"Hulk Hogan has betrayed WCW! He is the third man in this picture!"
The two lines above, delivered with Pacino-like panache by a man named Bobby Heenan during a July 7, 1996 pay-per-view event produced by World Championship Wrestling (WCW) called "Bash at the Beach," are instantly recognizable to devotees of professional wrestling. It was on that fateful night at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach that Hulk Hogan, the ultimate baby face in pro wrestling, turned heel to form the New World Order (nWo) with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, a trio bent on anarchy and chaos. That storyline ushered in a more provocative era in pro wrestling and set off a heated television battle between rivals WCW (owned by Ted Turner) and WWF (owned by Vince McMahon). McMahon ultimately prevailed and his now-WWE is the dominant wrestling player in the market.
That moment, like so many great moments in professional wrestling, was sold brilliantly by Heenan, a longtime performer as a manager-turned-broadcaster, and fellow announcers, Dusty Rhodes and Tony Schiavone. I’ve always considered professional wrestling announcing an art form and the current lead voice of the WWE is Michael Cole, who this Sunday night at 7 will call WrestleMania 31 live on WWE Network. Cole has been a commentator for the WWE’s Wrestlemania event since 2003 and also regularly calls WWE per-view events, as well as Monday Night Raw and WWE SmackDown.
I’ve watched and listened to Cole’s work for many years and had always wondered how he prepares for big events such as WrestleMania and what things are like for him on-air as compared to traditional sports broadcasters. Cole also has a professional resume that many will find surprising: Prior to joining the WWE in 1996, he covered national news for the CBS Radio Network, including the Presidential campaigns of Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Steve Forbes and Bob Dole. He also covered the Branch Davidian standoff and Yugoslav Wars. Last week (with WWE PR staffer Annie Kruger sitting in on the call) I spoke with Cole for 50 minutes on a variety of topics. There were no restrictions on questions.
SI.com: How do you prepare for calling what is the biggest event on the WWE calendar?
Cole: The funniest thing is I could not even tell you how many WrestleMania’s I have called. I do know my first one [attending] was WrestleMania 13 in Chicago. I did not call any match there but I was there as part of the company. From a preparation standpoint as a commentator, in an odd sort of way WrestleMania is one of the easiest shows of year to call because it is the culmination of everything. All of stories that we’ve been working on for months and months have been told. Now it is just two guys or four guys or four girls getting into the ring to finally settle their differences. So this is the one time of the year that I can actually sit down and call full matches. I know the background of the stories and I can actually get caught up in the moment. When you do Monday Night Raw and Thursday Night SmackDown every week, there is so much going on because we are an entertainment company. You have to deal with social media, storylines and all the different things the company is involved in. So a lot of times you don’t get to focus on the match as much as you would want to. But at WrestleMania, that’s what I get to do for four hours and it’s exciting.
What kind of run-through or rehearsals do you do ahead of time, and what are the pre-show production meetings like?
We don’t do any "unique rehearsals," per se. We do have production meetings and a number of them throughout WrestleMania week. They deal with everything from the pyro to the lighting to the music to the entrances to how a guy might enter the ring differently than perhaps he might on a normal basis. Then we will sit down with our producer on Sunday and go over B-rolls and packages and certain things we need to discuss like sponsorships. But as for the body of the show, we don’t [go over it]. There are a couple of reasons for that: First, I don’t want to know what is going to happen or I want to know as little as I can. I want to be caught up in the moment as a fan. Number two, I do my best work with broadcast partners like Jerry Lawler, Booker T and John Bradshaw Layfield without preparing with them because they are so good off the cuff… I don’t think we could do our jobs as well if we prepared together. We all prepare separately and we all have our own ways of preparing. I think if we sat down and actually tried to do that together, it wouldn’t work out the way that I think everyone is accustomed to.
How privy will you be to knowing what the specific storylines viewers will see at WrestleMania?
If I wanted to know, I could know everything. But I don’t want to know and especially at WrestleMania. A perfect example was last year with the Undertaker and Brock Lesnar. When Undertaker’s streak was ended by Brock, oh, my God, I was as shocked as the people sitting at the stadium that night inside the Superdome [New Orleans]. I had know no idea in a million years that was going to happen, and that was the reaction you got out of our call hopefully. I was expecting The Undertaker to kick out and I did one of my normal "One, two…" and I was expecting to say kick out and all of a sudden it was three. I looked at John and he looked at me and I mouthed to him off-air, "Is it over?" His eyes were big and wide and I said to myself: "Okay, the streak is over." I want those moments to happen.
