5 steps to fixing baseball on TV

It’s 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night. The week is off to a good start but you’re tired. You plop on the couch. What are you going to watch?

Your streaming subscriptions are out of control, so you have options. Try The Crown? It won Emmys. So did Ted Lasso. Is Apple TV still free? They say Handmade’s Tale recovered after season two. Wait, The Voice is on. You can stream that anytime on Peacock though. Speaking of Peacock, The Office would really hit the spot. The Office it is.

It’s 7:02 p.m. As you navigate to the Peacock app you remember the Padres are in town. Aren’t they good this year? You exit the AppleTV input and get to NBC Sports Bay Area as it cuts to commercial. Crap. You scroll TikTok until the game comes back and, wait, they’re still not playing yet. You check the time. 7:06 p.m. Another commercial? You just wanted to watch the ball game. This is a lot of work. Back to Apple TV>Peacock>The Office.

By 9:30 you finished five episodes. How’d that Giants game go? Back to the cable box. Giants lead 6-2 in the seventh inning. You decide to watch this for a bit. By 10 p.m. you’re asleep.

You might be wondering the point of this blog post. There’s a lot of discussion about the state of the game of baseball, and I want to wade into it with a perspective I haven’t heard anyone take. Which is this: 

Sports are no longer sports. They’re content. Baseball is content.

With that perspective, baseball’s biggest competitor is not the NFL. It’s Netflix. It’s Hulu. It’s all the other things you could watch on a Tuesday night. Or a Sunday afternoon. Or together with friends. The rise of on-demand streaming has thrown what used to be separate cohorts of viewers into an omnibus audience of content consumers. Not necessarily by producing better content, though peak TV certainly counts as better content, but simply by becoming options.

Sports leagues kept up by moving their content online, but I assert the net-new content is close to zero. Baseball and basketball still play 162 and 82 respectively. Only football really expanded as college created a short playoff and the NFL added one week to its regular season. You could conceviably calculate an increase in sports content by including all the ancillary programming surrounding it: Pre-game, post-game, debate, previews, reviews, etc. But even that can’t keep up with all the content flooding the market from streaming platforms. The end effect of this content inflation is sports loses ground while the volume of non-sports content skyrockets.

There are some ways sports will never be able to compete with streaming content. Games happen in real-time and are hard to avoid being spoiled; streaming content is on-demand and spoilers are more easily avoided. Sports are also longer than most content types. Even a swift NBA game is long enough to stream five or six 30-minute episodes. Baseball—as fans are painfully aware—is a three-hour commitment if you’re lucky. Most games with a 7:10 p.m. first pitch will end closer to 10:30 than 10:00. One night with your local ball club could be spent watching three episodes of Bridgerton. 

Thinking about baseball as content starts to crystalize how fixing the product—ie, the game—can’t be separated from fixing the way the content is delivered and consumed. Baseball could implement pitch clocks, ban shifts, insitute a universal DH and still not secure its future if it doesn’t address how and where it presents the game to fans. 

Here are five ideas for how to accomplish that.

Solve the blackout problem. Sports leagues are run by a commissioner selected by team owners, but in reality that commissioner is beholden to the league’s television partners. The broadcast and regional sports networks call the shots on commercial breaks and game times (see the next idea), but more critically on how and where users access MLB content. To the point: They simply won’t allow baseball to do anything that would potentially eat away at their subscription revenue. I live two blocks from Oracle Park and can’t watch Giants games. Not because they’d rather have me buy a ticket but because they’d rather have me subscribe to a cable platform that collects carriage fees. 

Totally understandable. And totally destroying access to the game. Modern content consumers expect all content to be available when and where they want it. In a marketplace where streaming subscriptions range from $5 to $20 per month they also don’t expect to be asked to fork over $55 or more for a cable subscription just to get a handful of sports channels. That’s a completely non-competitive position for the cable outlets. 

Even if you are a cable subscriber, you can’t validate your subscritpion with the MLB app and watch local teams in the same interface as out-of-market games. You have to switch from MLB to Bally Sports or NBCSN or whatever app carries the hometown nine. I can’t underemphasize how annoying that is. It means you basically can’t switch between two games. Again, baseball stands in the way the content we want when we want it. 

