We have previously told the story of Kevin Burkhardt, a modern-day example of perseverance in sports broadcasting, who a decade ago worked as a sales associate at Pine Belt Chevrolet in Eatontown, N.J hawking Malibus and Suburbans. At the time, Burkhardt was pushing 30, dejected, nearly broke, and tired of a merry-go-round of freelance jobs.
Fast forward to last fall when Burkhardt debuted as an NFL broadcaster for Fox. So impressed were the brass by his work that he and partner John Lynch were awarded the divisional playoff broadcast of the Saints-Seahawks -- an honor usually granted to the team management thinks is second-best behind Joe Buck and Troy Aikman.
Now comes more bounty for the 40-year-old Burkhardt: SI.com has learned that Burkhardt has been chosen as the main host for Fox and Fox Sports 1's MLB pregame show, an assignment that includes the regular-season, All-Star Game, playoffs and World Series. Burkhardt is expected to work with Baseball Hall of Famer Frank Thomas (who signed last month with Fox Sports), Fox Sports 1's Gabe Kapler, and a rotation of other analysts including Fox Sports regular Eric Karros and former major league pitcher CJ Nitkowski On Sunday, a Fox Sports spokesperson declined comment on Burkhardt and other baseball-related questions.
Of interest to Mets fans: Burkhardt will still work for SportsNet New York (SNY) this season as a roving Mets reporter, a role he has received critical praise for in the New York City television market. He has worked for SNY since 2007 and is under contract through this Mets season. Look for Burkhardt to debut in his new role on April 5 prior to the Fox Sports 1 broadcast of the Twins-Indians (1:00 PM ET). Fox Sports 1's Ryan Field will serve as Burkhardt's backup for the host role.
The Noise Report
SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week
1. The search for Tim McCarver's replacement is over: Fox Sports will officially name its new MLB booth on Monday. This column listed Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci as the leading candidates for that position back in September and a report last week by Jason McIntrye of The Big Lead said Fox had decided on Reynolds and Verducci appearing alongside Joe Buck for the World Series in a three-person booth. The New York Times added more details to the upcoming announcement. Look for the trio of Buck, Reynolds and Verducci to call major regular season games, the All-Star Game and the playoffs for Fox and Fox Sports 1.
On the subject of Verducci, let me get something out of the way: He's one of the most talented people in the history of Sports Illustrated and on a personal note, I will always be a supporter of his. As a college sophomore I wrote letters to two sports writers asking for advice. One was a sports columnist for the Buffalo News named Larry Felser. The other was Verducci. I never heard back from Felser, who lived 10 miles away. Verducci wrote me a two-page handwritten letter encouraging me to learn my craft from those who knew what I wanted to know. I ended up fact-checking some of his stories as a reporter and served as an editor for him on certain web projects. Like everything Verducci does, he will be exceptionally prepared, smart and thoughtful in the booth. But given I've worked with him for over a decade, you are much better off with the evaluations of other media writers and baseball observers.
As for Reynolds, he is the personification of an establishment, owner-certified television baseball analyst. (Both MLB brass and players love him.) I'll pass along the thoughts of Chad Finn of The Boston Globe who recently wrote on Reynolds because I think Finn captured it well: "As studio analyst, [Reynolds] rarely says much beyond the obvious, and his rejection of advanced analysis in favor of vague intangible concepts suggests a closed-mindedness in the manner of a more affable Joe Morgan."
Where Reynolds is excellent is in breaking down plays and explaining the decision-making 'whys' by players and managers, so look for Fox's MLB producers to put him situations to excel on that subject. The booth, if nothing else, is a much better spot for Reynolds than the studio because it doesn't call for bold at every turn. He's also got a terrific baseball game-caller in Joe Buck who will initially be the signature voice on the broadcast. This will not be a bad booth but it could have been better. The trio debuts on April 5 on Fox Sports 1 at 4 p.m. ET with the Giants at Dodgers.
1a. Fox has significantly reduced its MLB schedule for 2014 with the elimination of many regional telecasts. Instead, Fox Sports 1 will air about 40 games including Fox's first 15 MLB telecasts of the season. Big Fox's first game comes May 24 with the Cardinals-Reds (7:00 p.m. ET) and the network will broadcast the All-Star Game from Target Field in Minneapolis on Tuesday, July 15 (8:00 PM ET). Awful Announcing's Steve Lepore has a nice breakdown of the schedule here.
1b. Fox is currently in discussions with John Smoltz to be an in-game analyst on its second MLB broadcast team. Smoltz would have been a terrific selection for an analyst spot on Fox's top team, in my opinion.