One of my favorite WrestleMania matches to call was the first time Rock and John Cena met in Miami [at Wrestlemania XXVIII]. I didn’t know what would happen and it was such a great year-long build. It makes that moment so much better. At the end of the day, just like anyone else who calls any sport, we are fans of the product and we want to be as intrigued as everybody else.
Let me read you something you said in an interview with prowrestlingnet.com that I found interesting: "People don't understand the amount of pressure that's on us as commentators to serve so many masters. First off there's the hardcore fans who have been watching for 20 or 30 years who want their old school wrestling. They want you to call a wrestling match; they want you to call every single hold, so you've got to please that. You've got to try to do your best. You also have to please your kids who are 50 percent of your audience and your women who are a large part of our audience too, so you're talking about different stories when it comes to those demographics. We're obviously in a PG era now, so you can't get away with a lot of things you could get away with 15 years ago."
So how do you take care of all these factions in a broadcast?
Honestly, you are never going to please everyone. It is impossible to do. We have to do what is best and asked of us. What people have to understand about our product is that we are entertainment. There is no ifs, ands or buts about it. We are an entertainment television show, just like watching Walking Dead or Better Call Saul. We are an entertainment show so we have to entertain. And we need to entertain a wide variety of people. Again, you have your hardcore fans that want it to be complete wrestling like it was back in the 70s and 80s. We don’t do that anymore. That is not what we do.
Now obviously the way that I talk about our product and I will be dating myself: I harken back to the old television show Taxi. The show was based in a taxi garage and that is where the conflicts were ultimately resolved. But what was interesting about the show was everything that was happening in these people lives outside of the garage. It is the same thing that we do in WWE. Our conflicts are resolved in the ring but what is interesting is everything that is going on around that match to get us to that point. So it is hard to serve all masters and we just have to do what we can do. The other thing is, from the standpoint of women who watch our product, that demographic is growing immensely over the last number of years. It is one of the reasons the "Give Diva A Chance" revolution has started. Women watch our product so you have to serve that master. You have to serve kids. You will never please everyone but you have to go out and try do what you can to at least please the majority of the masses.
Can you give me a sense of how many people are in your ear during a broadcast of Raw?
So this is the fun part of my job. People think I sit down in a chair and I look at the ring and say, "Okay there are two guys fighting and this is what they are doing" and call the match. That is, and I swear to God, so far from the truth. I sit down and in my headset when I am calling Monday Night Raw for three hours, I have my executive producer, I hear my audio technician, I hear whoever is producing us backstage whether it is [WWE Chairman and CEO] Mr. [Vince] McMahon or Triple H or whoever it may be at the time. I also have two guys I have to listen to that I am working with so we can have a conversation on the air. So at any given time I have my voice, the two guys at ring side, audio, the executive producer and whoever is producing that night. So I sometimes have six voices in my head at once while we are on the air on live television. While that is going on, someone might say that the number one trend in the world on Twitter is this and we have to hit on it. Meanwhile, don’t forget to tell people why Paige is doing this to Nikki Bella. Then John may be telling me a joke and Booker T might be laughing and I have to keep all this going and keep the train on the tracks. I am a traffic cop.
Do you prioritize whom you listen to first?
(Laughs). Yes, there is one guy I listen to first and that is the boss (McMahon) in the back. And of course the executive producer.
Over the years you have worked with in no particular order: Jim Ross, Paul Heyman, Jonathan Coachman, Jerry Lawler, Tazz, Mick Foley, Booker T, Josh Matthews, Todd Grisham, Matt Striker and others. In your opinion, what makes for a good broadcast team?
