CBS Sports has always been a conservative division. The unit's management is judicious about talent changes, prizes stability throughout its ranks, and has opted to watch from the sidelines as ESPN, Fox Sports and NBC Sports engage in a Pac-Man-like pursuit for television sports rights.
But the retirement of NFL analyst Dan Dierdorf-- he called his last game on Saturday with New England's win over Indianapolis -- gives CBS Sports an opportunity for forward-thinking change that will also reward NFL viewers:
It's time to move Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts up to the network's No. 2 team.
"I happen to agree with you," said an executive at a competing network who works on the NFL. "Ian Eagle is a true pro, calls a great game and has more personality than he's given credit for. Dan Fouts has always been underrated. But I bet they pursue someone new and pair them with [Greg] Gumbel as No. 2 team."
That would be a mistake. I can make a compelling argument that Eagle and Fouts on talent and chemistry alone could be the No. 1 team at CBS, but the network is heavily invested in Jim Nantz as its lead announcer across multiple sports and the same with Phil Simms as its primary NFL voice. Such a suggestion would not be based in reality.
But as a No. 2 team, Eagle and Fouts would be a significant upgrade for CBS. They call an excellent game, use humor in their broadcast as well as any NFL broadcast team, and thankfully dial down on overhyping players and coaches. They also have experience in the booth -- Eagle and Fouts have worked 68 games together-- and finely tuned chemistry with director Suzanne Smith and producer Bob Mansbach. Moving them up to No. 2 -- which means more people in the country would view their work including the playoffs -- would also strengthen CBS's No. 3 team, which would feature Gumbel and a new partner finding chemistry. CBS already has the deepest roster of NFL game announcers and game analysts and this would only amplify that.
CBS Sports management, not surprisingly, offered little on its future staffing plans. Contacted on Saturday afternoon by SI.com, a CBS spokeswoman said, "We will assess our lineup at the conclusion of this season and make a decision for next season in the coming months."
The Noise Report
SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.
1. SI.com can report that next year's college football playoff games on ESPN will include elements of the "Megacast" that viewers experienced last week with Florida State's last-minute win over Auburn.
"I am certain you will see it again in the context of the college football playoff, but what applications and what specific differentiating presentations is very much what we will talk about in the coming weeks," said Burke Magnus, ESPN Senior Vice President of College Sports Programming. "Obviously some things worked and some things did not, but we were very happy with the result."
ESPN used six of its television platforms as well as audio and digital outlets for the Jan. 6 telecast to present a smorgasbord of viewing options. What stood out most for me -- along with an excellent game production on ESPN -- was the "BCS Film Room" on ESPNEWS featuring Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, Boston College coach Steve Addazio, Pitt coach Paul Chryst, and ESPN analysts Matt Millen, Chris Spielman and (a really good) Tom Luginbill providing X-and-O analysis of the game from a film room equipped with multiple camera angles and touchscreens. It was smart television, minimally produced, and every competitor should attempt to duplicate the concept. The only minor complaint I heard in social media was the screen the coaches were watching the game on should have been given larger space on the viewer's screen. Otherwise, it was one of the rare debut products by ESPN that produced near universal acclaim. ESPN staffers Mike Diesenhof, Bill Graff and Brian Ryder produced the Film Room platform while Vic Delouriero and Phil Skender served as directors.
"My takeaway tracked pretty consistent with what the feedback was from both critics and fans through social media and other places," Magnus said. "I thought Film Room was the most mature, most advanced, smartest execution. Some of the other things even down to the miniscule add-ons like Spider-Cam was great. The whole thing was done under the banner of take some risks and chances, see what happens, and maybe we will learn something. We didn't go in predicting everything would be a success and I could have predicted in my core some of the things that would fall flat. We did not do it to go 10-for-10. We went in thinking if we went 5-for-10 it would be a good night and I think we did even a little better than that."
I asked Magnus if viewers should expect other major events to get a Megacast treatment. He said the network will be judicious and will research what elements worked and did not work (Title Talk, for instance). He brought up the possibility of the World Cup Final from Brazil as well as the NBA Finals.
