À La Carte Streaming: The Sports Fan’s Dream or Nightmare?

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À la carte cable has been the dream of nearly every digital-minded cable television subscriber for the better part of a decade.

Cable and satellite television providers all loosely share the same business model when it comes to channel diversity. Cash cow channels like ESPN, network news outlets, TNT, TBS and USA all sell subscriptions and allow lesser known channels to exist.

Channel diversity has been a selling point for television providers for years, but eventually the end consumer realized that most of their time is spent watching 10 or fewer channels. With this realization, the dream for À la carte programing was born, but up until the last couple years, gatekeepers and technology restrictions have kept this dream from becoming reality.

Although some took the plunge and cut the cord completely, others have put their dreams on the back burner (most notably sports fans) and remained loyal television subscribers.

As technology has improved and a few cable giants have entered the À la carte space, including HBO, the dream seems to be closer to reality than ever before.

Consumers are now accustomed to on-demand streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video and Hulu that offer popular cable series, movies and even groundbreaking original content at a relatively low monthly price.

Set-top devices like the Roku, Apple TV, the Amazon Fire Stick and Google’s Chromecast have even bridged the gap from the web to your television.

Dish Network even announced Dish Sling earlier this year which offers streaming rights to top channels (including ESPN) for only $20 per month.

This is what everyone wanted, right? Well…

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Streaming and Sports

Sports viewership drives television subscriptions and ratings. If you aren’t a sports fan, great! There’s a chance you may be able to jump to À la carte offerings today, if you haven’t already.

ESPN is the no-doubt driving force behind cable television subscriptions and despite this, “the Mothership” has sent several influential personalities packing within the last month.

Call it a bet on younger talent, a frugal business decision or a sign of dwindling revenue, these moves have raised some major questions.

Fox Sports’ Clay Travis suggests that it signals hard times ahead as cable subscribers begin to fall at a rapid pace.

So if people start cord cutting – the catch all term for individuals who decide they’d rather not pay for a cable or satellite subscription – ESPN has by far the most to lose of any channel in the country. ESPN has become the most powerful sports company in the world because just about every single cable and satellite subscriber in the country pays in excess of $6 a month for ESPN. That’s despite the fact that only 20% of cable and satellite subscribers would be willing to pay for standalone ESPN according to a 2013 Needham and Company report.

So, what does this all mean? ESPN’s revenue, as with every other cable channel’s, have been falsely inflated for years thanks to the package structure of cable television.

Could this finally lead to ESPN and other sports channels giving in and going direct to consumer with À la carte offerings? Probably not (yet).

Many online publications have thrown around figures stating that an ESPN À la carte offering would cost upwards of $30 per month.

Wait a minute, the À la carte television dream was about lowering your monthly bill, right?

For a diverse sports fan, like myself, who enjoys watching nearly every college sport and most pro sports, À la carte offerings really start to add up.

I devoutly follow three pro teams, major golf championships, NASCAR and would require ESPN, ESPN2, the SEC Network and ESPNU to ensure I didn’t miss a signle University of Alabama sporting event.

Let’s do a little rough math to estimate the total cost of my À la carte offerings (per month) to satisfy my diverse sports taste. Please note, some of these prices are speculations as many À la carte offerings don’t exist. Speculations will be marked with an asterisk (*).

ESPN – $30*
MLB TV – $24.99
NFL – $25*
NBA TV – $129/year, ($10.75 per month)
Fox Sports – $15*
NBC Sports – $10*

TOTAL – $115.74

To gain full access to the sports I want to watch today, À la carte, it would cost $115.74 per month! Granted, you could cancel some league specific offerings during the offseason and there’s no way of knowing how much ESPN, the NFL, Fox Sports and NBC Sports would charge for their offerings, but I consider the estimates above to be reasonable.

Keep in mind, estimates place the average monthly cable bill per household at $65 per month.