1b. Finn reported that ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball will not use a fill-in for Curt Schilling as he undergoes cancer treatment. Dan Shulman and John Kruk will call the games for the network.
1c. Fox Sports 1 will televise its first-ever MLB game this week (3:00 PM ET) when the Diamondbacks and Angels play in Cactus League play.
2. Three years ago in this space I cited ESPN reporter Colleen Dominguez (along with producer Justine Gubar) for their compelling reporting on the life and death of professional golfer Erica Blasberg, who committed suicide in 2010 at age 25. The duo reported the story for Outside The Lines for seven months, including trips to Dubai, Las Vegas and Portland. Dominguez was never a personality at ESPN; she merely did solid work whether working on NBA or NFL coverage, usually from the West Coast. ESPN opted not to renew her contract -- whom Bristol executives choose to bequeath its riches on can be as vexing as theoretical plasma physics -- and this week Fox Sports 1 announced it had signed Dominguez to work as a reporter and feature contributor on Fox Sports Live.
Given Fox Sports Live at this point hasn't shown much interest in journalism when compared to its Bristol counterparts, Dominguez is an excellent hire. She said she's already start reaching out for interviews on features for FS1. She would not comment on her contractual discussions with ESPN.
"I decided to work for Fox Sports because I was offered a great opportunity, one that I'm really excited about," Dominguez said on Sunday, in an email. "I will get to do what I believe is my strong suit: finding and telling stories, doing in depth interviews and I will also be able to cover games and events for all platforms of Fox Sports ... When you look at the rights they've acquired, the events they cover and all of the programming they offer, I think I'm going to be afforded the chance to contribute significantly."
How satisfied was Dominguez with the assignments she received during her ESPN career? "I had a really good run at ESPN (10 years) and I am proud of the work I did there," she said. "My pieces for Outside the Lines, my Sunday Conversations and my features were often assignments that I pitched and booked myself so because of that I'm very satisfied with the level of work I was able to create."
Asked about Dominguez leaving the network, an ESPN spokesperson said, "We appreciate her contributions here for the past decade and wish her the best."
3. ESPN's always-entertaining Gruden's QB Camp returns for its fifth season and this year's premiere edition could produce its highest-rated episode ever when host Jon Gruden hooks up with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel on March 27 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). That's the same day Manziel is scheduled to participate in his pro day in College Station, Texas.
So far, Manziel is the only quarterback to tape with Gruden for the show. The Monday Night Football analyst will host the rest of the prospects starting next week through early April. The specials are expected to air on Tuesdays beginning in late April at 9 p.m. on ESPN. Shows will also re-air on ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPNEWS. Among the quarterbacks scheduled to appear on QB Camp: Blake Bortles (Central Florida); Tajh Boyd (Clemson); Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville); Jordan Lynch (Northern Illinois); AJ McCarron (Alabama) and Aaron Murray (Georgia).
Gruden and Manziel taped their segment last month at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex outside Orlando, the first year ESPN has used this complex for QB Camp after taping segments at Gruden's Tampa offices for the first four years of the show. The segments usually start filming at 7:30 a.m. ET and run through about 2:30 p.m. with a lunch break. ESPN said the editing facilities and uplink capabilities in Orlando allow the network to turn around QB Camp video on the same day as taping for use on SportsCenter or other NFL shows -- a huge bonus for the network since it wants to promote the Gruden brand as much as possible. Gruden personally preps the video and lesson plan for every quarterback, according to the network.
3a. Gruden has worked with 29 quarterbacks on QB Camp since the show debuted;14 were starters this past season.
4. NBC released its final viewership numbers for the Sochi Games and the data reveals a mixed bag. The network said three of every four U.S. television households (76.1%) tuned in to some portion of the Sochi Winter Games with a total television reach of 178 million American viewers. That's down from the 190 million Americans who tuned into the Vancouver Games four years ago. The network averaged 21.4 million viewers for its primetime coverage, up six percent from the 20.2 million for the last European Winter Games in Turin but significantly down from primetime coverage Vancouver (24.4 million viewers).
4a. The top 20 highest-rated markets for NBC's primetime coverage of the Olympics were as followed: 1. Minneapolis; 2. Salt Lake City; 3. Denver; 4. Milwaukee; 5. Kansas City; 6. Ft. Myers; T7. Indianapolis and Portland; 9. Buffalo; 10. Pittsburgh; 11. Albuquerque; T12. Boston and Dayton; 14. Chicago; 15. Sacramento; T16. Austin, Richmond and Seattle; 19. Oklahoma City; and T20. Providence and West Palm Beach.
4b. NBC said its digital platforms had nearly 62 million unique users (61.8 million) -- a record for a Winter Olympics.
