Monday October 5th, 2015

The quarter mark of the NFL season is always an interesting time for reflection. With that in mind I empaneled five respected NFL media members for a roundtable discussion on a number of NFL-related topics.

The panel:

Mike Freeman, NFL national lead writer, Bleacher Report

Jason La Canfora, NFL insider for CBS Sports and CBS Sports.com

Kimberley A. Martin, Jets beat reporter, Newsday

John McClain, Texans reporter and columnist, Houston Chronicle

Adam Schefter NFL insider for ESPN and ESPN.com

The panel was asked to go as long or as short as they wanted with their answers. They were free to skip any questions. Some of the answers have been edited for clarity. Part I ran yesterday including questions on what they would ask Roger Goodell if I limited them to one question and what positional group is the most media friendly.

Here is Part 2.

How do you feel about reporting on gambling elements related to football (Point spreads, bad beats, prop bets etc..)?

Freeman:  I seriously can't remember the last time I reported on gambling lines. But this question makes me wonder what if FanDuel and DraftKings had a baby?

La Canfora: It's not really my thing. I understand how much it has to do with interest in the sport, and I'm not naive about the demand for that content but I can't think of an instance where it ever entered my mind during my reporting. It's not my world. I remember watching Jimmy The Greek as a kid on The NFL Today, but it seems like 100 years ago in terms of the insider role today and how it has evolved. I write a small best bets blog during the season where I highlight a few games I like and along with the others NFL writers at cbssports.com. I pick every game against the spread. But that's the extent of it.

Martin: I find it interesting that my newspaper, like so many others, asks its NFL beat writers/columnist to make weekly picks against the spread and “best bets.” In some ways, it's a delicate situation for beat writers who are tasked with picking (or picking against) the team they cover (On occasion, I've had Jets players call me out for picking against them). With that said, it’s what we do. Points spreads and prop bets are commonplace in football conversations now, unlike in MLB and the NBA. Even people who don’t lay down money are aware of the spreads. It's just the norm. (I only pray that Newsday readers aren't wagering money based on what myself, Tom Rock or Bob Glauber say each week!)

McClain: I’m not a gambler, but I’ve been making weekly picks against the spread for more than 35 years, so I don’t think twice about it. I’m always interested about what Vegas thinks about a game I’m covering. Most of the time, at some point in what I wrote or talk about on the radio I will mention the point spread. I don’t get deeply into gambling, though, because I have no interest in it.

Schefter: Don’t even know what bad beats and prop bets are – that’s how out of touch I am on the betting world.I know this might sound a little incongruous, but point spreads feel funny to me, yet fantasy doesn’t. I know that doesn’t necessarily make sense, but to me, point spreads are old school, and fantasy football is new school. And new school says fantasy football is the culture in which we live and work.

Is there anyone covering the NFL you would love to trade jobs with. If yes, who and why? If no, why?

Freeman: No one I want to trade jobs with but I do want to fight Jay Glazer.

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La Canfora: I don't think so at this stage. I am increasingly interested with the production side of things and how shows are put together and what makes for more striking and cogent discussions than others and how to cultivate on-set chemistry and things of that nature. And the idea of dabbling with a hosting role in a limited capacity would be cool. But I couldn't see that full-time. But my job is an absolute blessing, CBS is a tremendous place to work, and I just hope I am lucky enough to get to keep doing what I am doing for as long as they'll let me.

Martin: Yeah, Adam Schefter. Maybe then Tom Condon and David Dunn would return my calls and text messages! No, but seriously, I think I’d want to trade jobs, at least for one day, with an NFL reporter in a smaller media market. I just want to know what it feels like to cover a team without 15 beat writers alongside you and zero animosity between players and the media.

McClain: Tom Jackson. I’ve watched him as a player and as a broadcaster. He’s a pro’s pro. I’d like to take his place on his Sunday night show because it’s not an overcrowded set with a lot of former players trying to talk over each other—just Jackson and Chris Berman talking about that day’s games. Simple but so informative and entertaining.

Schefter: Would be happy to be the Packers punter Tim Masthay. In a league chock full of high-pressured jobs, can’t think of a job in this league that has less stress than that one.

Why are NFL television ratings up this year, in your opinion?

Freeman: It's the violence. We love football for three main reasons: the violence, the gambling and fantasy. Two and three are very similar but the main reason is the violence of the sport. I just spoke to former Steeler Brett Keisel, who played for 13 years, and he said football is popular because it's played by violent men in a country that craves violence. Totally agree. I'll give you one wildcard reason and that's the technology. Watching games are addictive because the HD is so good, lots of commercials so you can get a good bathroom break in, and all of that technology is getting cheaper and cheaper. So you can get your violence fix on HD and never leave your home. I know from speaking to NFL people they are terrified of the next generation of TV technology because they fear it will be the start of the death knell of people going to stadiums.