I understand that I’m not the average sports fan and many would simply subscribe to ESPN or another network to ensure the best bang for their buck, but that’s a downgrade from cable.

Television Deals and Sports Leagues

It’s no secret that sports league revenues rely heavily on television deals. Take the SEC Network for example. The first-year, niche college network backed by ESPN, is set to pay out $31.2 million to each member school in 2015.

Not to mention the NBA just inked a deal with ESPN and Turner Broadcasting to the tune of $24 billion over nine years.

The success of sports leagues undoubtably hinge on television deals.

Look, the Green Bay Packers aren’t paying Aaron Rodgers $22 million per year thanks to the hot dog you bought at Lambeau Field and the Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t floating LeBron James $42.1 million over two years in response to a rise in game program sales.

Big money contracts are thanks to television deals and À la carte offerings could change the economics of sports forever.

To the sports fan, À la carte streaming seems like a dream, but today it’s an expensive and convoluted nightmare with lasting economic effects.

An Unexpected Ride on the Fast-Paced College Coaching Carousel

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It’s 2 a.m. in the quiet lobby of the Holiday Inn Express off U.S. Highway 75 in Dallas. No one should be up at this hour, but four newly hired coaches are up busily planning their recruiting strategy.

It’s early December, only two months away from National Signing Day. The day when hundreds of the top high school athletes will make their college decisions final.

Former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris and some of the first additions to his new coaching staff have no time to spare. Morris was just announced as the 19th head coach of the SMU Mustangs, a team that finished dead last in Division I in 2014.

Joe Craddock, a former graduate assistant with Morris at Clemson, is one of the four men sacrificing sleep on their first day on the job.

“I woke up the next morning at 7 a.m. and was at the school by 8 a.m.,” Craddock said. “We didn’t slow down for the next two weeks.”

Over the next two weeks, Morris, Craddock and the rest of the SMU coaching staff will visit dozens of schools and athletes in and around the Dallas area.

On the job training is a must in this business, as this is Craddock’s first time hitting the recruiting trail as a full-time member of a college coaching staff.

“It was a grind, it was unique, but I had a lot of fun doing it,” he said.

Craddock’s journey to this moment was indirect and unexpected.

His love for football was honed at one of Alabama’s top private school football programs, Briarwood Christian in Birmingham. There, the 5-foot–11 quarterback passed for 6,677 yards, rushed for over 2,000 yards and scored 100 touchdowns as a three-year starter.

Craddock led the Lions to the AHSAA Semifinals all three years and brought home the program’s third state championship to end his senior season in 2003.

“Even after we won the state championship, we cried our eyes out,” he said. “We were so close as a unit and we knew that was our final game together.”

Jay Mathews, Craddock’s offensive coordinator at Briarwood, recounts the first time he knew the young quarterback would make a great coach.

“His first drive of his first varsity game he threw a touchdown,” he said. “We had practiced the play all summer and normally throw to one of two receivers. When Joe dropped back and hit a different receiver for the touchdown I asked him how he knew to throw the arrow route. ‘I saw the safeties roll strong side and knew the backside flats were uncovered,’ Craddock said. At that point, I knew he would be special.”

Craddock’s success as a quarterback was just beginning. He signed with Middle Tennessee State only months after the conclusion of his senior season.

Joe Craddock

Joe Craddock

He led the Blue Raiders to their third bowl game in program history and accounted for 4011 passing yards and 27 touchdowns during his time in Murfreesboro.

Craddock was the trigger man for one of the nation’s most exciting fast-paced offenses under Blue Raiders’ head coach Rick Stockstill.

“Joe was a good player for us. He was not the most talented, but he became a really good player because of his work ethic and dedication to the game from a learning standpoint,” Stockstill said. “Those characteristics usually transfer to the coaching profession.”

After a short stint playing professionally in Italy, he returned home to coach at his high school alma mater. Craddock led the Lions to a 25–4 record and the state championship game in two seasons as offensive coordinator.

Following the 2012 season, he was offered a job as an offensive player development coach by Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.

