The last woman to call play by play for an NFL regular season game was Gayle Sierens, who retired in 2015 after a long career as a news anchor in Tampa, Fla. For those too young to remember, Sierens was assigned by NBC Sports to call the Seahawks-Chiefs game on Dec. 27, 1987, a game played on the final week of the regular season that year. Following that broadcast and good reviews, then-NBC Sports executive producer Mike Weisman offered Sierens six more games for the following season. But Sierens’ local NBC station did not want her to call more games and miss work. So Sierens never called another NFL game.
You are now officially updated on all the women who have served as game-callers for an NFL regular season game.
That is about to change, according to multiple sources. ESPN broadcaster Beth Mowins will be given the play by play assignment for the Sept. 11 game between Chargers and Broncos in Denver, the late game of the Monday Night Football opening week doubleheader. Former Bills and Jets head coach Rex Ryan is likely to be her game analyst. Ryan was hired by ESPN in April and the Monday Night Football assignment would be his debut as an NFL color commentator. Mowins and Ryan called the Florida State spring game together last April.
Sandy Montag, the agent for Mowins, declined comment on Sunday night.
For the past two seasons Mowins has called the Raiders’ exhibition games in addition to her college football schedule. This gives her a ton more full-time NFL game-calling experience than two broadcasters ESPN previously assigned to call the back end of the MNF doubleheader: Mike Greenberg and Chris Berman.
“Beth Mowins has excelled as play by play announcer for the Raiders’ preseason football, demonstrating unmatched professionalism, work ethic and passion for her craft,” said Vittorio De Bartolo, the executive producer of broadcasting for the Oakland Raiders and the team official who recruited Mowins for the Oakland broadcasting job. “As executive producer I appreciated Beth’s enthusiasm for studying and preparing for each game. She took advantage of every opportunity during training camp to watch practice and chat with Raiders players, coaches and personnel in the days leading up to kickoff, all of which helped make for a better Raiders Preseason broadcast." It’s no coincidence that in her first year as play by play announcer in 2015, the Raiders’ preseason football broadcast received a Northern California Area Emmy nomination. “I am more than confident Beth can call an NFL game for a national audience. Her resume and body of work speaks for itself in addition to the seamless transition she made from the college game to the NFL game.”
Last November, during a symposium on the future of sports television at the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland, NFL Network correspondent Andrea Kremer, who was one of the panelists and a former ESPN employee, asked ESPN president John Skipper why a women had not cracked the glass ceiling of calling NFL play-by-play.
“I think we will get there,” said Skipper. “We are committed to it. Look, we have women calling NBA games, we have women calling college football games, and we look for opportunities to put women in the booth. . . There is no reason not to do it now. It is one of things where people are making progress and that would be seen as there is no limit.”
That seemed to indicate ESPN would finally walk the walk on such talk. To its credit ESPN is the only sports network/division among those that air NFL games (CBS, Fox, NFL Network, NBC, and ESPN) showing any full-time commitment to assigning women to on-air positions for men’s sports. Doris Burke, Kara Lawson, Jessica Mendoza and Mowins are the most prominent of that group. That CBS and Fox have multiple NFL teams, and the fact that we’ve never seen a woman get any kind of shot in the booth tells you something.
There will be those who consider the Mowins assignment a stunt. They will be wrong. This is an easy prediction: She will call a quality game.
“Beth will show up and do a game and do as good a job as any of the men,” NBC Sports announcer Mike Tirico said on the SI Media Podcast last January, predicting she would get an NFL game assignment in the future. “She is a ceiling-breaker, a pioneer and there will be more women [calling the NFL] going forward.”
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. Episode 117 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features ESPN hosts and reporters Bob Ley and Jeremy Schaap. The longtime ESPN journalists will be part of a new Sunday E:60 show which will air year-round at 9 a.m. ET.
In this podcast, Ley and Schaap address the ESPN layoffs and what it means to people at ESPN who care about journalism; how they would answer the question of how ESPN can claim to be as committed to journalism today after the elimination of journalists such as Ed Werder, Jayson Stark, Jane McManus, Andy Katz, Brett McMurphy and others; what they think of those in the media, especially ESPN’s competitors, who posit that these layoffs were a result of ESPN shifting politically to the left; what viewers should expect from a weekly E:60 series; whether they feel ratings pressure; whether either have ever considered leaving ESPN; what they would tell journalism majors and young reporters about today's media landscape; whether Schaap would change anything about his interview with Bob Knight; what stories in the future each wishes to do; who will win the 2018 World Cup, and much more.
