Media Mailbag: On the future of First Take, NFL rights & 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.
Do you feel Mike Breen is overlooked as one of the current great announcers? Especially love his calls of huge plays. — Thomas Turniawan
I honestly don’t think he’s overlooked. I think most astute sports viewers know Breen is at the top of his profession. He’s prepared, he has a great sense of the big moments, and he allows his partners to be themselves. He’s a terrific announcer. For those interested, here’s a piece on how he prepared for Game 7 of the Finals.
What are the realistic chances old Grantland employees still at ESPN are allowed to go on Bill Simmons’s podcast/show soon? — Evan Scrimshaw
It’s like the WWE. Eventually, the storylines change and former foes become allies. I think you will one day see former Grantland employees such as Zach Lowe and Bill Barnwell appear on Simmons’s podcasts.
In a post-take world, which direction do you see sports media going: smarter, more analytical? Or more late night show fun? — Adam Smoot
I don’t think we are in a post-take world, alas. When I talk to sports media agents, they say television and radio jobs are still going to those who opine loudly and brashly. Now, I think the counter will be the digital space, where things will continue to get smarter and more analytical. Watch out for Bleacher Report making smart and bold moves.
With all the money ESPN pays for NFL rights, why does ABC not get a Super Bowl? — Andy McDonnell
Great question, and it’s remarkable really. Obviously, CBS, Fox and NBC will fight to the death not to make the Super Bowl an every four-year rotation but the truth is the NFL has the leverage here. ESPN can’t walk away from the NFL because the company’s on-air business model is essentially built on NFL content. Think about how much shoulder programming ESPN does that is NFL related.
Who do you think will replace Skip Bayless on First Take? I like Max Kellerman as the best replacement. — Courtney Harden
I believe the job is Kellerman’s if he wants it. What I don’t know is whether he wants to uproot his life in L.A.—he has three kids—to move back to where he’s from (East Coast). If I were his agent, I’d advise him to pass. Stephen A. Smith has made it clear that the next incarnation of First Take will be his show and the person who gets the Bayless chair will be below Smith on the marquee. Why associate yourself with a show where a wide swath of people will think you are nothing more than a hot-taker? Plus, there is value being away from the corporate offices and your bosses. Then again, the money will be great.
What are your overall feelings about a three-person booth vs. two? Does it really add value or just job opportunities for a crowded field? — Ka-Ryn Escovedo
I think it depends on the sport. I’m fine with three-person booths for slower sports (say, baseball or golf), but I prefer a two-person booth for speed sports (basketball and hockey). Now, if you have a great three-person group like Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery, it can be a lot of fun.
With concerns of Zika, doping and poor economy in Rio, will these Olympics draw lower viewership than Beijing or London? — Douglas Pucci
These Olympics have so many returning brand names—Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Gabby Douglas, Keri Walsh among them—and given Rio will basically be a live Olympics, I think this will be the most-watched Olympics of all time. But I’m very curious to see how NBC handles the news side of the Games. It’s looking like a mess right now between infrastructure, infectious diseases and drug cheats.
Should I finally break down and buy a high-definition TV? — Neil Best
Given you cover sports media for Newsday and a good accountant can write this off as a work expense ... yes.
Why is Pedro Martinez allowed to be on MLB Network when he is Red Sox special assistant to the president of baseball operations? — @NYCKing
Alas, most networks don’t seem to care about such conflicts of interest (see ESPN’s tennis coverage and The Tennis Channel) and the standard is even lower on league-run broadcasts. Martinez is terrific, but is it a conflict? Of course it is.
Do you think we will ever see alternate broadcasts for Super Bowl and NBA Finals like we do for college football/basketball? — Jon Payton
I honestly can’t see it happening anytime soon. I don’t think the NFL wants to cannibalize that Super Bowl viewership number. That 111 million-plus figure means a lot to them because it’s so much greater than anyone else. As for the NBA Finals, I think the game is too quick to do a live coaching show and a homer broadcast would feel odd here.
Can you get Jay Onrait & Dan O’Toole to come back to Canada and stop wasting their talents in the wasteland of Fox Sports? — @EntrancedBeef
Watched a lot of FS1 the last few weeks. Aren’t Jay and Dan even promo worthy? — Brian Cullather
Let’s take the latter first: It is very telling how little promotion Onrait and O’Toole get compared to their colleagues. I don’t know why. On the former, we need my man Justin Trudeau to get the loonie closer to the dollar. Onrait and O’Toole’s deal are coming up, and I’ll be curious to see what happens with them. Fox Sports president Eric Shanks told me to my face that he wants to make it work with them. I believe him. But saying it is one thing and doing something is another story. Onrait and O’Toole don’t fit the current studio philosophy at FS1, which is opinion and bluster above all (and pushing that bluster on your social channels). As I’ve said before, I really like their work and I hope they stay in the States.
