All That and a Bag of Mail

Rejoice, it’s Friday!

Tonight at six at the Downtown Sporting Club at 411 Broadway in downtown Nashville we will have a live Outkick the Show from 6-8 PM. It’s free for everyone to come, but Outkick VIPs drink for free. You can sign up for Outkick VIP here and get an autographed copy of my new book, a special VIP phone line to call the radio show, free drinks at our events, and early access to my college football gambling picks — which actually went well last year.

Hope to see some of you guys there tonight.

Also, please download and listen to my new podcast exclusive Wins and Losses series. This week’s guest is Kirk Herbstreit. 

I think you guys will really like these conversations and they make for great listening if you’re going on a long drive and need something to pass the time.

Okay, here we go with mailbag questions.

Tim writes:

“Do you think ESPN actually believes in its “policy” of not mixing politics with sports (when not necessary) or was it lip-service to stop the proverbial bleeding?”

I think most businesses believe in maximizing revenue and not alienating their audience more than they believe in any particular political party one way or the other. I also think Jimmy Pitaro really believes the data, that politics on a sports channel really impacts their business and ratings in a negative way. That data, which ESPN shared with several media members, said as follows: 74% of fans don’t want to hear about politics on ESPN. That includes avid fans (85%), Republicans (84%) and Democrats (69%).

That’s a massive percentage across the board that wants ESPN to stick to sports.

Now it obviously raises the question of what, exactly, is political? But even without engaging in those debates on particular issues the general trend lines are pretty straightforward, it’s better to err on the side of not talking politics than it is to take that risk. Most fans want to watch games and hear sports news, sports opinions and sports debates on sports channels.

That makes sense.

If you go into Pizza Hut, you probably don’t want to eat a hamburger, you’re there for pizza.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you hate hamburgers, but there are plenty of places you could have gone to get a hamburger if you’d wanted a hamburger. You came for pizza.

The same is true of going to a sports channel, you didn’t come for the politics.

There are plenty of channels where you can go get your fill of politics. That’s why Dan LeBatard’s take on Donald Trump’s North Carolina rally was, to me, so banal and uninteresting. LeBatard didn’t say anything that a thousand prognosticators hadn’t already said or written about Trump.

Of course left wing sports media liked LeBatard’s take, but, again, Twitter is a funhouse mirror, it doesn’t reflect real life.

Furthermore, and I touched on this last week, I hate when people say you should “use your platform” to make statements like these.

Here’s the deal: it isn’t LeBatard’s platform, it’s ESPN’s. LeBatard is a paid employee of ESPN, the network and radio companies, which are the actual platforms. If he’d wanted to get on his Twitter or Instagram feed and make those comments, more power to him. But when you use ESPN’s radio and TV platform to argue your particular political viewpoints, it doesn’t fit their business.

I think the big mistake ESPN has made was in firing Curt Schilling in the first place. I think if ESPN had never done that then, as I argued in my book, they could have a pretty decent policy in place — don’t discuss politics on our TV or radio channels, but if you want to occasionally share a political opinion on your social media feeds, we aren’t going to aggressively police those.

The company could say we do, however, reserve the right to contact you and point out when you’re spending so much time on politics on your social media feeds that it’s hurting our brand.

I have to give credit to Fox Sports here, we have never had an official policy on what can and can’t be said on social media, for politics or otherwise. And as a result I don’t think we’ve ever had to suspend or fire anyone for what they say on social media. The same is true, I believe, for CBS and NBC.

ESPN — and John Skipper — blew it when they fired Curt Schilling for a private Facebook post because they created the precedent of policing employee speech. That firing set the stage for everyone to notice the outrageous double standard when it came to left wing political speech, which as permitted, as opposed to right wing political speech, which led to your firing.

Ultimately I think ESPN’s big issue hasn’t been politics, I think it’s been one-sided politics — rewarding left wing opinion and punishing anything else.

Kyle writes:

“Should the SEC move to a 9 game conference schedule?”

I don’t think so for five primary reasons:

1. It’s unnecessary.

This is the most important reason. The SEC hasn’t missed the playoff yet and has put two teams in the playoff once in four years.

Why change what’s working?

2. It unbalances the schedule.

In a league as competitive as the SEC, can you imagine the uproar when a team gets five home games and the top rival gets four? Then that extra home game decides who wins the division?

If I were in charge of SEC scheduling I’d erase the 6-1-1 model — six division games, 1 yearly rival, and one rotating opponent from the other division and erase divisions completely and go with a 5-3 model, five games against half the conference and three against yearly rivals. Then the next year you’d play the other five teams in the conference. That way every four years you’d play a home and home against every team in the conference.

3. They’d have fewer games featuring conference teams to put on television.

Follow my logic here, right now the SEC teams play 56 conference games (14 teams x 4 because each team is playing against another SEC team in conference) and they play 56 additional games against outside conference opponents (14 teams x 4 games out of conference opponents).

That means each regular season there are 112 college football games featuring SEC teams that you can put on TV.

If you played nine conference games, you’d get 63 SEC games, but you’d only get 105 total SEC team games.

So you’d lose seven total SEC games to put on television by playing nine conference games.

Those seven games are of pretty decent value when it comes to the SEC Network.

4. Due to the size of the stadiums and the revenue produced by their games, most SEC teams need at least seven home games to meet their athletic department budgets.

Sometimes the budget requires eight home games.

