Media Mailbag: On Skip Bayless, Mike Tirico, NFL draft coverage & more
Welcome to the SI Media Mailbag. Writing a Mailbag—as egocentric as it is—is a fun exercise. So thanks for tweeting these questions.
Will Curt Schilling work again? — Jason Reynolds
Absolutely. I’ll guess he’ll do it for a SiriusXM-type of place, focusing on a mix of sports and politics. I imagine his next employer will care very little about his social media feeds compared to his former ESPN bosses.
What will be the impact of ESPN talent moving to Fox financially and ratings-wise? — Zielojo
Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd were big expenditures for Fox Sports president Eric Shanks. Ultimately, this is an opportunity cost. Fox Sports basically killed its feature producing unit, laid off Emmy Award-winning producers, opted not to re-sign some sideline reporters and offered buyouts to longtime employees. They made choices as to where money is being spent. As I’ve said in a number of places, I think FS1 will get a short-term bump for its new opinion-driven content and ultimately fail with it long-term.
In an ideal world, how frequently should the ESPN public editor be posting? Should there be a “regular” schedule? — Jay
The ESPN public editor should be posting multiple times per week as Margaret Sullivan did in her role at The New York Times. The ESPN public editor should also use his or her social media accounts to address viewer concern on a fairly real-time basis. We all know this doesn’t happen.
I used to think ESPN was serious about the public editor, but I have honestly not thought so since Poynter Institute’s tenure as its ombudsman. I think some at ESPN care about this sort of dialogue but what the public editor writes has had no tangible impact on the company. It’s become a window-dressing position, a nice thing for ESPN to put out publicly. When ESPN executives failed to talk to the public editor as they did with a piece on Grantland, that told you everything you needed to know. I hope this changes because I admire that they have the position, but I’m not optimistic.
Any idea when The Ringer will launch or Simmons HBO show will start? — Scott Nash
Simmons’s new HBO series (Any Given Wednesday With Bill Simmons) will premiere June 22. The season is set of 20 episodes, airing on Wednesday nights, at 10 p.m. ET/PT. As for The Ringer, the editor-in-chief of the new site, Sean Fennessey, told SI two months ago that there is no ideal date. “There are some desired dates but I would rather not put a specific time frame on it,” he said. “We are focusing on identifying how we can do good work and hire the right people. If we don’t have the right people or team, then we won’t launch just to launch on a specific date. I think Bill identified late spring or early summer as kind of the time frame and that is loosely what will are working with.”
Does the NFL have veto power over who ESPN selects to be the new play-by-play announcer for Monday Night Football? — Raymond Hando
Good question. ESPN management will make this decision—Sean McDonough is the likely choice to replace Mike Tirico—and networks will tell you that while they run their broadcasting selections by a league, the networks themselves have the final say. My thought is a place like ESPN will never put anyone in front of NFL executives that they know the league won’t greenlight. For instance, here’s a guy you won’t see working in an NFL broadcasting booth: Bennet Omalu.
Is [Brad] Nessler to CBS a done deal? — Armand Broady.
Not yet, I’m told, but he’s definitely looking outside ESPN given he was pushed in that direction by not getting the assignments he wanted. I imagine he will end up at CBS and if/when he does, full marks to Fox Sports who reported the possibility first.
Can you explain the thinking behind Trent Dilfer’s ESPN troubles? He’s one of the best things MNF has going. Wasn’t he loved? — R Brar
I don’t think it’s a question of any troubles, and Dilfer was liked by many executives. From what I understand, he made a decision to look elsewhere, and likely on the West Coast.
When are you going to reconnect for a one-on-one with @PFTCommenter? — Steady Eddie G
When he’s done hawking for Bobby Night.
What is the possibility of NBC making a play for the Big Ten, especially with Tirico on board? — Daniel Schmidt
I don’t think Tirco’s addition will be any factor. Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand has been at the front fof the reporting on Big Ten rights. I cede to him on this. He reported that ESPN offered a noncompetitive bid in an attempt by the network to “skim the cream” from the top of the package and try to create a smaller package with the best games.
Ourand also reported that the NBC Sports Group has been at the Big Ten table, and it has open broadcast windows that the Big Ten likes. But a Big Ten deal does not fit with NBC’s programming strategy. Wrote Ourand: “With the Olympics, NHL, EPL, Notre Dame and second half of the NASCAR season, NBC diligently has followed a strategy of cutting programming deals where it can carry a sport exclusively. Even Sunday Night Football fills an exclusive window for NBC. With the Big Ten, however, it would be sharing rights with Fox and the Big Ten Network, and its windows almost certainly would compete with other college sports programming.”