Is SI’s Lee Jenkins not only the best writer out there but also the best reporter? It’s quite possible the answer is yes. — Benjamin Hochman
He’s never appeared on Around The Horn so the answer is no.
Why didn’t the NBA Countdown team head up ESPN’s post-game Finals coverage? It’s baffling when Turner would do the opposite — Jeff Miles
What does the future hold for ESPN’s Countdown? Would you make any changes to it? — Neil Schoolnik
There were plenty of people who asked a form of this question. It’s as if ESPN doesn’t trust the team that carried their coverage the entire season. Clearly, management wants to push SportsCenter, both as a brand and to juice the ratings of that show given there are few better lead-ins than an NBA Finals game. But it’s on odd choice to have the Countdown talent there, and then switch to others in the postgame. As for changes, I think Doug Collins is much better served as a game analyst and I’d bring someone in to switch spots with him.
You think Troy Aikman could be so upset that Fox hired Skip Bayless that it causes him to leave? — Jeff Pollard
I have immense respect for Troy. He’s always been a standup interview with me and I know what his colleagues think of him, from Joe Buck to the production people behind the scenes. He has multiple years left on his contract so he’s not going anywhere. But given what Bayless wrote about him when both were in Dallas, he should be absolutely furious with the hire. It’s a slap in the face of one of Fox’s best.
Which conference will be the next to have their own network? — Tim McGuire
The ACC is the obvious bet.
Why do networks still use bottom lines during live games? It isn’t needed when information can be found online instantly. — Nathan Heitkamp
I’d disagree here. I think it’s a very viewer-friendly service and not everyone is attached to a device while watching.
Maybe on a broader ESPN Radio scale ... will the ESPN Radio philosophy be largely unchanged over the next 5-7 years? — Rob McCarron
I think you’ll see them do many more things in the audio-on-demand space (i.e. podcasts) and also lose market share with their national shows. They will eventually have a big decision on what to do with the morning slot when Mike and Mike ends.
When will all of the networks announce their broadcast teams for NFL and college football? Very curious about some of them — LaKeena McGee
By the end of July, I’d guess.
Not a media Q, per se, but were you surprised the (terrific) O.J. doc didn’t mention concussions/CTE at all? — J.J. Jacobs
I think it would be highly speculative to suggest O.J. has CTE, and we wouldn’t know until after he dies. It also didn’t feel a part of the narrative that Ezra Edelman constructed. That said, I think there is an interesting story to do on how many concussions Simpson suffered during his career and what impact, if at all, did they have on his post-football life.
Seriously, who is funding The Ringer? — Mike Kaplan
Does FS1’s gambit of loading up on hot take purveyors work out? How many are at FS1 in 3–5 years? — Ryan Gillenwater
I’m on record saying in three years, FS1 will change its philosophy again.
Mike Tirico does such a fantastic job during Euros. Does NBC have any plans for “special attraction” work for him with EPL? — T.J. Basalla
I have not heard of any plans with Tirico and the EPL, but he’d probably love to do it. He’s a big soccer fan, and his kids play.
Your thoughts and early review of ESPN’s The Undefeated? — @Zielojo
I really like their ambition. Some of their pieces have truly been eye-opening such as this piece on the lynching of Jesse Washington. I hope people find it.
What did you think of Joe Buck on the PGA Telecast. Also, when will I find love? — Tim McGuire
Buck was fine—and 2028.
Was impressed by Fox’s marathon U.S. open coverage Friday through Sunday. How tough is that to pull off? — William Harmon
Very. It takes an exceptional amount of talented behind-the-scenes work, from operations staff to on-air talent, to pull it off those kinds of hours. Fox was scheduled to air 36.5 hours of golf prior to the event and ended up airing 47.45 hours total, including 39 hours live.
Do the Olympics and World Cup survive the costs and corruption much longer? — @fourhourgame
I think so because people want to believe in these events, even though the reality is corruption is everywhere.
What is the best backyard BBQ lawn game? — Canadian Gambler
Avoiding Ramsay Bolton’s hounds.
Will Brad Nessler do any NFL games this season? — Jeff Pollard
I don’t believe so. He’s scheduled to call SEC games this season in the weeks that CBS broadcasts two SEC football games, as well as the Sun Bowl and select college basketball games.