Move up first pitch. People are conditioned that new content starts at the top and bottom of the hour. It’s why the TBS superstation shifted its schedule back five minutes; it wanted you to watch more TBS by breaking that habit.

Why then does baseball delay first pitch until 7:10 p.m.? Every regional sports network airs at least 30 minutes of pregame content already. What’s the point of making viewers sit through another 10? Oh right: Broadcast partners want those two valuable commercial breaks before the real content starts. Great. Meanwhile the casual viewer is already second-screening by first pitch or has tuned out all together. 

Contrast that with NFL content. When you tune in at 1 p.m. Eastern on Sunday you get kickoff at 1:02. No extra commercial breaks, no fluff content following the hour long pregame show. Sit down, tune in—BAM—football. Baseball should steal the NFL’s idea and move first pitch up eight minutes. It won’t shorten the length of the game or improve its pace, but it will create a sense of immediacy for viewers and give them the content they want when they want it. Why, that almost sounds like on-demand. Scary.

Shift shifts to a graphic. Infield shifts changed the game, and television broadcasts haven’t kept up. Fans have no idea where fielders are positioned unless TV cuts away to show the infielders or announcers verbally convey who is standing where. Each moment in a broadcast is valuable and something as common as shifts shouldn’t have to take up that much time. Luckily there’s an easy solution.

Every network displays a graphic showing the runners on base, looking something like this:

Screenshot of a baseball game with the score, count, outs and men on base in the upper left corner.

Why not use that same graphic to show where the fielders are positioned around the infield? Just like the score bug freed announcers from having to recite the count, outs and score this simple change would give fans the information they need while letting announcers provide more compelling commentary.

Highlight pitch sequencing. Pitch sequencing is one of the most important aspects of the game. Most broadcasts ignore it entirely in their commentary and graphics. Both need to change, I’ll focus on the graphic aspect here and address the broadcasters’ contribution in a later point. 

The adoption of widescreen HDTV did great for showing more of the football field and the hockey rink. But for baseball…we get a lot of infield grass. This is wasted screen real estate. There is plenty of room on either side of center screen for a concise graphic showing the type, speed and location of each pitch during an at-bat. Viewers would have an immediate visual to follow if they want to, or to ignore if they don’t. Credit to ESPN and MLB Network for tinkering with this idea by occasionally putting the type and speed under the score bug in the upper left of their screen. Every network should follow. 

Re-frame the meaning of action. It’s a common complaint when comparing baseball with football. “Football has a play every 40 seconds. Baseball might go five minutes without any action.” Oh really? 

There’s a hidden conversation between pitcher and catcher before every pitch, and pitches happen at least once every 20-30 seconds. To make the game broadcasts more compelling content, broadcasters need to do better at peeling back the curtain of what goes into every pitch. What’s the scouting report on this hitter? (A heat map could easily integrate into the pitch sequence graphic or the electronic strike zone—which, by the way, proves fans will adapt to graphics overlaying the game action.) How’d they pitch him last at bat? How did missing with two sliders affect what he can throw on 2-0?

“So you want commentators to yammer on like Chris Colinsworth after every pitch?” No. It has to be done in the course of a plate appearance. At-bats presented that way would turn a ho-hum game into almost non-stop action. Isn’t that what they say the game needs? You don’t have to create action by instituting a pitch clock or banning the shift (both of which I support and would definitely be wise moves). You can simply change the way the game is commentated to re-define what action means. 

I know what you’re thinking. “Come on, seamhead. The casual fan doesn’t want to be bombarded with stats and graphics and graphics about stats. You’ll turn more people away with your analytics and numbers.” Oh? More people than are turned away by the four-hour game I went to last week when one team changed pitchers three times in the first two innings? What do you think those Nielsen numbers looked like at 10:30 p.m.? 

Get over the famous former players. A personality already proven to be marketable is a rare thing in television so we all get why former players are a draw for the networks. But just because a player sold jerseys doesn’t mean he’ll be a compelling broadcaster. I’m willing to bet for every A-Rod and Justin Morneau on TV there’s a former player who didn’t get his own shirseys but could convey the game in a more compelling way than those two. Find them. Train them up. Put them on the air. 