“When I got the call from Coach Swinney I didn’t know much about Clemson and Coach Morris,” he said. “I was excited to get my first college job. I thought I knew a little bit about football heading up there, but the amount of knowledge I gained just in that first year was unbelievable.”

Over the next three years, Craddock would be promoted to an on-field graduate assistant role and his relationship with offensive coordinator Chad Morris grew.

“I loved having Joe on our staff. I watched him in high school and followed his career at MTSU. He worked my camp one summer and impressed me greatly with his work ethic,” Swinney said. “I hired him to be a graduate assistant for me and he did a great job for three years. He grew each year and greatly impacted our program during his time here. Chad Morris, just like myself, realized that he was a special young coach.”

As their relationship flourished, so did Morris’ coaching reputation, and by 2011 he would become the highest paid assistant in the country earning $1.3 million per year.

Chad Morris

Chad Morris

During their years at Clemson, Morris’ offenses were known for their fast-paced attack, consistently leading the country in plays per game.

After a 10–3 finish to the 2014 season, Morris was named the head coach at SMU bringing Craddock with him to be his first offensive coordinator.

“I essentially got my Master’s or PhD in football during my time at Clemson,” Craddock said.

Despite an indirect journey to Dallas, Craddock is the third-youngest offensive coordinator and one of the most inexperienced in major college football, but that doesn’t phase him.

“Coach Morris and I know what Coach Swinney brought to Clemson and we are ready to bring that to Dallas,” he said. “We want to bring a family mentality. We will be a true family and live it everyday.”

Craddock and Morris join a long list of successful high school coaches to make the jump to college and he still considers his high school coach, Fred Yancey, his biggest mentor.

“He is everything you want to be as a man,” he said. “Coach Yancey told me one time that we wouldn’t know if we had a winning season at Briarwood until 10 years down the road. I’ll never forget that.”

It’s now mid February, three weeks after National Signing Day. Deep in the heart of Dallas, a first-time head coach and offensive coordinator are once again working long hours. Though the journey was indirect and unexpected, Craddock wouldn’t have it any other way.

What Doesn’t Seem Like Work?

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Paul Graham writing in his January 2015 essay:

Few people know so early or so certainly what they want to work on. But talking to my father reminded me of a heuristic the rest of us can use. If something that seems like work to other people doesn’t seem like work to you, that’s something you’re well suited for.

The stranger your tastes seem to other people, the stronger evidence they probably are of what you should do. When I was in college I used to write papers for my friends. It was quite interesting to write a paper for a class I wasn’t taking. Plus they were always so relieved.

What seems like work to other people that doesn’t seem like work to you?

Paul, as usual, hits the nail on the head in this essay.

I love the way that he tells the story of his father. His father was a mathematician and loved every minute of it.

Math certainly isn’t my strong suit, but you get his point.

What seems like work to other people that doesn’t seem like work to you? – I would even take this a step further. What seems like work to other people that you would even do for free?

Granted, you should never short sell yourself or your skills, but if you would do it for free, it’s an amazing feeling to be compensated for your work.

I brush shoulders with over 36,000 students every single day on campus. There is a crisis, an education crisis. I don’t know exact numbers, but I would be willing to bet that a large number of these individuals have no clue what they want to do for a living.

I’m not saying you have to have your entire life figured out at 18, but you should have an idea.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a career choice, encourage them to ask this simple question – What seems like work to other people that doesn’t seem like work to you?

Do that.

That for me is writing. Like Paul, I love writing papers. I would do it for free. Of course, I’m not going to write papers for the rest of my life.

Public relations and corporate communications give me a medium to write copy and interface with clients in a professional manner. That’s what I love.

There are way too many people in the world today that hate their careers. Pick something you love, put all you’ve got into it and you will be rewarded.

Gary Vaynerchuk explains this idea in a way that only he can. Just a warning, Gary can be a little vulgar when he gets worked up.