With no major rights deals up for five years, how can FS1, NBC Sports Network and to a lesser extent CBS Sports Network gain ground on ESPN? — Don Day
By making the properties they own as good as possible. Everyone should follow the NBC blueprint for its EPL coverage.
Why is ESPN relegating Euro 2016 R16, QF and SF coverage to ESPN2 in favor of Wimbledon coverage? — Ryan Julian
Because ESPN has a long-term deal with the All England Club. In 2011, they signed a 12-year contract to broadcast Wimbledon. They prioritzie that higher than the Euros
I can’t believe Skip is trolling LeBron James today after he delivered Cleveland’s first title in 52 years. — Brent Leslie
Believe it. He’s a professional wrestling heel, and he has to stay consistent. When I read from some ESPN-ers that he’s a nice guy behind the scenes, I shake my head at the on-air enabling. He’s a nice guy who takes shots, including using misogyny (“Bosh Spice”) at pro athletes as an act? Talk about hypocrisy for cash.
I know it isn’t standard for all longform stories, but do you know how long OTL will work on a story? They did a great piece on a Chicago hockey player on Sunday who may have had Huntington’s. Seemed like they followed for years — James Ybierenas
It’s a hypothetical because it depends on each indivudal story, but OTL has been known to investigate something for months. To ESPN’s credit, they also will invest in stories that sometimes don’t pan out. Journalism is expensive and sometimes messy. I always respect that ESPN continutes to place resources in OTL.
Any consensus on Fox and its new and, in my opinion, improved golf coverage team? — Dave Conlon
It’s golf, so there will never be a consensus among its viewers but I think the general takeaway was Fox did a much better job this year. That said, there’s room for improvement, and I keep hearing from golf viewers that the broadcast needs a Johnny Miller type, who will challenge both players and the USGA when warranted.
Savannah Guthrie won’t go to Rio due to Zika (and she’s pregnant). Are any other journalists at NBC or elsewhere not going? — Howard Riefs
I was told very few NBC Sports staffers opted out, but it’s such a fluid situation, I would not be surprised to see some people beg off late.
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. Fox’s soccer coverage has improved considerably from the days of using Michael Strahan to explain the difference between football and futbol. But as the steward of some of the most important tournaments in the world, viewers should judge them under the same standards they judge NBC’s world-class coverage of the English Premier League. On this note I found myself struck watching the pregame coverage Tuesday night of Argentina-U.S.A. on FS1. As an American, of course I want the U.S. to win. As a viewer, I want my studio announcers to be impartial. I recognize others might not see it this way, so on Twitter I asked my followers the following question: “Fox’s soccer studio coverage is often more cheerleading for the U.S. than playing it down the middle. Like/dislike and why?” I received more than 100 responses and the answers were diverse and very interesting. FS1 can send the consulting check in the mail.
1a. On this topic, former pro and New York Cosmos assistant coach Alecko Eskandarian took issue with three of the four members of FS1’s studio coverage picking the U.S. to beat Argentina. The final was 4–0 and it wasn’t that close. Eskandarian said Fox won’t make smarter soccer fans “by creating false expectations in the pregame show. We don’t have one player that would make Argentina’s roster.”
2. The seven-game NBA Finals series averaged 20.22 million viewers, the best NBA Finals average since the six-game Bulls-Jazz series drew 29.04 million viewers in 1998 (Michael Jordan’s last title). The series was up 1% from last year’s 19.94 million viewers. ABC finished with 31.02 million viewers for Game 7 on Sunday, marking the third-best NBA game audience on record, behind only Bulls-Jazz NBA Finals Game 6 in ‘98 (35.89 million viewers on NBC) and Bulls-Suns NBA Finals Game 6 in ‘93 (32.1 million viewers on NBC).
2a. ESPN Films said it will update its 30 for 30 film on Cleveland sports futility following the Cavs victory. The updated Believeland will air on June 30, at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
2b. Fox said its final round coverage of the U.S. Open drew 5.4 million viewers during nine-plus hours of coverage. The network said in comparison to the most recent U.S. Open final round played on the East Coast (2014), the viewership total grew 17% (4.6 million). Coverage peaked at 9.6 million viewers from 7:30–8 p.m. ET when Dustin Johnson clinched the victory on the 18th hole.
2c. The Mexico-Chile quarterfinal match that aired on Univision averaged 5.6 million, which would blow out Stanley Cup Final ratings.
