Media Mailbag: On Al Michaels’s future, Olympics 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. (Questions have been edited for grammar, clarity and concision.)
Which sports media member do you think could shift immediately to election coverage and excel at it? — Shane Drahota
I think many could very easily, from Bob Ley to Hannah Storm to Chris Fowler to Rece Davis to Rebecca Lowe. Great sports studio hosts who ask smart questions and are well read could easily host election coverage.
The most recent MLB All-Star Game sank to an all-time ratings low. Was this an anomaly or a sign of something dire for MLB? — Douglas Pucci
Fox’s coverage of the MLB All-Star Game drew 8.707 million viewers, down from last year’s 10.9 million and the least-watched All Star Game of all time. The percentage of the drop feels like a one-year fluke, but it is worth examining whether the new reality for the MLB All-Star Game will be below the 10 million viewer mark. (For comparison: The Pro Bowl did 8.0 million this year; the NBA All-Star Game did 7.6 million)
Here are the last five years of viewership for the MLB All-Star Game:
• 2016: 8.7 million
• 2015: 10.9M
• 2014: 11.3M
• 2013: 11.0M
• 2012: 10.9M
• 2011: 11.0M
• 2010: 12.1M
My take: Baseball will likely still lead the other All-Star Games in viewership for the near-future, but the run of that game standing out well above the other All Star Games is over. I think the All-Star Game is in trouble as a viewership play.
If a game is being called by remote anchors should TV network disclose to fans that announcers are not at the game site? — @NYCKING
Absolutely. They are dishonest with viewers if they don’t it—and yet do it repeatedly.
What would be a FOX/CBS contingency plan for a Super Bowl (or any big event) if an illness struck Joe Buck or Jim Nantz (as happened to Bob Costas in 2014)? — Wes Smith
Great question. The contingency plan would be to get the network’s No. 2 announcer in the booth. For instance, Ian Eagle would fill in for Nantz. I don’t think CBS in this case would change the analyst (Phil Simms) or the production crew. Kevin Burhhardt or Kenny Albert would get the call if Buck got sick.
Do you think Al Michaels will retire from Sunday Night Football after 2017? — Jeff Pollard
I do not. I think Al Michaels likes being Al Michaels and the five-star accommodations that come with that. I also think his level has not dropped at all. He stays, which is good for viewers.
Do you think too many journalists are losing jobs to “Jobs for Jocks,” or as Howard Cosell called it, “Jockocracy”? — Darren Walker
I don’t think so. Journalists are rarely up for the same jobs as ex-athletes or coaches. What I do think is anachronistic thinking is sports television comes from producers who innately believe that only those who played professionally can analyze a game. This is nonsense along the same lines of saying that ex-athletes can’t do play-by-play. NFL rights-holders are trapped into this thinking, which is why so many pregame shows are awful. Shows that have changed the dynamic (such as ESPN’s NFL Insiders) get my attention.
Do you think Mike Tirico leaving Monday Night Football will impact their ratings? — Josh Fried
It will have zero impact on the ratings. No game broadcasters have impact on the ratings; only on your viewing experience. I also think Sean McDonough is a better football game-caller than Tirico. Both are pros.
Mike Hill and Molly McGrath. Where do they end up next? — Grant Walker
On Wednesday ESPN announced it had hired McGrath as a college sports sideline reporter and host. She will work as a sideline reporter for ESPN’s Friday night college football telecasts and will also host College Football Live on select days beginning in late August and continuing through the season. McGrath, who worked at FS1 from 2013 to this year, will also be a sideline reporter on ESPN’s 2016–17 college basketball telecasts. Hill is still under contract at Fox. He’s a talented sports broadcaster not currently being used by FS1. Easy rule of thumb: Use good talent. Fox Sports executives should figure something out between lunches at The Palm.
What does Katie Nolan’s future look like? — Trevor Harlan
It looks like this:
Would ESPN would ever consider bidding on WWE rights, especially with their uptick in coverage? — Jesse Scardina
I cannot see ESPN bidding on a weekly WWE show, but I do see ESPN continuing to increase its connection with the WWE and its personalities.