"What is next, who knows?" Magnus said. "But something talked about has been the World Cup final. Is the NBA Finals the same thing? I don't know. It's different in a series environment but it has the right magnitude. The general sense is we learned a lot and there are absolute things we can apply but let's be judicious about how we throw around the Megacast."
1a. The ESPN telecast averaged 25,572,000 viewers. When the Megacast elements were added from ESPN2 and ESPNNEWS (the other platforms do not get rated), the game drew 26,061,000 viewers. ESPN said WatchESPN (ESPN3) generated 773,000 unique viewers for viewers across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN3 and ESPN Goal Line collectively.
1b. ESPN's airing of the five BCS bowl games averaged 16,549,000 viewers, up nine percent (15,131,000) over last year's BCS games.
1c. The top-rated TV markets for ESPN for the BCS title game: 1. Birmingham; 2. Jacksonville; 3. Knoxville; 4. Atlanta; 5. Orlando; 6. Tampa-St. Petersburg; 7. Memphis; 8. Greenville, S.C.; 9. Nashville; 10. Charlotte.
1d. ESPN said its 29 bowl telecasts averaged 5,959,000 viewers, an increase of nine percent (vs. 5,468,000) over last year.
1e. Sports Business Daily media reporter John Ourand reports the SEC Network will cost distributors within SEC country $1.30 per subscriber.
2. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas has worked the NBA Draft for the past 11 years but he has never been part of an NBA broadcast. That will change this Friday when Bilas joins Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy for the call of the Clippers-Knicks on ESPN. Immediately after the game, Bilas will take a car to Philadelphia to be part of the ESPN College GameDay basketball show at the Palestra prior to Temple-LaSalle on ESPN2 at noon. ((NBA analyst Tim Legler will be the analyst for that game.) It's part of an ESPN broadcasting stunt that will have Van Gundy also joining Bilas and Sean McDonough for North Carolina at Virginia at 7 p.m. ET on Jan. 20.
"I'm not going to pretend I am a longtime NBA expert," said Bilas, "but I watch the game, I love it and I have learned a lot watching it. For me the real fun of this is going to be less about the NBA versus college and more about getting to hang out with Breen and Van Gundy."
Bilas said ESPN basketball executives floated the idea to him not too long ago and he was immediately interested. He enjoyed his time with Van Gundy at the NBA Draft and said that when Stan Van Gundy, Jeff's brother, was coaching Orlando, Stan would often text Jeff during the telecast. Those texts included critique of Jeff ("Shut up, you don't even know who this guy is") and insider information ("Whoever we draft, just say we targeted him and were glad he was still available").
2a. Bilas said he would relish the opportunity, like Van Gundy, to one day serve as the sideline reporter for a game involving Spurs coach Greg Popovich.
"That would be on my bucket list along with climbing Everest," Bilas said. "I would love that. When Van Gundy and Popovich hugged, it brought tears to my eyes, kind of like Old Yeller. It was Barbara Walters-esque of Jeff to get that emotion out of his subject."
3. If you are curious about how many viewers each of the football-airing networks (CBS, ESPN, FOX, NBC and NFL Network) networks drew this year and the highest-rated cities for the NFL, I did a ratings piece for The MMQB.
3a. Sports Business Daily media reporter John Ourand reported on Sunday night that the NFL is talking to television networks about selling a package of Thursday night games. Ourand ranked Turner as the favorite for the package The NFL Network would still keep some of the Thursday Night games.
3b. Nice work by CBS Sports producer Charlie Bloom to track down Joe Buck, Al Michaels, Bob Costas, Dick Enberg, former NFL teammates (Conrad Dobler, Jim Hart) and CBS talent such as Verne Lundquist and Lesley Visser for an NFL Today tribute piece to Dierdorf.