I’ll never go on record and say I think I have been one of the great wrestling announcers of all time. I would never say that and I don’t expect people to say that about me. But the one thing I have taken pride in my career is my ability to be able to work with so many different people and so many different characters. The number one thing that makes a broadcast team is chemistry, and not just being able to get along on the air but also off the air as well. JBL and I are really good friends off the air. Booker T and I are very good friends off the air. And I think that shows on the air. Jerry Lawler and I have been working together 18 years now, and when Jerry had his heart attack live on national television in 2012, I think a number of people realized what Jerry meant to me as a person. There are a lot of guys over the years I have worked with that I have had to fake my way through it and say "You are my buddy." But chemistry is what makes a really good team and the ability to know one other. Jerry, JBL and I know where each other is coming from and we know how to push each other’s buttons and we know where each other’s strengths are. For instance, if we are in the middle of a match and there is a replay call, I know automatically that Jerry Lawler is going to call that replay. It is just how we do things. If we are trying bring current events into a story, I know John Layfield will do that because he works for Fox News and that is his expertise.
For me, Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan are the greatest wrestling broadcasting team of all time. Is there one team that stands above the rest for you?
Gorilla and Bobby, without a doubt. They had everything. Gorilla had knowledge of the business, he had his great lines, and Bobby was Bobby. He was the Brain. He knew everything about professional wrestling/sports entertainment. He was witty. But the thing again that I talked about earlier that Gorilla and Bobby brought to the table was chemistry. They would do anything they had to do—even if it embarrassed themselves—to, as we use the term, put over our business. As commentators, we have to keep that in mind.
One of the things I do now is I am charge of all of our young commentators, especially the ones who work at NXT. I spend a lot of time in Florida training these kids to be the next generation. The biggest thing that I teach them is as commentators you have to learn that it is not about you or your ego. It s about the product in the ring and the people out there selling the tickets. A lot of time you will be embarrassed and eat you know what in order to help the product. That’s why a couple of years ago when I was a bad guy and had a big WrestleMania match with Jerry, it was a really uncomfortable time for me. I wasn’t used to being in the spotlight like that and I am so much more comfortable being where I am now because I know what my role is.
How strange was it at first to become a character as opposed to an observer? So much of what you have done in the WWE is the exact opposite of what you were trained as a journalist to do.
It was difficult but the way I got through it was Jerry Lawler. Obviously, he has been doing this 40 years and he is an absolute professional. Jerry taught me a lot of stuff when we were doing our quote, unquote angle. It was real difficult for me. I first started becoming a bad guy with Daniel Bryan back when he first started with NXT. It was an experiment that Mr. McMahon had thought might work and it actually did, at least for the short term. It was really difficult for me to put myself in that position but once I started doing it became pretty natural for me because I am sort of a sarcastic person to begin with. And this business is addictive. I will be honest with you: Once you start getting on a bit of a roll and people are booing you and eating out of the palm of your hand and you are just a real bad guy, you start to think, "Wow, this is fun." It was fun for a long time. I thought we kept it going a little too long but it was fun. But in the beginning it was very tough to do because I was still a commentator. So even though they wanted me to say bad things on the air, I was still was falling back into, "Okay, I have to call our product and carry the show so I have to try balance this." It was tough.
How much at that time did you have to physically train in addition to broadcasting?
This is a funny story. I had never taken a bump, as we call it, in my life. Then I was having a match at WrestleMania with Jerry. I mean, first off, it is WrestleMania for my first match! I mean that is the most ridiculous thing ever. So they sent me down to our training facility and the first two days they were giving me back body drops and doing all this other stuff and I could not move for a week. I had black and blues from my neck down to my rear end and my wife is like: "You realize you are a 44-year-old man, right?" But they were doing this obviously to protect me, to teach me how to protect myself in the ring. I never learned wrestling moves. I was an announcer in a story where this idiot announcer is getting into the ring against an accomplished wrestler. So I didn’t have to learn moves but I did have to learn how to protect myself and they did a great job teaching me how to fall the right way and not get hurt in the ring.
How draining is it to call a three-hour live episode of Raw?
When 11:15 p.m. ET rolls around, people have said to all of us, "You guys look like zombies. And it's true. It is mentally exhausting. And it is physically exhausting, too. I sweat through my suit sometimes. When I am done, I get in my car to drive to the next town and I completely zone out for two or three hours. But it is also rewarding every week. I love it.
Can you give our readers a sense of what your weekly schedule is like?
