A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of a meeting featuring ESPN’s college football senior management group, a suggestion was thrown out that was immediately endorsed by all parties: Why not hold an all-morning edition of College GameDay leading up to the Michigan at Ohio State game on Nov. 26?
“It’s a regular-season Super Bowl, and rivalry week in college football,” said ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting, one of the point people at the company for college sports. “We sent [the idea] along to sales and programming, and everything started coming together.”
On Saturday in frigid Columbus, College GameDay will begin at 7 a.m. ET and run all the way to the noon kickoff between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan. It’s the longest edition of GameDay in the show’s 29-year history, topping a four-hour show on Aug. 31, 2013, prior to a game between Clemson and Georgia.
Fitting said the show will air from an outdoor set outside Ohio Stadium from 7 to 10:45 a.m. before moving to set on the field for the rest of the show. Ohio State, according to ESPN officials, has been very generous with access. That’s not surprising given that Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer is a former ESPN employee and close with many executives and on-air talent. This is the first time GameDay is onsite for an Ohio State-Michigan game since 2007 at Ann Arbor.
ESPN said it will have 175 staffers on site in Columbus from the event side (the game crew) and 90 staffers working for GameDay. That figure doesn’t include those covering the game for ESPN.com and SportsCenter. Chris Fowler calls the play-by-play alongside analyst Kirk Herbstreit. Samantha Ponder (Ohio State) and Tom Rinaldi (Michigan) are the sideline reporters.
“We can’t control the rating,” Fitting said, “but if we document the game and pregame as we expect to, I will consider the event a success.”
If the game is close, he and his ESPN colleagues are going to get rewarded with significant ratings. Ohio State and Michigan are the two of the four best television teams (along with Alabama and Notre Dame) when it comes to viewership. The noon window is also a good time slot given there is much less competition there than at 3:30 p.m. Obviously, the ultimate viewership would come if the game were broadcast at night on ABC.
Last month, Michigan’s win over Michigan State (a noon game) drew 4.647 million viewers. It would not be shocking if this game—assuming it’s close—drew much more than double. For some perspective: Ohio State’s 42–13 win over Michigan last year drew 10.8 million viewers.
The Noise Report
1. ESPN went all-out—and bravo to them—to promote the first Monday Night Football game played outside the United States, but there was little viewership payoff. The Raiders-Texans drew 11.785 million last Monday, down 17% from the equivalent game in 2015 (14.256M for Bills/Patriots), according to Sports TV Ratings. The 8.1 overnight rating was the lowest-rated Week 11 MNF broadcast since Titans-Broncos in 2007.
1a. Along the same lines, NBC and NFL Network last week finished with 13.33 million viewers for the Saints-Panthers game, the first game for NBC as the new Thursday night NFL package-holder. Per Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily: The 13.33 million viewers was below the audience figures for all but one TNF game on CBS this season (only the 12.07 million viewers for Cardinals-49ers in Week 5 was lower for CBS).
1b. Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand offered five ideas that sources say have been discussed by the NFL’s football operations and broadcast teams to boost television ratings.
2. Episode 90 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features Cubs radio broadcaster Pat Hughes and Gary Cohen, the TV play-by-play voice for the Mets on SportsNet New York (SNY).
Hughes has been the radio voice of the Cubs for 21 years. Prior to that, he spent 12 years working with Bob Uecker on Brewers broadcasts. Cohen has been a Mets broadcaster since 1989 including working on the radio side until 2006. Both broadcasters—who were interviewed separately—are finalists for the 2017 Ford Frick Award, the highest honor a baseball broadcaster can achieve.
In this podcast, Hughes discusses how he handled the final moments of the Cubs’ historic World Series win; whether a World Series title changes listeners’ perception of him; the differences in announcing for a good or bad team; what the immediate aftermath was like following the Cubs’ win; his passion for making audio tapes of some of baseball’s greatest announcers; and much more.