3c. "Physically it's just hard for me to travel 20 weeks a year and do my job the right way," Dierdorf said last week. "I tell everybody, I'm retiring but I'm not expiring. I've got to find something to do. I love the NFL, and I love the game of football. Whether it's radio just something that doesn't involve me having to go to the airport every Thursday or Friday and be gone for three or four days. I'm going to find something to do and you haven't heard the last of me I hope."
3d. Here's ESPN NFL analyst Trent Dilfer on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel: "Watching his game tape, the only quarterback I can compare him to from an instinct standpoint is Brett Favre. Johnny Manziel has eyes in the back of his head. He flat-out sees stuff that other people don't see, and that's why he's special."
3e. The Broncos-Patriots game drew 26.5 million viewers for NBC's Sunday Night Football on Nov. 24, the 14th-most watched game of the regular season. That viewership number will nearly double come this Sunday when the two meet for the AFC Championship.
4. ESPN made the inevitable official by naming Ian Darke as its lead play-by-play commentator for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Darke will call the Brazil vs. Croatia opening match on June 12 in Sao Paulo, the World Cup final, and every match of the U.S. Men's National Team during the tournament (June 12 -- July 13).
4a. The network also announced that it had parted ways with iconic soccer gamecaller Martin Tyler ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Tyler called 18 of the 64 matches at the 2010 World Cup for ESPN including the tournament opener, the final and all matches played by England. "Following World Cup 2010 Ian Darke made a long term commitment to ESPN," Tyler said in statement. "That commitment deserves to be rewarded by Ian being the lead commentator at World Cup 2014 for ESPN. With that in mind, it was only right and proper for me to offer to stand down from ESPN's broadcast of the tournament next year. I'm sure that Ian and ESPN will enjoy a very successful tournament."
Tyler is the lead football voice for the London-based Sky Sports, which is part of the Fox family. I asked Fox Sports this week how interested they would be in using Tyler for their 2018 World Cup coverage. "Martin Tyler is already a fixture on Fox Sports 1 via our UEFA Champions League and FA Cup coverage," said a Fox Sports spokesperson. "We recognize him in a class of his own when it comes to international soccer coverage."
4b. ESPN Films will premiere a new series in April called "30 for 30: Soccer Stories." The series will include a mix of standalone feature-length and 30-minute-long documentary films on soccer.
5. As a general rule, I'm not a fan of sports broadcasters getting assigned events where family members are competing. Why? It puts the broadcaster in a near-impossible position with viewers. But this occurrence has happened so often, whether former ABC Sports analyst Bob Greise calling son Brian's games, Fox's NASCAR analyst Darrell Waltrip announcing brother Michael's races or Bill Walton calling his son's college basketball games, that I'm no longer a hardliner on the issue. If the broadcaster is professional -- such as ESPN's Van Gundy when he called brother Stan's games during the 2009 NBA Finals -- the broadcast is usually fine.
ESPN's Jon Gruden now enters this world with his brother Jay becoming the head coach of the Washington Redskins. Yes, Jon Gruden called two Bengals games in 2013 when Jay was an assistant with that team, but this is an entirely different scenario given announcers are far more likely to discuss a head coach than an assistant. There's also the very real issue of the production meetings with coaches prior to the game. Should Gruden recuse himself from that week's production meetings out of respect to the opposing teams? I think he should. But he should also stay on the broadcast. Here's the ESPN take on it: "Jon is our Monday Night Football analyst. If we have the Redskins, he will call the games. We will be transparent about their relationship. Jon is a professional and will call the games objectively."
6. The news that ESPN personality Dan Le Batard ceded his Baseball Hall of Fame ballot to Deadspin readers was debated robustly last week, especially by Le Batard's television and radio network who no doubt were gleeful at the click-worthy controversy. (The vanilla response from ESPN was amusing if only for attempting to pass the buck to the Miami Herald.) Here's views (all different) from Deadspin's Tim Marchman, Fox Sports baseball insider Ken Rosenthal, CBS Sports columnist Gregg Doyel, NBC Sports' Craig Calcaterra and Awful Announcing's Andrew Bucholtz on the journalistic implications. And here was my assessment.
7. Sports stories of note this week:
•Brilliant piece by the Washington Post's Tom Boswell on Greg Maddux.