How long does Nessler have to wait for Verne Lundquist to step aside? — JJK
I think you’ll see Verne in the seat for a couple of years, then gracefully step aside. Full disclosure: He’s one of my favorite people in the business, a genuinely nice man, and has an amazing back story. (Did you know he helped CBS News cover the John F. Kennedy Assassination at age 23?) I just hope he gets to choose when to go.
Do you expect to ever see a Bayless-type huckster troll an owner or league executive? — Ken Yao
Why go for an imposter huckster? Given FS1’s desperation for ratings and that Bayless is among Fox’s highest paid front-facing employees, I’m not sure there is anything he can’t do on air short of eating the head off a live chicken.
What affect will Tirico’s move to NBC have on Bob Coastas? What exactly is his role, as it differs a lot from Jim Nantz at CBS. — John McDonald
No effect on the short-term for Costas, who will host the primetime show for NBC at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Long-term, I’d bet Tirico will be the primetime host of NBC’s Olympics coverage when Costas steps down. NBC has yet to offer comment on this and when they do, I’ll also bet you’ll read it first in The New York Times.
When will ESPN recognize that their national baseball broadcasts are tediously awkward, flat and altogether joyless? — Mo Sambito
When will the Blue Jays get some help for Roberto Osuna is the better question.
Where does Jim Rome now rate in the sport talk radio realm? He banks massive amounts of money and his show’s still quality. — Tom Vasich
Rome has the blueprint many hosts should follow. He owns his own content, he did it his way, and he found another sports passion (horse racing) where he has been successful. Styles are subjective. but he’s had an amazing career.
If McDonough goes to MNF, what dominoes fall in college football lineup? Joe Tessitore to Saturday? Dave Pasch to Thursday? — Doug Bowman
ESPN’s college football executives have some juggling to do with the presumed loss of McDonough to Monday Night Football, and Nessler likely on his way out. I would expect Joe Tessitore to move into a Saturday primetime spot or a higher Saturday game. Pasch, Dave Flemming, Adam Amin, or Mark Jones could also get switched to new places.
Could [FS1 president] Jamie Horowitz steal away Erik Rydholm to FS1? — Mark Coale
No chance. Horowitz has always said Rydholm is his creative idol, and it’s why some of Rydholm’s charges, including some talent he’s enabled, have gotten run in PalpatineLand. But Rydholm has a great setup at ESPN, where he is not a fulltime employee but works under his production company, Rydholm Projects, Inc., to executive produce PTI, Around The Horn and Highly Questionable. ESPN gives him a lot of freedom to work where he wants (Washington D.C.) and to hire whom he wants. He’d be crazy to leave for a different sports network.
With the recent addition of WWE segments and gossip on SportsCenter, does ESPN plan to morph into a showbiz channel? — Ivey McClelland
ESPN long ago crossed the rubicon when it comes to actors, actresses, comedians and muscians hawking on SportsCenter and shoulder programming. I do see more celebrities floating through Bristol because management believes the crossovers offer potential new viewers and buzz, regardless of whether a segment is awkward. But I don’t think the channel will ever lose its focus on sports. That’s what they do.
What does ESPN think of NFL Network. They pay a lot of money to the NFL, then the league competes to take away their viewers. — Mike DeCicco
If you are not in business with the NFL, you can’t call yourself a true 24/7 sports network in America. The NFL controls the inventory and ESPN has to play ball. The great irony is ESPN has the worst set of games yearly (between CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN) with Monday Night Football yet pays the most for the package. ESPN would love to own the NFL draft itself, but that’s not going to happen. They have to live with the NFL Network because it’s not going anywhere.
Given recent cost cutting moves, any thoughts on if ESPN/Disney will keep around FiveThirtyEight after this year’s election? — Chad McKinney
Last week I interviewed Marie Donoghue, one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes figures at ESPN and the top business executive for FiveThirtyEight, ESPN Films, as well as ESPN’s upcoming site on sports and race, The Undefeated (which launches May 17). Here is what she said on the future of FiveThirtyEight after the presidential election: “I view it strongly. I can give you some of the background here to explain that. FiveThirtyEight was never intended to be predominantly a political site. When we hired Nate, he was particularly interested in sports and politics. As we came up with a content plan we kind of had a rough target mix of about 1/3 sports, 1/3 politics, and 1/3 of everything else. The traffic fluctuates a bit based on what sporting events are going on and what politics or election events are there. But we fully intended from a content production standpoint to stick to that content mix.