I'm reminded of something Tex Schramm said, I think, in the 1980s, that games would one day be played in television studios without crowds.

MORE: Whitlock, ESPN part ways following website demotion

La Canfora: Man, not really sure. Are they up substantially? Seems they have been on the rise forever. It's the season of Super Bowl 50, and people seem to like those nice round historic numbers (I'd tell you where the game is being broadcast, but have a hunch you may already know) and the ongoing sagas of the off-season (player discipline, Deflategate, yada yada yada). I think that ends up providing a subplot to the season almost like a reality show or a WWE script. Add in the fact the “villains” in the eyes of some, are defending Super Bowl champs, the way the season ended for Seattle, the fact that larger-than-life figures like Rex Ryan ended up in the same division he was in before, and the fact that once again this league can be damn unpredictable from one week to the next, and maybe that tells the story.

McClain: Because the NFL is such a popular game and continues to do things to try to increase the popularity. Controversy like DeflateGate generates more excitement that increases viewership. The NFL gets mass media coverage, including social media. It’s a 24-7, year-round cycle of NFL news. Bad news is good news when it comes to viewership and ratings. Also, gambling, including fantasy football, is a major reason for the league’s popularity compared to other sports. I think there are more and more  gamblers every year, and they start at a young age, which fuels interest in the younger fans the advertisers are trying to reach.

Schefter: Think the caliber of play is better? It is not. Think the games are more compelling? They are not. Think more people are playing fantasy football in leagues and on daily sites? Bingo. That’s how popular it is. It is driving up the ratings of the most popular sport.

THE NOISE REPORT

SI.com examines some of the most notable sports media stories of the week.

1. MMA star Ronda Rousey will become the first-ever female athlete to guest-anchor ESPN’s SportsCenter when she joins ESPN anchor Lindsay Czarniak for the Wednesday’s 6 p.m. ET show. The gig is part of Rousey doing promotion for her UFC 193 Bantamweight title bout against Holly Holm on November 14 in Melbourne Australia.

MMA
Ronda Rousey to guest-anchor SportsCenter

1a. The Sunday national broadcast of the Jets-Dolphins, airing at 9:30 a.m. ET from London drew a 7.2 overnight rating, up 9% over last year’s game from London (Detroit-Atlanta) in the same morning slot.

1b. It’s not often you see former NFL coaches critical of current NFL coaches so I appreciate Football Night In America analyst Tony Dungy not following the code when it came to his comments on Miami coach Joe Philbin: Said Dungy on Sunday: “I’m never a fan of making changes on the coaching staff during the season. I don’t think they help much, but something has to be done in Miami. They are not playing anywhere near their talent level.” Postscript: Philbin was fired on Monday.

1c. NBC and CBS are exceeding expectations this year when it comes to NFL ratings. In each of first five games, NBC’s Sunday Night Football’s overnight is up over 2014, the first time that’s happened in the 10-season history of SNF on NBC. As for CBS: Through the first three weeks of its Thursday Night Football package, the combined CBS /NFL Network coverage has averaged 19.3 million viewers, up 20% from last year’s 16.1 million viewers.

1d. Sports business media writer John Ourand reports that the Royals posted MLB’s highest local TV rating for a season in 13 years. As of last week, Ourand reported, the Royals were averaging a 12.33 local rating, up 90% from last year. That’s baseball’s highest local regular-season rating since 2002, when the Mariners averaged a 13.2 rating. The second-highest rated local market was the Cardinals (10.01), marking the first time two teams from the same state have occupied the top two spots in MLB’s full-season local ratings chart. Ourand reported it was the 16th consecutive year the Cardinals’ local ratings have ranked among the league’s top three. The Pirates, Tigers and Orioles rounded out the Top Five.

Another notable mover was the Mets. The team’s games on SportsNet New York were up 56%, averaging a 2.64 rating. The Astros’ ratings on Root Sports Houston increased nearly six times over last season, to a 2.15 average. Last year, as Ourand noted, Houston’s games were on CSN Houston, which did not have a lot of distribution in the market and resulted in the Astros being the lowest-rated MLB team annually for a third consecutive season.

1e. Fox Sports said its MLB on Fox game telecasts averaged 2.2 million viewers in 2015, a 16% increase over 2014 (1.9 million), and up slightly in the Adult 18-49 demographic rating (0.5 vs. 0.4). The network said it drew an average of 504,000 viewers for its FS1 MLB broadcasts, up 22% from the previous year.

2. Five questions with … ESPN lead MLB broadcaster Dan Shulman

On Saturday I traded emails with Shulman, who will call ESPN’s coverage of the AL wild-card game on Tuesday night. At the time of the email exchange, he did not know the Yankees’ opponent in the game (Astros)

SI.com: How does your preparation work when you know one of the teams for the wild-card game you'll be calling (Yankees) but not the opponent. Will you start prepping on the Yankees already or do you wait for both teams to be known. And why?

