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Kill, Pitino take aim at Wisconsin

killJerry Kill had his preseason media availability on Tuesday, with camp slated to open on Friday for his Gophers. A couple of hours later, Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino spoke with reporters in advance of his team’s trip to Spain — the first time we had chatted with Pitino in quite some time.

The dual interviews, both with the seasons ahead in mind, offered an interesting opportunity to check in with both coaches on a single subject: expectations. I essentially asked each of them the same question about how they approach expectations, and I found both the differences and similarities in the answers to be telling.

Kill’s Minnesota teams — albeit in four years compared to just two for Pitino — have shown an upward arc throughout his tenure. Sometimes it’s been more gradual. Sometimes it’s been a leap. But it is what program-building progress looks like. As such, Kill offered this Tuesday and it made perfect sense: “We’ve gotten better every year and everybody goes, ‘what do you want to do this year?’ And I want to be better.”

He didn’t lay out a specific record after the Gophers went 8-5 each of the past two seasons (including a 5-3 conference mark last year), but he did lay out a pretty specific goal: beat Wisconsin. Losing to the Badgers, he noted, was the difference each of the past two seasons between a good year and a great year (a win last season over the Badgers would have sent the Gophers to the Big Ten title game).

“They’ve been a pain in our butt.  We had our opportunities last year,” Kill said. “Got to win the border games if you’re going to be a Big Ten champion and you want to play in that game.  You’ve got to win the border games.  Our expectation is we’ve got to get another brick, and that’s the brick.”

So what is success this season? Said Kill: “Just be better. Just be better than we were last year, and if we’re better than we were last year, I guess we’d be in the Big Ten Championship game.”

That’s pretty ambitious, but this program is at the point of ambition. It’s still in the business of measuring itself against itself — i.e. meeting internal expectations — but more and more the measuring stick is outside competition.

Pitino, about to enter year three as the Gophers’ coach and coming off a disappointing second year, is still in the business of managing and measuring expectations internally. He noted a couple of times how young this year’s team is and made it pretty clear that he knows outside expectations (and excitement) are not what they were a year ago.

“I do know this,” Pitino said. “After the first year, I had a lot of people coming up to me to tell me how excited they were about the next season. I don’t get that now. … We understand where we’re at. I’ve just got individual expectations for each guy. If we meet those, I think we’ll be a pretty good team.”

Pitino, too, was asked about Wisconsin — specifically coach Bo Ryan, who has announced he will retire at the end of this season. Ryan is 20-6 against the Gophers all-time, including 4-1 against Pitino.

“Thank goodness he’s gone,” Pitino joked before spending time lauding Ryan’s accomplishments — which at one point he called “miraculous.” The requisite question about emulating Wisconsin’s success came up, and Pitino did not bristle at it. “We certainly hope to get to that one day,” he said of Wisconsin’s sustained success.

Both Gophers coaches do. Both programs have been pretty far away from it for a while. But it was clear Tuesday which one was further along in the process of breaking through — which one is at the stage of expecting big things and which is merely at the stage of hoping they come one day.

A smart read on ESPN and the future of pro sports on TV

espnIn a Hot Take World, those of us who prefer more nuanced and measured approaches sometimes have to wade through a lot of shouty nonsense and clickbait headlines before finding the needles in the massive media haystack.

The Washington Post recently had one of those smart stories — the kind that really provide some depth to a discussion — on the future of ESPN and pro sports on TV as a whole. The premise: There have been a lot of gloom-and-doom pieces about ESPN lately, motivated by the company’s cost-cutting edict and the money being lost every time someone drops cable. (The subscriber base has dropped by more than 3 million in little over a year, a startling number that means every minute of the past year, six people have dropped from the base).

But amidst the gloom-and-doom there are larger questions. Namely: Could ESPN actually be better-positioned to survive the carnage better than others … and is the real story about what pro leagues might do with their televised content in the future? Some passages and information I found particularly interesting:

*Regarding what might happen in an unbundled world — one without cable or with enough cable-free households to really make a la carte a thing — there was this:

Michael Nathanson, senior research analyst at Moffett Nathanson, estimates ESPN would actually have to charge about $36 monthly in an unbundled world, but he thinks the network would still get more than enough customers. The sports networks really threatened by a move away from cable, according to Nathanson, are ESPN’s competitors Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports, both on a recent list he compiled of the 10 most expensive cable channels not among the most viewed.

“If everyone gets weaker, the bottom end of the market would get weaker, and (Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports) therefore would probably have less conviction to get into bidding wars with ESPN … for these sports rights,” said Nathanson.

A couple of interesting things there. First, $36 a month? That’s ludicrous. I don’t care how much I like sports. I’m not paying that. (It also makes something like Sling TV seem like a bargain, though that’s a very early trial and certainly subject to pricing change as the market shifts).