Say we have a pay-per-view on Sunday. We do the event on Sunday and then drive to the next town overnight so we can be there for Raw. We might get in at 3 AM and we start at 10 AM that day and then go to 11 o’clock that night. Then we get in the car again and drive to the next town and do it all over again for SmackDown. We tape that on Tuesdays. Then, two weeks out of month come Wednesday morning, I am on a 5 a.m. flight from whatever town we are in to work out of our performance center in Florida to work with the kids down there. Then I’ll fly home Saturday and leave again Sunday. That could be a typical week for me.
You must have a great wife and kids.
I have the most wonderful wife in the world. She has been putting up with this for a long time. When I met her, I was traveling for CBS so she sort of knew about it at the beginning.
You worked for CBS Radio and as part of your job, you covered the 1988 US presidential campaign of Democratic Party nominee Michael Dukakis and the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, correct?
Yep, I covered the part of the Clinton campaign in 1992 and I was there when he was inaugurated. I did the Steve Forbes campaign and part of Bob Dole’s in 1996. I covered for 51 days of the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco. I did a couple of tours in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War. I covered Johnson Space Center for some years.
Let me ask you some specifics on these. How much similarity do you see in covering politics and the wrestling business?
It's all scripted (laughs). Politics, they are all characters. You are covering characters. That is what you are doing. They go out and put on a suit, a straight face, and they tell people what they think they want to hear. It’s just like our guys. They walk in the ring and say things you want to hear or don’t want to hear if they are bad guys. Politics and sports entertainment is the exact same thing.
I found this fascinating. You spent nine months covering the Yugoslavian civil war. Where you were based?
I was based out of Sarajevo. At that point in my career I was not working for CBS per se. I was working for a local station out of Houston – KTRH Radio – and I was covering news. One of our doctors who was working at a hospital out of Houston was going to Sarajevo to deliver AIDS supplies for a humanitarian group out of London. He had asked me if I wanted to tag along so of course I did. We went in through Italy and ended up in Sarajevo and once we got there they shut the airport down. We were pretty much stranded. It was the middle of winter and a pretty nasty time. I went in as consultant for this humanitarian group so I had a lot of access that others did not have. I actually put together a five-part documentary for radio and got some awards for it. It was an interesting time.
You were in the middle of a terrible civil war. I imagine you saw some very brutal things.
It was a pretty intense time. There were so many images I remember. One of the most stirring was standing on a hilltop over Sarajevo and looking down at the former Olympic Stadium, which had been burned to the ground. All of the grounds that they used for Olympics were just mass graves. They dug them in the fields they had used for the Olympics. Just watching these old women in the middle of the day hobbling across those fields and laying flowers on those unmarked graves, and most likely was one of their family members, stuff like that put a lot of stuff in your life in perspective. We were staying at a housing complex and because the Serbs had the city under siege, all the trees on the mountainside had been torn down and the only trees that remained where at the top of the hills where the Serbs were. You could not get up there to get any more firewood so the people in town were burning furniture and whatever they could get off the street in order to stay warm. We were in the middle of this. You would be there in the middle of the night in quilts and blankets huddled up in a room with 10 other people because it was zero degrees outside. It was a pretty intense time that wakes you up to a lot of things in life that you take for granted.
When did you switch from working in conventional news to the WWE, and what was the catalyst?
Traveling was never an issue with me but I was a quote, unquote sort of a fireman when I worked in news. Whenever there was a disaster, they would send me. The Oklahoma City Federal Building had just blown up, so you are flying to Oklahoma City and we don’t know how long you are going be there. Waco was weeks without going home. A plane crash in Florida keeps you there for three weeks. Presidential campaigns. I had just gotten married and my wife had two kids, and I’d leave and not know when I would be home.
I had worked with Todd Pettengill, who is a DJ out of WPLJ-FM in New York, in Albany, which was one of my first jobs out of college. I did the news and he did the morning show. He was working for WWE at the time as a commentator and my contract for CBS was coming up in 1996. I had kept in touch with Todd and he told me he was looking to get out of the WWE and would I like to meet with the executive producer. I was like, "Yeah, of course." I ended up doing an audition. I didn’t hear back from then for a bit but right around the time my contract was up at CBS, they called me and offered me the deal. What was attractive about it was I had always done radio and I wanted to get some television experience and there was a schedule. So I still got to travel which I enjoyed doing but I knew that I would leave Sunday and be back Wednesday and I could actually plan things with my family. That’s how I ended up with WWE.
