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Nobody knows the Future of Sports Broadcasting, Commentary, and Programming​

The Ringer founder and CEO Bill Simmons sat down with The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis and David Shoemaker to discuss announcer shelf lives among other topics including more upcoming ESPN layoffs on Ep. 285 of the “Bill Simmons Podcast”.

During the podcast, Simmons alluded to the “laziness” of national tv sports broadcasters and how there is a noticeable difference when “someone is doing the game for your own team”.

Simmons, a proud Bostonian, never hides his fandom or filters his bias when discussing his hometown teams. That same energy is brought to the broadcast by legendary and Celtic-lifer Tom Heinsohn. Heinsohn’s passion resonates with fans and they identify with his opinions because he is a homer and speaks for the fanbase during the broadcast. His commentary is subjectively opinionated and biased in favor of the team in green and white.

Whether it’s Heinsohn’s inability to filter himself or outright transparency, his passion is entertaining. Could this be something that is missing from traditional televised broadcasts? Some broadcasters, especially former coaches’ close associations with media outlets like ESPN are problematic, according to Simmons.

“I have a real problem with people who coached and want to coach again announcing,” argued Simmons. “Because I think they hold back. Danny Ainge was the litmus test for this because when he was announcing, he just destroyed Antoine Walker and then became the [Boston] Celtics GM and had to trade Antoine Walker.”

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Former Golden State Warriors head coach and current ESPN NBA broadcast commentator Mark Jackson (above) could fall under the category of “holding back” from criticising teams and players during broadcasts due to his desire to once again be a head coach in the NBA.

“Part of their [ESPN’s] failure is not being able to explore the new digital space. Why are we talking about these guys [former players] as traditional color guys or play-by-play guys?” asked Shoemaker. “Wouldn’t you rather have an audio feed of the “Area 21” set with KG [Kevin Garnett] and Bonzi Wells and Paul Pierce talking shit?”

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Turner built Garnett his own studio in Atlanta. His segments appear sporadically throughout Inside the NBA’s coverage, with Garnett inviting a guest or two into Area 21 to put their own spin on the production including a cuss button for the notoriously foul-mouthed former player.

“But that’s where this stuff should be going,” answered Simmons. “They should be using ESPN Plus and it should be like … ‘here are our regular announcers and on ESPN Plus you can get Paul Pierce … and he’s going to do the game with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen’.”

“And a bottle of Belvedere vodka,” suggested Shoemaker.

The Associated Press published a USA Today article where they point out that Turner has built the show as a social media-first vehicle, with clips posted on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube immediately after they air. Since Area 21 is a show-within-a-show, there are no separate ratings for the segments. But Turner said all Area 21 content published on Turner Sports’ social media accounts have generated more than 80 million impressions and nearly 10 million video views to date.

Garnett and his guests are able to work without restrictions or limitations, allowing them to showcase their personality and charisma. Their commentary is informative, entertaining and conveyed in a way that is organic and sincere through their own personal, individual expressions of self. Unlike traditional “talking heads” (according to Simmons) in suits delivering traditional analysis and commentary.

In 2017, NBATV debuted a brand-new NBA Monday night (now Tuesday) franchise titled PlayersOnly showcasing the game exclusively through the unique lens of the professional basketball player.

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TNT’s innovative approach to the new Monday series will incorporate a more conversational delivery and broader NBA player integrations into the telecasts to offer viewers an entertaining narrative and deeper insights into the game directly from the athlete’s perspective.

Charisma, personality, and hot take opinions are what have vaulted sports media members like Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless, and Colin Cowherd into household names. That same personality and charisma can be found outside traditional sports media platforms though.

Enter Desus & Mero.

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Comedy duo Desus Nice (left) and The Kid Mero have gained a loyal following with their “Bodega Boys” podcast, and now the Bronx-bred buds bring their thoughts on current events to TV on Viceland‘s first daily, late-night show.

The quintessentially New York duo’s undying love for the New York Knicks is unquestionably subjective and biased during every Knicks-related segment. But what resonates is that their passion comes from a real and organic place; their fandom. They provide entertainment through their commentary and subtle analysis. They come off as typical, passionate, die-hard fans not trained media professionals or personalities. It also helps that Viceland provides and allows them their own platform to express themselves freely. Much like Garnett on Area 21.

The futures of sports broadcasting, commentary and programming are incredibly uncertain. In an ever-changing digital environment, consumption habits have turned business models on their heads.

Traditional highlight and recap show like Sportscenter have lost their appeal with audiences due to the age we live in where people consume sports content and highlights through the immediacy of digital content on social media and video-sharing apps on their own time and schedule. With attention spans shrinking due to the power of our phones and the internet, it has become harder to attract views and hold on to the interest of those eyes for longer than a minute. The old cliche “time is money” has literally manifested itself. What now?

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