On Labor Day ESPN debuted a new midnight ET SportsCenter hosted by Scott Van Pelt, a rebranded version of the old warhorse featuring commentary from the host, guest interviews, and others non-traditional SportsCenter segments along with highlights. Last week I emailed Van Pelt for a bit of self-evaluation after 30 days in.
SI.com: How would you self-evaluate the show at this point?
Van Pelt: The show already feels familiar. It doesn’t feel like learning a new language. I enjoy doing it. I like how it looks on air, and the feedback I’ve gotten has been fantastic. Many, many people from within the industry have had kind comments and there are an unbelievable number of people who have reached out to offer some version of, ‘I am watching SportsCenter again.’ That’s been gratifying. Others say it’s garbage and that I suck. Yin/Yang. Ratings, as I understand it, are up, so I’m pleased across the board.
What element/s have worked best and why?
I think Bad Beats works just as we envisioned. It addresses gambling losses, and we take perverse pride in finding the more obscure examples. I think the One Big Thing, which was a radio staple, has quickly become a tent pole at the back end of the show. Where In the World Isn’t SVP I presume will have a short lifespan, because eventually it’s just a bunch of bald white dudes who look vaguely like me. But it is staggering that there is a species of bald, white guys who look vaguely like me. I really like all the things we are doing. I assume we will develop more as we go. Our highlight approach has been fantastic. Kudos to Ken Barkley, who is point man on a nightly basis. We are showing different versions than other shows that we feel illustrate what’s most important or interesting about games. It’s been exactly what I hoped it would be there.
What element/s still need refining and why?
Figuring out where I can add commentary/opinion outside of the One Big Thing without grinding the show to a halt. We’ve done it some and I liked it, and I think we have to pick our spots. I want to figure out how [segment producer] (Stanford) Steve [Coughlin] and I can have more conversations like we had on radio and have off air about topics that interest us. He’s great at tweaking me in a way where my point is challenged and not theatrically. He legitimately pushes me to explain myself in ways that I always enjoy. It will evolve. We have only done a month of shows.
You recently did a One Big Thing segment on CC Sabathia where you referenced your father and his alcohol issues. Whether it's HBO’s John Oliver or Fox’s Katie Nolan or you, there seems to be a growing trend on TV for longer form commentary. Where do ultimately want that segment to be in terms of length, impact and subject matter?
One Big Thing was something I did on radio initially as a way to take on more serious or somber stories. Over time it became far more wide open. Not every day lends itself to something uber serious or self important. It’s fine to have fun with it. I did one on Larry David making fun of Jordan Spieth's impending baldness as an example. It will be serious on some days as it was with CC Sabathia where I referenced my father. It will be a topical as it was when I gave my opinion on DFS, which led to quite a bit of discussion. But I think having had years of a head start with radio with it leaves me with an approach I am comfortable with. I don’t want it to be more or less than it already is. I don’t want you to be able to anticipate the topic, but I hope you might be interested in what I have to say, whatever it might be. When you make it personal, as I did with my dad, as Katie did with the Greg Hardy situation, it can really be powerful and resonate with people.
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories
1. As part of my Sunday/Monday column I reported that Dan Fierman, the founding editorial director of Grantland and one of its key behind the scenes executives, has left ESPN for a job as the vice president and editorial director of MTV News. Fierman had worked for Grantland since the site was founded in 2011 and was a close confidant of Bill Simmons. This is the most significant Grantland departure from the site following Simmons. Grantland also suffered some key defections with a quartet of young staffers—Sean Fennessey, Juliet Litman, Mallory Rubin and Chris Ryan—leaving to work with Simmons on an unnamed project that will likely involve those staffers being part of podcasts among other media. I’ve been told that more Grantland staffers will be leaving the site in the next few weeks. As previously noted, ESPN PR has turned down multiple requests to interview Chris Connelly, the site’s current editor-in-chief. Given that decline, Grantland’s readers have not been afforded the same courtesy they have given that site with loyal readership.
2. On Sunday Fox’s Harold Reynolds accomplished the rare feat for an MLB analyst: He trended on Twitter in two countries.
2a. Sporting News writer Michael McCarthy was not a fan of Bill Cowher’s interview with Jerry Jones on Sunday’s The NFL Today.