Were you the first employee hired by them specifically to be an announcer?
Yes. I was the first commentator to be hired as an employee. Up until that point all of our commentators had been freelancers or independent contractors. Knock on wood, luckily I am still an employee 18 years later.
How difficult was it to earn the respect of the traveling group when you first started?
It was really difficult. But it was more difficult to earn the respect of the WWE fans than it was anyone else and in many ways, I still have not earned the respect of a lot of our fans for various reasons. But it was tough to learn how things are done here. Guys like Jim Ross, who is one of the greatest if not the greatest play-by-play guy of all time, were brought up in the business. He was refereeing and building rings back in the 1970s. I came in from a different world so I had that little thing to get over. Right out of the box I started traveling to our live events and I got to know everyone real well. Jim got sick with Bell’s Palsy one of my first couple of years here and I even though I wasn’t that good at least I filled in to the point where "Hey, this guy might be a keeper. Let’s keep him around."
So I gradually built my respect. Now it’s weird because I am sort of the elder statesman on the road. In order to be in WWE for the long haul, you have to be able to evolve. One of the things I have taken pride in is that not only have I been a commentator on television but some of the stuff I have done behind the scenes included running live event promos and being managing editor of WWE.com for two years. Now, I am senior director in charge of on-air announce talent. It is making yourself valuable. Listen, this is the television business and I am not going to be on TV for the rest of my life. People get old and it is a young man’s game on the road. You have to position yourself: How am I going to give back to WWE? They have allowed me to live my dreams. I’ll be calling WrestleMania in front of 80,000 people. To be able to get into a singlet in front of 75,000 people at Georgia Dome and have a wrestling match against The King Jerry Lawler, WWE allowed me to realize that dream. They have given me everything and as I get older, how can I give back to the company because I am going to be here for the long haul. WWE is going to be here. So who is the next group of talent not only in ring but also the announcers and interviewers?
How often do you hear from talent after matches?
Most of the guys are very respectful and always thank you after a show because they understand what you are doing for them. Shawn Michaels stood in the ring one night a number of years ago and basically put me over for his retirement match call against The Undertaker. That was one of the biggest moments of my career, to be able to have essentially a legend like Shawn who I had a rocky start with and is now one of my good friends, do that.
Who are the WWE people you hang out with on the road?
I have always been a loner by design. I won’t get into the details but you can go different ways in this business. So I have always been a loner. I stay to myself. I have been married since I started in this company so I stay away from a lot of that stuff. But it is really well documented that I am close with John Cena and one of the reasons is we really came into our own at the same time together. I have called every single big match he has done. So John is one of the guys. JBL too. I am probably closer to him than anyone at this point. We did a podcast together for a couple of years and we had some outside projects together. That’s pretty much it. I get along with everyone but I stick to myself a lot.
What do you consider the greatest match you’ve ever called?
I have done a lot of thinking about this the last couple weeks as we get ready for WrestleMania. I think the number one match for me professionally and personally was Eddie Guerrero and Brock Lesnar in 2004. Eddie had gone through a lot in his career and I was very close to Eddie. That night was a really special moment for me. I’d also pick the Mick Foley call the night he won the championship [in 1999] during the Monday Night Wars. Was it a great call? I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination but what made that call special to me was the emotion in my voice. That was a special moment. Mick and I have been real close over the years because of our connection to Bruce Springsteen. We are both huge Springsteen fans and we both know Springsteen’s guitarist, Nils Lofgren. That’s sort has been our bond, and Mick gave me for my birthday one year a harmonica that Springsteen had used in a concert. Rock-John Cena I is up there too. That was one of my all-time favorite calls. And in retrospect, I would put last year’s Lesnar-Undertaker match because of the historical significance and the surprise factor.
For me, right now, there is nothing better than Paul Heyman appearing at an event. The guy is riveting doing promos.
He is an absolute genius. Paul Heyman, a lot of people don’t know this, used to be the head writer on SmackDown when I was cutting my chops as a wrestling announcer. He taught me so much about this business. If it weren’t for Paul, I probably would not be in the position I am in. He is a genius.
