At 58 years old, Paul Finebaum has never been hotter.
With the help of the sun-splashed crew from the Creative Artists Agency, Finebaum signed a multi-year deal with ESPN last year that includes 100 televised appearances annually on ESPN's networks and a TV simulcast of his radio show on the ESPN-owned SEC Network. That simulcast begins a slow rollout this month with an hour-long version of the show debuting on ESPNU at 4 p.m. and a half-hour version of ESPN2 at 5:30 p.m. ET. It will then move full time to the new SEC Network on August 15 and run from 3-7 p.m. ET daily.
"I never like to make guarantees but one thing I won't do is fall asleep while doing the show," said Finebaum, sending a not-so-subtle shot across the bow to the host of Fox Sports 1's Mike Francesa Show.
How did Finebaum become the apple of ESPN's eye? He achieved regional notoriety as the host of a popular sports talk radio show, based in Birmingham, Ala., a program that famously possess a cadre of memorable callers who express fandom for SEC teams with the same fervor Argentines pray at the altar of Leo Messi. Finebaum is also very good at provoking listeners (SB Nation dubbed him the “troll-God of SEC sports radio” and a “more demure Colin Cowherd") and with regional success and some nice change in his pocket, Finebaum said he was satisfied with the life he was leading.
“I did not think I would reach beyond what I was doing but I was pleased,” Finebaum said. “We had a successful show in Alabama and had a regional base. But I didn’t think I would break out of that because the odds were too long.”
What changed was a long New Yorker profile in 2012, which brought his work to a different audience (and earned him a book deal). He also started appearing more on ESPN and the game-changer came last summer when Bristol Land hired him for its college football coverage including College GameDay. Finebaum said his radio simulcast will mirror the content he has always had on his radio show, with some added elements such as on-camera interviews with coaches.
“We probably have the most unique set of callers that any show in America has or has ever had and we are proud of it,” Finebaum said. “That flavor is what makes the show different and this region of the country different. Because of the bigger reach we have now – we are on stations in Kansas City and Atlanta and Missouri – that makes the callers more interesting."
I asked Finebaum why his radio show would have appeal beyond SEC cities.
“I think it does and part of it is because of the conflict,” Finebaum said. “I just finished a book that talks about why the SEC is better than the rest of the country and I think that is the theme of the show. If you are sitting in Ann Arbor or Palo Alto, you are interested because the SEC is a very big, national brand and we don’t limit it to the SEC. We are based in the South and that is our gravitational pull but I think we are doing a disservice if we don’t include the rest of the country on it.”
Finebaum moves this fall to SEC Nation, which ESPN hopes will be the SEC Network’s GameDay equivalent. The show features host Joe Tessitore and analysts Finebaum, Marcus Spears and Tim Tebow, and will travel around SEC football sites throughout the fall.
“I think people are going to watch Tebow to hear what he has to say, to see what he looks like, and how he behaves,” Finebaum said. “I have been around him in different settings with large crowds and I have not seen anything like it. If GameDay is at Oregon and we are at Alabama-Florida and if you are a fan of the SEC, you may flip around. I’m not saying viewers will do it all the time but there will be a lot on SEC Nation that is appealing."
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines some of the more notable stories of the week in sports media.
1. Germany's 1-0 extra time win over Argentina in the World Cup final averaged 17.324 million viewers on ABC for the game window (3-5:44 p.m. ET). The game finished as the third most-viewed World Cup game – men’s or women’s – in U.S. history behind the U.S.-Portugal 2-2 draw on June 22 (18.22 million) and the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup Final on ABC (17.975 million viewers for U.S.-China). ESPN said its Germany-Argentina telecast peaked at 20,781,000 viewers between 5-5:30 p.m.
1a. The top-rated markets for the World Cup final on ABC: 1. Washington, D.C.; 2. San Diego; 3. Los Angeles; 4. San Francisco; 5. Orlando; 6. New York; 7. Sacramento; 8. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale; 9. West Palm Beach; 10. Las Vegas.
1b. ESPN said the combined coverage over 64 games on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC averaged 4,557,000 viewers, up 39 percent over the 2010 World Cup (3.273 million) and 96 percent (2.321 million) over 2006. The top-rated cities for the entire tournament were as followed: 1. Washington, D.C.; 2. New York; 3. San Francisco; T4. Los Angeles and San Diego; 6. Hartford-New Haven; T7. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando. T10. West Palm Beach, Richmond, Baltimore and Boston. The network said the coverage combined to reach an estimated 115 million people through the semifinals (62 of 64 overall matches).
