Sean McManus is not a blind man. The CBS Sports chairman knows that NFL analyst Phil Simms often trends on Twitter during the Sundays he broadcasts games, and not for positive reasons. But McManus’s is the only opinion that ultimately matters when it comes to Simms’s employment, and he does not waver on his opinion of the broadcaster.
“I think he had an outstanding year, and I think he is right up there with the best of the NFL analysts,” McManus said on Tuesday.
CBS held its NFL talent meetings this week—that’s when all the broadcasters come to New York to meet with executives and promote the product. McManus said he and some other CBS Sports top executives sat in with the network’s top NFL production team (producer Lance Barrow and director Mike Arnold) and on-air group (Jim Nantz, Simms and Tracy Wolfson) and re-watched portions of last February’s Super Bowl, AFC Championship Game and the Thursday Night opener between Denver and Kansas City.
“Listening to it with a very critical ear, I think Phil is vastly underappreciated, and part of that is the overreaction to social media,” McManus said. “If you listen to what he said during some of the biggest moments of the season—he was the first one to say if Denver won the Super Bowl, Von Miller would be MVP, and he was the first one to criticize Cam Newton for not jumping on his fumble toward the end of the game. He was on top of most of the storylines for most of the game, and that’s part of the reason we won the [Sports] Emmy [for Outstanding Live Sports Special]. I would just suggest that if people listen to Jim and Phil with an open mind, I think they would recognize what a good job they are doing.”
McManus is right. It is a subjective business, and I disagree with the Sports Emmy committee here. Barrow and Arnold are terrific at what they do, but CBS has had much better days than the Super Bowl, including its excellent work at the AFC Championship Game. The Super Bowl production felt mostly jarring as a viewer, highlighted by a lack of replays and audio issues. (Social media was flooded with complaints about hearing someone in CBS’s production truck counting down to a commercial on multiple breaks as well as the broadcast feeling too graphic heavy throughout and especially at the game’s end.)
Simms, to me, was uneven. For example: He offered a curious line with just under six minutes left in the third quarter when Newton was intercepted by safety T.J. Ward on a pass intended for Ted Ginn Jr. Said Simms: “He threw it so hard that Ted Ginn could not make the catch.” That assessment was never backed up by replay. But McManus is also correct on Newton’s fourth-quarter fumble. That was the best sequence of the night, including immediate replays from above, a close-up shot and a third replay. CBS then came back to more replays after a Carolina timeout, with Simms and Nantz pointing out that Newton seemed to avoid diving for the ball.
Again, it is a subjective business, and some of the weekly piling on for Simms has become merely about piling on for sport, the same way Joe Buck gets it for baseball when his work there is generally first rate. (Sometimes the piling on is justified, such as when Chris Berman calls an NFL game or when an analyst drops a contrarian opinion merely to trend on social media.) What’s interesting is the disconnect between how social media and how sports network executives view talent. In this case, Simms is not going anywhere.
“I think social media represents a minority opinion out there and it is almost wholeheartedly negative,” McManus said. “This is a very subjective business. Everyone has their opinions, and the Twitter opinions are generally negative. Phil is someone with someone with strong opinions, he’s not shy about expressing those opinions, and whenever you are that expressive with your opinions, you will get a lot of criticism.”
The Noise Report
SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories.
1. Rio was the ninth Olympics for NBC track and field reporter Lewis Johnson, who has an interesting role given that he often works under limited time to interview multiple people (relay teams, etc.) at his trackside perch. I thought he did excellent work.
Johnson will work a couple of college football games for the Pac-12 Network before flying back to Rio to cover the Paralympics. (“My first experience with Para's came in Sochi, and I was hooked,” he said. “The stories, efforts and pure joy of the Paralympic athletes inspired me every day, often times leaving me with a frog in my throat, barely able to say "thank you" at the end of some of the interviews I taped. If I could, I'd spend most of the year taking a mix of Olympians and Paralympians around the country to host events with small and large groups, with the sole intention of inspiring people through the stories and performances of these athletes.”)
I recently exchanged some emails with Johnson on his unique job in broadcasting during the Games. In his words, here’s how he views his role:
"The emotion of where I work in the mixed zone is very real, as the athletes come right off the track, up the steps, and then share those fresh emotions with me. I continuously work hard to develop and maintain solid professional relationships in all sports with athletes, coaches and agents, so that when that competitor comes to me and all has gone well, they're happy to open up and share that pure joy. On the other hand, if an Olympian's performance or experience has been a disaster, I hope that when they see me they feel comfortable enough to stop and share that with me and the viewers. Winning and losing is part of real life, and the people watching at home can relate to both and be inspired by how an athlete handles those moments. I am of the opinion that sports figures should spend less time looking at the media as a potential enemy and chose to see that our microphones can be the conduit for their 'core message' to fans at home, in good and challenging times in sports.