2b. John Ourand of the Sports Business Daily reported on Monday that the NBC Sports Group will carry the British Open in 2016, a year earlier than planned. Ourand reported that NBC and Golf Channel finalized a deal last week with ESPN and the tournament’s operator, the R&A, to take over next year.
3. This week’s Sports Illustrated Media Podcast featured WWE performer and sports entertainment impresario Paul Heyman, who also is co-owner of the Looking4Larry Agency in New York City.
In the episode, which lasts 93 minutes, Heyman discusses why the position of WWE broadcaster is currently under-appreciated, the importance of the WWE getting mainstream media attention, how he creates his master promos and why much of what he says in the ring is ad-libbed, as opposed to scripted. He also talks about whether the private lives of wrestlers should be reported on by the press, the future of Hulk Hogan in the WWE, how he views the MMA quest of CM Punk, why he wants to interview Henry Kissinger, the best talkers in the history of wrestling, his favorite heels outside of wrestling, whether there is any tension left between he and Vince McMahon, his most dangerous ringside situation, why he's fascinated by Jesus and Vishnu and much more.
4. Here’s an excellent piece by Chronicle of Higher Education reporter Brad Wolverton on missed classes, a changed grade and one disillusioned adviser working with UCLA basketball.
4a. An in-depth look by Los Angeles Times reporters Nathan Fenno and Lindsey Thiry on USC coach Steve Sarkisian’s drinking history as a college football coach.
4b. A beautifully told story on the Pennsylvania boy with cerebral palsy blessed by Pope Francis.
5. Last week SiriusXM and the NFL announced a six-year extension of their satellite broadcasting and marketing agreement. SiriusXM will continue to feature every NFL game live from the preseason through Super Bowl LVI in 2022. SiriusXM also airs multiple Spanish-language NFL broadcasts each week of the season.
5a. Megan Armstrong is a 22-year-old senior journalism major at the University of Missouri with an emphasis on magazine writing. I’ve come across her work a couple of times through Twitter. She also works as a contributing writer to The Cauldron and upon graduating from Missouri this December, she hopes to work in narrative writing for her career. (She’s already interned for NBC Sports in New York City, The Kansas City Star and freelanced for Bleacher Report and espnW.) Last May she wrote in this column about publishing her first novel.
This week I asked Armstrong to write a column on what she’s thinking about as someone hoping to enter the sports media on a full-time basis. Her words are below:
When I get scared, I look down at my skin. No, I look at the words tattooed on my skin. I look at my tattoos and think about how much they mean to me. I take a deep breath and remember how badly I want to write for the masses like I have on my body. I imagine how much those words could mean to someone else.
I got tattoos because I wanted to reclaim my body and have my body express what I believe. So this future, this new and impending present of mine, is my chance to claim whatever life I wish.
I’m scared and unsure. I’ve been looking at my skin a lot, where I have always belonged, and wondering where else I might belong. I graduate from the Missouri School of Journalism in December and will hopefully begin my professional life soon after.
I am 22 years old. For the last 3 years, I have been formally studying magazine writing at Missouri. I have learned the nuances of grammar and the depths of storytelling. I hope to take that knowledge and turn it into a lifetime of experience in creating colorful, meaningful narratives in the magazine world.
I don’t know all of the specific places or adventures writing will take me—and that's the fun part—but I know I want to start by creating powerful content in the soccer world where I once played.
Informally, I have been studying the world’s best perform their crafts and worrying that I will never get to where they are. For as long as I can remember, I have been a perfectionist. I often think about my perfectionism when watching or reading the best.
But eventually, I stop obsessing over a great’s perceived perfection and start wondering about their stories, their tattoos—if they have any, what they mean, why they got them—their loves, their identities. I want to know what I can learn from the best, from anyone, from anything.
And then rampant curiosity and a longing for connections yet again show how this industry hypnotizes me.
I don’t know what perfect means anymore. The truth is, I never really did. Maybe it was that distant ambiguity which allured me. But it’s time to face reality—my reality—and yes, I am scared. But I am also exhilarated, and ready to work as hard as I can to be great, to feel, to explore and play, to write more stories and books, to just see what happens.
I want to be someone in this industry; I believe I can be me in this industry. A good me, a great me.
Might my future sometimes feel perfect? I will soon find out, because it’s time.
It’s time to ink my future.