Shulman: I definitely start prepping on the Yankees, and spend time trying to familiarize myself as much as I can with the Rangers, Astros, Angels and Twins, since as of Saturday, any of those teams could be in the wild card game. So it’s a lot of reading and watching games, just trying to get a feel for each team as much as possible.

What will your baseball assignments be after the AL wild-card game?

I will be calling games for ESPN radio right through the playoffs.  I will start on the Cardinals series, then do the ALCS, and then the World Series. 

Where does your comfort level sit with Jessica Mendoza as an in-game partner at this point and why? 

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Jess is doing great.  She’s easy to get along with, and works really hard. She’s down on the field, in the clubhouse, gathering as much information as she can. And she loves to talk hitting. [I] think she really shines in that area. It’s been fun getting to know her and to work with her the past few weeks. 

You live in Toronto and did play-by-play for the Blue Jays on TSN from 1995-2001. How would you describe the baseball environment there this season? 

It’s been like Mardi Gras and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one ever since the beginning of August. It’s been a long time since the Blue Jays were a contender, and fans from coast to coast in Canada are really into it. The ballpark is full, and it’s not a sit-on-your-hands crowd. It’s a young, loud crowd that is into every pitch. 

I wrote a piece last week on how to approach following Vin Scully and Dick Enberg and spoke with Joe Buck, Brian Anderson, Dan Dickerson among others on the topic. I'm curious if you had any thoughts on how to follow an iconic baseball broadcaster and why.

I tried not to think too much about who I was replacing because that would have only made me more nervous than I already was. Jon Miller is a Hall of Fame broadcaster and if I spent too much time thinking about filling his shoes, I wouldn’t do the job to the best of my ability.  I’ve been very lucky to work for and with great people, who made the transition easier for me. 

3. The latest episode of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features ESPN commentator and 790 The Ticket (Miami) sports radio host Israel Gutierrez and Hawaii News Now sports anchor and reporter Francesca Weems.

In the episode, Gutierrez writes about the poignant blog post he wrote last month in which he publicly came out as gay, how that post was received by his employer and the NBA community, how, if at all, being public about his sexuality will impact his social media interactions, how he juggles television, radio and digital work, how NBA commissioner Adam Silver reached out to him after his post, how he prepares to interview NBA coaches and players during in-game breaks, how ESPN president John Skipper called him the day before his wedding to wish him well and to tell him the company “had his back” and much more.

Weems discusses covering growing up in Hawaii’s foster care system, not attending school before age nine, being homeless for stretches at a time, how she and her brother were befriended by ESPN’s Neil Everett, then a sports information director at Hawaii Pacific University, when they were kids running around local malls during school hours, what’s it like to cover sports news in Hawaii, and how she overcame a rough childhood to earn bachelor's and master's degrees while competing on the track and field team at Cal-Berkeley. Hers is a remarkable story.

A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and you can view all of SI's podcasts here.

4. Lindsay Berra, a writer for MLB.com, wrote a poignant piece on her grandfather, Yogi Berra.

4a. Boston Globe writer Chad Finn on Don Orsillo’s last game calling the Red Sox.

4b. Here was Orsillo saying goodbye to the Red Sox listeners.

5. On Monday ESPN First Take commentator Stephen A. Smith, channeling his inner Ric Flair, threatened Thunder star Kevin Durant, telling Durant that “You do not want to make an enemy out of me.” The full wrestling promo is here. ESPN management’s response to Smith threatening a professional athlete was promoting the threat on its main Twitter account.

5a. A short documentary with interesting potential airs Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET on FS1 as part of NASCAR Race Hub’s Beyond The Wheel series. The doc, The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson, Yes!, re-examines the famous 1965 Esquire article written by Tom Wolfe featuring the legendary moonshine runner and charismatic stock car driver Junior Johnson. As part of the film, Brad Lockhart, the director of content development for NASCAR Productions, and Ed Mabe, a senior producer for NASCAR Productions, reunited Wolfe and Johnson at Wolfe’s home on the Upper East Side of New York City.

5b. Washington Post writer Clinton Yates on the ESPN2 show His and Hers broadcasting from Howard University’s homecoming.

5c. Former NHL goaltender Brian Boucher has been added by NBC Sports as a full-time Inside-the-Glass and NHL Live studio analyst for the upcoming 2015-16 NHL season. The play by play voices for NBC and NBCSN’s NHL coverage include Mike Emrick, Kenny Albert, Gord Miller, John Forslund, Dave Strader and Chris Cuthbert.

5d. Remarkable reporting by Daniel Dale of Toronto Star on the middle-class heroin crisis in New England.

5e. This Dan Barry piece on friendship and baseball is beautifully done.

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