Media mailbag: Reviewing the NFL season; the future of SportsCenter; more

Answers to questions about the NFL's live-streaming future, what's next for SportsCenter, hockey's place in the Olympics and much more.
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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.)

Any chance CBS dumps Phil Simms or at least demotes him? I can’t even say he’s polarizing anymore, because nobody likes him. — Chris Partlow

CBS Sports executives like him—and that’s all that matters. From CBS executive vice president of communications Jen Sabatelle: “No plans at this time to make changes. As always, we evaluate our NFL roster following the conclusion of each season.”

What’s the future of sports highlight shows? — ‏@AltaNewsSummary

The SportsCenter you grew up on is no more—and ESPN management knows this. There are too many options outside of linear television to see sports highlights and real-time news, including social media. Cord cutting has also hurt. In 2012 ESPN averaged 1.020 million viewers for its total day viewership. Four years later, it was 817,000.

That’s the backdrop for SportsCenter becoming much more personality-focused, with different time slots representing the content ethos and personalities of the host or hosts as opposed to being a homogenous brand. The latest iteration of the changing SportsCenter began Monday with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith moving from their His and Hers show on ESPN2 to co-host the 6 p.m. ET edition of SportsCenter on ESPN. Highlights will always been a part of SportsCenter—and ESPN. They pay a gigantic price to the NFL, as much for highlight rights as anything else. So it’s not going away forever; it’s just going to be part of personality-driven stuff at ESPN. At least for now.

His And Hers heads to SportsCenter: Michael Smith & Jemele Hill talk new show

Would be curious to hear from your perspective if the NFL on Twitter was a failure, and if the NFL thinks it was? @pbcbreakdown

I asked Sports Business Media Reporter John Ourand to answer this one, given he’s reported on it much more than I. “This is one of those weird cases where everybody won—the Twitter, the NFL and the TV networks,” Ourand said. “I addressed some of this in a Jan. 9 SBJ column. Twitter executives say the NFL package allowed it grow and helped it sign distribution deals with outlets like Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Xbox. The NFL wants to get some of these deep-pocketed digital media companies addicted to its programming—just like TV networks are. The hope is that Twitter or Facebook or Amazon or Google will become [players] when the league’s rights fees expire. Given Twitter’s growth this season, that strategy seems to be working. And the TV networks breathed a big sigh of relief because Twitter’s viewer numbers were not significant. I was told that Twitter’s average minute audience averaged just 265,000, a number that would not cause a blip in the NFL’s TV ratings.”

Do you expect more “sports” employers to follow (seemingly) ESPN’s lead and discourage political tweeting? I hope not! — @Nayla Ann Arbor

I do, but here’s the caveat: I think there are different rules for different employees at these places, and especially at ESPN. Stephen A. Smith recently appeared on Hannity and often does political shows. Someone with a smaller contract at ESPN would not be allowed to that—it’s been proven time and time again. There are a ton of ESPN-ers who tweet about politics daily; many of whom have long-term deals and are the favorites of management. I think the same would apply at a newspaper or online outlet. The more juice talent has, the more freedom they have to tweet politically. The obvious reason to avoid it is that it is a very divisive topic and you risk losing audience.

Are the NHL, IIHF and IOC playing a game of chicken regarding NHL participation in the 2018 Olympics? What is NBC’s position?— Stu Dolgon

NBC absolutely wants hockey at the Olympics. Look back at the Sochi Olympics numbers: Per Sports Media Watch: The Canada-United States women’s hockey gold medal game drew 4.9 million viewers on NBC, up 96% from the same match-up on MSNBC in 2010 (2.5M). NBCSN averaged 4.1 million viewers for the Feb. 15, 2014 U.S.-Russia Olympic men’s hockey game—then a record for the most-watched hockey game in the network’s history. The Canada-U.S. men’s semifinal drew 3.9 million on NBCSN. If you go back to 2010, the Canada-United States gold medal final drew 27.6 million viewers, the most-watched hockey game in the United States since the U.S. team beat Finland to win gold at 1980 Olympics. It would be a huge hole for NBC if the pros are not in South Korea.

