Few things in sports broadcasting are guaranteed -- outside of a Fox Sports robot appearing at a big sporting event -- but most sports television executives agree on this:
Peyton Manning is a can't-miss broadcasting prospect.
"I would think all the networks would be tripping over each other if Peyton Manning wanted to do this," said ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman, the executive in charge of hiring talent for the network's studio shows. "I wouldn't be surprised if he was interested in college football as well."
How likely is Manning to go into the booth after he retires from playing? For as many interviews and studio appearances as he has done over his 15 NFL seasons, the Broncos quarterback has never indicated that he'll pursue broadcasting after his career ends. (Worth noting is that his father, Archie, a broadcaster for CBS Sports, told the Indianapolis Business Journal in 2011 that he was not sure if Peyton's heart was into broadcasting.)
In an interview with SI.com last week, though, Manning's former coach, Tony Dungy, predicted Manning would be a broadcaster five years from now. "I would say he would," said Dungy, an analyst for NBC's Football Night In America. "He enjoys the game so much and it is a way to keep yourself involved. He would also be phenomenal. He has everything you are looking for. I joked with [NBC Sports executive producer] Sam Flood awhile back: If we hired him at NBC, it would triple Sam's workload. Peyton will be so prepared and not leave a stone unturned. He would put 30 hours a week into it because he will want to be the best. Whoever hires him, they have to know what comes the territory. But if he did this he would be phenomenal."
Every television network with an NFL contract has a list of players and coaches who would make good broadcasters. Manning, unsurprisingly, ranks high on every list including those of CBS and ESPN. "I think Peyton can be excellent," Markman said. "He's smart, with a great personality. You see his commercials and SNL appearances. The only question I'd have, much like anyone else, is whether he'd be comfortable criticizing other players and coaches. My instincts tell me he would be OK."
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.)
1. The competition between ESPN College GameDay and Fox College Saturday isn't really a competition. It's akin to a qualifier playing Roger Federer at Wimbledon in Federer's prime. Both players are on the same court, but only one is a legit player. So I'll pass along some early impressions off the debut of Fox College Saturday under the larger context that the show is years away (if ever) from remotely challenging GameDay. Most important, I don't think Fox will ever get traction with a college football studio show without traveling to a game site (even occasionally). College football, arguably more than any other sport in the U.S., is driven by the traditions that thrive outside the stadium. GameDay is an inclusive experience every Saturday. It lets the fans in. Fox Sports 1's Los Angeles-based studio show has the opposite effect.
The surest prediction is this: What you saw over the first weekend on Fox College Saturday was far different from what you will see on Day 100. There are smart behind-the-scenes people at Fox Sports 1 and the show will evolve.
A few initial thoughts:
• Get Stanford coach David Shaw on as much as possible. As he showed on the NFL Network's coverage of this year's draft, Shaw is an intelligent, thoughtful guy who answers questions with depth. Fox College Saturday looked very good having him in on its first week. He was the best analyst on the set. By a lot.
• The show opened with a rundown of the weekend's games that rolled so quickly viewers were provided with little more than a topline sentence on each game. I understand that you want to set up the weekend at the top but give viewers something more than a drive-by.
• Host Erin Andrews is at her best when she challenges her panelists and goes off-script. She's not a natural host, so counterpunching helps her segments. I keep hearing from Fox Sports 1 marketing people that the network is about fun. Andrews should take some swipes at her panelists. She can be sneaky funny.
• Moving forward, the show's producers should consider extending the length of its crowd shots merely to give viewers a taste of what makes Saturdays great. (The show did go to the West Virginia-William and Mary announcers in the second hour, which was good.)
• Shaw took part in a fun "Know Your School" segment, in which he was asked questions about Stanford. That's a feature to continue with other coaches but please tell the panelists to pipe down so the coach can be the star of the segment.
• Analyst Joel Klatt said he was "concerned" for Ohio State and gave some reasons why the Buckeyes' schedule has danger spots. Based on how they looked against Buffalo, Klatt appeared ahead of the curve.
• Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron had an ingrown toenail prior to Saturday's game. That was interesting news to report once, perhaps twice. Alas, Fox treated the toenail with the same intensity with which TMZ covers Kris Jenner. It looked amateur.
