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MSG Networks Partners With Overtime To Create A Unique Simulcast

Overtime will take over MSG+ in a bid to put a fresh spin on the traditional NBA broadcast and cater to younger audiences.

Mike Piellucci

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Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A single basketball game can cater to a wide variety of audiences but rarely will that ring truer than Sunday afternoon’s broadcast between the Knicks and Lakers.

Turn on MSG, and you’ll hear Kenny Albert and Clyde Frazier break down the battle of two of the league’s most storied franchises. Tune into MSG+, though, and the same action will instead be called by talent from Overtime.

The simulcast represents one of the first major collaborations between the legacy brand and the new media upstart after MSG Networks invested in the two-year-old company as part of a Series B funding round last month. It’s also the sort of experiment that could provide a glimpse into the future of sports broadcasting.

READ MORE: GENERATION Z’S IMPACT ON SPORTS CONTENT STRATEGY

“I think people still want to watch the game, they still want to understand what’s going on and those things ring true of traditional broadcasts,” says Zack Weiner, Overtime’s co-founder and president. “But they want the people on screen to maybe be a little bit more relatable, be able to incorporate more things about pop culture and ultimately, too, feel a little more like their friend.”

The melding point between tradition and innovation is a microcosm of MSG and Overtime’s budding partnership. Each has something the other wants. For MSG, it was better access to Generation Z, the elusive demographic that Overtime has been able to connect to like few other sports broadcast entities.

“It was not necessarily, ‘We need to do something for young people,’ but it was, ‘How do we start to engage this audience for the future?’” says Kevin Marotta, MSG Networks senior vice president of marketing and content. “There’s a recognition that there are some brands out there who do it really well. That sort of led us down the path with Overtime.”

For Overtime, it was MSG’s cache and assets, as well as the appeal of working with a legacy brand that Weiner credits for adapting well in the face of changes within the industry.

“There’s a lot of traditional media companies where I’ve walked into the room and talked about partnerships and it’s just very clear that the first step in any partnership with them is going to be them understanding that things have changed,” Weiner says. “I would say that’s either sort of inherent to companies or it’s not. And for MSG Networks, it felt very inherent. It felt like they understood that.”

All of that comes to a head on Sunday for game that will also make waves by becoming the first-ever regular season NBA game broadcast via FB Watch in the United States. MSG has prior experience with simulcasts thanks to a 2017 collaboration with Draft Kings that assessed the game through a fantasy-centric lens. They’ve decided to up the ante with this time around. The Overtime broadcast will be exclusively called by their own talent, including former Southern Illinois player Camron Smith, former Georgetown player Monica McNutt, Jesse “Filayyy” Jones and Laurence “Overtime Larry” Marsach. But MSG also has built out a custom graphics package to further differentiate the two broadcasts from one another.

“We really looked at this not as a ‘How do we tweak our broadcast with this new talent for a young audience?’ but, ‘How do we create a broadcast for this audience?’” Marotta says.

Both parties insist that Sunday is a test case, one they won’t judge by raw ratings nearly as much as metrics like watch time and social media engagement. Weiner, in particular, is optimistic about collaboration in a number of spaces moving forward, irrespective of how the simulcast is the start of something new or a one-off.

READ MORE: OVERTIME CAPITALIZES ON WOMEN’S BASKETBALL BUZZ WITH OVERTIMEWBB

“Our sort of laboratory to experiment in, I would make the case that it’s extremely unique,” he says. “I think what we’re doing with a younger audience is pretty singular, and I think MSG’s rights portfolio and their established brand is incredible. When you put those things together, you create a really interesting sort of laboratory to play with it.”

Nevertheless, he remains optimistic about the simulcast as a jumping off point for a new sort of sports broadcast, one which finds a common ground that can appeal to any sort of audience.

“Do I think that doing one broadcast between MSG and Overtime is going to completely change everything? No,” Weiner says. “But do I think it’s a huge step in the right direction? Absolutely. I think both parties are going to learn a lot and think that both of our audiences are going to be really pleased with the product and say, ‘Oh, I want to see even more of that.’

