Mike “Doc” Emrick is a realist about turning 70 next Aug. 1: “It’s on my birth certificate,” said the NBC hockey announcer. “There is no dodging it.”
It's a healthy embrace of reality, and the reality for most hockey fans in the U.S. is that we don’t want to see Emrick leave his post anytime soon. He is one of the elite play-by-play broadcasters in any sport, with a legitimate place alongside Al Michaels, Marv Albert, Verne Lundquist, Brent Musburger and whomever else you put in the iconic sports voices pantheon (Vin Scully is in his own class).
Emrick’s current NBC schedule is one national game per week including an entire postseason run.
“What NBC has done is they have allowed me to extend my career where I am not doing 120 games a year like I once was when I was doing both NBC and the Devils,” Emrick said. “At age 65 I stopped that because I was hardly home.”
Five years ago, Emrick stopped doing local games after one harrowing stretch calling eight games in eight different cities over 10 days. Emrick said he did not like his standard for the seventh and eighth game of that road trip and could not always get to the morning skate, which is something he relishes for preparation. He decided to focus only on a national schedule.
“This is a schedule that to me is very livable until the future, and God only knows how long that future is but I still enjoy the games and I still love what I am doing,” Emrick said.
One reason I wanted to check in with Emrick was to take his temperature on how he feels about his current announcing grind and how long he wants to continue. He said he evaluates things on a year-by-year basis and NBC Sports has also been understanding in assessing things at the end of each year.
“I enjoy doing the work,” Emrick said. “They have not said anything to me other than they would like to keep this going. So do I. I like everything the way is going now. I love doing the job and look forward to doing the job. I enjoy it every day. I know these are things right out of the Pollyanna workbook but that is just the way it is. I like getting to the rink.”
Said Sam Flood, the executive producer of NBC Sports, in an email: “Doc Emrick is the best play-by-play announcer to ever call the game of hockey. He will be the voice of the NHL on NBC for as long as he wants the job.”
Emrick decided a year ago not to work this year’s Rio Olympics for his network. The NHL season has extended to mid-June and Emrick said the network has been good about understanding that he may pass on some Summer Games. He called water polo for NBC in 2004 and ’12.
One thing Emrick will make time for next month is calling a pair of Pirates baseball games. He has been a fan of the team since 1959 and two weeks ago was at the spring training facility in Bradenton, Fla. Emrick has had a longstanding invitation from Greg Brown, one of the Pirates broadcasters, to call some Grapefruit League games and this will finally be the year (The exact dates should be announced soon).
“I think it will only be a couple of games because there are only couple of times when they do games and when I am in town,” Emrick said. “We have not determined the days and venues but we just know when it will happen. I still have to do my day job and I appreciate NBC’s cooperation in letting me live out a fantasy here.”
Emrick said he had called just one baseball game in his life. That was in 1969 when he was a grad student at Miami University in Ohio. The school needed broadcasters on short notice so he and Stan Savran, who was a college senior at the time and is now a Pittsburgh-based broadcaster, called a game between Miami and Kent State. They had a lineup but no media guide or any preparation.
“I knew I was handcuffed and I was terrible,” Emrick said. “I had nothing.”
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. SI has learned that NBC has signed soccer talent Rebecca Lowe and Arlo White to six-year contract extensions. The duration of the deals matches the six-year agreement NBC signed last year for the rights to the Premier League through the 2021–22 season (It’s a very important property for NBC: The network’s estimated six-year bid was likely north of $800 million and possibly closer to $1 billion). Lowe and White have been exceptional in their roles, particularly Lowe, who has morphed into the top echelon of sports broadcasting studio hosts. Lowe is expected to go on maternity leave in March, so NBC will have to improvise with hosts for its Premier League shows. White is versatile enough to fill that role, and NBC has other talent that can also pitch in for the final months of the season. Said an NBC Sports spokesperson when contacted by SI: “We don't discuss talent contracts.”