“But then the 2016 election came into being and it has been astonishingly newsworthy. It also fell into our wheelhouse because FiveThirtyEight is very good at explaining the background and the rapid shift of public opinion, state by state strategies of insurgents, and establishment candidates on both sides. Now we are getting very deep into delegate selection. So with the traffic soaring, we had some meetings about it and decided It was an enormous opportunity to bring new traffic to the site and show them what we can do in other areas. We are benefitting and capitalizing on this election traffic but we are also expanding. We finally hired our first fulltime sports editor, Kyle Wagner. He came from Deadspin and is amazing. So we are intensifying and expanding our core sports coverage. During March Madness, the game win probability charts that FiveThirtyEight did for all the March Madness games led ESPN.com in the app during each live game window…You will see that even during the election we will continue to focus on sports. You will see huge baseball interactives from us. And don’t forget these prediction systems we can expand to other areas. So the NCAA Live probability I talked about will apply to other games. Football is really tough but we are hoping to have something done by this season. That thought process is informing us on how we do our delegate accumulation. During the New York primary, our live blog had hour by hour delegate accumulation.”
Any thoughts/review of Fox’s radio coverage of NFL draft last Thursday? I thought Jay Glazer was on the money. — David G
I didn’t listen but I liked seeing Fox Sports Radio do something beyond opinion-driven talk. I don’t think you can cede big events just because you don’t have the rights to it, so good on FSR.
With all the distaste that people have for “embrace debate” (rightfully so), do advertisers ever push back on ESPN/FS1? — Mike Barish
Not from what I’ve seen, no.
May hit too close to home for you, but I’m genuinely curious how news organizations monetize & measure podcasts. — Jeff Heckelman
I think you can monetize podcasts by having founding or weekly sponsors come in through ad buys (and then ad reads from talent). As for measuring metrics, it’s a tricky business. Should it count if you simply download but don’t listen, or should it be based on how long you listen to something? I do think it’s a medium with a lot of growth potential.
If Skip Bayless yells as loud as he can on FS1, will anyone hear him? Or worse, care? — Thomas Sheils
One person who will care is his CAA agent, who will be cashing a very nice check from all that yelling and LeBron James trolling.
When will Fox Sports move Katie Nolan to a normal time slot? — Seth Guttman
I think it’s coming. You’ve seen too much marketing and advertising around her—including a Godzilla-sized billboard in Times Square—for FS1 not to move her into an afternoon or primetime slot. She has had a lot of leverage because they are using her likeability as an opinionist to counter some of the voices they have who produce the opposite reaction of like.
Has the live sports rights bubble burst and, if so, what does it mean for the leagues? — Jeff Haugh
I link to a nice piece by Ourand on this at the bottom of the column. It’s worth reading.
Does the NBC “Inside the Glass” approach give a better perspective than a true color commentator in the booth with the play by play for NHL games? — Gregory Dowell
Better is, of course, totally subjective. I’d say sometimes for me. The position definitely can provide interesting insight, but I also think Pierre McGuire tends to protect the players and coaches more than he reports.
Any word yet on if Cris Collinsworth will be doing Thursday night games? Or will it be someone else, like Dilfer? — Neil Schoolnik
It looks to be Tirico and Collinsworth in the booth for NBC. Michele Tafoya will not work Thursday—she has young kids—so NBC will need a new sideline person for its Thursday night games.
What was Boston’s rating for NFL draft on the first night? (No first-round pick for the Patriots.) — Gary Picard
Boston did a 1.5 overnight rating on ESPN, which ranked last among the 56 metered markets. It was down from a 3.7 rating in 2015.
How do online writers handle possible conflicts with advertisers as they pay their entire salary? — Kate Cox
I think you have to push back as hard as you can so you can live with yourself. Obviously, it’s an individual decision based on many individual factors. But the likelihood is that will not be a good arrangement for the writer in the long-term.
What is a) more work, b) more enjoyable: weekly column(s) or weekly podcast(s)? — Mike Kofron
The obvious caveat: I have a job that often doesn’t feel like work, which is incredibly lucky. The writing and reporting part is much more challenging and taxing—and ultimately most satisfying—because it feels like I completed something with weight. The podcast is much more work for my producers, Allen Kim and Bette Marston. They have to ultimately package it, which is the hard part. But the podcast has been great because I get to interact with people I find interesting. We recently crossed the 1 million download mark with the podcasts, so thanks for the interest.