Whatever happened to Brooks Melchior, and how often do you get that question? — @jatorres
Brooks Melchoir was the editor and writer behind Sports by Brooks, a popular sports blog in the 2000s. We used to correspond over email and Twitter DMs because his site often posted sports media stories. He had a great interest in the subject and I enjoyed our dialogue. But our correspondence came to an abrupt end in 2012, which is when Brooks stopped posting on his site. The writer Jeff Pearlman indicated he was writing a major feature on him before reversing course. Tweeted Pearlman: “One shouldn’t always find people if they wish not to be found.” I read that as Brooks is alive (which is good) but beyond that, it’s hard to know. I wish him peace wherever he is.
How do you handle covering someone newsworthy that you personally despise? — David Finer
Accuracy on facts always; venom and passion on opinion.
What needs to happen to rid TV of argumentative shout shows in news and sports and replace 90% of the opinions with facts? — Andy Fleming
There’s nothing inherently wrong with debate television. When done authentically with honest brokers and people who don’t make a living as professional contrarians, it can make for compelling viewing. Given such shows are easy to produce and the talent agencies such as CAA are pushing talent to become multi-platform takes artists, I’d expect more shout shows in the future. The good news is you can always escape such noise. I highly recommend BBC World Service, the greatest news audio service in the world. Also, Canadian sports talk, which is much more like jazz and a cool exchange of ideas.
Do you think NBC’s coverage and promotion of different events in the Olympics varies based on year-round TV rights? — @TheOutlawMacaw
I don’t. NBC wants you to watch everything in Rio. They have pushed golf often, for instance, only because they want to remind viewers that it’s now in the Olympics. And they believe it can get some eyeballs.
Will you hate Max Kellerman as much as you do Skip Bayless? — Jeff Pollard
First, I professionally loathe Bayless. I don’t know the man personally. I have heard from many people he can be thoughtful away from the camera. Kellerman can’t be as big charlatan as Bayless because no one in sports television is.
What are the top five most essential pieces of journalism for young journalists? — Stephen Romano
This is impossible to answer given you could not truly limit it to five pieces. I consider this New Yorker piece on Hiroshima by John Hersey to be the greatest magazine piece in history and this Muhammad Ali piece by Mark Kram the best Sports Illustrated piece ever published. Many consider this Jimmy Breslin piece on John F. Kennedy to be the best newspaper column in history.
Thoughts on the new Good Morning Football show on NFL Network? I like Kay Adams a lot. She is great. — James Kaminsky
The time slot is tough given the competition includes SportsCenter and Mike and Mike in the sports space as well as traditional morning fare involving politics and entertainment. But this show has potential given the success of the producer, Michael Davies, whose Embassy Row production company is behind Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Garbage Time, and Watch What Happens Live. He’s also one of the Men in Blazers. Good Morning Football premieres Aug. 1 and will air live Monday to Friday at 7 a.m. ET from the CBS Broadcast Center in New York City. It will be NFL Network’s first show to originate from New York City. The show will also re-air Monday to Friday starting at 10 a.m. ET.
Is the perception that ESPN leans politically left fair, and could mixing politics and sports lead to decreased viewership? — Josh Orrick
I think the perception exists, for certain. I think the truth is they lean left but not as as far left corporately as people think. There are also more conservatives in-house than you might imagine. That said, there is no doubt they have plenty of commentators who align with the left on social issues and do so very publicly. And ESPN is absolutely selective when it comes to discipline on people’s politics on their social media feeds. The current ESPN policy for presidential election coverage is violated literally every day on Twitter by staffers. One disappointing note: No ESPN management person—those who paid Lou Holtz for awful football commentary for years—commented on Holtz’s ant-immigrant rhetoric from the RNC. There are those in ESPN management who are the children of immigrants. Disappointing, but predictable. Holtz has the right to say what he feels; I wish someone with weight at ESPN called it out.