SEC Sports Roundtable 152: And Now to Basketball?

Shane and I break down some of the biggest coaching moves of this young offseason and discuss why some coordinators are choosing to make lateral moves. We also break down the first couple weeks of SEC Basketball and look ahead to the rest of the conference schedule.

SEC Sports Roundtable 150: SEC Bowl Previews (Part 2)

In a Christmas week edition of SECSRT, Shane and I break down Georgia vs. Louisville, Ole Miss vs. TCU, Mississippi State vs. Georiga Tech and Auburn vs. Wisconsin. We give our takes on the current state of the bowl season and take a quick look at the SEC basketball season to come.

“He and She” – EP by Mandi Mapes

It’s December 23, Christmas (Eve) Eve and I should be jamming out to some Christmas music, right?

Well, not exactly, but I am in love with a not so new album that I just downloaded earlier today.

Mandi Mapes is an artist that I have loosely been following for several years now (keyword: loosely). Despite following her on nearly every social media platform, I had no idea that she had released a new EP earlier this fall. And boy, do I love it.

Mandi is an extremely gifted singer and songwriter that I discovered several years ago here locally in Birmingham. I love the Southern influence that many of her songs feature and she even has a song about my beloved hometown.

“He and She” is available on iTunes and Spotify, but if you have a couple bucks, you won’t regret downloading it. Not to mention, supporting up-and-coming artists is awesome.

So, if you find yourself needing to spend that iTunes Gift Card that Santa left in your stocking this year, here you go.

SEC Sports Roundtable 148: Week 14 in the SEC

The college football regular season is officially over and we look back on a memorable rivalry week, including the highest scoring Iron Bowl in series history. Shane, Britton and I break down the SEC Championship Game and I give a brief eulogy of UAB’s now defunct football program.

Missourinet – Alabama Scouting Report for the SEC Championship Game

I was once again privileged to join Bill Pollock of Missourinet to give a brief scouting report of the Alabama Crimson Tide heading into the 2014 SEC Championship game against the Missouri Tigers.

SEC Sports Roundtable 147: Week 13 in the SEC

After a couple weeks away, I join Shane and Britton to discuss a less than stellar week of SEC football and preview one of the biggest weeks of the year – rivalry week. We look forward to each SEC game including the Egg Bowl and the Iron Bowl and discuss Mississippi State’s chances at birth in the College Football Playoff.

The Curious Connection Between Baseball and Technology

Jason Snell writing for Six Colors:

So I am a baseball fan, and my team is in the World Series. Last night’s game was in San Francisco, and I somehow won the lottery to buy tickets, and so my wife and I went to the game. We went early, had a beer at the 21st Amendment Brewery that’s next door to my old office and right down the street from the ballpark.

Sports were my first love, especially baseball. Baseball was the first sport I played as a child and the first sport I avidly followed. I am still a diehard Braves fan to this day and well, to put it lightly, I still love sports.

My love for technology came a bit later in life, but as I began following the tech industry I noticed something extremely interesting. Those in technology, especially in the Apple space, share my love for baseball.

It’s unexplainable, really. Baseball is a relatively archaic game. Granted, technology has changed the game in some ways, but baseball has stood the test of time.

Jason Snell’s recent article detailing his trip to the final 2014 World Series game in San Fransisco featuring the Royals and the Giants reminded me of the strange connection between baseball and technology.

Jason is known for his love for sci-fi, video games, television shows and other extremely geeky hobbies. So, what drives this crazy connection between baseball and technology?

Is it the draw of keeping your own book and observing all the little details that go into a baseball game? To be quite honest, I’m not sure.

Baseball has always been my favorite sport to consume in person. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, doesn’t require your full, undivided attention and features some great personalities and quirks that only come alive on the baseball diamond.

Whatever the connection, it’s there and it’s fitting that the MLB is the first major sports league in the U.S. to support Apple Pay and Passbook.

Either way, anytime two of my loves collide, it’s bliss.