Skipper discusses ESPN's future; NBC unveils more Olympic plans
NEW YORK -- With mascots (Brutus Buckeye, Albert E. Gator, and KC Wolf), a marching band (The Ohio State University Marching Band) and a mélange of on-air talent (Mike Greenberg, Jon Gruden, Sage Steele among others), ESPN held its annual upfront presentation Tuesday afternoon at the Best Buy Theater in New York's Times Square. What are upfronts? It's a network's attempt to
For instance, as part of the hawking for
The biggest news to come out of the hourlong presentation was the announcement that
What was particularly interesting were comments made afterward by ESPN president John Skipper, who spoke with a small group of reporters, including SI.com, on a number of ESPN-related topics:
"Mike is as good as it gets on play-by-play and we think with Mike and Jon we have a fabulous two-person both. We added Lisa Salters this year, who I think has done a great job on the NBA sidelines. We like to change things up but look, we love Jaws, and I don't think anyone doubts that. He is still going to be important to us. We signed him to do a new deal so he will be around ESPN for a long time and there is nobody better at the sort of X's and O's, NFL matchups. He'll be busy.
So they have a responsibility of thinking about that, and understanding there are consequences if they do something inappropriate. For sports, you work for us. So if you are tweeting about sports, you are working. It's a microphone. If you are tweeting, it's the same as if someone put a microphone in front of your face.
On the other hand we do try to be sensitive that people are private citizens and if they want to tweet that I'm at a great restaurant or you want to tell people you have great flowers in my garden, great.
You asked politics and religion: Our advice is to be really, really careful. They are polarizing topics in our society right now and it does us no good and you no good if you get out in front of something. People have the right to be private citizens and have points of view but we just tell them you are in a public forum and be cognizant of it. It's a tough one but I do think we have been out in front of it and we do have policies.
The LeBatard show immediately has the highest composition of any show we have among Hispanic Americans. So that show has the purpose of beginning to help Latinos understand that ESPN is for them, which is also why we are hiring more Hispanic talent. We have commercials in Spanish. We are doing a lot of La Liga games in Spanish. Given the importance of that portion of our population over the next few years, we have to embrace that, and that is what LeBatard is about.
Michelle did a great job. We love Michelle. We wish her well. We are sorry she's leaving. We worked hard to try to keep her but she has some different aspirations and we wish her well on those. She did a great job. Colin did a great job as well. However, as we have discovered, these shows work. If you have a good format, the shows can work when you transition to a different host. Now it is inappropriate to suggest that hosts are interchangeable but, of course, I was once fired from a job and learned the great lesson that no one is indispensable, life goes on, and when the business did not fail, I was disappointed.
We try really hard to maintain cordial relationships, whether they want to be in a different location or have different aspirations relative to genre. Some people are going to leave. If you were looking for talent and you are in the sports business, where are you going to look? We are the farm system for the entire business really. So it's not surprising that for a few people they will find it is a way to get a raise or to get a bigger platform, although they seldom find that there is a bigger platform.
It's OK. It gives opportunity for somebody else. I do think getting excited about people leaving is very overrated -- whether it be executives or on-air. Mostly it gives somebody else a chance to shine and I can't think of a single instance where losing a talent has been significantly debilitating to a specific program. I don't think we've ever canceled a program because we couldn't find somebody to do it.
We do know that people go back and forth. They watch the sports news then flip over and get a little of Stephen A and Skip, and I think they find it provocative and fun. When you have two people, whether it is Michelle and Colin Cowherd, Mike and Mike or Tony and Mike, you can tell when people actually have chemistry. These guys actually have chemistry. They actually love each other. They are good pals, they like the sparring, and I think that comes across.
But you should not read into it that, "Oh, my gosh, ESPN is heading off into this direction." For the most part, we want informed, sort of quiet opinion. But it works on that show. You have to have changeup, right? We have a ton of platforms and shows. So if everything looks the same, that's among the hardest things for us. How do you differentiate? That's where you do an analytics show. There's where you do a show that has a Cuban feel to it. You do a show with different personalities.
In basketball, he has been a vice president a long time and that has been transparent. If you have seen Magic this year, he has been terrific in terms of being willing to have critical opinions and take on people. We are cognizant of it. We just have to be transparent. We can't be hiding anything. We can't be doing anything that feels like it's a conflict. But it is a reasonable thing for us to be concerned about.
The extended rollout of NBC's Olympic plans -- the idea being to release news in drips to get some pub for each release -- continued Tuesday night with the announcement that cable channels MSNBC, CNBC and Bravo would air 284.5 hours of coverage from London.
• MSNBC (155.5 hours) will show 20 sports in London, including basketball, soccer and wrestling. The network also will open the competition on July 25 at 10:30 a.m. ET -- two days before Opening Ceremonies -- with Great Britain facing New Zealand in women's soccer from Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Longtime Golf Channel commentator Kelly Tilghman will serve as MSNBC's Olympic host.
• CNBC (73 hours) will be the home for boxing, including the debut of women's boxing. Fred Roggin, a longtime sports anchor at NBC's Los Angeles affiliate, KNBC, will serve as the Olympic boxing host.
• Bravo (56 hours) will have the much-anticipated tennis competition from Wimbledon. Pat O'Brien, the former CBS broadcaster-turned-