This means many SEC teams with nine conference games on the schedule — which would feature five road games every other year — would be unable to ever play big out of conference games — those that feature home and homes — if they wanted to make their budgets.

5. Combining the nine conference games with the SEC title game and the two playoff games, you’re talking about SEC teams playing 15 games, 12 or 13 in some cases, against big five conference opponents.

The SEC features the biggest, strongest, fastest and best players in the nation.

The more games against top SEC opponents, the more injuries you’d have.

Combining these five, I just don’t see it as a difficult decision at all. I’d much rather flip to the 3-5 schedule model I discussed above than go to nine games.

Matt writes:

“If Donald Trump had someone else run his Twitter account how much would this increase his likelihood of re-election.”

I believe if Donald Trump had only Tweeted generically positive news since he was elected president, his approval ratings would be around 55 or 56%, so quite a bit higher than they are now.

Because if Trump didn’t Tweet things to anger his opponents, what would people have to get disgusted with? The lowest unemployment rate in our lives? A record high stock market? The highest per capita incomes in American history? A declining violent crime rate? Declining military casualties and limited global conflict and danger? The lowest minority unemployment rates in American history? The highest incomes for women in American history?

While I roll my eyes many times when I see what Trump Tweets, I really don’t get very worked up because I’d rather focus on the facts than his Twitter trolling. And the facts are these — things are pretty good.

Now what I don’t know — and this would be fascinating to study — is whether or not the Midwest swing voters who will decide the 2020 election — the people in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota — like or dislike Trump’s Tweeting habits.

Because while you’re going to hear a ton between now and 2020, make no mistake, Big Ten voters are deciding this election. You tell me who is winning those five states and I’ll tell you who our next president is.

So what do they think of Trump’s Tweets?

Are they even paying attention?

I’d love to know.

Nom de guerre writes:

“Why don’t candidates have a cumulative talk time clock posted during debates?”

It’s actually a great question. For instance, in a ten person debate, what if each candidate got the exact same amount of time to respond to questions and their clock ticked down as they responded until it eventually hit zero?

Then when they hit their time limit their mic went out and they couldn’t talk any more about any issues.

I love the strategy element that would be involved here.

Instead of trying to jump in on every issue, you’d want to wait until you had something really good to say.

You’d probably have to allow an exception to keep someone from attacking a candidate with no time left, but maybe that would factor in too and you’d always have to make sure you had time all the way until the end just to avoid being a sitting duck.

I love this idea.

Because as is the amount allotted to each candidate on the stage isn’t remotely similar.

J2 writes:

“Thoughts of LSU’s new Football Operations Center….good or bad for college football?”

I don’t see it as either good or bad for college football, it’s just the continuing arms race for recruits.

Remember several years ago when Alabama’s waterfall was the big story?

As is, you aren’t technically allowed to pay players — although I think it’s clear many players are being paid — but you are allowed to put incredible facilities around those players. It’s why most top college football programs have better facilities than NFL teams.

I’m not kidding about this, the University of Tennessee’s facilities are way better than the Tennessee Titans facilities.

The college football arms race results in a strange incentive — you have spectacular facilities and amenities but not much direct pay to players. It’s the exact opposite of how most markets work.

Imagine, for instance, if instead of paying top coders Facebook and Google competed by giving them kick ass places to live and work instead of a salary. Can you imagine how opulent all the amenities for these employees would be?

That’s what college football is doing right now.

So LSU will be top of the line for a short while and then LSU’s top competitors will pour a ton of money into their new facilities and the cycle of arms race competition will continue.

Jason writes:

“The Pac-12 is exploring 9 a.m. Pacific kickoff times for some games. Thoughts?”

Well, I think it makes better sense for Colorado since they are on Mountain time, but I think it would certainly be a real challenge in other markets.

Who wants to show up for an early morning college football game, especially college kids on campus?

This raises what I think will be an integral question going forward — are sports primarily being played for the comparatively small audience of fans watching the games in person or are they being played for the much larger crowd watching them on television?

If Fox or ESPN are offering you the noon eastern window, which will bring in way more viewers than other time slots, wouldn’t it at least be worth considering if your goal is to grow the conference’s brand?

The challenge the Pac 12 has is their late kickoff games get buried in the build up to the NFL. Seriously, there are some mornings where it’s almost impossible to find out the scores of the late Pac 12 games.

I know those games rate decently in viewership, but no one talks about them at all.

And while it’s hard to quantify buzz, it is massively important.

So I think you have to consider it, especially with your TV deal coming up in a few years and the need to create as much TV interest as possible.

I think both the Pac 12 and the Big 12 may be in for a rude awakening when it comes to the number of TV bidders for their games and what those games might be worth on the open market.

Richard writes:

“Since you are about the same age as me and my friends settle a disagreement for us. Who was hotter? Early 90’s Kelly Kapowski or late 90’s Britney Spears?”

As hot as Kelly Kapowski was — and she was really, really hot — Britney Spears was a different level of hotness.

From the moment she made her debut — with pigtails and a Catholic school girl skirt in a high school for her “Baby One More Time” — to the early part of her career in the 1990’s, she was just off the charts hot.

By the way, it’s fun to think about all the Internet outrage articles that would exist if a video like this was made today. I think Spears was 16 when this video was first released.

Now Kelly Kapowski would have been the perfect girl to bring home to mom and dad, but Spears was WAY hotter, no contest.

Hope you guys have great weekends and look forward to seeing some of you tonight at six on the roof of the Downtown Sporting Club in downtown Nashville.

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