There you have it. I’m certain baseball and its broadcast partners compile mountains of research on what viewers want to see, and therefore the television product we get is the sum total of that research. I’m a data-driven marketer who can hardly fault them for that. But as a baseball fan and avid consumer of television I’m convinced the league is out of step with every trend in television content.

Baseball already lost its place in our sports landscape to football and basketball. If it loses out in the competition among content providers it could be game over.

La Brea premiere runs to mystery, leaves characters behind

My dearest readers,

This blog began as a way to chronicle the wandering path I’m taking to replace the emptiness in my life after Lost. I’ve written about shows that were nothing like it but still provided season after season of entertainment. Some finished on a high note (Person of Interest) and others on very, very low notes (Game of Thrones) and some fizzled out (Revenge). These shows are fun if nothing else. 

But the shows that really catch my eye are the ones with the most potential to really be “The Next Lost”. Take Manifest as an example. It was supposed to be TNL but I turned vehemently against it. Flash Forward and The Event contended but really just because they aired near Lost’s final season. Neither was great and both failed to get a second season. Fox’s short-lived Terra Nova was the show I felt had the best chance to be TNL. It turned out to be only meh but had the same foundation as Lost: Characters out of place in a distinct and unknown world.

NBC’s new fall drama La Brea shares it as well. Which is why after watching the pilot twice I am so frustrated. Like so many other failed network dramas, La Brea runs right past its characters and into the arms of what it thinks is a tremendous mystery. That gets the formula backwards. Any show looking to be TNL has to embrace its characters and let them walk us to the mystery. 

Here’s all the reasons La Brea didn’t do that.

The pilot episode sped through an entire day. The episode began in the morning and ended at night, but I don’t feel like I saw a day’s worth of action. Here’s the timeline:

Morning—Eve is stuck in L.A. traffic near Curson & Wilshire while driving her daughter, Izzy, and son, Josh, to school. A massive sinkhole opens, swallowing every person and building for blocks in all directions. Josh falls in, Eve rushes back to save him only to suffer the same fate. Eve later wakes up in the sinkhole, we don’t know how long she was out.

Afternoon—Eve and Josh re-unite among the ruins of what fell into the hole and dozens of other people who the outside world thinks are casualties of the disaster. 

Late afternoon—A pack of wild animals attacks the camp, leaving Josh gravely wounded. We know it’s late afternoon because Marybeth, a cop in the outside world, tells Ty, a psychiatrist struggling with suicidal thoughts, it’s going to be dark soon.

Night—Eve, Ty and Sam, a Navy SEAL-turned-surgeon, find an ambulance with the medical supplies they hope will save Josh’s life.

Am I the only one who finds this a big miss? These are strangers in a strange land who went through a horrible trauma and La Brea gave us almost nothing about what that must have been like for them. It’s a missed storytelling opportunity, but also it’s bad episode construction. The writer and director did a poor job establishing the size of the hole’s world and how long it would take to move across it. Did Eve spend three hours or 30 minutes walking from where she woke up to where she found Josh? They were at camp (which is what this main area will become) for several hours before the animal attack. What did they do? We got a few scenes of them searching for supplies, but not nearly enough to indicate this took all day.  

An almost laughable reveal about the hole’s location. Like most viewers I picked up pretty early that falling through the hole sent the victims back in time. As the episode crept toward its finish with no real movement in that direction I figured they’d hold it off until a later week. Wrong! Eve is standing by the ambulance and happens to notice the outline of the Hollywood hills painted on its back door exactly matches the hills she’s staring at. Putting two and two together she tells Ty and Sam she thinks they’re still in Los Angeles. 

Oh. Set aside the fact that the Hollywood hills may have geographically changed since pre-historic times. What a joke of a way to tell your story. To my previous point, the show could have had the characters spend their first day in the hole facing a drama/adventure/obstacle that led to them realizing where they are in a heart-stopping way. That would have been compelling. Instead they made it an aha moment inspired by some painting on an ambulance. You’ve got to be kidding me. 

The hole wasn’t a character. For a show set in an alternate world to be compelling, the world itself has to be its own character. It has to have the same presence the lead characters have. It has to be put under a microscope and revealed the same way a character is. No sign we’re going to get that here. 

