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.)
Serious question, who chooses postseason playoff start times? Is there a person at MLB or from the TV network? — @awkwardsport
Good question. From an MLB executive source: “There’s a group of MLB execs that decide the schedule. They take the wishes of the TV networks into consideration, but it’s not the only factor. Since they don’t want to have games overlap, they have to take travel and time zones into consideration too. They have multiple networks to please, so no network ever gets everything they want.”
What commentator drives the most feedback (good or bad) to you? — @Ikeyo_1985
Charles Barkley has always driven the most traffic for me as far as an individual broadcaster. But the story I did on Joe Buck last week was one of my popular pieces ever.
Does Jon Gruden sit in on production meetings with teams playing his brother? — Ryan Yanoshak
From Bill Hofheimer, the p.r. point person for ESPN’s NFL coverage. “Good question. Yes, he does. In fact, [Monday Night Football executive producer] Jay Rothman told me that when we had Steelers-Redskins in our MNF opener, the first words [Steelers coach] Mike Tomlin said when he walked in the meeting were, "You belong here and should be doing this game." Tomlin worked for Jon in Tampa and thanked him in front of our production group for being a teacher and mentor. Jon is sensitive to these situations, even more so than the coaches probably are. He has great relationships throughout the league. The coaches understand the position he’s in and know his family relationships won’t influence how he goes about his job.”
Thoughts on ESPN tinkering with NBA Countdown yet again? Is Michelle Beadle the answer as a part-time host? — Stephen Beam
I think Michelle Beadle will be very good in this role. But the show has a fundamental flaw—it’s not TNT’s Inside The NBA. When you watch Countdown, you really see how over-formatted the show is versus the TNT group. In order for NBA Countdown to change its show, in my opinion, it would have to blow up how many ESPN studio shows operate (giving analysts equal time, specific items for every block, etc.).
What kind of time frame do you see until viewers can choose crowd noise over TV audio? — Chris Juzwik
We’ve seen this when it comes to ESPN’s college football megacast—ESPN3 has offered natural sound as an option, for example. I’m not sure viewers will be offered this for a regular season game for any sport, but I could see this as one of the digital options for major championships in college football, the NBA and NFL. Networks would not want you to choose this option for a linear broadcast.
Is it greed when MLB schedules games around television revenue needs? Leaving local fans hanging regarding start times? — Dodger Fan Weekly
I’m a realist. From stadium deals funded by the public to start times dictated by television, the sooner you realize that sports organizations are about profit first—and the fans second—the less disappointed you will be by them.
TBS/FS1 have gotten less-than-glamorous reviews for their coverage of the playoffs. How do they improve? What impetus do they have to improve? — Charlie Lapin
A caveat: Given these are Twitter-based questions, the criticism for TBS and FS1’s MLB coverage comes from that social media outlet. It’s not a representative sample of the public. Now, anecdotally, there has been more criticism for TBS than I’ve seen in the past. Why? The comments have ranged from broadcaster choices to graphics issues. I think some of it also has to do with the fact that TNT’s NBA broadcast always seem crisper than its MLB work. The only impetus they have to change is significant viewer feedback and/or a ratings decline.
Should playoff games be on cable? MLB putting multiple games on their own network seems to stifle ratings and growth of game. — @AltaNewsSummary
Ideally, you wish they were all on over-the-air television, but that’s impossible in 2016 given the number of playoff rounds in baseball. MLB has decided to deal with the criticism of multiple outlets—and putting games on networks with low carriage such as MLB Network—for revenue as well as growing its own baseball channel. If the Cubs make the World Series, MLB will have a great ratings story no matter what.
Do you think Adam Amin could be ESPN’s next rising star in play-by-play in the next five years? — Dave Farley
I think he definitely has a nice future. But ESPN has a lot of talented play-by-play people in college sports. It’s one of their strongest talent groups.
Which broadcaster is biggest disconnect between your taste and your readership’s? (You like, they hate or vice versa.) Joe Buck? — Mark Coale
Good question. I’m not sure I’m so far off from my readers. I do like Joe Buck as a baseball caller probably more than most viewers, though they’ve come around more on Buck in baseball. I think the general public likes Jon Gruden as an NFL analyst more than I do.