• Fox Sports 1 should seriously consider finding a national college football reporter with journalistic credibility and turn that person into a hybrid TV/print person. The move would have immediate impact given how scant the reporting was on the show. If you want to compete with ESPN and CBS Sports (not to mention many others) on college football breaking news, you need someone who can report along the lines of Pat Forde, Bruce Feldman, Brett McMurphy etc. ... Reading a tweet Katherine Webb sent to some dude about McCarron can't be the highpoint of your reporting. Analyst Petros Papadakis noted that we were in a new era when a player's girlfriend was "making news on game day," but that was because your network read that tweet on the air, partner.
• Though the Rice-Texas A&M game did not play out the way the panel assumed -- except for analyst Joel Klatt, who told viewers not to expect Texas A&M to be up 30 at halftime -- it did produce some good moments focused on why Johnny Manziel should or should not play Week 1. (He did, obviously.)
• We're not sure why Andrews isn't part of picking games along with the rest of the panel. She has covered more college football than anyone on set. Chris Fowler makes picks. Andrews should, too.
• Klatt is more of a natural host than Andrews and when he led the panel in picking games, it was one of the better parts of the show. It also provided the best moments for Eddie George and Clay Travis.
• I love Mike Pereira, but I'm not sure he's needed here as a full-time panelist. Papadakis, who has plenty of college football experience, already has been cast for moments of comic relief, so with Pereira it feels like two guys competing for the same terrain. Pereira was good talking about how Oregon's offense affected officials and he also showed great timing when Andrews asked which staffer should be replaced if Tim Tebow joined the crew. Pereira promptly started walking off the set. Funny moment.
2. During the NFL Hall of Fame game last month, Dungy spent part of the third quarter calling the game with regular broadcasters Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. Does Dungy have interest serving as a game analyst in the future? "It was fascinating," Dungy said. "The energy you get describing things as they happen was different from the studio. I enjoy our studio crew so much that I'm not sure I would want to go that way. But that 15 minutes was a lot of fun."
2a. On a broadcast of the SportsDash with Yahoo! Sport last week, co-host Carolyn Manno asked Dungy about the impact Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have A Dream' speech had on his life. "I was seven years old," Dungy said. "I just remember sitting there watching on television, black-and-white TV, and seeing an African-American man captivate the whole country. For me, growing up in a little small town in Michigan, it was a thrill, but it also got me to think about dreaming. My dad was a schoolteacher who had fought in World War II. He had taught in segregated schools before I was born. I think there was a pride factor in him, too, and a sense that we were making progress and that maybe his children would get some of the benefits that he didn't have growing up. I know he was thrilled by it."
2b. Dungy said he thought ESPN's hire of former Colts center Jeff Saturday was a winner. "I know [NBC exec] Sam Flood talked to Jeff a couple of years ago," Dungy said. "Centers know so much about the game and Jeff is an outgoing personality and an extrovert at center. Jeff will be very good."
3. By any viewer metric one could choose, including performance and likeability, Craig James was a massively unpopular college football broadcaster. ESPN valued him for his relationships with coaches but ultimately all James offered was little more than backslapping commentary. He was crushed by viewers on social media and rightly so. That didn't stop Fox Sports Southwest from hiring James -- before quickly reversing course.
James left ESPN in 2011 to run for the Senate. Texas voters responded by providing him with 3.59 percent of the vote in the 2012 Republican primary. During that campaign, James declared that gay people would "answer to the Lord for their actions," among other takes on homosexuality. Certainly, he is entitled to his beliefs but that kind of rhetoric from a college football broadcaster (as opposed to a political candidate) would be troubling for any sports network striving to be inclusive to all viewers, no matter their sexual orientation.
While ESPN previously told SI.com that James would not return to its airwaves, Fox Sports Southwest decided to pony up for James. Last week the network announced that the veteran broadcaster was being brought on as a college football studio analyst. "He's a talented broadcaster who I've admired throughout his career," said Fox Sports Southwest Senior Executive Producer Mike Anastassiou. "His knowledge of college football and the experience he brings as an analyst will be a tremendous asset to our coverage."