"There's a fine line between having an excellent relationship with someone and experiencing the emotion of an Olympic moment, [either] golden or a crushing defeat. Because I'm human like everyone else and still remain a credible journalist with no flag, no opinion and the proper dose of sensitivity when appropriate, I’m there to serve the viewer. I'll never forget a couple of years ago at Hayward Field in Eugene when American hurdler Kelly Wells grabbed me and hugged me right on the air in a post-race interview! From that moment on I had to tell her and everyone else that my interview position at Hayward Field or the Olympic Games is a "hug-free zone"! I even put up a small "HUG FREE ZONE" sign at my position the next time I covered Wells in a competition. When she saw the sign, she laughed so hard that we could barely get that next interview done. But Wells and hopefully all the other athletes with whom I have a great relationship with understood my point. I try to use my words and tone to share a professional embrace in a moment of success, and sometimes my words and tone are the way I put my arms around someone who is devastated. Those are some of my working values.
"Finally in this area of preparation and execution on the Olympic stage, [NBC colleague] Tom Hammond has taught me so much in this biz since my first Games with him in Sydney back in 2000. One of the most important is the value of being able to write, as well as being ready for a big moment if you know that might come. Does this mean scripting lines for a big moment? No. But is does mean being prepared. For example, since I knew Usain Bolt was going for the 'Triple-Triple' in Rio, I should have a very good idea of what I would ask him at each milestone, should he win the 100, 200 and then 4x100 meter relay, which he did. I had been working through sequences of questions for weeks ahead of time back in Dallas before I left for the Games, but with no intention of pinning myself to a script. Hammond's lesson was that we should always be prepared for an historic moment, with thoughts, comments or questions that match the moment of the permanence and history. I've never forgotten that as well as many other important broadcast lessons he and my producers like Sam Flood and Rob Hyland have shared over the years, like knowing when to shut up for what may seem like an uncomfortable amount of time to letting the director cut pictures and allow the A-1 (the lead audio engineer) to pump that natural sound, which often times can say so much more than anything we announcers could utter in a big moment.”
1a. Here’s a college football roundtable I did on some of the sport’s media-related topics.
2. Episode 74 of the Sports Illustrated Media podcast features longtime professional wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, the editor of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and WrestlingObserver.com and a writer for MMAFighting.com.
In this 75-minute episode, Meltzer discusses his journalistic approach to covering professional wrestling; how forthcoming wrestlers and WWE management are; how he approaches reporting on WWE versus MMA; how important technical proficiency is versus mic skills; how he views ESPN’s foray into WWE content and why he’s not convinced they will cover the underbelly of the sport; how Brock Lesnar is treated in WWE as compared to everyone else; the rise of the Diva division; whether Hulk Hogan will return to the WWE; how he finds sources in pro wrestling; the future for Big Cass and Roman Reigns; his relationship with Vince McMahon and Dana White; his thoughts on the Raw/Smackdown split; 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.
2a. Episode 73 of the Sports Illustrated Media podcast features NBC Sports Premier League broadcaster Arlo White, who recently called soccer at the Rio Olympics.
In this episode, White discusses his approach to calling Neymar's game-winning penalty kick for Brazil in the men's gold medal game; how to call a game when your analyst is thousands of miles away; what he does to prepare for a Premier League broadcast; moving back to the United Kingdom to call Premier League games; how the U.S. soccer audience has gotten smarter over the last two decades; working in Seattle as the voice of MLS and the Sounders; calling Super Bowls for the BBC; why the Men In Blazers would toss him overboard into the sea long before Rebecca Lowe; the balance between describing a play and letting the action breath; his approach to calling Leicester City games as a lifelong fan; the soccer book he recommends to learn about tactics; and much more.
3. Mike Tirico and Dhani Jones have been added to NBC’s Notre Dame Football broadcasting team. Tirico will serve as the play-by-play commentator for Notre Dame’s first three games of the season on NBC—Nevada, Michigan State and Duke—while lead Notre Dame on NBC announcer Dan Hicks is on assignment for golf. Jones will work as a pre-game and halftime show analyst alongside Liam McHugh.
4. This was an interesting quote from ESPN coordinating producer Seth Markman to John Ourand of the Sports Business Daily on why ESPN made drastic changes to its Sunday morning NFL show. “The guys we used to have were a great group, but after a while, because they don’t know the players as well personally, it became a little more X’s and O’s than we wanted it to be,” Markman told Ourand. “With this group, I’ve stressed that we don’t want to X-and-O people to death. We want this show to be relevant with strong opinions from these guys. We want them to talk about the things that people in the league are talking about. We’ll do a little more on the opinion side and a little more speaking on personal knowledge.”
5. Longtime sports radio host Tony Bruno offered some thoughts on the state of Philadelphia sports talk.
5b. The Big Lead staff writer and reporter Ryan Glasspiegel had an interview with Fox Sports 1 host Colin Cowherd about Cowherd’s new website, among other topics.
5c. The Olympic Channel launched on Aug. 21, featuring live coverage of more than 35 events in partnership with 10 International Sports Federations.
5d. NFL Network’s NFL Total Access had an in-studio discussion about 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick featuring Eric Davis, Steve Wyche, Kurt Warner and Dr. Todd Boyd.