•WRBD.com's Eric Crawford nailed it on Bobby Petrino getting hired by Louisville.
•SI's Tom Verducci had a blistering piece on Alex Rodriguez.
•USA Today's George Schroeder went behind the scenes of FSU-Auburn with Gus Malzahn and the Tigers.
•Fun story by Alan Siegel on some NHL Draft hijinks from the former PR director of the Buffalo Sabres.
•Dennis Rodman's CNN interview reworked into an nWo ad.
•SI's Jon Wertheim on the strange journey of tennis player Camila Giorgi.
•The world of competitive electric football: Nice work by Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post.
•The Score's Dustin Parkes on his journey into sports writing.
•Says a Washington Post op-ed: The NFL Should Let Its Players Smoke Pot.
Non-sports pieces of note:
•The New Yorker's Maria Konnikova on the problems with an open office.
•Brilliant public service journalism from Shawn Boburg of The Record (N.J.) on the New Jersey bridge closings.
•Buzzfeed's Charlie Warzel, on dropping all his Twitter follows.
•CNN reporter Sara Ganim's investigation on literacy and college athletes is worth reading.
8. ESPN tennis analyst Darren Cahill offered some interesting thoughts last week on how to improve the tennis viewing experience on television. His network will air more than 100 hours of the Australian Open and 500-plus hours on Watch ESPN over the next two weeks.
"I would reinforce the time between points and I would make a start time an exact start time," Cahill said. "If players were scheduled on court for a 2:00 p.m. start, I would make the first ball being played 2:01 or 2:02. Players would have to be on court at 1:57 doing their warmups. I would make it when people tune in, they know the first ball was hit at 2:00. I think there's so much lead time from the start, middle to the finish of tennis, it's dead TV to a large degree. Obviously people have shorter attention spans because they have so many options on television. You have to make tennis reliable and attractive to people."
9. ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy blasted the group of ex-players who joined Dennis Rodman in North Korea during a segment on SiriusXM NBA Radio with Frank Isola and Jerry Stackhouse. Said Van Gundy: "First of all, if Dennis Rodman calls you with a plan are you saying, 'I'm in'? And the second part is when you hear North Korea, if you have any understanding of world events, that would give you pause to say, 'Uh, maybe not.' The [NBA] Commissioner [David Stern], it is too bad he has to address them going over there. And Rodman's press conference, when you're drunk I guess you do some crazy things. But that one was as crazy as you could imagine. But those other guys, they're going to take heat for it and I hope they have a good answer for why they followed Rodman over on this. I just hope they don't think they were following Mandela [trying to go] into a country to try to use sport to bring people together."
10. NBC announced last week that Nancy Kerrigan, who won a silver medal in figure skating at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, has joined NBC Olympics for its 2014 Olympic Winter Games coverage in Sochi. The network said Kerrigan will serve as a figure skating analyst for NBC and NBCSN and appear on Today, Access Hollywood and E! Worth noting is Kerrigan agreed to talk exclusively with NBC (and not ESPN) for a documentary about what happened to her 20 years ago when she was attacked by an associate of Tonya Harding's ex-husband.
10a. NBC's drew 4.1 million viewers for the U.S. Ladies Figure Skating Championship, up 24 percent last year (avg. of 3.3 million viewers).
10b. Esquire Television will air 10-week series called "Horseplayers" which will focus on racing handicapping tournament competitors.
10c. Fox Sports hired Mark Loomis as its lead producer for all its golf event production and all studio programming. Fox Sports and Fox Sports 1 will air the U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open and U.S. Senior Open Championships, as well as the USGA's national amateur championships and other live content, beginning in 2015 through 2026.
10d. The recent NBC Olympics hire Sal Masekela, far more an advocate for X Games sports than reporter of them, took a big Twitter swing at Bob Costas after Costas opined (a tad too flippantly) on the new Olympic sport of slopestyle in a yukfest with Matt Lauer on Today. "The president of the IOC should be Johnny Knoxville because basically this stuff is just Jackass stuff that they invented, and called Olympic sports," Costas said. That prompted Masekela to unload on Costas before the inevitable deleting of the tweets when the higher-ups at NBC Sports got involved. Said an NBC spokesperson:
"It was a misunderstanding which was quickly resolved."