Curious on your thoughts re: WFAN [New York City] continuing to give this man a platform in light of everything, from media perspective — @MikeandDogToday
The man in question is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has had many on-air spots—including in-studio—with the WFAN morning team of Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton. First, let’s get a big disclosure out of the way. I have many relatives in New Jersey and I share their political loathing of Christie, a bully whose approval rating is hovering around 25% in the state. I’ve heard through sports radio sources that WFAN management is seriously considering Christie for a program in the event Christie is available following his governorship (this would change if Donald Trump is elected President). Here is what sports radio executives care about—ratings. Christie would enter the job with huge name recognition—which is a big positive in the business—and he’s also a polarizing figure (which many radio executives would like). The downside? There are some—like me—who would not listen to him merely for how he ran his state. It’s a calculated gamble. I think it would be a big mistake for Christie to replace Mike Francesa in 2017 but if WFAN started him at different time slot, I would not be surprised if they rolled the dice depending on salary demands.
Who has a new No. 1 NFL broadcasting team first? FOX or CBS and what will team be? Please say CBS. — Chris Parlow
NBC. Tirico and Collinsworth.
Should ESPN just punt studio shows as much as possible and try and get someone to agree to a 6 p.m. start? Whether it’s college basketball or football or any sport really, just load up on live games each night as often as possible? — Doug Bowman
That’s a fascinating suggestion. I don’t think a college basketball game outside of a big matchup could top the 6 p.m. SportsCenter for viewership, but the college football thought is interesting. If you could convince two conferences to do this on say a Thursday and Friday, you could be on to something. But the earlier start time could be an issue for the schools and their fans. ESPN just announced a major change for its 6 p.m. SportsCenter: Jemele Hill and Michael Smith will co-anchor the program starting in Feb. 2017.
If you could get PFTCommenter a gig on any major sports outlet, any show, with any co-host, what would you choose? — @justnotsports
I’d have him solo host a 12-hour show on FS1 daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET.
Do you see Fox or ESPN ever airing WWE programming in the future? — Jeff Pollard
I could definitely see both grabbing a package of the WWE, but long before that, both clearly want the UFC (which Fox has until 2018).
When all’s said and done, who has the better sports network plan, FOX with the loud plan, or NBC with the niche plan? — Brian Cullather
Both have their strengths. I think NBC Sports is in a better position now, but Fox Sports via News Corp has endless amounts of money.
Can we please put an end to in-game interviews of players and coaches?
— Ray Strednak
When done well by people with journalistic instincts such as Doris Burke, Michelle Tafoya, Tom Rinaldi, Holly Rowe, Tracy Wolfson, Allie LaForce, Pam Oliver and others, they provide value to the viewer. When done the opposite way, I agree, it’s tough to watch.
Will Bill Simmons ever have the truce that Dan Patrick eventually had with ESPN? — Aubrey Fitzhenry
Does public opinion (i.e. what you see on social media) influence top network executives, or are ratings all that matter to them? — Jackson Baird
It absolutely influences them on talent choices. For example, CBS’s NFL ratings did not drop with Mike Carey on its broadcasts, but they were well aware of what kind of criticism he was facing on social media and viewer reaction was a factor in his dismissal. If network execeutives are not on social media, their p.r. departments are forwarding them feedback
Do you feel ESPN loosens their reigns on the anti-political dialogue they’ve enacted for their talent by the 2020 election? — Ikeyo
Not a thesis I agree with. If you look on Twitter, you’ll find many ESPN-ers commenting about politics daily (which, ironically, is a violation of their antiquated social media policy).
In a hypothetical scenario, which major sports league would you see first adopting an over-the-top service a la WWE Network? — Jon Alba
I can’t see any major sports league doing this given how important dollars are from broadcast networks and cable sports networks.
Do you think Peyton Manning will be doing any broadcasting in the near future? — David Kateeb
I do not. I still believe he has designs on NFL ownership before broadcasting.
Do you wash your apples? — Ethan Felderstein
Dear Lord, man, of course. I’m not a savage.
Given that they don’t move the needle at all, how is it that play-by-play announcers/analysts command such high salaries? — @FISHMARINO
Well, it’s relative. Analysts often make much more money than their play-by-play counterparts. But play-by-play at the highest level requires an impressive broadcast skill set. TV is a high-salaried medium. There will always be big money for top talent. Do I believe any play-by-play broadcaster impacts ratings? No. Do I believe they impact how you feel about a broadcast? Absolutely.
Do you think NFL will ever nationally televise every NFL game? — @barredindc
Can’t see it. I think it would dilute the product too much as well as take away a big revenue stream (DirecTV) from the league.
Why do you think College GameDay is still considered one of the best “studio” shows? — Josh Peterson
I think it’s a combination of the atmosphere on campus, the show airing live, and a very high-level group of presenters and producers. One underrated part of GameDay: Nearly every week they produce a great longform feature. Also, like Inside The NBA, they don’t take themselves too seriously on air. I consider it the second best studio show all time behind Inside The NBA.