The least interesting ending you can imagine. A saber-toothed tiger (or something like it) emerges from the jungle. That’s it. That’s the tweet. Eve, Ty and Sam are probably in danger but the screen fades to black before we find out what happens. Not that we are even interested because there was already a wild animal attack earlier. I can’t picture why any writer, producer or network exec thought the threat of a second animal attack would make us tune in for week two. 

That is four reasons the show will fail and I haven’t even gotten to the world remaining in Los Angeles. Eve’s estranged husband, Gavin, crashed out of the military (literally) and has some visions. Shockingly, those visions prove prescient when he happens to dig a hole exactly where Eve lost her wedding ring when she woke up in the sink hole thousands or millions of years ago. Fate, I guess. Yawn. We also have the government on hand to build a tent city in a matter of hours and you know it’s keeping all kinds of secrets. Original. 

La Brea has enough characters to give each one their own episode and explore who they are and why they’re acting the way they are in their new life. But based on the pilot I don’t see it happening. At one point, one of the survivors says to another, “Maybe we’re just in an episode of Lost.”

Buddy, I knew episodes of Lost. And you’re in no episode of Lost.

Sincerely,

The Wandering Lostie

Superman and Lois premiere finally gives us a good Clark Kent

I always maintain you can’t have a great Superman without a good Clark Kent. It’s why the Christopher Reeve movies succeeded and the Henry Cavill ones didn’t. That’s not Cavill’s fault. The Christopher Nolan/David Goyer story all but wrote Clark out of the script to focus on a more brooding and uncertain Superman—an error on both points.

So I was not excited to see The CW was coming out with a new show called “Superman and Lois”. Superman and Lois? Great. Here we go again.

I could not, and let me repeat myself for emphases here, COULD NOT have been more wrong. This premiere was fan*uckingtastic.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">For starters, it didn’t dwell on the origin story. Kansas via Krypton. <a href="https://thewanderinglostie.com/2013/06/16/superman-man-of-steel-review/&quot; data-type="URL" data-id="https://thewanderinglostie.com/2013/06/16/superman-man-of-steel-review/&quot; target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">We know</a>. I was thrilled to see them treat it with a quick voiceover before moving on to the hero’s entry as he saved a nuclear plant from sure disaster. But even that wasn’t a warmed-over version of it’s a bird it’s a plane it’s Superman. They chose to make it functional by establishing that Superman and his father-in-law have their own professional relationship and he’s in on the secret identity and the emergency at the nuclear plant was plot hatched by an unknown enemy. Bing bang boom this premier is firing on all cylinders. Let’s get back to Clark.For starters, it didn’t dwell on the origin story. Kansas via Krypton. We know. I was thrilled to see them treat it with a quick voiceover before moving on to the hero’s entry as he saved a nuclear plant from sure disaster. But even that wasn’t a warmed-over version of it’s a bird it’s a plane it’s Superman. They chose to make it functional by establishing that Superman and his father-in-law have their own professional relationship and he’s in on the secret identity and the emergency at the nuclear plant was plot hatched by an unknown enemy. Bing bang boom this premier is firing on all cylinders. Let’s get back to Clark.

Reeve’s Kent, and Brandon Routh’s to an extent, was hesitant and awkward because he’s a small-town Kansas boy with a fast-paced job in the big city. S&L gives Tyler Hoechlin’s Clark a different set of challenges: Parenting, a dual relationship with his father-in-law (hell, a father-in-law to begin with) and saving the family farm. Plus the usual bit about saving the world.

That’s a significant departure from the norm for fans who aren’t plugged into DC’s television universe. But I love it because it ensures this version of Clark Kent will remain a key character throughout the series. The premiere gives us a heavy dose of Clark having to choose between his role as a parent to his twin boys and his responsibility to be the world’s Superman. More importantly, we see him work through those choices as Clark. Love it.

When he chooses his family—which the premiere hints hasn’t happened often—he’ll disappoint the world. When he chooses his family he may literally be leaving people to die. That’s an impossible choice and gives the show plenty of ways to use it for exploring its characters.

