The coverage of your local college football team might get worse soon
Good morning! I’m sorry this is coming out a bit later than you’d expect the first Extra Points of the week to arrive. I’ve been laid out with the flu. There’s a good chance this newsletter has an extra typo or two, but hey, that’s what happens when you’ve had nothing but flat soda pop and crackers for the last 24 hours.
Anyway, no time to wallow in my own self-pity. There are things to discuss!
Things get even worse for local news
It’s been a brutal last few years for anybody working in media, be that TV, digital, print, or anything else. But perhaps nobody has been battered as badly as local newspapers, and I worry that things might get even worse before they get better.
The two largest newspaper chains out there, Gannett and GateHouse Media, will merge. The final company will be called Gannett, and will own more than one-sixth of all remaining daily newspapers in the county, over 260.
You might know Gannett as the publisher of USA TODAY. I remember them as the publisher of the first newspaper to ever print my work, the Newark (Ohio) Advocate. They also own major papers like the Cincinnati Enquirer, The Arizona Republic, the The Memphis Commercial Appeal, and a slew of other mid-market papers. GateHouse owns my hometown paper, the Columbus Dispatch, as well as a bunch of smaller papers, including some in college markets, like The Gainesville Sun, The Tuscaloosa News, The Athens Banner-Herald, the South Bend Tribune, and more.
These sorts of mergers generally don’t bring good news for folks working for the paper. The shareholders and investors need to get paid, after all, so even with potential overhead savings from forming one giant company, I wouldn’t expect significant newsroom investments coming for most of these papers, at least in the short term. Over the next few years, I imagine more of these papers will stop printing every day and more journalists will be laid off. It’s entirely possible, maybe even probable, that the next year will bring even more media consolidation.
There are tons of important civic reasons why you should care about the health of your local paper, especially if you live somewhere where you only have one. You might have other papers, radio stations, digital outlets and more covering your college football team, but you probably don’t have somebody else doing investigative reporting, following local courts, or covering on your specific neighborhood. Keeping local officials accountable is a tough job.
But you should care even if just about college sports, especially if you root for a smaller program. If you root for say, the Memphis Tigers, and the Commercial Appeal has to be less ambitious in their coverage, you’re going to notice it. What they do won’t be easily replicated. If your beat doesn’t have dozens of folks on it like the Ohio State or Alabama beats, missing just one person could be meaningful. If your market is particularly unique, you want your reporters to be folks who have that institutional longevity, not a new guy on the beat every 18 months because the job doesn’t pay enough to keep him off food stamps.
I wish there was a way, at scale, to support your local paper without giving predatory ghouls any of your money. But in the meantime, if you can, even if you don’t read it every day and even if their sports columnist only types in one sentence paragraphs and has problematic tweets, it’s a good idea to subscribe to your local paper.
There’s nothing to aggregate and analyze if nobody shows up.
If you weren’t buying ESPN+ before, you’re probably buying it now
I feel the reality of streaming services hasn’t quite matched the promise of finally cutting the cable cord. Sure, you now have a few more options on the marketplace, but if you want Netflix, maybe a secondary streaming service (HBO? Hulu?) plus a basic package like YouTube TV or PlayStation Vue, suddenly you’re paying as much as you did for Comcast, only now you have more log-ins to remember.
But for some folks, there’s now an opportunity to blow that price out of the water. Disney will be offering their new Disney+ streaming service, AND Hulu, AND ESPN+, for just $12.99.
To folks like you and me, ESPN+ is the key component of the deal. It may not offer much in the way of college football right this second (I think the best ESPN+ game over the first two weeks of the season is Syracuse at Liberty, which, ew, or SMU at Arkansas State), but there could be some spicy G5 action later in the season, plus lots of college basketball games. But it’s already a destination of combat sports and soccer (Germany’s Bundesliga will reportedly be part of the package in 2020), and I imagine ESPN will continue to push the service as best they can.
But for non-sports obsessives, the big product is Disney+. You want to stream Disney movies, or Star Wars, or the MCU? It’s on Disney+. I have two daughters under five, and between us friends, I was prepared to pay significantly more for the privilege of letting Moana temporarily be our babysitter. I suspect Disney knows that. On their investor call, CEO Bob Iger called Disney+ “the most important product the company has launched in my tenure.”
This pricing almost certainly won’t last, but in the short term, it’s nice for consumers who are considering their options outside of Comcast, Dish and the like.
The entire sports streaming space feels a bit uncertain at the moment. Right now, ESPN+ seems to pretty easily have the best catalog of live events, with outfits like DAZN, B/R Live and FloSports (who just picked up the rights to UMass and New Mexico State football) offering much more niche events in comparison. Amazon and YouTube are still new in this space, DAZN will likely be aggressive (they might take a whack at NFL Sunday Ticket), and HBO Max hopes to eventually be there as well. Will they? Probably not, but you never know!
There are only so many live sports out there though. Will ESPN+ bully their way into buying nearly everything that opens up, kneecapping potential competition? Will the fact that you already bought an ESPN+ subscription because you need Frozen in your life prevent you from trying competitors? Will this business model remain viable in six years? If I knew any of that for certain, this newsletter would be a lot more expensive, I’ll tell you that.
I think it’s a safe assumption that ESPN+ will slowly have more programming a college sports fan will be interested in. And at least for now, you can get it, and some other stuff you probably want, at a pretty good price.
Woke Randy Edsall finds a mic again
I do not enjoy watching UConn football. But I like Randy Edsall.
Coaches are often asked about athlete compensation or changes to the current model, and they’re either non-committal, or sound hilariously out of touch, like Dabo Sweeney.
But not Edsall! You may remember his comments from last year.
Well, he hasn’t changed his mind. In a recent interview with ESPN, Edsall again pulled no punches.
“The NCAA, they run these commercials about student-athletes," Edsall said as his Huskies began their August training camp last week. "It ain't a student anymore. It's just athlete."
He’s right! While this balance might be slightly better in other sports at the FBS level, even for a woeful program like UConn, it’s pretty clear what set of obligations is more important.
"When I played, you played 10 games. You were home for Thanksgiving. You weren't there in the summertime," Edsall said. "Now the demands are [higher] and the money is available.”
And with the Playoff likely to be expanded in the next few years, that calendar is only going to get longer. Not for UConn, of course, but for other players, absolutely. The demands on a player’s time have been significant since the days of Walter Camp, but it is difficult to argue there is anything resembling a healthy balance for current FBS players, unless you are on camera in an official NCAA ad.
This argument has gone on for years, and will continue to go on. It’s more interesting to me that Edsall, a sitting head coach, has been willing to be so public and vocal about it. I suspect deep down, a lot of FBS coaches would agree that players should be getting more, and many might even agree with Edsall’s final quote in the story, about how no college football coach deserves $7 million a year.
But coaches are also famously tunnel visioned about anything that isn’t directly related to winning the next football game or signing the next recruit. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that many reporters, bloggers, and fans have actually thought about the logistics of how payment might work than some coaches, who are afraid to meaningful engage with anything in public that isn’t explicitly football.
So credit to Randy. I think he’s right. Change is coming, whether that comes from NCAA Working Groups, state or federal politicians, business concerns, or some combination thereof. But if coaches are more vocal about how they view the system and how it might be altered, they have a better chance of shaping what that new future would look like. And that might be better for everybody involved.
Thanks for supporting Extra Points. Your regular readership makes this project possible! Questions, comments, podcast topic suggestions, business opportunities or offers to go in on buying a newspaper with me should be directed to [email protected]