1c. Univision averaged 9.2 million viewers for the Germany-Argentina game, topping the 8.8 million who watched Spain defeat the Netherlands in 2010 on the network. Univision said it had more total viewers than ABC in Houston and Miami.
1d. A Univision spokesperson said the network averaged 3.5 million viewers over the 64 games of the tournament, up 34 percent from 2010 for all viewers and 21 percent for adults 18 to 49. The network said the coverage reached 80.9 million viewers during the vent, up 65 percent from 2010 (49.1 million).
1e. For the tournament, Univision said it had a higher average audience than ESPN/ESPN2/ABC in L.A., Houston, Miami and Dallas among total viewers and adults 18 to 49.
1f. Univision's digital streams averaged 1.1 million viewers per match.
1g. Twitter said there were 32.1 million tweets sent during the Germany-Argentina match, the second most-tweeted match of the World Cup behind the Germany-Brazil semifinal. There were 618,725 tweets per minute at game's end.
1h. Facebook said that 88 million people had more than 280 interactions during the World Cup related to the World Cup final.
2. Kathryn Tappen is about to make a big jump in recognizability among sports viewers. The host of the NHL Network’s NHL Tonight has been hired by NBC Sports Group to work on NHL Live, Football Night in America (as an on-site reporter), and serve as the sideline reporter for NBC’s Notre Dame football games. She will also have a role on NBC’s Super Bowl XLIX coverage as well as the network’s Olympics coverage in Rio in 2016 and Pyeongchang in 2018. Discussions about adding her to NBC Sports began in Sochi and continued during the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs
“This opportunity with NBC Sports allowed me to continue my relationship with the NHL while also expanding my role with college football and the NFL,” Tappen said. “I got a taste of the class and professionalism that NBC Sports represented this past winter in Sochi and I knew it would be a great fit.”
Tappen has hosted the NHL Network’s pregame coverage since 2011 and will continue to appear on that network for major events including the Winter Classic, NHL All-Star Game and Stanley Cup postseason. NBC said that Tappen will fill in for regular host Liam McHugh during the regular season and postseason as the host on NHL Live and NHL Overtime.
With NBC Sports's contractual relationship with Notre Dame football running through 2025, I asked Tappan how she will approach her assignment as a reporter given she is reporting on a property where her employer has business ties. “It's no different than covering the NHL or NFL as rightsholders,” Tappen said. “Our job is to give viewers the best seat in the house and the role of the sideline reporter is intricate in trying to accomplish that. Obviously, I’ve yet to do a game, but I’m approaching it as if I were reporting on any sport or event, regardless of the relationship.”
3. ESPN will air the college football playoff show on Sunday, Dec. 7 at 12:45 p.m. ET.
3a. How successful can Tebow be as a broadcaster? Let's ask a guy who gets paid to sit next to him. "I’ll spare you all the clichés,” Finebaum said. “I think it is up to him. If Tebow wants to be a great broadcaster, I think he will be one. The question comes down to what does he wants, and in all candor, I don’t know what he wants.”
3b. Finebaum said the person he would like to interview most on his radio show is Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. “I have a lot of questions I would like to ask him and I’m not sure he would answer them," Finebaum said. "I would love to do a long sit-down with him without a bunch of handlers."
4. On Monday I had an exclusive interview with sideline reporter Pam Oliver about her being demoted from Fox's top NFL team. “Disappointment is not really a word I’d use right now because I’ve had some weeks to process it,” Oliver said. “I think my emotions during the season will be sadness because I had been around that group for a decade. I will miss all the little things, just from Joe’s impersonations of people and Troy’s bad impersonations of people and all of the running jokes -- that was the hardest part of hearing the news. But you have to move forward and deal with what is on your plate. I went through a range of emotions, but as I speak with you today, disappointment has passed me and I have reached a point of trying to move forward with some sadness."
5. NBC Sports Network soccer broadcasters Arlo White and Kyle Martino will call the July 23 friendly between Liverpool and AS Roma at Fenway Park. The game will air at 7:30 p.m. after a 30-minute pregame show. Martino will provide commentary between the benches while Lowe, Earle and Mustoe will be live on the field for pre-game, halftime and post-game shows.
5a. Crain's Cleveland Business examined LeBron James's impact on local television viewership.
5b. NBC Sports Network is launching the NBCSN Sunday Sports Report, a weekly one-hour program that will showcase the sports properties that primarily air on NBC and NBCSN. The show debuts August 17 at 11:30 p.m. ET.