5. ESPN will cover the Oscar Pistorius trial on ESPN3 and has hired Robert Shapiro (one of the many dudes who represented O.J. Simpson) as an analyst. The Wrap, a new favorite publication of ESPN PR, has the details.
6. Last weekend I was fortunate to moderate a media rights panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston (Thanks to MIT MBA students Zachary Levine and Jake Loos for the invite). Among the many interesting notes from that panel: Frank Golding, the head of sport for Google North America, called the smart phone the first screen for sports fans and television the second screen. My colleague Matt Dollinger attended the conference and compiled a great NBA-focused piece on notes, quotes and anecdotes from Sloan.
7. This week's sports pieces of note:
• Michael Kruse of Tampa Bay Times on the most marketed 12-year-old basketball player in the world
• The Onion reports that cancer has been diagnosed with Skip Bayless.
• Bloomberg Businessweek on how North Carolina failed its student-athletes.
• Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin wrote a tremendous piece for The MMQB on the culture of an NFL locker room:
• espnW's Jane McManus on the late NFL lineman Roy Simmons, a gay rights pioneer ahead of his time.
• The New York Times writer David Segal examines what happens next for Sochi.
Non-sports pieces of note:
• The New Yorker's David Remnick on Vladimir Putin going to war.
• New York Times writer Margalit Fox wrote a brilliant obit on a 110-year old survivor of the Holocaust.
• The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert on taking the SATs as an adult.
• The Washington Post offered 150 journalism clichés — and counting.
• Michigan Daily editor Amy Henson wrote a great piece on the perils of attending a job fair.
• The New Republic's Julie Ioffe on Putin's War in Crimea.
8. Sensational move by the Tennis Channel to extend the contract of analyst Mary Carillo through 2016. In addition to current French Open, Wimbledon and US Open assignments, Carillo will cover the Sony Open Tennis tournament in Miami in March and additional tournaments.
9. Was this the slowest news day in the history of American newspaper journalism?
9a. How ESPN turns an analyst's opinion into a multi-platform news story, Exhibit 327.
9b. ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale picked the six best games he has called during his career.
10. TNT NBA analyst Steve Kerr on the Miami Heat: "I know it is the end of February and it is probably foolish to prognosticate, [but] I feel like watching Miami now, if they are healthy in May, I don't see anyone in the West beating them. The West is incredible deep and they are going to beat each other up in the playoffs. I don't see any team in the West beating them four times. If you look at the East, the only team standing in their way is Indiana, which we know can give Miami a lot of trouble. I really believe that if healthy, Indiana is the only team standing in their way of a third straight ring."
10a. In a killer Sunday timeslot against NBC's documentary on Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding (12.7 million) and Fox's rain-delayed Daytona 500 coverage (which drew 9.3 million viewers), ESPN's Outside The Lines special on the "N-Word" drew 641,000 viewers
10b. NBC said February was the best viewership month in U.S. history for live game telecasts of the Premier League. The network said the 17 Premier League matches on NBC, NBCSN and USA Network averaged 609,000 viewers -- up from the prior mark of 492,000 viewers for 14 Premier League telecasts on NBC and NBCSN in January.
10c. Here's ESPN plans to recognize the 100 Days out mark to the 2014 World Cup.
10d. The Bills and Giants will play in the NFL's Hall of Fame Game, which NBC will broadcast on August 3 at 8:00 PM ET. Two of the seven members of the Class of 2014 have ties to the participating teams including Andre Reed, who starred for the Bills, and Fox NFL analyst and former Giant defensive end Michael Strahan.
10e. An IOC infographic on social media activity in Sochi.
10f. The second installment of The Finish Line, the terrific Grantland and Hock Films short series featuring Lakers guard Steve Nash, has been released.
10g. The NBC Sports Group and Churchill Downs have extended their agreement through 2025 which means NBC will air the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks through that year.
10h. Former Stanford basketball star Nneka Ogwumike will make her broadcasting debut March 8 on the Pac 12 Networks when she serves as an in-studio analyst on pregame, halftime, and postgame coverage of semifinal games of the Pac-12 women's basketball tournament. The network said from March 1 to March 15, DISH and Time Warner Cable will be offering a free preview of Pac-12 Networks, featuring telecasts of five different conference championships including men's and women's basketball tournaments and coverage of the Pac-12 Women's Swimming & Diving Championships, headlined by Cal (and Olympic champ) Missy Franklin.
10i. Here's the current roster of Nate Silver's upcoming 538 site. It's an impressive armada of 20-something brainpower.
10j. Michelle Beadle returns to ESPN this week with guest spots on SportsNation.