarthy writes McFarland "could grow into the job," as ESPN execs are "high on McFarland's likeability, smarts and TV instincts." It was a "good sign for McFarland when ESPN decided to give him a prominent role in its coverage" of this year's NFL Draft, making him the "heir apparent to Witten." However, if ESPN is "not thrilled with McFarland, it could install" Louis Riddick to the "MNF" color commentator role. McFarland and Riddick "don't have the star power of Manning," but ESPN has "always been adept at growing lesser-known announcing talents" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 4/23). In going after Manning so publicly, the Jimmy Pitaro-led ESPN is sending a message to the NFL that his network will spare no expense to put the best people on its signature show (John Ourand, SBJ Media).

The Mercury will appear in seven games on CBSSN in addition to five ABC or ESPN2 telecasts
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
The Mercury will appear in seven games on CBSSN in addition to five ABC or ESPN2 telecasts
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
The Mercury will appear in seven games on CBSSN in addition to five ABC or ESPN2 telecasts
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

The WNBA Phoenix Mercury will have at "least half of their 34 games televised this season" following the league's new media deal with CBS Sports Network, according to Jeff Metcalfe of the ARIZONA REPUBLIC. The Mercury "will appear in seven games" on CBSSN after previously being "chosen for five ABC or ESPN2 telecasts." In addition to the 12 nationally televised games, the Mercury "will have some games televised locally" on FS Arizona and "some on NBA TV and Twitter." Games also will be "streamed on WNBA League Pass" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 4/23).

TURNING THE PAGE? In N.Y., Kevin Draper writes the new TV deal is "important for the WNBA, which is still struggling for exposure entering its 23rd season, but also demonstrates the challenges it continues to face." Although 40 additional games on TV "could help expand the audience for the league, they will be shown on the network’s second-tier cable sports channel" instead of its broadcast CBS channel. Although terms of the deal were not announced, CBS "probably is not paying the WNBA much for the rights" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/23).

Late-season interest in the final games of Nowitzki's career likely spiked ratings down the stretch
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Late-season interest in the final games of Nowitzki's career likely spiked ratings down the stretch
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Late-season interest in the final games of Nowitzki's career likely spiked ratings down the stretch
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

The Mavericks "enjoyed the highest regional TV ratings surge" in the NBA this season, with an 86% uptick from last season on FS Southwest, according to Brad Townsend of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Mavericks games on FSSW averaged a 1.3 rating, up from a 0.7 last year, and the numbers are a "reflection of local excitement generated by the addition and play of rookie Luka Doncic, as well as late-season interest in the final games of Dirk Nowitzki's illustrious 21-season career." Mavericks games were also "among the most highly watched in the NBA among international viewers." NBA League Pass international subscriptions were "up 21% this season, with Denver (41%) and Dallas (34%) leading the way in year-over-year unique viewer growth" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 4/23).

Football is a team game, and NFL Senior Dir of Social Content Dave Feldman will tell you that the massive task of covering and promoting the NFL Draft on social media is as well. He oversees the official league accounts, which have 55 million followers across its platforms. But the league’s biggest offseason event also involves 32 teams -- which combined have more than 135 million followers -- and a slew of players, as current NFLers have about 350 million followers. Not to mention the colleges that produced the latest Draft class, and the media partners covering the weekend (Feldman has had “countless meetings with our ESPN partners”). But he embraces the challenge: “We want to take advantage of as big of an ecosystem as possible to deliver the message and story of the Draft. … We think of it as our time to shine and use our megaphone to make as big a splash as possible.”

SOCIAL SNAPSHOT
Must-follows: J.J. Watt, Odell Beckham Jr., Bleacher Report/House of Highlights
Favorite apps: Twitter, Peloton, Delta

Average time per day on social media: Up to 15 hours

Feed Me: There are four primary brands that I oversee. The official NFL account is kind of a catch-all where we have avid and non-avid fans following. We focus on the biggest, most topical storylines. The NFL Network account is the second biggest football account in the world, behind the NFL. We use that a lot to showcase our network talent, getting people better acclimated to their personalities. The Checkdown is kind of our helmets-off, football culture account that we launched about a year and a half ago. That’s where you’ll find out if Le’Veon Bell dropped a new rap album. NFL Throwback is our archival feed, showcasing legends and players of yesteryear.

A Platform For Every Season: Twitter is our most live platform. If a player makes a great catch, we’re putting that on Twitter first, then it gets on Instagram quickly as well. Whereas on Facebook, we may be waiting for that game to end and create longer-form content. We also have partnerships with Facebook, Snap and Twitter, which gives my team a clear sense of the volume we should be posting on gameday experiences. In a given month of the regular season, we’re doing thousands of posts across platforms. You want the algorithms to do their job and trust them to ensure our most powerful content reaches as big an audience as possible.

Feeling A Draft: We view the Draft as an introduction to our fans of who these players are. It’s obviously important that we post which team drafted which player, but we also purposely set up activations backstage to showcase player personalities. We are working with an important person in that player’s life who has either written a letter or recorded a very powerful message, which that player reads or watches for the first time right after he is drafted. It’s a great way to show the magnitude of this moment.

Keeping It 100: Throughout the year, including at the Draft, we’re allowing fans to be a part of the NFL’s 100th season. Over the last month or so, we’ve been asking fans to show their fandom in order to be eligible for season tickets for 100 years. And we’re revealing the winner of that at the Draft. 

If you know anyone who should be featured for their use of social media, send their name to us at jperez@sportsbusinessdaily.com.