On the opposite end of Anastassiou was Cyd Zeigler Jr., a co-founder of Outsports.com, a part of the SB Nation network and the most read gay sports website in the country. Said Zeigler Jr.: "Republicans in Texas have rejected Craig James, ESPN has kicked him to the curb, Deadspin called him, in patented Deadspin fashion, 'a d---.' He's an unpopular guy with a big mouth and backward views. So if he can find some out-of-touch network executive at Fox Sports to hire him as a regional analyst, more power to him. I'll be watching college football on other networks, so I won't see much of him."
News broke late on Sunday night that the James era at Fox Sports Southwest would be a short one. Fox Sports executives in Los Angeles were not happy with the hire by the regional network, according to sources, as it had not been fully vetted at the highest levels of Fox Sports management. Even though James appeared on FSS on Saturday night, a formal agreement had not been finalized. He will no longer appear on FSS, according to Fox Sports officials. "Craig James will not be making any further appearances on Fox Sports Southwest's football coverage this season," said a Fox Sports spokesperson.
3a. James spoke about his return to sports television with the Houston Chronicle.
4. There are few things likely to survive a nuclear war, but I'm convinced NFL studio shows are one of them. Networks continue to expand the chat-happy programming at a rabid rate. My latest piece for The MMQB.com is a viewers' guide to the NFL studio shows across CBS, CBS Sports Television, ESPN, Fox, Fox Sports 1, NBC and the NFL Network this fall.
5. I took part in a fun college football broadcaster draft run by the Awful Announcing website. My top four picks: Kirk Herbstreit (No. 2 overall), Scott Van Pelt (No. 7), Brent Musburger (No. 10) and Sean McDonough (No. 15).
6. Few ESPN shows are driven by a single personality (Colin Cowherd is an exception on the radio side), which is why ESPN2's Olbermann has been an interesting experiment so far. If you like host Keith Olbermann, the show is eminently watchable. If you dislike him, I imagine you won't stick around even to hate-watch. The show's interviews have been a mixed bag but there have been two moments unlike anything I've seen on a cable sports network recently. First, there was a clinical takedown of a callous column on concussions by a CBS Sports.com columnist. We don't often see ESPN so brazenly go after other sports media figures on television -- this usually happens behind-the-scenes or on Twitter -- and clearly the birth of Fox Sports 1 has produced a more aggressive stance by ESPN when it comes to competitors. Also, given all the lowest common denominator blarney produced on ESPN2 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Olbermann's reflection on what Martin Luther King Jr. meant to his father was thoughtful television. ESPN wanted an alternative to SportsCenter and Fox Sports Live, and this show is that. Whether it finds an audience for the long-term is a question that will be answered months from now.
6a. Along the lines of ESPN-ers getting more feisty going after the competition, here's a tweet from ESPN.com senior writer and investigative reporter Don Van Natta regarding Fox Sports 1.
6b. Some early ratings for Olbermann: The show's debut drew 319,000 viewers, which the Hollywood Reporter broke down here. The viewership for the rest of the week: Tuesday (200,000 viewers), Wednesday (234,000) and Thursday (185,000). It's hard to read anything deep into the numbers given the unpredictable time of the U.S. Open lead-in. ESPN2's average in the time period in third quarter last year was 261,000 viewers, so that will be the benchmark number to look at heading forward.
7. It was terrific week for notable sports pieces:
• Rolling Stone published a comprehensive piece on Aaron Hernandez.
• SI's Tim Layden wrote a terrific profile of new Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
• New York Times reporter Alan Schwarz, whose work on concussions was Pulitzer-worthy, offered a devastating look at the NFL settlement.
• This thoughtful piece by writer Amy Goodwin on the NFL concussion settlement is worth your time as well.
• The Poynter Institute's Kelly McBride weighed in on what the ESPN/Frontline breakup teaches us about investigative reporting.
• This New York Times piece, co-bylined by Richard Sandomir, James Andrew Miller and Steve Eder, is one ESPN management does not want you to read.
Non sports pieces of note:
• The Economist obit of Elmore Leonard was brilliant.