The premiere laid the groundwork for three other storylines to expect in season one:
Jon and Jordan’s experience. The show deftly lays out Lois and Clark’s twin sons having completely different personalities. Jon is a budding jock about to quarterback his high school football team as a freshman; Jordan struggles with social anxiety. And then the boys find out their dad is Superman. At first I thought they butchered the reveal scene because Clark handled it very poorly, but then I thought about it from the opposite angle: What if Superman had to reveal to the boys that he was their father? He would no doubt handle it well and they’d be awed. But Clark was not prepared to tell his kids the secret and ended up doing it with no consideration for how they might react. But it’s not like he didn’t try. We saw multiple scenes with him convincing Lois they should never tell them in case one developed powers and the other one didn’t. That was the only way Clark could see it unfold, which blinded him to everything else. The kids started to come around later in the episode but it’s a great example of how the series will give us Clark-centric arcs. A+
Superman’s enemy. We don’t get much in this episode, and I’m okay with that. They lay the groundwork for a character who hates him the way great enemies do. The premiere seemed to heavy up in other places so I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a very enemy-centric episode coming up soon.
What happens in Kansas. I haven’t talked much about Lois so far because she is mostly along for the ride in episode one. That’s kind of disappointing, but they crammed so much introduction into 64 minutes that something had to give. We do however have an emerging storyline with a stereotypical greedy capitalist buying out The Daily Planet and the Smallville bank, which will give Lois something to dig her teeth into. Like the main enemy, I expect we’ll soon see an episode with Lois taking a more active role.

This is all such a wonderful change from the dark and dour tone set by the recent Superman movies (Man of Steel, Batman vs Superman). But wait, doesn’t that mean S&L will run into the same “dark Superman” problem? No, because this show isn’t sidelining Clark Kent and has better surrounding characters. Every character in S&L is immediately more relatable than anyone in those silver screen mistakes except Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent but he’s Kevin Coster and so dreamy even as he gets older. How does he do that?

Maybe it’s unfair to compare the way Superman is adapted across mediums. I’m going to though. Big screen or small, deep characters driving engaging stories is the way to people’s hearts. That’s exactly what we have with Superman and Lois.

Feature debut: Kevin’s On The Couch

I know it’s been a while since the last post, but there’s good reason. I’ve been working on an exciting new project that has its world debut tonight on The Wandering Lost.

Please enjoy the first episode of the exciting new web series Kevin On The Couch featuring the Kevins’s’ early review of Orphan Black.

Stay close to The Wandering Lostie for more exciting episodes!

Lost: 10 years after the journey

10 years ago tonight Jack Shephard laid down in the bamboo and closed his eyes. 10 years since I sat stunned in my TV chair thinking that’s it? Really??? It was about their journey??? I was not happy.

Little did I know on Sunday, May 23, 2010, the events that would affect the course of my journey were already in motion.

The next morning my bus broke down, which had never happened in the six prior years of my #buslife. Then our replacement bus broke down. 2-for-2. Did everything fall apart when Desmond pulled the plug??? When the third bus finally picked us up I half expected to see Hugo Reyes behind the wheel of my trusted route 53. Wouldn’t that have been a hoot.

I finally got to work at my job leading comms for the Republican caucus in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The legislative session ended the week prior with a budget stalemate and a brewing electoral battle over Obamacare. We intended that to shape the coming campaign season, and boy did it ever.

We rode a wave to historic electoral success in the Legislature but fell just short of claiming the governor’s race. Had we done so, the next two years would have been an incredible high. Instead they were probably the most challenging, frustrating years of my career. Halfway through the next election—2012—I knew I was ready to walk away.

Maybe I would have stayed if things went our way that year. But as Miles Straume said, “Whatever happened, happened.” We got our asses kicked. My time was up. A new chapter of my journey was about to begin, 899 days after the Lost finale.

Other than not politics I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career then. I never wanted to be a political lifer and with nothing but political experience on my resume at age 32 I knew the longer I stayed in the harder it would be to break out. I can only wonder how different my life would be today if I’d taken any of the opportunities I had over the next few months to stay in that world.

To be honest with you, I was not very good at being unemployed. Public relations and communications was the logical next step, so I spent months doing the lazy thing and applying for online listings at companies or industries I thought would be fun. Sports, aviation, business. PR agencies didn’t really strike my interest, but most of the locals had something I applied for at some point. Online listings funnel your resume into a soulless void of online tracking systems. I’m not sure anyone has ever gotten a job that way. The real way to find a job is to network. I am terrible at networking. In fact, I basically don’t do it. People. Ugh.