I asked both guests why viewers should believe ESPN is still as committed to journalism after laying off dozens of journalists.
“Listen, there will be those moments on Outside The Lines—and we are on the air five days a week—and here is a topic we need so and so or need such and such,” Ley said. “I will tell you going into Philadelphia for the last day of the Draft we had pre-booked three guests for that show. All three were caught up in the layoffs. That is an inconvenience for us. That’s a tragedy for each of them and their families. It is going to take a deep breath and a bit of a reimagining of some things. But things will not be as they were. But what we have still by comparison is the largest news gathering organization both for daily and spot news and for deep dives in long form journalism.”
• The aftermath of the ESPN layoffs for those working in Bristol. – 1:30
• Why should viewers believe ESPN is still as committed to journalism after laying off dozens of journalists? – 3:50
• On those who posit that the ESPN layoffs are in part due to a political shift toward the left by the network – 6:10
• Conflating a liberal culture at ESPN and the business challenges of ESPN – 10:00
• On Linda Cohn’s comments – 11:30
• The shift of SportsCenter to personality-driven programming – 15:00
• Schaap on E:60 replacing the Sports Reporters, the show his father Dick fronted for years – 18:00
• What viewers should expect from a weekly E:60 – 21:00
• Where OTL stands with management today – 31:00
• Have they ever been close to leaving ESPN – 36:20
• Advice for young journalists about the work climate in 2017 – 39:00
• Would Schaap do anything different regarding his Bob Knight interview? – 43:00
• ESPN’s role in the sports marketplace in 2017 – 52:00
• What has it been like to report on ESPN’s partners – 55:00
• What will ESPN commitment be to sports journalism in the post-John Skipper era – 58:00
• Who will win the 2018 World Cup – 1:01:00
You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher
2. Last January this column first reported that ESPN executives were moving forward with the plan to shift Mike Greenberg—one half of the long-running Mike & Mike radio show on ESPN Radio—into a new role as the lead host of a television show that would air in the mornings on ESPN. The new program, likely some kind of mix of Morning Joe and Good Morning America for sports, puts an end to end to Greenberg’s on-air partnership with Mike Golic, which began in October 1998. Mike & Mike currently airs weekdays on ESPN Radio from 6–10 a.m. ET and is simulcast on ESPN2.
There is finally a start date—or at least an anticipated one—for the start of the show. The show is scheduled to debut the first or second week of January, tied to either the college football playoff semifinals on Monday, Jan 1. or the college football national title game (which airs Monday, Jan. 8).
Breaking up the Mikes means ESPN has a large radio slot to fill; Mike & Mike has been a revenue-driver for the division for a decade-plus. It’s also the signature show for ESPN in many radio markets across the country. Trey Wingo, who has experience on ESPN Radio and is one of the network’s signature NFL hosts, is expected to soon be formally announced in the role.
2a. ESPN NBA reporters Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst are the co-authors of the new book, “Return of the King: LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Greatest Comeback in NBA History.” Both reporters have covered James for years and I this week I asked McMenamin and Windhorst some Qs specific to covering James. Here’s the link.
3. NBC Sports and the NHL had an excellent viewership story to tell through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Of course the next two rounds are unlikely to provide the same positive news but more on that later.
Thanks to a pair of Game 7s including a very highly-rated Penguins-Capitals series, NHL playoff games averaged 965,000 viewers across NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, and USA Network through the second round, up seven percent over last season. The number bumps to 988,000 for the Total Audience Delivery, which includes NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.
Specifically, Game 7 of the Penguins-Capitals series averaged 2.48 million viewers, the fourth-most watched second-round game in NBCSN history. It was the most streamed game in NHL history, including all Stanley Cup Final games, with 15.3 million minutes and an Average Minute Audience of 88,300 viewers. Locally, Washington D.C. recorded an 8.3 HH rating, the highest rating ever in the market for a game on NBCSN.
The first round of the playoffs—featuring a record 18 overtime games—averaged 742,000 viewers, up 4 percent over 2016 (713,000 viewers). It was the most-watched first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2014 (753,000 viewers).