2. Sports Business Daily assistant managing editor Austin Karp reported that NBA viewership across TNT, ABC and ESPN is up 4%, with national games averaging 1.96 million viewers, compared to 1.87 million viewers at the same point last season. Karp said NBA local broadcasts are also up 4% to date, with teams averaging a 2.7 local rating, compared to a 2.6 rating last year.
2a. According to Karp, TNT’s NBA coverage is down 2% to date, averaging 1.70 million viewers through the same period last season. But, as Karp noted, TNT had no Christmas Day games this season and if the Christmas Day games from last season were removed from TNT's average, the net is actually up 4% in viewership (1.70 vs. 1.64 million viewers).
2b. Karp said NBA TV has averaged 326,000 viewers, up 11% from the same point last season.
2c. Speaking of NBA ratings: The Warriors’ thrilling overtime win over the Thunder on Saturday night drew a 3.9 overnight rating on ABC, the highest-rated NBA regular-season (non-Christmas) game across all networks since 2013. ESPN said the broadcast generated a 14.9 rating in San Francisco, the highest-rated NBA regular-season (non-Christmas) game ever on ABC or ESPN in that market. It was the highest-rated NBA regular-season game on ABC or ESPN since 2014 in the Oklahoma City market.
2d. Much respect to ESPN/ABC NBA producer Tim Corrigan, director Jimmy Moore and reporter Lisa Salters for opting to report on a Warriors player (Salters, who was not 100% sure, believed it was Draymond Green) going on a profanity-laced tirade in the locker room during halftime of Saturday night’s win. Here’s the report:
ESPN is a business partner with the NBA and those relationships are always tricky to navigate for sideline reporters given league offices don’t want dirty laundry aired on the network. This was news, and Salters reported what she heard, which is what good reporters (as opposed to television personalities on the sidelines who occasionally practice journalism) do on the sidelines regularly. Corrigan said it’s standard protocol for the broadcast for Salters to head toward the locker room at halftime. After she heard the heated discussion, Salters informed Corrigan and the production truck what she had heard. The group discussed what to do and then made a collective decision on the information.
“Once I felt like we had the right things answered, we went with it,” Corrigan said. “Lisa was comfortable with the information and she’s a talented reporter.”
Corrigan said he did not hear from either the Warriors or the NBA after the broadcast regarding the report.
2e. ESPN/ABC NBA analysts Mark Jackson (“Big O, just say sorry. Just say sorry.") and Jeff Van Gundy (“There’s nothing you can do, Oscar.”) were in fine form on Saturday night regarding Oscar Robertson’s claims that Curry would be shut down in his era. They also stopped talking—referred to as “laying out” in the business—immediately after play-by-play broadcaster Mike Breen called Curry’s game-winning 38-footer. The best analysts let their play-by-play announcers make the call on how long to let natural sound fill the air and this trio had a terrific game on Saturday.
“They are respectful of the game and letting big moments play out and letting Mike own the big moment is what they do all the time,” Corrigan said.
2f. Here’s something fun to watch today: ESPN coverage of Steph Curry being selected by Golden State at the 2009 NBA draft:
3. Episode No. 44 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features international soccer journalist Gabriele Marcotti, who writes for a number of publications including ESPN FC, The Times of London, Corriere dello Sport and The Sunday Herald of Scotland.
In this episode, Marcotti talks about the differences in media access around the world, how he determines his stories as an global journalist who writes for several different publications and how he juggles different international styles, who he enjoys interviewing most in international soccer, how long it may take him to write any of his columns (which often cover multiple leagues) and more. Marcotti then answers some listener questions, including who he reads globally to stay on top of the news, where he sees the role of analytics in international soccer, whether or not MLS should lean towards a more European model with a few dominant teams and more. As a bonus, Marcotti also offers some tips for aspiring soccer journalists (Hint: know multiple languages!).
A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher, and you can view all of SI’s podcasts here. If you have any feedback, questions or suggestions, please comment here or tweet at me.