What is your opinion on Any Given Wednesday after one month of being on air? —@JEREnterprises
I haven’t seen enough of the show yet—I watched the first show and some clips from others. It’s a work in progress. I think AGW has to figure out which guests are best for Bill Simmons and put him the best situations to get interesting conversation. The ratings should go up come NFL season, especially with Simmons being one of the most prominent Tom Brady defenders regarding Deflategate. Per SportsTVRatings.com: His last show (July 13) drew 191,000 viewers, down from 276,000 the week prior.
Why do TV channels leave live news conferences so their analysts can talk when we want to hear from players/coaches directly? — Neil Best, Newsday
Always good to hear from the fine Newsday writer. It’s infuriating when a network—ESPN does this the most—leaves live newsmakers speaking so we can hear their analysts commenting on what the newsmakers (still speaking) have said. An ESPN p.r. person a long time ago told me that the ratings show people tune out on news conferences. I don’t buy that as the reason here. I think it’s producers falling in love with certain talent (such as Stephen A. Smith) having far more juice than anyone other than upper management—and thus producers feel obligated to put talent on.
How does The Ringer afford such a large staff? How can it be profitable? Great site but is it viable in the long run? — Scott Nash
Good Q. I’d need to know who the investors are to answer the question in full, and I don’t. Is the charter of the site to make money or provide prestige for someone outside of HBO (who is an investor)? That’s the question.
Please address future of fantasy football commentary/presentation in major sports media. Will TV executives join 21st century? — Brad Evans
Always good to hear from the Yahoo Sports writer. I believe the future of fantasy football shows will be more in the streaming space at places such as Netflix or Amazon than traditional places like ESPN or Fox. I don’t see the old legacy companies changing.
What do you think the ratings for the Rio Olympics will be? — LaKeena McGee
I think the ratings will be sensational given Rio is one hour ahead of the Eastern Time Zone in the United States. I’ll also guess you will hear very little about Zika during NBC’s coverage.
Have CBS and Fox announced their NFL announcer pairings below the top three crews yet? — Ivey McClelland
This usually comes in August.
Is Suzy Kolber or Trey Wingo the favorite to replace Berman as the face of the NFL on ESPN? — @manecci
No single host will dominate ESPN’s NFL coverage the way Berman did in the 1990s. I think Wingo is the favorite to replace Berman on Sunday NFL Countdown.
How are journalists feeling about covering the Olympics this year, as opposed to Sochi? More concerned for their safety? — @ItsveryKerri
I was in Sochi and the run-up for that was unsettling, given all the stories about potential terrorism. This is a different kind of worry, from health concerns to crime. But traditionally the host country can put on enough of a façade for 17 days. It’s the people in-country who have to deal with the mess.
Whose job is it to tell the host of ESPNs debate shows that multiple people talking at the same time is bad TV? — Kenneth Sullivan
You can do that by changing the channel. But traditionally it’s the producer’s job.
Should the WNBA embrace gambling and its legalization as a means to grow the fanbase? — Bryan Hopping
One of the teams in the league has an affiliation with a casino, so I don’t think the WNBA has any issues with gambling. The league needs all the attention it can get.
If you assign “responsibility” for First Take’s continued existence, what percentages do you give to management, talent and audience? (Or others?) — @dabigjoker
I’d say 70 percent management and 30 percent talent. I think First Take is loathsome television, but I’ve never written it should be canceled, nor would I call out anyone watching it. I just would like it to be more honest, and I would like ESPN management to be more embarrassed about how the show has enabled misogyny and all sorts of other nonsense throughout the years.
Always wondered your thoughts on Mike Golic Jr. Talented, yes, but given the relatively low bar, it still seems interesting. — Gabe Jones
No problem with Golic Jr. He’s grinding away at a very low traffic time slot. Whenever I have listened to him, he’s always been prepared and isn’t a big takes artist.
Why don’t the NFL TV partners adopt a Madden style camera that shows all 22 players at the same time from behind the QB? — Vishal Mirpuri
I don’t think networks would want this angle as the primary view. It’d be too dramatic a shift for viewers. But it’s a great angle for replays and would be a terrific option for viewers if networks offered this view on their digital platforms.