One of the things you have been able to do the last couple of months is call some events with Sting, who people thought would never be part of the WWE. How has that been?
He’s a great guy, number one. Number two, I thought I would ever have the opportunity to do that. In my career I have called matches of some of the greatest guys of all time and Sting is one of those guys that I don’t think any of us who have been all WWE all the time ever thought we’d have the opportunity to say, "Oh, my God, it’s Sting."
To be able to call him and Hunter (Triple H) at WrestleMania is going to be an absolute thrill.
Do you have a favorite part of WrestleMania Weekend?
Yeah, probably at 11:02 p.m. Eastern time Sunday night when it is all over. WrestleMania Week is phenomenal but it is pressure filled. I honestly love everything about it and I am not lying when I say that. The access is awesome, the fan festival is great, the Hall of Fame is always a treat and it was a thrill when Booker mentioned me in his speech. But for me the best part of WrestleMania weekend is when you are sitting at ringside and there are 75,000 people and the executive producer says "Go, Michael."
How often do you sleep?
I don’t sleep at all. I literally am a 3-4 hour a night sleeper.
There are many guys in your business who find it hard to get out of character when they are away from the ring. What about you?
The Michael Cole announcer—the character quote, unquote—as soon as the red light is off, that person is gone. But because I have other roles in the company that are not on air and because WWE is a global company and a 24/7 company, it is real difficult to get away from it. Michael Cole the employee is on all the time.
How much do you get a chance to watch traditional sports on TV?
I love sports and I’m a huge Mets fan, Jets fan, Knicks fan and Devils fan. But I don’t have as much time to watch as I would like. The NBA is my preference. I love the Knicks even though they stink.
When you watch a sports broadcast, do you watch the broadcasters with a critical eye?
I watch it for the pleasure of the game but I listen to the broadcast because I think you can always learn. I’m a huge Al Michaels fan, from his delivery to his conversational tone, he is phenomenal. I’m also a big Mike Breen guy. He’s awesome. But I’m not one of those guys sitting there saying, "Oh, my God, he stumbled on that call" or "Why did he say that?" I am not one of those guys because I know there are people sitting at home doing that to me every Monday night. I know how difficult that job is, sitting in a booth doing live television.
Is it interesting to you that some of the broadcasters who have left the WWE, Max Bretos, Coachman and Grisham, moved onto ESPN?
They are good, and Grisham and Coachman were awesome when they were here. Our business is odd. Coach was a huge success here. He was even a character. It’s funny. I talk to Coach every other day. As much as they have been successful outside the WWE, when I text back and forth with Coach, the one thing he misses is the opportunity to perform and entertain in front of that live audience. For what we do, that is what is addictive. That’s what helps you get through the day. As soon as the red light goes on and you hear all those fans screaming or booing you when you come down the ramp, that gets the blood running.
I will let you book your dream match pitting two guys in their primes from any era in history against one another. Who would you love to call?
[Stone Cold Steve] Austin versus Brock [Lesnar]. Can you imagine? Brock is a bad ass. I mean, who can stop Brock Lesnar? That guy is a monster, a machine, a genetic freak. Then there is Steve, the baddest S,O.B. on the planet. He’s the guy who flipped off the boss and stood up to The Authority. They would be in each other’s faces, kicking the crap out of each other. Now that’s a match!
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines the biggest stories in sports media the past week
1. A couple of quick tournament observations after the first week:
• The best broadcasting call of the opening two rounds came from Brian Anderson, who has been terrific once again during the NCAA tournament. Anderson was sensational on the TBS telecast of Notre Dame’s overtime win over Butler, a broadcaster fully in command of the pace of the game as well as the game’s big moments and officiating decisions. In my opinion, he’s earned a promotion next year to call the regional rounds.
• Grant Hill, who was elevated to the top team with little experience, is clearly a work-in-progress. CBS/Turner knew Hill would have some growing pains on the air, and we’ve seen that. Too often, he came off like a guest breaking up a two-man party between Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery, and a cliché-sprouting guest at that as this Richard Sandomir piece pointed out. He’s also not helped by a soft voice when the crowd noise is great. Hill will get better. His colleagues say he’s committed about getting direction, and not surprisingly, he’s well-liked by the staff given his affable nature, though you might not recognize that until next year’s tournament.