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Turning ESPN Around

Front Office Sports

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Apr 26, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; ESPN broadcasters Mark Jackson (left) and Jeff Van Gundy (center) and Mike Breen during game six of the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs between the Golden State Warriors and the LA Clippers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

In just over a year since joining ESPN as the company’s president, it looks as if Jimmy Pitaro has been able to turn things around.

After a period of turbulence that included layoffs, a strained relationship with the NFL, and a falling linear subscriber base, things at the WWL seem to be looking up.

What has worked?

  • ESPN+: The OTT streaming service now has a reported 2 million subscribers after a year of being live.
  • New Digital Offerings: ESPN has expanded its presence on platforms like Snapchat, YouTube and Twitter.
  • Leveraging ABC: To further its reach, ESPN has found success putting marquee events and games (NBA games, NFL Draft, college football games) on the free to air TV channel.

More sports, fewer politics…

While some championed ESPN’s coverage of events where politics and sports seemingly intertwined, Pitaro believes he has brung clarity to the company when it comes to what fans of ESPN truly want.

“Without question, our data tells us our fans do not want us to cover politics. My job is to provide clarity. I really believe that some of our talent was confused on what was expected of them. If you fast-forward to today, I don’t believe they are confused.” – Jimmy Pitaro to Stephen Battaglio of the LA Times.

What they are saying…

“We’ve done some brand research that suggests ESPN’s brand is stronger than it was a few years ago.” – Bob Iger to Disney investors

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Rachel Nichols and ‘The Jump’ Lead the Way in Daily NBA Coverage

With the NBA playoffs reaching their peak, Rachel Nichols and “The Jump” are ramping up coverage, bringing the latest news to the growing NBA community.

Bailey Knecht

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Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

One afternoon, in the middle of his appearance as a panelist on ESPN’s “The Jump,” Scottie Pippen received a text from Michael Jordan letting Pippen know MJ was watching the show. Another time, Bill Russell tweeted at host Rachel Nichols about that day’s episode.

“It’s the ultimate compliment because growing up, we idolized these players,” says Danny Corrales, ‘The Jump’ producer. “To know current and former players are looking at our show as a credible source of NBA news and information is really flattering.”

In its three and a half years on the air, “The Jump” has made a name for itself as the go-to show for daily basketball news, even for the sport’s biggest stars.

“The show is on at practice facilities, training facilities and hotels, so we’ll get texts and hear from players, GMs and front office people, talking about rumors we address on the show,” Nichols says.

It’s not just Hall of Famers and NBA team personnel that tune in. “The Jump” averages around 300,000 viewers per day and is regularly one of the most-watched ESPN shows on-demand.

The common thread between those who watch? A deep love for the NBA and all of its drama, on and off the court.

“That’s what we’re striving for, that everyone from NBA fans to players to team owners can come hang out with us,” Nichols says. “It’s a centralized hub or hangout.”

READ MORE: ESPN Brings AR to Life for NBA Playoffs

With the playoffs in full swing, the Emmy-nominated crew is now out of the studio and on the road, providing on-site coverage for the remainder of the season.

“To me, being where the game is has always been an important part of my coverage,” Nichols says. “I feel like I need to be here, going to practice and talking to guys, going to games, going into the locker room and talking about what’s going on…It brings an immediacy, a currency, and that helps viewers be there with us.”

A prime-time version of the show has also been added for the NBA Finals, airing on ESPN from 8 to 8:30 p.m. ET ahead of weekday Finals games.

“Every time we hit the road, we try to replicate our daily show as best as we can, and it’s not easy being on the road because there’s a comfort level you gain in the studio,” Corrales says. “Our goal for this year is to continue to do the show the way we do the normal show, with the same topics, same guests and same passionate energy.”

When she created “The Jump,” Nichols pushed for it to feel like a casual basketball discussion with friends. The show features media members and former players conversing around a table, and the studio is set up more like a living room than a traditional anchor desk.