What comes next is likely not to be nearly as good for NBC. Neither Anaheim or Nashville are large television markets, though Nashville is a very strong local TV market for hockey and the highest-rated for the remaining teams. NBC will get nothing out of the Ottawa TV market given it’s in Canada. It’s also not a team that will draw an American audience the way Edmonton or Toronto might have given Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews. Pittsburgh remains NBC’s best draw based on star talent but they are not a guaranteed television win. Last year’s six-game series between the Penguins and San Jose Sharks averaged just 3.948 viewers and a 2.3 household rating, the third lowest-rated Stanley Cup Final since 2006. It was down 29 percent from the 2015 Stanley Cup between Chicago and Tampa Bay.
3a. Fox announced that Tony Gonzalez has joined the network as an NFL analyst. He’ll work on Fox NFL Kickoff, which precedes Fox NFL Sunday. Gonzalez worked for two years as a studio analyst on CBS’s NFL Today.
3b. The longtime CBS NFL analyst Solomon Wilcots announced on Twitter that his 16-year run with CBS had ended. When contacted by SI on why Wilcots’ run had ended, CBS Sports declined comment.
3c. CBS announced that it hired James Lofton to work as an in-game analyst. Lofton has been the lead game analyst for Westwood One’s coverage of Sunday Night Football for eight years.
3d. Mike Pereira (to Alex Marvez of the Sporting News) on the future of replay in the NFL.
4. Sports pieces of note:
• ESPNers Steve Fainaru, Greg Amante: Bill Roach, Logan Cascia, Chris Buckle, Horgan Tonya Malinowski, and Michael Baltierra did remarkable reporting on Syria's national soccer team.
•K.C. Star columnist Sam Mellinger: We lost Mom this week, but not before she showed me how to live.
•Highest recommendation for this Scott Price piece on former Dolphins star Jim Kiick.
•ESPN’s Wright Thompson profiled Pat Riley.
•Was cool to see SB Nation put serious resources behind a WNBA 2017 preview.
•Great piece by SI’s Lee Jenkins on the hustle stats in the NBA.
•Via Raphael Minder of the New York Times: The Girls’ Soccer Team That Joined a Boys’ League, and Won It.
Non-sports pieces of note:
•From Chris J. Rice for Catapult: Decades After Foster Care, I Found My Long-Lost Brother.
•Via The Marshall Project: The Prosecutor And the Snitch.
•From Nathan Heller of The New Yorker: Is the Gig Economy Working?
•The Guardian: Osama bin Laden’s family on the run:
•Via The New York Times opinion page: Dear Rod Rosenstein: An open letter to the deputy attorney general.
•From Pro Publica’s Nina Martin and Renee Montagne of NPR: The U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and 60 percent are preventable.
•From CNN’s Matthew Chance: Why do none of the Trump-Russia leaks come from Russia?
•The Doomsday Glacier, by Jeff Goodell of Rolling Stone.
•Via GQ’s Caity Weaver: Dwayne Johnson for President!
•From Time Magazine: Donald Trump, After Hour.
5. Here’s a podcast with Fainaru and producer Greg Amante on the Syria story.
5a. Something interesting from FS1: For three consecutive days last week (Tuesday to Thursday), Undisputed beat SportsCenter head to head in viewership (119,000 to 97,000) from 10:00 AM to noon ET. People know how I feel about some of the slop from Bayless Land and these aggregate numbers are very low, but it is stunning to see SportsCenter get beat in the AM by a new competitor.
5b. Very good piece by Robert Seidman of the Sports TV Ratings website on the attention paid to the 6:00 p.m. SportsCenter in relation to a much larger problem for ESPN: The day part viewership declines for ESPN2 over the past couple of months.
5c. Thanks to Sportsnet’s Greg Brady and Caroline Cameron for the podcast invite.
5d. ESPN announced on Friday that will air a weekday fantasy sports-oriented show hosted by Matthew Berry. “The Fantasy Show” will debut Aug. 1 on WatchESPN and the ESPN App and on ESPN2 on Aug. 16 at 5:00 p.m. ET. The 30-minute show will air at 5:00 p.m. ET every weekday through the NFL season starting Aug. 16.
5e. Nice work by Sports Business Daily media reporter John Ourand on Gerry Matalon, who spent 27 years at ESPN as a producer and talent coach before he was one of more than 300 ESPN colleagues who were let go as part of cost-cutting purge in 2015. Matalon, now an independent talent coach, has been counseling many of the ESPNers who lost their jobs earlier this month.