What is the word about ESPN and Lindsay Czarniak? What will she be doing for them, and is she staying?— Neil Schoolnik

Czarniak will be fine. She’s represented by CAA, which has a lot of pull at ESPN. I would not be surprised if she ended up being part of a new Mike Greenberg (also repped by CAA) vehicle. Said an ESPN spokesperson when I emailed: “We are still in the process of working with her to determine future assignments as she returns from maternity.”

Brent Musburger opens up about decision to leave ESPN for Las Vegas media startup

Who would be your dream Super Bowl broadcast lineup?Eric Bowman

Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Mike Pereira in the booth; the Inside The NBA crew in the studio, and Doris Burke and Chris Wallace on the sidelines.

Any idea how financially lucrative deep playoff runs are for local media outlets? — Josh Nason

I don’t know the specifics, but it has a major impact given the ratings will be way up during a local playoff run and you can sell off that. Nationally, Ad Age reported Fox’s overtime session brought in between $16–20 million in additional cash on top of what was already a $400 million-plus night.

Will the number of athletes protesting a visit to the White House grow? —Patrick Keane

I think we will definitely see it with the NBA champions (given high-profile members of both the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have spoken out against Donald Trump)— nd some college teams as well. It will be a very big sports media story if NBA players boycott.

Which sports media figure would make best presidential candidate for 2020? Doc Emrick is a little old. Maybe Doris Burke? — Neil Best

If Vin Scully runs, he wins.

Candidates to fill the No. 2 analyst spot at Fox. Is that person(s) currently on their talent roster? — Michael Silvers

That’s a good question. In-house, I would watch to see if Chris Spielman gets the push. But Fox Sports executives are always attracted to big names so keep you eyes on any recently retired big-name quarterback or coach interested in broadcasting.

What is the most challenging thing for a media personality when changing role? — Jason Yeckley

The two biggest things, in my opinion, are recognizing that you have to grind like a first-year employee to get the respect of the audience. The second thing is to convince management and the audience that you have truly moved to this new role for honest reasons.

Why is FS1 hiding one of their stars at 11:30 p.m. on Wednesdays? Katie Nolan seems perfect for a late afternoon, daily spot?Doug Bowman

FS1 executives have paid millions of dollars for other on-air talent, and they’ll get the late morning and afternoon spots for now. If those talents fail, FS1’s all-opinion, all-the-time strategy will cool.

2017 NFL Mock Draft 6.0: Post-Super Bowl look at the first three rounds

Any thoughts on the war between ESPN and [Boston-based) WEEI Radio [which is an ESPN affiliate]? — Ross Keith

It’s very good business for WEEI. Pro wrestling teaches us that when you fight The Authority, you win over the crowd. The wise move for ESPN is to let its talent decide if it wants to go that station and to avoid making it a blanket ban. It takes the underdog factor off WEEI. I have not seen this with any other city.

How are Jalen and Jacoby doing at ESPN radio? Always enjoy them.— Sam Moody

They are well liked by management, particularly senior vice president and executive producer Connor Schell. ABC also recently greenlit a pilot for a semi-autobiographical show about Rose’s life, Jalen vs. Everybody. The pilot will be written and executive produced by Fresh Off the Boat showrunner Nahnatchka Khan, the sister of Rose’s CAA agent. In short, Rose is doing fine.

What do you think of leagues and teams hiring in-house reporters to control the message? Hiring away good journalists. — @DWalkerWinman

Double-edged sword for me. I want writers and reporters to find jobs in a declining journalism economy—and this is a growth industry. The fear is always that these positions are ultimately more p.r. than journalism because informed criticism of owners, team presidents, general managers and other personnel never appear on the site. The teams that let these journalists act independently always offer the best content.

In your NFL roundtable, someone talked about athletes and faith. Do media people share that? Afraid to talk about it?— Oscar Richard

It’s not something talked much about in the press boxes I’ve been part of, but I don’t think media people are afraid. It just usually doesn’t come up in relation to the game or coverage. Like politics and sex, it can be a tricky thing for reporters to talk about publicly because they likely don’t want to alienate readers or viewers. Personally, I appreciate when media people share their faith, as ESPN social media editor Jason Romano does on his feeds.

Do you see Netflix or Amazon bidding on rights for any live sports in the near future? If so what sport/league/conference?— Dave Ricard

I absolutely do, and I think it will be the NFL.