Except at some point in the mid-2000s I fell in love with online communities. There I could network my ass off from the place I was most comfortable: Behind the keyboard. Everyone else was behind the keyboard, too, so I didn’t have to feign interest in small talk. Or talk at all. I was here for it when social media emerged, and I joined Twitter on September 25, 2007, some 972 days before the Lost finale.

That one little act, so insignificant at the time, altered my journey perhaps more than any other.

Twitter and I fit hand and glove. You couldn’t write more than two sentences in a tweet and most of my thoughts aren’t more than two sentences long anyway. Social media’s rise coincided with my rising position within the caucus. By the time Lost ended I was not only the caucus media director, my tweeting was getting me interviewed on TV and invited to speak on panels. My stupid little profile icon even got me recognized when one lawmaker ran up to me in the Retiring Room to ask, “Are you Kwatt from Twitter?”

Sure am. Do you remember the campaign brochure that popped up in your district, the one designed to look exactly like your local newspaper but was full of reasons to vote against you? That was me, too. Turns out I sort of invented fake news. Sorry. But I digress…

By the fall of 2013 I wasn’t sure I’d ever work again. Then one afternoon an email popped up from a Twitter friend who was writing a story profiling prominent local Twitter users. She wanted to include me. Sure! That’d be pretty cool. So she sent me her list of questions.

I was doing some light freelance work at the time and found myself in the southeast corner of Minnesota one Tuesday. With a few hours to kill between meetings I set up in a local coffee shop and started on my responses for the article. When it came to “What do you do for work?” I paused.

Should I put that I don’t have a job? Naw, that would be cheeky. Wait. You idiot. This is going to get published. Treat it like an advertisement—for yourself. Yeah! So that’s exactly what I did. “Kevin Watterson, age 32, currently looking for a PR job. Previously did PR and communications in the state Legislature.”

Months passed and I forgot about the article. It finally appeared on January 1, 2014. A few weeks later, Kathy Jalivay came across it. Kathy was the head of PR at a marketing agency in St. Paul and just so happened to be looking for someone looking for a PR job. On February 12, 2014, I joined her at Aimclear. I was unknowingly familiar with the office: I stood outside of it every night for the last six years waiting for the route 53 bus to take me home. It was 1,362 days after the Lost finale.

My journey through Aimclear was fantastic. I met awesome people and learned more than I could have ever hoped. At one point I was the Twitter voice of Firestone auto care, handing out coupons for a discount oil change to people who posted the best #roadtrip pics and making the best tire puns. Clients came, clients went. Some were more fun than others. Such is agency life.

My journey rolled on outside of work for those five years, too. I became an uncle. I got some things right, I messed up others. I traveled. Even took my first winter vacation, having been tied to the Legislature from January through May for all those years.

Then in January 2018, Uber called. They needed someone to cover social media while one of their OGs was on sabbatical. They already had one Aimclearian and wanted another. I landed in San Francisco and walked in the door at Uber for the first time on February 13, 2018. It was 2,824 days after the Lost finale.

They must have liked what they saw because by June 1 I was living in San Francisco full-time (2,932 days) and on March 4, 2019, I badged in as an official Uber employee (3,208). My longtime goal of moving to California was complete.

That’s where I remain. Things are good. Once I got settled I decided to live a life that would make my 14-year-old self jealous. So I set a personal record by attending 41 baseball games last year, 29 of which were just down the street at Oracle Park. It’s the Giants, but the Dodgers visit nine times a year and LA is a short flight away. I lounge by the pool for hours reading books. I watch TV whenever I want. I go see the ocean at least once a month, although that’s been hampered by this f*cking virus. Sometimes I walk outside and stare across the bay just to see mountains. I’m from Iowa, so yeah the Oakland hills count as mountains. I spoil my nieces (kids love scratch off lottery tickets, btw). I even own three pairs of Air Jordans just to display on my shelves. Take that, 14-year-old Kevin.

I can’t predict where my journey will go from here anymore than I could have predicted it would lead me here. Maybe in another 10 years I’ll be somewhere else, making 39-year-old Kevin insanely jealous.

It has been 3,654 days since the Lost finale. I get it now.