Cohen discusses how his job has changed since the 1990s; the use of sabermetrics in a TV broadcast; who evaluates his work and why that is important; how age has impacted, if at all, his broadcasting; the switch from radio to TV; how to navigate between wanting your team to do well but not being a homer; his favorite Keith Hernandez story; calling games for Columbia University’s WKCR as a college student with a soccer analyst named George Stephanopoulos; and much more.
2a. Episode 89 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features Paul Finebaum, who hosts The Paul Finebaum Show, which airs on ESPN Radio and is simulcast on the SEC Network. Finebaum is also part of the SEC Network’s SEC Nation and regularly appears on ESPN.
In this podcast, we discuss how Finebaum’s relationship with Alabama coach Nick Saban and what happened at SEC Media Day when the two got into a heated discussion; how he prepares for his show, especially when college football is not in regular season; how to take a regional show and make it popular nationally; what he thinks of Greg McElroy and Tim Tebow as analysts; what his relationship is with some of his well-known callers (e.g. Phyllis from Mulga Ala., Jim from Tuscaloosa); what finding success later in his professional life meant for him; how he thought his professional career had stalled before the New Yorker profiled him; his advice for young people who do not consider themselves TV people, and much more.
3. Per the Wall Street Journal, Amazon has held talks for live-game rights with leagues including NBA, MLB, NFL and MLS.
4. Here are Bryant Gumbel’s closing remarks—on LeBron James and coded language—on the latest edition of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel:
“Finally tonight, my thanks to LeBron James, for calling attention to the way in which language is used to disrespect and devalue people of color. He was recently upset, justifiably, by the use of the word ‘posse’ to define his business associates. Predictably, racial apologists have cried foul on James, but LeBron is merely citing part of a race-based code that’s all too commonplace in sports. One that leaves some words unspoken but well understood. Look, it’s not just about ‘posse.’ We’ve long watched and listened as broadcasters have routinely characterized black players as born athletes and their white teammates as hard workers. We know what they mean when they fault end zone dances but applaud Lambeau leaps; when they label Beckham a showboat but say Gronkowski’s colorful or when they’re calling some guys in a fight ‘scrappers’ and others ‘thugs.’ Black viewers have always known it’s a white guy whenever those in the booth are claiming a player is ‘heady’ or ‘does the intangibles.’ The list goes on and on but you get the point.
“Now, the usual assortment of critics and bigots will no doubt claim these are inflated complaints born of political correctness, but since when does one group get to define another’s level of offense? Look, we’re coming off of a bitter election in which hurtful words ultimately did not matter and maybe they didn’t because too many have become accepting of the ignorant stereotypes that words help create and reinforce. Maybe it’s time we thought more, not less, about the language that’s used and call people out when it’s abused. LeBron’s going to ring up a lot of points this year but in my book none more important than the one he scored last week.”
5. CBS’s 48 Hours profiled Brazilian-Belgian professional basketball player Sebastien Bellin, who was nearly killed in the March terrorist attacks in Brussels. The special Live to Tell: The Long Road Home airs Saturday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
5a. Here’s an interesting Los Angeles Times Op-Ed that argues a document from Lee Harvey Oswald suggests JFK wasn’t his real target.
5b. From Nicholas Dawes: A letter to friends in American journalism about things we’ve learned in Big Man systems.
5b. The legendary Fort Wayne Komets hockey broadcaster Bob Chase passed away on Thursday, at the age of 90. Chase completed 63 seasons as the voice of the Komets radio last year after first arriving in Fort Wayne in 1953. NBC NHL announcer Mike Emrick grew up in La Fontaine, Indiana, about 60 miles south of Fort Wayne, and the first hockey game he ever attended came on Dec. 10, 1960, when the Komets hosted the Muskegon Zephyrs. Emrick was 14 and Chase was doing the call. The two soon developed a life-long friendship, which I wrote about for SI.com last year.