Two-parter: When will you be a guest on Cowherd and Whitlock’s show, and what will you wear? — Kyle Koster
I believe I have been banned from the Fox Sports lot in Los Angeles. If I were to ever appear—which is never going to happen—I would wear what Sting wore during the WCW-nWo wars and also bring a crow onto the set named Khan.
Why does ESPN trot out Chris Berman for big events? I understand doing it for festivities like All-Star Games, but why the draft? — Tatavio
Five quick thoughts: 1. He’s under contract and they have to use him in some form; 2. There are executives who have had his back for years; 3. It’s a legacy brand, and he represents a big part of that legacy; 4. ESPN p.r. will tell you that he polls very well in focus groups; 5. You will still watch.
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. NBC rode American Pharoah last year to some nice ratings for the Triple Crown, including 16 million viewers for the Kentucky Derby (up 4% from 2014). The network will air the 142nd running of the Derby on NBC this Saturday, at 4 p.m. ET. The race goes off in the 6 p.m. hour and coverage from Churchill Downs begins at noon ET on NBCSN. Among the highlights of the coverage: The network said they have 50 cameras for the Derby, including a new, 360-degree robotic camera on the infield; a new helmet camera on the outrider (the person who escorts the winning horse and jockey to the winners circle); a camera suspended 80-feet high on the Churchill Downs video board structure, and a robotic camera in the paddock saddling area. Look for prerace favorite Nyquist to get a lot of early attention.
1a. The Associated Press reported that horse racing announcer Larry Collmus has signed a five-year extension with NBC Sports to remain the voice of the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup.
1b. SiriusXM will air more than 11 hours of programming from Churchill Downs. On-site coverage begins at 8 a.m. ET and airs on SiriusXM Rush, channel 93 on satellite radios and on the SiriusXM app.
2. Episode No. 55 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features Chicago Tribune sports reporter Chris Hine, who covers the Blackhawks and is an openly gay sports writer.
On this episode, Hine, who wrote a piece for his newspaper last March in which he discussed his sexual orientation and the journey he took to become public with it, talks about his experiences with homophobia in sports; writing about Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw, who directed a homophobic slur at a referee and later apologized; what social media is like for him with regards to his sexual orientation; whether any members of the Blackhawks reached out to him after publishing his column; how other openly gay sports writers around the country helped him during his journey; rating how media-friendly the Blackhawks are as an organization; covering Patrick Kane and much more.
A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play 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.
3. Sports Business Daily assistant managing editor Austin Karp reported that viewership for the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs across NBC, NBCSN, USA and CNBC averaged 696,000 viewers for 45 games, down 2% compared to 712,000 viewers for 46 games last year.
3a. Toronto Globe & Mail writer David Shoalts reported that the audience for the CBC’s live broadcast of the NHL draft lottery drew 1.57 million viewers, topping the Penguins-Capitals game (1.5 million viewers) that followed it.
3b. Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand on whether the sports rights bubble is leaking some air for smaller sports properties.
3c. NBC announced that Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski will serve as correspondents for the 2016 Games. In a release, the network said the duo will explore “the rich culture, sights, sounds and, of course, fashion, of Rio.”
3d. ESPN has hired Women’s World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach to serve as an analyst and contributor to ESPN across various shows and platforms. Wambach will cover the UEFA European Football Championship 2016 in France and 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, offering, according to a press release, “her insight of the events and storylines from her unique perspective as an elite athlete.” ESPN said she will contribute to ESPN Films and E:60 and Outside the Lines. She’ll also launch a biweekly ESPN Audio podcast, Fearless Conversation with Abby Wambach.
In April Wambach, entered a guilty plea for driving under the influence of intoxicants in a county courtroom in Portland. According to the Oregonian, the plea meant she could see her charges dismissed within a year by enrolling in a diversion program available to first-time offenders.
Wambach also made news in March when she told The Lantern student newspaper at Ohio State that she would donate her brain for concussion research, following a decision made by former U.S. teammate Brandi Chastain.
3e. Think Progress writer Lindsay Gibbs conducted a roundtable with female sports media members on online harassment.
3f. Tonya Malinowski is an E:60 producer and this essay from her on modern love was terrific.