- In this week's newsletter, we get the backstory on a famous SI Olympics photo, delve into our favorite reads of the week and more.
HOW WE'RE GOING TO ACCESS SPORTS IN THE FUTURE
The future of watching sports is here—and wow is it complicated.
For years now, the ‘How Do I Watch [fill-in-the-blank]?’ genre of online service journalism has been lucrative. But it is still noteworthy this week when The New York Times gets involved, devoting space on D3 to an explanation of how to watch European soccer. For diehard fans, the answer involves navigating—deep breath—NBC Sports, TNT, ESPN, Fox Sports, beIN Sports and each’s digital sibling: NBC Sports Gold Premier League Pass, B/R Live, ESPN+, FOX Sports Match Pass (which the NYT seems to have overlooked) as well as beIN SPORTS CONNECT. Hwoooo. It also means paying up to $800 a year.
This monster is coming for American sports. Over the span of six weeks this season, Old Dominion football will play games on five networks: beIN and CBS Sports Network on cable; ESPN3 online for cable subscribers; internet sports network Stadium; and ESPN’s new $4.99/month digital subscription service, ESPN+. Plus, as it’s known in the industry, will be a primary home for MAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt games this year.
ESPN VP of programming Nick Dawson points to a long line of network launches that have been initially bolstered by college sports—ESPN+ is just the latest. “What we are doing is going deeper and more expansive with conferences that haven’t been as accessible in the past,” Dawson says. “That’s a service to those fans.”
He’s right. For fans of niche schools or sports, online streaming services can provide an all-in-one destination, broadcasting events that would have been wholly unavailable a few years ago. FloSports built a business by streaming wrestling and track, for instance.
But for the casual sports fan, the benefits are far murkier. Two things currently keep major sporting attractions from going behind digital paywalls: (1) advertising money on traditional television and (2) restrictive rights agreements with leagues. So, as the cable economy continues to shrink and after new broadcasting deals get signed, expect to see more games offered online-only.
More games also means more providers. Fans will grow accustomed to names like Stadium, FloSports (which is streaming over 300 D1 basketball games this year), and DAZN as well as the Silicon Valley entrants that surely loom. The sports landscape is about to undergo the same transformation that scripted television has been figuring out since Netflix decided it wanted to do more than mail DVDs.
B/R Live is making the scene more complicated with its exclusive Champions League slate, but it is also endeavoring to solve fans’ problem. The app is designed to tell users where they can stream anything, even if it’s not on Bleacher Report or one of Turner’s networks (which owns B/R).
“It’s still a rights war, that’s one piece, and we’re working hard on that,” B/R Live general manager Hania Poole says. “But the second is if we are really solving this user problem. If we stay true to that, we have a fighting chance of being one of the apps that people keep coming back to.” As part of that strategy, Bleacher Report is also focusing on offering pay-per-view content—$2.99 for a single soccer match, for example.
Can you see where this is headed? When it comes to sports, we’ve already got plenty of allegiances, but it’s time to add another. Maybe you’ll prefer a certain service because you like their pricing model. Maybe you’ll back an underdog upstart. But more likely is this. Imagine you’re an Old Dominion alumni who also likes golf. Well, you’ve got to get ESPN+ since they offer a bulk of your school’s football games, and now that you’re a subscriber, you’ll hope that ESPN also lands the next Masters contract to put coverage in the same app—under the same subscription—you’re already tied to. Root, root, root for the home stream. If they don’t win it’s a shame!
Everyone agrees that this proliferation of competitors can’t continue. Consolidation will eventually come. Until then, one winner is clear: non-sports fans, as they decreasingly subsidize our sports obsession. But for the rest of us? Maybe the cable bundle doesn’t sound so bad after all.
• Khalil Tate took everyone outside of Tucson and Inglewood by surprise with one electrifying record-setting month. What now? (By Ross Dellenger)
• Is Su’a Cravens a quitter or a victim? The answer depends on who—and what—you believe. This is how it all ended for Cravens in Washington. (By Kayln Kahler)
• "People ask me if I'm going to sit out. I like playing football. I'm going to play football." The 2019 draft can wait for the nation's best defender. (By Andy Staples)
• Mets ace Jacob deGrom is making history by winning so few of his starts. (By Jack Dickey)
• What's next for Maryland in the case of Jordan McNair's death? SI's legal expert dives in. (By Michael McCann)
• Sports Illustrated has a new gambling vertical. Check out the latest odds, news and analysis here.
