How committed is Tim Tebow to sports broadcasting for the long term? Perhaps more (and for longer) than you think. His SEC Network colleague Joe Tessitore says Tebow has been calling and texting him non-stop to discuss the mechanics of television as well as the content of their SEC Nation show. Tebow continues to tell reporters that professional football remains his goal and there’s no reason to doubt him, but the longer he stays off the field and the more comfortable he gets in the studio and at game sites (his SEC Nation pregame show will air from various campuses each Saturday morning), you might start to see him morph more into a full-time broadcaster.
"I know when Tim states a goal he stays the course, so I understand why he firmly expresses fulfilling his NFL dreams," Tessitore said to SI.com "It’s who Tim is. I also know that he loves this SEC Nation job with us. I know he considers us his team. I know that he has told our producers that he wants constant feedback, he wants to be coached, and he wants to be great at TV. He calls and texts me non-stop to discuss every detail of everything we're doing. Just last week I fielded one of his pressing concerns about a potential 90 second telestration piece he was going to voice over and explain for a broadcast -- a broadcast that is still 10 days away. That’s commitment to preparation."
Tessitore said Tebow has taken the lead on many of the SEC Network production calls and meetings and that he cares deeply about his on-air performance. Earlier this month Tebow told USA Today’s Paul Myerberg that television was not a substitute for football but he was enjoying it. "It's important to me to as an analyst to really study and prepare, just like a player, and really know what I'm talking about," Tebow told the newspaper. "The viewers deserve that, ESPN deserves that, the SEC Network deserves that, and I feel like that's just how I carry myself. I want to do a good job. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. I'm a believer in that. I want to be the best at this that I can be."
Tebow has a multi-year deal with ESPN thanks to the sun-tanned folks at Creative Artists Agency and along with his work as an analyst for SEC Nation, he’ll be on a variety of ESPN platforms including SportsCenter, ESPN Radio, and the network's Heisman Trophy coverage. Given ESPN’s fondness for all things Tebow, the network would love to use him in as many arenas as possible.
“He wants to grow and he finds that rewarding,” Tessitore said. “So long-term I feel Tim is very committed to broadcasting."
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week:
1. With the start of the college football season approaching and a ton of broadcasting changes, including the debut of the SEC Network, I invited four of our college football writers -- Andy Staples, Pete Thamel, Zac Ellis and Martin Rickman -- to join me for a roundtable on a number of television-related topics. Here’s the first question and then a link to the rest of the column.
How successful will the SEC Network be?
Ellis: I don't see how the SEC Network won't be huge from both a production and ratings perspective. The network already has plenty of great games on tap for the first few weeks, including South Carolina-Texas A&M on Aug. 28. SEC Nation should be an intriguing traveling show that could poach SEC fans on Saturday mornings if College GameDay broadcasts from, for example, the Oregon-Michigan State game in Week 2, or another out-of-conference matchup. Tim Tebow and Paul Finebaum on one show? Tell me fans won't watch that. Combine everything with the new SEC Storied films series, and this network could be a Southern fan's dream.
Rickman: I think it will be immensely successful, although it’ll have the typical first-year jitters and kinks to work out. SEC fans eat, sleep and breathe football, so a network devoted to the conference they care so much about always made sense. The roster of talent the SEC Network brought on is strong and had some time to get acclimated, and the short videos ESPN teased during SEC Media Days seemed appealing to more than just those obsessed with the SEC. It’s about maintaining consistency and just getting better from there.
Staples: This depends on how we define success. From a sheer back-up-the-Brinks-truck perspective, it’s going to be a smashing success for the SEC and for ESPN. The thing ESPN knows, because it figured out college football fans long before most other national media outlets, is that the majority of the SEC fan bases have a militant wing full of people who wouldn’t only cancel their service if they can’t get a game. They’d threaten arson, and they might follow through. This is why distribution was never going to be a problem. When people feel they need a channel to survive, that channel is going to get carried (I say the following as the parent of two young children and a DirecTV customer: Forget the SEC Network. If I ever lost Disney Junior for even a day, I might hurl my dish off my roof like a discus).
As for editorial success, we probably won’t know until a big, controversial story happens. We didn’t know with the Big Ten Network until the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke, and that story caused a lot of soul-searching in Chicago. After handling it incorrectly for two days, the network did a complete 180 and started covering the story. Its viewers were better served because of it. The SEC Network has mostly hired anchors and analysts, so the way it covers big news stories remains to be seen. The difference here is that ESPN already has a ton of reporters, so it’s possible that Brett McMurphy or Mark Schlabach or someone else from that stable winds up pulling double-duty for the mothership and the SEC Network. That way, if something gets reported that offends the SEC, SEC Network brass can tell conference officials to take it up with ESPN president John Skipper.
Thamel: The SEC Network? What is this SEC Network you speak of? I watch ESPN all the time and haven’t heard anything about it. (Turns off sarcasm font). The SEC Network will do fine. The off-field strength of the SEC has always been the passion of its fan base. Commissioner Mike Slive, consultant Chuck Gerber and ESPN scheduling maven Dave Brown have done a masterful job of using marquee second-tier games -- think the Texas A&M-South Carolina opener -- to leverage fans to badger their cable companies into making sure the network is available. Distribution won’t be a problem as it was for the Pac-12 Networks because the fans are so much more passionate.
From an editorial standpoint, I’m curious how in the tank the network will be toward the league. Will this network become the SEC’s version of Fox News? There have been some embarrassing moments in this age of conference-specific TV channels, such as the Big Ten Network initially ignoring the Sandusky scandal. Let’s hope the SEC Network has a little more tact that that. The league leads college football in off-field shenanigans and frequency of scandals. A story like the resignation of Florida assistant Joker Phillips would be an interesting test case. It’s big news in the league. How deep will the network dig?