• The limited times I saw Mateen Cleaves in the studio, I liked what I saw.
• So much of March is about college basketball analysts Godding up or defending coaches—Dick Vitale shamelessly going F. Lee Bailey for Syracuse's Jim Boeheim last week is something college basketball fans won't soon forget. That's why it was excellent on Sunday to hear Turner analyst Chris Webber pound the table for Kansas to play Wichita State annually during the CBS broadcast of the Shockers' win over the Jayhawks. The game had fantastic energy and would be an incredible annual spectacle for fans of both schools. Will it happen? No. Kansas coach Bill Self has said repeatedly that he feels his program has nothing to gain by scheduling the Shockers. But rather than excuse-make for Self, Webber took the populist play on behalf of the fans.
1a. CBS and Turner Sports said the NCAA tournament through Monday had averaged a 6.7 overnight rating, the highest-ever rating for the event through the first Sunday since the tournament expanded to four telecast windows for the entire day in 1991. The games on Saturday averaged a 7.4 overnight rating, up 14 percent compared to 2014 and the best-ever Saturday.
1b. The top 10 Highest Rated Markets through Sunday :
4. Columbus, OH
8. Kansas City
1c. Through Sunday morning NCAA March Madness Live had registered 54 million live video streams through Saturday, a seven percent increase over last year.
1d. The excellent SportsTVRatings.com website had the viewership breakdown for games on Thursday.
1e. ESPN’s presentation of the Women’s Basketball Selection Special last Monday drew 906,000 viewers, the most-viewed women’s selection show since 2011 and an increase of 39 percent over last year. The home markets for Connecticut and Tennessee led all markets for the Selection Special with Hartford-New Haven first and Knoxville second. Memphis, West Palm Beach and Cincinnati rounded out the top five.
1f. Sports Business Journal media reporter John Ourand compiled some great stories about Raftery. Check this out.
2. NBC Sports will have its entire on-air Premier League team on-location in the United Kingdom for games from April 11-13. The group, Premier League Live host Rebecca Lowe and analysts Robbie Earle, Kyle Martino and Robbie Mustoe and NBC’s UK-based team of Arlo White, Lee Dixon, Graeme Le Saux and Steve Bower, will provide more than 18 hours of live on-site Premier League coverage across three days. NBC said there will be dual on-site studios for pre-match, halftime and post-game shows, including pitch-side locations for the first time in the history of Premier League coverage in the U.S.
"I’ve been wanting to do this ever since I attended my first Premier League match," said NBC Sports coordinating producer Pierre Moossa, who leads the network's Premier League coverage. "I wish every soccer/football fan could have that experience in person. Since most of our viewers may never have the opportunity to go to a match, one of our main aims has been to bring that experience to our audience. What better way to do that than to have our entire coverage originate from a different ground each day over the course of a full Premier League weekend?"
Moossa said that dates were chosen because it gave NBC Sports an opportunity to be at three iconic Premier League ground over three days. He noted that that production from Liverpool will be two days before the 26th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, which will make it a poignant broadcast that Monday.
The full group will be at the Turf Moor grounds on April 11 for Arsenal at Burnley, which airs at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The next day, NBC will present seven hours of live coverage from Old Trafford including the Manchester Derby between Manchester United and Manchester City (11 a.m. ET on NBCSN). On April 13 the group travels to Anfield for Newcastle at Liverpool, where they will be joined by U.S. National Team and Everton goaltender Tim Howard, who will be broadcasting just two days removed from playing against Swansea City. Lowe will lead a rotating team of studio analysts from within the stadium while Bower and another team of analysts will be pitch-side at a desk located just a few feet from the playing field.
"One of our core principles is to bridge the transatlantic gap and bring our audience as close as possible to the Premier League," Moosa said. "With an on-site studio and pitch-side location, we shorten that gap and bring the viewers closer than ever before."