Will there be a moderator for Bayless’s show on FS1, and who is the favorite? — Neil Schoolnik
Kim Jong-un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. Could an entity such as SportsCenter use fans in one of its signature hosting positions? Doubtful, though some in ESPN management would no doubt enjoy the cost savings. Hosting is a specific skill and at the highest levels of the business (such as ESPN or networks), it would be nearly impossible for someone to come in with little experience and perform. Even more unlikely would be a fan working as a play-by-play commentator, analyst, sideline reporter or any other on-air position for a major remote broadcast. It’s unrealistic to think a major entity would turn the controls over to someone without the skill set of working live television, especially for games of significance. Could we see a fan added to a sports studio show? Absolutely, in my opinion. That’s a place where I think it could work and be an interesting addition. But when I brought up the idea to Seth Markman, the senior coordinating producer for ESPN’s NFL coverage, he was a little more skeptical.
“Maybe, but I still think they want to hear from informed analysts and insiders,” Markman said. “I do think fans’ opinions matter and there is a place for that somewhere, but [I’m] not sure how much. We actually tested that at some point years ago with a guy I know who I think is funny and knows sports well. We called it the ‘Voice of the Fan’ and paired him with Mike Golic and Eric Allen. Conceit was to have average guy mix it up with former players to give fan perspective. It was actually a decent watch, but [I] think we basically decided that we weren’t sure viewers would really care what the average guy would think in this case. Kind of like people don’t care about other people’s fantasy teams.”
After careful deliberation, I offer this thought for any outlet that wants it, a place within the coverage of a sporting event where a fan’s role could really be an asset for both over-the-air and particularly digital outlets invested in live streaming. Where is this place?
Here’s the piece I wrote on Monday.
2. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reported that the ACC Network will launch a linear (TV) network by August 2019. McMurphy said the ACC and ESPN have agreed to a 20-year deal and rights extension through the 2035–36 academic year.
3. Episode 67 of the Sports Illustrated Media podcast features Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins.
In this episode, Jenkins talks about how she finds stories and what inspires her; what made Pat Summitt such an interesting person; what it was like spending time with Summitt before she passed; writing for an audience in D.C. that includes generals, spies and Congresspeople; why she opted not to work on television; her relationship with Lance Armstrong and how she feels about Armstrong’s lies; interviewing with Joe Paterno and the legacy of the former Penn State coach; whether she is optimistic women will find jobs as sports columnists heading forward; advice from her father, the legendary writer Dan Jenkins; 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.
3a. Sally Jenkins really goes after Roger Goodell here.
3b. The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas examined Goodell’s first 10 years in office.
3c. Here’s a good piece on Ichiro Suzuki from ESPN’s Tommy Tomlinson
4. CBS sportscaster James Brown has returned to host Showtime’s Inside The NFL. The show returns on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 9 p.m. ET/PT to kick off its 39th season on television. NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin has also joined the cast as guest analyst. The returning staffers include Boomer Esiason, Phil Simms, Brandon Marshall and Adam Schein.
5. The NBA and Twitter have expanded their content partnership to bring exclusive original live programming and more video to Twitter, Vine and Periscope. The agreement includes a live stream of a new weekly NBA pregame show.
5a. Fox Sports Radio announced last week that The Herd with Colin Cowherd now has 100 affiliates across the country.
5b. Showtime Sports will document Florida State as part of its all-access documentary series A Season With Florida State Football. The show will air weekly 30-minute episodes throughout the 2016 season and premieres Sept. 6 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
5c. Netflix will debut Fearless, an original, six episode documentary series, on August 19. The doc follows a group of professional bull riders training to reach the top of their sport.
5d. Syracuse.com profiled former ESPN executive John Wildhack, now the athletic director at Syracuse.
5e. Tully Corcoran on the Lawrence Journal-World letting go of a longtime sportswriter.