GOLDEN TOUCH: THE STORY BEHIND A PHOTO FINISH
Photograph by Heinz Kluetmeier with Jeff Kavanaugh
The margin of victory could hardly have been slimmer. Ten years ago, on Aug. 16, 2008, Michael Phelps of the U.S. outtouched Milorad Cavic of Serbia in the men's 100-meter butterfly final at the Beijing Olympics in a thrilling finish that was so close it seemed to leave the winner in doubt. That is, until a photo by SI's Heinz Kluetmeier and his assistant, Jeff Kavanaugh, surfaced.
A pioneer in underwater photography, Kluetmeier was the first to shoot a competitive race from the bottom of the pool (at the 1991 world championships in Perth). At the Water Cube, in 2008, knowing Phelps might be vulnerable at 100 meters, Kluetmeier staked out a spot under the middle lanes days before the race. He directed Kavanaugh—who estimates he used up an entire tank of oxygen—to adjust the camera by millimeters to ensure that the wall and both finishers would be in focus. Then came the fateful finish. Firing at eight frames per second, there was still no guarantee he'd capture the winning margin of .01 seconds. But when Kluetmeier saw the last shot in the sequence that proved Phelps had won his seventh gold of the Games, the photographer was elated. "It was an improbable finish—and an improbable photo," he says.
BEST OF THE REST
Editor's note: Below are some of our favorite stories of the week not published by SI. This week's list was curated by Jacob Feldman, who also produces the Sunday Long Read.
—Jalen Ramsey generated quite a stir online after talking to Clay Skipper and attempting to list the NFL QBs who don’t suck in GQ.
—ESPN’s report on “a toxic culture at Maryland football”, written by Heather Dinich, Adam Rittenberg and Tom VanHaaren, continues to drive the news cycle. Thursday, the parents of Jordan McNair, a lineman at the school who died in June, said that coach DJ Durkin “shouldn’t be able to work with anybody else’s kid.”
—Thursday night, Joe Tessitore made his "Monday Night Football" debut, calling Redskins vs. Jets. For The Ringer, Bryan Curtis explained why ESPN chose him to rebuild its relationship with the NFL. Next, Bryan can focus on why Monday Night Football aired on a Thursday.
—Football is right around the corner, so let’s talk about the Super Bowl … of beekeeping. This story comes from Jamie Lowe of New York Times Magazine.
—Shocker here: The NCAA might not be acting “in the best interest of the kids,” according to the people Tyler Tynes of SB Nation talked to about the future of grassroots basketball.
—Sarah Kaplan’s Washington Post story about Kyle Laman, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, will stay with you.
—Take some time today to read David Remnick’s 2016 profile of Aretha Franklin, who died Thursday. RIP.
Editor's note: What kind of stories and content would you like to see in the Weekend Read? Let's chat at SIWeekendRead@gmail.com.
FROM THE VAULT: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE MOST POLARIZING COLLEGE BASKETBALL PLAYER ... EVER?
By Connor Grossman
Love him or hate him, most longtime college basketball fans feel a certain way about former Duke star Christian Laettner. The man behind one of college basketball's most famous game-winning shots turns 49 this week, 26 years removed from punching Duke's Final Four ticket in this indelible moment. Months before hitting the shot, Laettner graced the cover of SI's college basketball preview.
Curry Kirkpatrick began his cover story with a trio of quotes about Laettner, capped off by this gem from UConn's Rod Sellers: "He just took my head out of the game. ... I just wanted to kill him; in fact I still do—if I saw him now I would try to hurt him." That says about all you need to know.
"Of course I enjoy the notoriety," Laettner says. "If I didn't want to be in this situation, I wouldn't play basketball."
But he would still be playing tennis or Ping Pong, or bowling or swimming, or matching skills at the keyboard—or even tossing garbage into the garbage can. "Christian has this hunger for competition I've never seen in anybody else," says Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
"Those are just more things I can beat my teammates in," Laettner says.