3. If SportsCenter ever embarks on a regular segment featuring the intersection of food and sports, the network would be wise to have Jaymee Sire hosting it. Sire, the daughter of a Montana wheat farmer, has run an engaging food blog (eisforeat.com) for the past four years, a mix of recipe suggestions and reviews of restaurants from around the country. While working at Comcast SportsNet Bay [she primarily covered the Giants], one of Sire’s colleagues suggested she start a blog given her love of cooking and photography.
"At first I laughed but then I started thinking about it and do have this passion outside of sports," she said. "So I started it on a whim. I love cooking, writing and taking good photos, and food and sports kind of go hand in hand whether you are tailgating, eating at the ballpark, or what athletes are putting in their bodies. I don’t post as often as I liked to but I think it is important to have a life outside of work and that is more or less my hobby. I am about so much more than sports and TV and giving people a little taste of that, for lack of a better word, is a good thing. It’s good for viewers to see different sides of a person they see on TV."
Along those lines, Sire said she has floated the idea to her bosses about doing some sort of feature on the intersection of food and sports. "It is certainly something they would be open to but I think the challenge would be finding the right outlet for that whether it is digitally or a video segment or a GameDay type thing," Sire said.
Sire joined ESPN in 2013 and is part of the SportsCenter rotation, mostly working as a fill in. She is also part of growing wave of women at ESPN getting regular assignments as part of the SportsCenter and news pool. As I have written many times before, ESPN remains at the forefront of all sports networks for giving women front-facing opportunities. The network remains the best hope, in my opinion, for breaking down the still-biggest barriers, from women in charge of programming to women calling play by play for MLB games or the NFL to a regular rotation of women as a opinion makers.
"It was not an easy decision to leave [Comcast] because I love San Francisco and I had a great thing going with the Giants," Sire said. "It was weighing lifestyle versus career and in the end career won out and I have not regretted it. They [management] have done an excellent job of not only including women but making it a staple. I think the male-female pairing is pretty much standard during the daytime SportsCenter shows unless someone is out. Not only that that but they are not afraid to throw two women together. I have anchored multiple times with Jade [McCarthy], Cassidy [Hubbarth], Prim [Siripipat], and Chris McKendry. The other thing is you see a lot of women in the newsroom as well. Obviously it is still mostly males but there are women producers, women PA’s, and management."
4. Sports pieces of note:
• For NHL fans and fans of great sports writing, read Michael Farber on NHL super scout Hakan Andersson.
• Grantland’s Bryan Curtis on the Oklahoma City Thunder media’s relationship with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the team’s PR staff.
• Loved this Charly Wilder piece on Diana Taurasi in Russia.
• SI’s Lee Jenkins on Steve Nash.
• Enjoyed this deep dive on Michael Jordan's 1995 comeback from Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling.
• Here’s John Schulian's great 1993 SI profile, "Concrete Charlie" on the late Chuck Bednarik.
• The Guardian’s Bryan Graham on the awful, soul-sapping day that cost him a $24,000 March Madness pool win.
• SI.com’s Alexander Abnos’ tale of a mugging, a sickness, a soccer tournament, and other things that happened to him in Brazil.
• Fox’s Sam Gardner had an oral history of the 1985 Villanova title team that famously beat Georgetown.
Non-sports pieces of note:
• Fan of great writing? Here was the best lede paragraph I read this week on the mistress of Fidel Castro.
• Via The Shreveport Times: A lead prosecutor apologizes and admits mistakes 30 years after wrongful conviction. Very powerful stuff
• The great NYT obit writer Margalit Fox on a woman who attempted to kill Martin Luther King.
• If you love Rome, read Jeff MacGregor on the Eternal City.
• Jessica Luther, on what the signing of Greg Hardy says about the NFL.
• This digital project by Bryan James on endangered species was awesome.
• The NYT obit on a man who designed many sports team's logos and the WWE 's title belts.
• Greg (Friend of SI.com) Howard on the Don Lemon-ization of CNN.
• Via NYT: At Ground Zero, high school students summon the emotional maturity to serve as guides.
5. The New York Times writer Richard Sandomir examined how the current era is the golden age of sports documentaries.
5a. beIn Sports’ immensely entertaining Ray Hudson enjoys his first trip to Barcelona’s Camp Nou grounds.
5b. Well done by Chris Cameron of the College Sports Information Directors of America to salute the media coordinators of the NCAA tournament.