10e. The Golf Channel averaged 108,000 viewers in 2013, the most-watched year in the 19-year history of the network and a 14 percent increase over last year.
10f. NBC and NBC Sports Network hired former Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. crew chief Steve Letarte to be an analyst on its NASCAR coverage beginning in 2015. Letarte joins fellow analyst Jeff Burtoan and race announcer Rick Allen.
10g. Bill Conlin, a longtime Philadelphia sports writer and frequent ESPN Sports Reporters panelist, died at 79.
10h. File this away: CBS Sports radio host Jim Rome owns a horse (Shared Belief) that could be a serious Kentucky Derby threat later this year:
10i. The new Sunday Night Baseball team of announcer Dan Shulman, analysts John Kruk and Curt Schilling and reporter Buster Olney debut on March 30 at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN with coverage of the Dodgers at Padres. The following day, ESPN and ESPN 2 will air four games including the Mariners debut of Robinson Cano as Seattle plays Los Angeles at 10:00 p.m. on ESPN.
10j. An exchange from last Thursday's TNT's Inside The NBA:
Analyst Charles Barkley on the Knicks: "The Knicks aren't a good team."
Host Ernie Johnson: "Are they getting better?"
Barkley: "They can only get so good."
10k. I asked SI.com's sports law expert, Michael McMann, to offer his thoughts on sports impact of the upcoming ABC vs. Aereo case:
Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear ABC v. Aereo, a case that could radically change sports broadcasting. Major television networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and PBS, have joined together to sue Aereo, a technology company that provides paying subscribers with antennas to receive and record live streamed broadcasts on their computers, tablets, AppleTVs and other devices. Aereo is only available in 10 markets—Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Miami, New York City and Salt Lake City— and, depending on the market, provides between 15 and 50 channels, none of which are sports channels. Aereo's controversy stems from the fact that it does not pay fees to stream (retransmit) network programming. The networks contend that Aereo is essentially stealing their copyright-protected broadcasts for profit. So far, federal judges have sided with Aereo, mainly because copyright protection for broadcasts only extends to "public performances" and Aereo's streams are individualized for each subscriber. If you think Aereo is exploiting a loophole in copyright law, you're not alone.
Sports fans should pay close attention to this case. The NFL and Major League Baseball have filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of the networks. The two leagues insist that Aereo is "eroding the value of one of [their] most important assets": copyrights in live game broadcasts. The leagues contend that by streaming NFL and MLB games, Aereo damages the exclusivity of live game broadcasts and thus reduces the amount of money leagues can attract for licensing contracts. DirecTV and Verizon, for example, would likely offer leagues less money to broadcast their games if customers can use Aereo to watch those same games. The leagues ominously warn that if Aereo is ruled lawful, they will eventually shift all of their game broadcasts to cable stations outside of Aereo's reach. The NFL estimates that 90 percent of its broadcasts are on free over-the-air TV stations, such as NBC, CBS and Fox. A shift of all games to cable TV would be great news for ESPN and perhaps also Fox Sports 1 and the NBC Sports Network, but it would deny fans who do not pay for cable. It would also be bad news for the NFL and MLB products on NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox.
While the leagues' threat is to be taken seriously, there are legal reasons to doubt that the NFL would actually carry through on it. The NFL is a beneficiary of the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, which exempts the four major leagues from violating Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act in their national television contracts. The exemption, however, only extends to "sponsored broadcasting" of games, an expression interpreted to mean free over-the-air TV. By moving all of its games to cable, the NFL would lose the exemption's protection and open itself up to years of antitrust litigation. Baseball is in a different position because of its historical exemption from antitrust law, but that exemption has been limited over the years. The nine Supreme Court justices will hear oral arguments this spring and issue an opinion later in the year.