“That’s what I’m doing on my weekend afternoon—sitting around, talking about basketball with friends, and that transferred into everything about the show,” Nichols says. “It’s not a big, huge set, and there are no big monitors, because I don’t have big monitors in my living room, so why would we have that here?”

Rather than showing highlights or going in-depth on Xs and Os, Nichols and her panelists dive into the quirky, peripheral side of the sport.

“We’re having an educated basketball conversation and telling you things you don’t know, so if you’re a diehard, you’re still learning, but we hope it’s accessible for other people, too,” Nichols says.

It’s not all about the fun, lighthearted side of the NBA, though. An experienced journalist, Nichols does not shy away from heavy topics in her introductory monologues and interviews, such as the Dallas Mavericks’ sexual misconduct investigation in 2018.

“In a way, I’ve been prepping my whole career,” says Nichols, who has covered major controversies involving sports figures like Roger Goodell and Floyd Mayweather. “I’ve done investigative pieces, and I’ve covered serious league issues for months at a time. I feel good that if something serious comes up, I can steer the conversation.”

READ MORE: Ernie Johnson Talks March Madness, Sports Media and More

Nichols and her crew have made an effort to balance those serious topics with the NBA’s goofier stories, though. For example, they recently discussed a Milwaukee-based radio station that refuses to play Drake songs during the Bucks’ playoff series against the Toronto Raptors.

“We’re giving good weight to both [serious and fun] topics, and we’re staying true to the character of the show and who I am, too,” Nichols said.

The NBA is rarely bereft of topics to discuss, so Nichols leans on fans and NBA Twitter to find fresh content and drive the conversation. She says social media has “helped with that communal feel, like we’re all in this together.”

With the Finals around the corner, that community will embrace the drama, with Nichols and her crew leading the discussion every step of the way.

“The NBA is a celebrity league, and the players are superstars,” Nichols says. “People feel like they know these guys, so the whole thing feels like a high school cafeteria, where we know what table everybody is sitting at. We also have a table in the cafeteria, and now we have a yearbook.”

When she first pitched “The Jump,” Nichols took a risk, hoping to find an audience for a daily afternoon basketball show. Now, just a few years later, “The Jump” has become the preferred NBA show for basketball junkies—regular fans to NBA legends alike.

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ESPN Brings AR to Life for NBA Playoffs

Front Office Sports

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May 20, 2019; Portland, OR, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) passes the ball past Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) and forward Meyers Leonard (11) during the second half in game four of the Western conference finals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Moda Center. The Warriors won 119-117 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

During this year’s Western Conference Finals, you may have seen graphics that made you feel like you were playing an NBA 2K game instead of watching the Warriors sweep the Trail Blazers. 

Why? Because ESPN and Second Spectrum teamed up to deliver real-time AR graphics to provide viewers with advanced stats and engagement opportunities. 

What do you need to know?

‘ESPN Mode’, as it is called, is part of the network’s push to provide more differentiated viewing opportunities for fans through its digital offerings.

Outside of AR, ESPN has been offering a feed from a robotic camera above the rim, as well as one for pre-game layup lines, and during warmups for both teams.

They also rolled out a new NBA Twitter and YouTube pre-game show, Hoop Streams, as well as At The Mic, a show that covers post-game press conferences.

Why does Second Spectrum sound familiar? 

That’s because they are the company behind Clippers CourtVision, the technology that allows fans of the team to choose different streams that show different AR graphics during the broadcast of a game, similar to what ESPN was providing its fans. 

With CourtVision, fans get to choose from three streams, whereas with ESPN, the best of each different mode was combined into one. 

What did fans have to say?

The reaction to the graphics was mixed. Below is a look at what a few Twitter users had to say about them. 

– “Bruh. Wtf are these ridiculous graphics ESPN is forcing on us?!? Stop it.” – @vasu

– “I’m all sorts of excited for this.” – @iDontHoldHouses

–  “I like the idea here. A little too much going on IMO, but interested to see if this (hopefully in moderation) becomes more common.” – @declancmurray

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