NFL team-by-team off-season needs

How come the U.S. sports media doesn’t focus on sports in a global scale compared to other countries’ media?— Shanks Ravi

Eyeballs. The metrics for covering the NFL, college football and the NBA are too great for outlets to switch resources to global. But The New York Times sports section and ESPN, among others, have definitely made a commitment to global sports.

Any word on who will serve as Host on ESPN’s coverage on The Masters?Claude Dicks

I’d bet on Scott Van Pelt.

Why can’t Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe have a guest podcast together? One for The Ringer and one for ESPN?— JJ Manzo

They should do this—it would benefit both entities. Plus, it would give Mike Lombardi a break for a week.

Were The Sports Reporters ratings so bad that it needed to be canceled? Couldn’t have been expensive to produce.Patrick Donovan

The Sports Reporters had long been produced independently outside of ESPN (by Joseph Valerio Productions), which made the program easier to cut for ESPN president John Skipper. (And make no mistake, he made the call.) I think management believed the show had run its course given the choices the production had made over the years about on-air talent. From this point of view, the show long ago stopped being about viewers; it was about those on-air egos. That was a bummer because there were many of us who grew up wanting to be on the show. Today, the Barstool Rundown feels far more current. The good news is ESPN replaced the show with an hour block of E:60 and a financial commitment to longform television journalism. That’s an excellent thing.

If you were NFL commissioner, what would you do about the Pro Bowl? Tweak it or get rid of the game altogether? — Douglas Pucci

The game drew 7.45 million viewers this year, which was down a tick from 7.99 million for the 2016 Pro Bowl. That a sports exhibition draws 7-plus million viewers is incredible in 2017. I would never get rid of the game, nor should the NFL. The viewership was better than all but six college bowl games.


The Noise Report

1. Episode 103 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features Ryen Russillo, the co-host of the ESPN Radio show Russillo & Kanell, which airs daily 1 to 4 p.m. ET on ESPN Radio and ESPNEWS, alongside co-host Danny Kanell.

In this podcast, Russillo discusses how frustrated he was being tagged as Scott Van Pelt’s “sidekick”; how he prepares for each show; why he believes he’s been doing sports-talk radio wrong; whether a radio host can avoid talking politics in 2017; how he decides what NBA news to report on the air; his thoughts on his show being bumped on Sirius for a show hosted by Stephen A. Smith; why he does not use an agent; why he believes previous agents lied to him; where he expects to be in five years; how much input he had on choosing Danny Kanell as a co-host; why Skip Bayless banned him from First Take; why Van Pelt does not appear much on his show; how much NBA and college football he will do in the future; and much more.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

2. Episode 102 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features a return of the sports media roundtable with Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand and Awful Announcing/The Comeback writer Jimmy Traina. On this podcast, we discuss Comedy Central airing a show from Barstool Sports and what that means for that brand heading forward; why Barstool has gotten more mainstream notice; what the Super Bowl ratings mean for the NFL in 2017; why ESPN p.r. responded to FS1’s attacks; the stick-to-sports debate and how much oxygen political news will take from sports; the hires of Rex Ryan and Steve Smith as broadcasters; Brent Musburger leaving ESPN and whether he was forced out; the post-WFAN future of Mike Francesa; whether Jemele Hill and Michael Smith can find success hosting the 6 p.m. ET SportsCenter; and much more.

3. Last week ESPN NBA writer Dave McMenamin landed one of the most talked about sports interviews of 2017—LeBron James responding to Charles Barkley’s repeated criticism of him. The public often never learns of how such stories come about, so I emailed McMenamin to find out the back story of how the story came to be. Item No. 2 has our exchange.

4. Super Bowl LI averaged 111.3 million viewers on Fox, tying it with Super Bowl XLVI (Pats-Giants) in 2012 as the fifth most watched television show of all time. Anthony Crupi of Ad Age had an excellent breakdown of the ratings. The game was the least watched Super Bowl since 2013.

4a. Sports Business Daily reported that Fox “generated a unique audience for its Super Bowl LI stream of 4.42 million, up 12% from last year’s 3.96 million. That’s a record for what was the sixth live stream of the Super Bowl.”

5. Deadspin’s Kevin Draper reported Wednesday that Adrian Wojnarowski was close to an agreement to leave Yahoo and join ESPN. The network declined comment to Deadspin (or to SI) on the report.