Deitsch: It’s already successful. If you look at the distribution agreements, the SEC Network will launch in 62 million households, according to Sports Business Daily. The talent and production staffers are first-class, including announcers Brent Musburger and Joe Tessitore and the vice president of production for College Networks Stephanie Druley, the executive who launched the Longhorn Network. SEC markets are rabid for college athletics -- especially football -- and ESPN always has an unlimited budget for promotion of new properties. The big question, and one that will take some time to answer: Is the network simply a PR vehicle for the conference? Or will it have any editorial chops?
1a. Here’s Part 2 of my conversation with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith, the co-hosts for ESPN2’s Numbers Never Lie, on the growing audience of their show and navigating the sports media landscape as high-profile African-American sports commentators. Part 1 ran yesterday.
SI.com: A year ago I called Numbers Never Lie "First Take lite" because I felt it had morphed so far away from its initial charter and had become an unimaginative show featuring Michael debating former co-hosts Hugh Douglas or Jalen Rose, other ESPN staffers, or a variety of ex-athletes. He was ticked off at that comment so here's the forum to counter me. Was I wrong, and if so, why?
Hill: I'm going to take the easy way out and let my co-host handle this question, since he's been with NNL since the very beginning.
Smith: Because I don't measure myself or this show according to First Take, or any other show. You (and others) seemed to be evaluating Numbers Never Lie based on what you wanted it to be, what you believed it should be, and who should be doing it, more so than for what it was. Now I certainly understand that a lot of ESPN consumers (particularly supporters of the analytics movement and those who are sick of the debate format) were led to expect something much different than what we've done, and thus were/are disappointed. But anyone who actually has taken the time to watch can clearly see that NNL and FT are much more different than they are alike. We're unlike any other show. Regardless, I'm not so delusional as to think EVERYONE is going to like NNL. Believe me when I tell you there were days over the past three years when I wasn't crazy about what we were doing. But that's all in the past. That's not to say we've arrived. We still have plenty of room for improvement.
The ratings for your show are up in the time slot. The show averaged 267,000 viewers last week. That's not big numbers in the TV universe but it very strong for ESPN2, and of significant importance, it tops every ESPN2 show other than First Take. How much ratings pressure do you feel?
Hill: None. That isn't to say that if ratings were down, I'd feel good about it. But if Mike and I failed, I could handle it as long as we were being true to who we are and what we stand for.
Smith: I'm competitive but I don't get caught up in ratings. Obviously it's a bottom-line business, thus if we weren't doing well, one way or another we'd find out soon enough. And ratings can be misleading. Some of my favorite episodes of NNL haven't rated as highly as shows that in my opinion were just meh. We're our own worst critics. Jemele, our staff, and I have pretty high standards. If we can meet them consistently we should be in pretty good shape.
What has management told you about the long-term future of the show?
Hill: They're deeply invested in maximizing what Mike and I have. They've told us that we're the foundation and they want a show that's built around us. We've earned their trust and respect, and that bodes very well for our future.
Smith: That they're committed to providing us with the resources and support we need to continue to grow and remain successful. As anyone who has followed the show since its debut knows, we'll make anything from tweaks to wholesale changes if we feel it moves us forward. We'll take risks. Jemele and I are betting on ourselves, and management is behind us.
2. CBS Sports formally announced on Tuesday the launch of We Need to Talk, the first nationally televised, all-female, weekly hour-long sports program. The show will air Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET beginning on Sept. 30.
The network said a rotating group of panelists within CBS -- including Dana Jacobson, Allie LaForce, Lesley Visser, Amy Trask and Tracy Wolfson -- will form the core of the show. Among the regulars (a mix of former athletes and journalists) from outside CBS: Katrina Adams, Laila Ali, Swin Cash, Lisa Leslie, Andrea Kremer, Summer Sanders and Dara Torres. The show will delve into current sports issues that week.
CBS said other prominent women from the sports world -- including former and current athletes, television and radio personalities, league and team executives and top news and sports journalists -- will also be guests. The show will be headed by coordinating producers Emilie Deutsch and Suzanne Smith, the lone woman to direct NFL games. I profiled Smith for The MMQB last year.
2a. Former Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik and former Georgia quarterback David Greene were added as analysts for the SEC Network. The network said Chizik will be a studio analyst on Mondays and Tuesdays and Greene will host Film Room (Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET.)
2b. For those who travel often: SB Nation Editorial Director Spencer Hall had a terrific Q&A with ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit.
3. CBS Sports has hired longtime NFL players London Fletcher and Fred Smoot as studio analysts for CBS Sports Network’s That Other Pregame Show. The show also added sports-talk host Anita Marks.
4. ESPN has opted to follow the lead of CBS Sports when it comes to the nickname of the Washington football team. Announcers will be free to bypass the Redskins’ nickname if they so choose while the company as a whole will continue to use the name.
"Our consistent company policy will continue: using official names and marks as presented by the teams, leagues and conferences we cover," said an ESPN spokesperson. "We do, however, recognize the debate over the use of 'Washington Redskins' and have afforded individuals the opportunity to decide how they will use those words when reporting on that team." Here’s how ESPN Insider Adam Schefter said he would address the name in an MMQB interview I did with him last month.
4a. Sports Business Daily reporters John Ourand and Daniel Kaplan had news on Monday that the NFL was on the verge of a deal with DirecTV for its Sunday Ticket package.
5. ESPN earned mega-ratings for the Little League World Series including a 3.5 overnight rating for the South Korea-Illinois championship, the highest LLWS rating for the network since 2009. Sports Business Daily said the rating was up 35 percent compared to last year’s championship game while Saturday’s U.S. championship was up 71 percent over last year’s California-Connecticut game.