4. Sports pieces of note:
• Former U.S. figure skating champion Debbie Thomas is bankrupt and living in a trailer. Remarkable story from Terrence McCoy of The Washington Post.
• ESPN’s Liz Merrill catches up with Jason McElwain, the autistic boy who went off for 20 points in four minutes during a high school game in Rochester 10 years ago.
• The NYT’s Harvey Araton profiled UConn All-America Breanna Stewart.
• This is truly cool: a first-person from Muhammad Ali in the Feb. 24, 1964, issue of Sports Illustrated, a week before his championship fight with Sonny Liston.
• The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle on a junior hockey enforcer and the after-effects of that life.
• Via Bruce Jenkins: Big-wave surfing competition at its best.
Non sports pieces of note:
• They’re boring. They’re useless. Everyone hates them. So why can’t we stop having meetings? Via Virginia Heffernan of New York Times Magazine.
• Via Rolling Stone: How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable.
• Via GQ: Inside the San Quentin Marathon.
• From The New Yorker: The murder of Boris Nemtsov.
• If you love great writing, The Economist obit on Harper Lee and Umberto Eco.
5. Fred Segal says he’s always been fascinated by sports predictions. Growing up in North Miami Beach, Segal would sort through his attorney father Mike’s collection of thousands of sports books and magazines, some dating back to the beginning of the 20th century.
“I used to look through them and laugh about the predictions that ended up being dead wrong,” said Segal, a Coral Springs, Fla., attorney who specializes in transactional and regulatory healthcare issues.
The childhood fascination has grown into an adult hobby. Since Thanksgiving, Segal has run a Twitter account called Freezing Cold Takes whose bio promises to chronicle “unprophetic & non-prognosticative takes from (mostly sports) media experts & others.” It is often uproariously funny to read such blundering predictions. Here’s my profile.
5a. As part of its coverage of the FIFA presidential election, Fox Sports was on the air (between FS1 and FS2) for 11 hours and 10 minutes (3 a.m.—2:10 p.m. ET) last Friday. The on-air group logging the extended airtime included Rob Stone, Alexi Lalas, Massimo Marianella (Sky Italia) and Mark Young in Los Angeles, and Kate Abdo (Sky Sports, UK) and Grant Wahl (SI) in Switzerland. Those behind the scenes put in even longer hours including executive producer David Neal, coordinating producer Jennifer Pransky, producers Spandan Daftary, Bardia Shah-Rais, Maleek Ndile and Joel Santos, directors Geordie Wimmer and Courtney Stockmal, technical operations director Kevin Callahan and researcher David Mosse. Kudos to the network for the commitment.
5b. Deadspin staff writer Greg Howard, along with Slate’s Amanda Hess and The Awl’s John Herrman, have been named David Carr Fellows for The New York Times.
5c. In his last Deadspin piece, Howard posted about SB Nation’s Daniel Holtzclaw story and served as the public proxy for announcing that SB Nation Longform editor Glenn Stout had been fired from the site. The piece is worth reading, and the key takeaway is why gender and racial diversity matter so much for serious sports news organizations.
5d. From Yahoo!’s Nick Bromberg: How Fox covered the final lap of the Daytona 500.
5e. NBC Sports says through 61 games, NBCSN has averaged 361,000 viewers for its NHL broadcasts, up 8% vs. 2015. Through 16 games, the network’s Wednesday Night Rivalry series has averaged 573,000 viewers, up 10% vs. 2014–15.
5f. Via SportsTVRatings.com: This year's Daytona 500 drew 11.4 million viewers, second-lowest since 2007.
5g. The college basketball Selection Sunday show on CBS will expand to two hours this year, from 5:30–7:30 p.m. ET on March 13 (The show has aired from 6–7 p.m. since 2002). Greg Gumbel and Ernie Johnson will co-host the show, with Charles Barkley, Seth Davis, Doug Gottlieb, Clark Kellogg and Kenny Smith providing analysis. Oklahoma AD and NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee chair Joe Castiglione will be interviewed in-studio, the first time the committee chair has been interviewed in-studio.