• The Washington Post's Max Fisher superbly aids readers with "Nine Questions About Syria You Were Too Embarrassed To Ask."
• Loved the honesty of Faith Rein and Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem in this piece on their relationship and wedding.
8. Sports Business Daily assistant managing editor Austin Karp reported that Fox Sports 1 averaged 157,000 viewers in primetime for the week of Aug. 19-25 -- the first full week the network was on the air. That beat the Golf Channel (132,000), NBCSN (96,000) and ESPNU (63,000) during the same period. For comparison, the NFL Network (384,000) and MLB Network (196,000) were well ahead of FS1.
8a. Via Sports Business Daily: ESPN's "Nine for IX" documentary series averaged 446,000 viewers for the films that aired on Tuesday nights from July 2-Aug. 27.
8b. ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting, the executive in charge of College GameDay, told Bloomberg News that ESPN research indicated that 38 percent of the show's audience is from the states that make up the SEC, with no other region in the U.S. accounting for more than 11 percent of the audience.
8c. Outside The Lines drew 752,000 viewers for its Aug. 18 broadcast on ESPN. The show flips to ESPN2 this Sunday at a time slot one hour earlier (8:00 a.m. ET). As multiple ESPN staffers have told me, it represents a de facto burying of the show. I'll update the ratings in a couple of weeks, but, sadly, I predict the show's first-run episodes will decrease by 40 percent if not more. Just a shame.
9. Something you might not know about College GameDay: Fans bring the crew food at every campus. "Tailgaters will bring us ribs or gumbo, and restaurants will bring us over their food," said host Chris Fowler. "We get more food deliveries to the GameDay bus than we can possibly eat in a season. It's very flattering. I love barbeque, though I think you can overdose on it and I know that might be sacrilegious to some. Our crew will grill us fresh salmon and brisket. We eat very well. There are a couple of crew guys who are gifted chefs."
9a. Smart additive content by ESPN PR staffer Keri Potts, who has been tweeting behind-the-scenes photos of GameDay.
9b. USA Today's Paul Myerberg was embedded with the GameDay crew last weekend.
10. Sirius XM Radio re-signed my pal Chris Russo to a new three-year contract. Starting in September, the show will air daily from 3:00-6:00pm ET so expect a lot of backslapping interviews with Bud Selig among other baseball figures until the NFL season.
10a. On a related note, MLB Network announced Russo will launch a weekday baseball show in the spring of 2014, in addition to appearing across its studio programming. The show will be produced by MLB Network and simulcast on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM.
10b. Sirius XM Radio has added The Dan Patrick Show to its weekday lineup of shows on Mad Dog Sports Radio. The show will air weekdays from 9:00 am to Noon ET.
10c. ESPN has added a new Sunday afternoon women's package of college basketball games in addition to ESPN2's Big Monday. The five-week series will begin Feb. 2.
10d. Fox Sports 1 said Steve Scheer has joined the network as its lead college basketball producer. Scheer previously worked on basketball at CBS Sports and was well-liked by that group.
10e. Fox Sports has added Jenny Taft as a news and update person for Fox Sports 1. She joins Don Bell, Julie Stewart-Binks, Ryan Field and Molly McGrath and will make her first appearance in Los Angeles on Sept. 22.
10f. The opener that aired last Saturday night prior to the ABC broadcast of Clemson-Georgia was sensational. So were the must-watch visuals of Clemson's team bus driving to the stadium before rubbing Howard's Rock and running down the hill into Death Valley. "We worked on this with Clemson for a month," said ESPN's Derek Mobley, who directed the game. "My technical manager Jack Coffey worked on it almost every day."
Mobley said Steve Keller was the steadicam operator who rode ahead in a pickup truck to capture the Clemson team bus heading to Memorial Stadium. He also ran down the hill with the team. The ESPN staffers outside the stadium (Steve Angel, Steve Ritchie, and Tom Stone), on the hill (Shawn Dechant, Jud Mazur, and Michael Ritchie), and the camera operators in the stadium (Mike Denton, Clint Goldwater, Tyler Ibarra, Dana Levin, Steve Lowe, John Lubash, Mike Miller, Steve Roy, Sam Tamez and Tim Tew) deserve major props. Well done.