Second: The point that FS1 and NBC Sports would be in danger is a salient one. While both have positioned themselves nicely with some key contracts (particularly in soccer) and could shift more of the over-the-air programming from their parent networks to the sports-only cable channels, it is stands to reason that they are both far more vulnerable to a cable-less world. If you are only going to pay for one a la carte sports channel, which one is it? Probably ESPN.

*The cost-cutting is coming in an area in which ESPN feels like it can take hits — namely, the talent and not the TV product:

The departures of Bill Simmons, Keith Olbermann and Colin Cowherd have come when, according to The Hollywood Reporter, ESPN has been told to trim $100 million from its 2016 budget and $250 million from the 2017 budget. ESPN disputes these numbers, but let’s say they’re accurate. Yes, $100 million is a lot of money. But when your annual budget is in the neighborhood of $6 billion (and probably more) $100 million represents less than 2 percent of the overall pie. And ESPN is far from the only cable network looking to trim.

ESPN has a long track record of letting high-priced talent leave. ESPN does not have a long track record of letting competitors corner the market on live sporting events. The network has recently relinquished rights to some events — the British Open, U.S. Open golf and, according to a Monday Sports Business Journal story, the French Open —  but with ESPN locked into deals with America’s major sports leagues for the rest of this decade, the sports cable landscape should stay relatively stable until the early 2020s.

Those are good numbers to keep all of this in perspective. That said, it does dovetail into a larger point that there will come a time when all of the massive TV contracts are up … and at that point, the major U.S. leagues — all of whom have their own channels, streaming means, etc — could wield a pretty big hammer.

The biggest threat to ESPN, and its competitors, is a scenario develops in which sports leagues can make more money televising their games themselves than they do now selling their television rights to the highest bidder. That day could come, analysts think, but not this decade.

Not this decade is a long enough time for us to forget about it for a little while, but we’re already halfway through the 2010s. I can’t shake the feeling that the pro sports on TV bubble — which is the thing really driving all the crazy money in pro sports in general when you consider what’s happening to the NBA salary cap and how much every NFL team makes before selling a single ticket — is exceedingly fragile long-term.

Everyone has a choice about whether they get cable, but once you unbundle, it becomes a far more conscious decision. And if this piece is correct, sports channels won’t find a feeding frenzy among thrifty millennials.

Maybe ESPN is in the best shape to ride it out, but make no mistake: the storm is coming.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Twins at Toronto

    6:07pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Minnesota United FC at New York

    6:30pm

  • Lincoln at Saints

    7:05pm on 1220-AM

  • Twins at Toronto

    6:07pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Live racing

    6:30pm

  • Lincoln at Saints

    7:05pm on 1220-AM

  • Twins at Cleveland

    6:10pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Live racing

    6:30pm

  • Lincoln at Saints

    7:05pm on 1220-AM

  • Lynx at Phoenix

    9pm on 106.1-FM

  • Twins at Cleveland

    6:10pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Live racing

    6:30pm

  • FC Edmonton at Minnesota United FC

    7pm on Ch. 45

  • Winnipeg at Saints

    7:05pm on 105.1-FM

  • Twins at Cleveland

    12:10pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Live racing

    12:45pm

  • Winnipeg at Saints

    5:05pm on 1220-AM

  • Los Angeles at Lynx

    6pm on FSN, 106.1-FM

  • Vikings vs. Pittsburgh

    7pm on Ch. 11, 100.3/1130

  • Winnipeg at Saints

    7:05pm on 1220-AM

  • San Antonio at Lynx

    7pm on 106.1-FM

  • Saints at Sioux City

    7:05pm on 1220-AM

  • Texas at Twins

    7:10pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

Today's Scoreboard

< >
  • Boston

    NY Yankees

     

    - F

    3

    13

  • LA Dodgers

    Philadelphia

     

    - F

    2

    6

  • Chicago Cubs

    Pittsburgh

     

    - F

    5

    0

  • Arizona

    Washington

     

    - F

    4

    5

  • Minnesota

    Toronto

     

    - F

    1

    3

  • Kansas City

    Detroit

     

    - F

    5

    1

  • San Francisco

    Atlanta

     

    - F

    8

    3

  • St. Louis

    Cincinnati

     

    - F

    2

    3

  • NY Mets

    Miami

     

    - F

    5

    1

  • Houston

    Texas

     

    - F

    3

    4

  • Tampa Bay

    Chicago White Sox

     

    - F

    11

    3

  • San Diego

    Milwaukee

     

    - F

    1

    4

  • Seattle

    Colorado

     

    - F

    10

    4

  • Cleveland

    LA Angels

     

    - F

    2

    0

  • Baltimore

    Oakland

     

    - F

    0

    5

  • San Antonio

    Connecticut

     

    - F

    51

    82

  • Indiana

    Chicago

     

    - F

    82

    106

  • Tulsa

    Phoenix

     

    - F

    84

    87

  • Minnesota

    Los Angeles

     

    - F

    61

    83

No games for MLS