3. Episode 63 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features Washington Post and ESPN The Magazine writer Eli Saslow, the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for his year-long series about food stamps in America in the Post.
On this episode, Saslow discusses why he chooses the stories he writes; how to take complicated subjects and makes them understandable and deeply affecting; what sports stories interest him and why; how to get subjects to open up to you; what it was like covering mass shootings in San Bernardino, Newtown and in Roseburg, Ore.; why the decline of the middle class is one of the most important stories of our time; what it’s like interviewing the President; how to identify with subjects as a journalist 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.
4. On Monday, ESPN commentator Ryen Russillo discussed on his ESPN Radio show why it was difficult for ESPN talent to criticize Bayless. Awful Announcing has a post on it here. In an email, Russillo made clear that it was not a directive from ESPN management.”What I referenced was something personal between me and Skip,” Russillo said. “It had nothing to do with ESPN policy.”
4a. Vice’s Sean Newell covered Skip Bayless’s final day at First Take.
4b. The MMQB’s Kalyn Kahler reported that NFL analyst Trent Dilfer has reached a multi-year extension with ESPN and will work on both Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown.”
5. If you love newspaper front pages, check out a new sports blog featuring sports fronts from around the U.S.
5a. Showtime Sports will air a documentary film in October featuring Ben Simmons, the projected No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. The title of the film is One & Done and centers around Simmons playing at SLSU as a freshman.
5b. NBCSN will air the 2016 NHL draft Friday at 7 p.m.
5c. Fred Gaudelli, the lead producer of Sunday Night Football, was recently named executive producer of NBC’s Sunday Night Football and Thursday Night Football and will oversee production for both primetime packages.
5d. NBA TV averaged an alltime best 258,000 viewers for its postgame coverage of the seven-game series, including 553,000 viewers after Game 7.
5e. Via Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune: “Why Aren’t More Women Working In Sports Radio?”
5f. As a preview to the Bellator 157: Dynamite 2 event on Spike Friday. Bellator MMA fighter and former world lightweight champion Michael Chandler channeled his inner-Matthew Modine to pay homage to the 1985 film, Vision Quest.
5f. Gus Ramsey spent 20-plus years as a producer at ESPN prior to being laid off by the company last October. Well-liked and talented, I was struck by the honesty and thoughtfulness of this blog post that Ramsey wrote after he was let go. Last week I saw that Ramsay had formed his own talent coaching business, and I thought it would be interesting to check in with him on life after ESPN:
SI.com: Why did you decide to form your own talent coaching business?
Gus Ramsey: Mostly because it’s what I love to do. I did a lot of talent coaching on my own at ESPN and was actually given that position in August of last year. After 20 years of doing shows, it was really exciting to officially start that part of my career. It made the layoff in October even more painful to have that taken away. Recently, a few different people reached out to me on Twitter asking if I could look at their reels. I did and they loved the feedback. I thought, “I can do this from home and make some money doing it.” As Robert Frost wrote, “My goal in life is to unite my avocation with my vocation, as my two eyes make one in sight.” I really enjoy helping people get better at their craft, so I’m giving it a shot and I hope people will give me a shot.
SI: How much of a business do you think is out there?
GR: A lot. After my layoff I spoke to a handful of places and asked what kind of coaching/feedback system they had in place. No one had anything concrete. It was a lot of “we do it when we can.” But the anchors I spoke to at those places told me the feedback was minimal. Combine that with college students who want to learn the trade and get better so they can get jobs, I think there is a need. Talent coaching is one of those things that if a company can’t see how it tangibly impacts the bottom line, they don’t consider it necessary, which is crazy to me. Talent are the literal faces of these companies and yet they don’t want to invest in making them as good as can be.
SI: How have you found life to be in the post-ESPN universe?
GR: It has been odd. In the immediate aftermath it was great to have friends try and be reassuring and say things like, “People will be knocking down your door to get you.” The blog I wrote about my release got some national attention, plus I like to think I have a solid reputation and resume, so I thought they were right. But I guess there are only so many TV exec gigs out there. I wound up freelancing on a show at WWE Network from December to April and am hopeful that they will bring me on full time. But other places I’ve spoken to just don’t have anything. Maybe this talent coaching business will garner me some attention and someone will start knocking on my door.
SI: Are there any lessons to pass for those in the business after being let go from a premier sports media company where you worked a long time?
GR: Don’t burn any bridges because you never know when you’re going to need an association. Enjoy your successes but don’t take them for granted. Don’t wait for things to happen, make them happen.