You are the lead anchor of your sports network’s most venerated news program.
You are a former Fox Sports president and one of the most decorated sports television executives over the last 25 years.
You are the lead face of the NFL Network as well as the host of your own radio and television program that bears your name.
It is the second week of October. Your phone rings. The person on the other line says he is a lawyer representing O.J. Simpson. The lawyer informs you that Simpson would like to do a sit-down interview with your outlet.
What do you do?
“For starters, the opportunities to talk for Simpson to talk for money will be available so I expect it would be a while, if ever, before a journalist got a sit-down,” said ESPN’s Bob Ley, the longtime host of Outside The Lines. “Think of it: To many consumers of news and information, Simpson is as relevant as a Moon Landing. If you're not 35, 40 years old, you don't have a fully-formed memory of his criminal trial, and all that it entailed and represented. Clearly the guy who could, with a straight face, tell a parole board he's led a 'conflict-free' life and be believed—and that's another story entirely—that guy isn't going to take you any place that hasn't been probed in the past 23 years. But I'd sure like to have the conversation. Sometimes interviews speak volumes in what they don't say, and how subjects don't say it.”
“If offered, I certainly would do the interview,” said Ed Goren, the former executive producer of Fox Sports and one of the most successful sports television executives of his generation. “I think there's a certain fascination and curiosity about O.J. We're a country that loves gossip, whether it's TMZ or the tabloids. In the end there will be tremendous competition to get that first interview whether it's 60 Minutes or the morning news shows. I doubt it will be a TV sports outlet that gets the first interview.”
“I would definitely have O.J. on for an interview on my show but only if he would agree to a couple of ground rules,” said Rich Eisen, the NFL Network host and host of The Rich Eisen Show on Audience Sports, NFL Now and Fox Sports Radio. “One, that he would have no ground rules of his own as to what I could or could not ask him. And, secondly, I would want him in studio so this would be face-to-face rather than over the phone. I'm assuming he would come out to Los Angeles at some point. Any issues with any of the above, and I would gladly have him appear elsewhere and do the best show I can with other guests for that day.”
If Simpson decides to air his thoughts to the public following his expected Oct. 1 release after nine years in a Nevada prison on charges stemming from a 2007 armed robbery in a Las Vegas hotel room, the odds are overwhelming that he will initially talk in an environment that he and his people control. Perhaps that will be a pay-per-view style broadcast or via some streaming service. The news divisions of networks and cable will obviously make a pitch — don’t believe otherwise. Per the L.A. Times, CBS drew 3.1 million viewers for Simpson’s middle of the day parole hearing followed by ABC (2.3 million), NBC (1.9 million) and Fox (1.3 million). On cable, Fox News Channel led all cable outlets with 1.7 million viewers. ESPN drew 471,000 viewers, more than 30 percent what it normally draws in that time slot.
Given the subject of this column, I was particularly interested in how sports outlets viewed the possibility of interviewing Simpson. I don’t believe any major sports outlet, from linear television to digital outlets, would turn down an interview unless Simpson’s camp put restrictions on questions, or asked for money in exchange for the access. Last week I asked representatives from four major sports networks with a 24/7 cable presence the following question:
How would management view the prospect of O.J. Simpson appearing on your airwaves for an interview. In short, would you put Simpson on one of your properties for a one-off?” Here were the responses I received:
CBS Sports: “There are no plans for O.J. Simpson to appear on CBS Sports.”
ESPN: “Given public interest, we would be among the many outlets interested in an interview if the opportunity presented itself,"
Fox Sports: “There have been no discussions on this topic that we have been made aware of.”
NBC Sports: “This is not something we are pursuing. If there was news relevant to our programming, we would cover it appropriately.”
CBS Sports and NBC Sports have different charters than ESPN on the cable side given their programming and the lack of a 24/7 news-gathering apparatus. But executives at each outlet would surely take the Simpson interview, or at least it jointly with their news divisions.
There are some who might compare a sports network interviewing Simpson to NBC and Megyn Kelly’s decision to interview Alex Jones. Don’t be lured into false thinking. Simpson is far more newsworthy in the public’s mind than Jones. His criminal trial remains a flash point on race relations in America where Jones is an unrepentant Sandy Hook truther who has caused immeasurable grief for families in Newtown, CT. Not only had been previously profiled, Jones has a daily forum where the public can view his thoughts where Simpson hasn’t been interviewed in years. (In addition, NBC News lost the narrative on the Jones interview immediately with an initial PR campaign that screamed ratings grab as opposed to letting the audience know immediately that this would be an adversarial interview with journalistic value. There were also the brutal optics: Kelly posing with Jones for publicity stills.) I’d bet the majority of people, if asked, would not feel the same way about Simpson being interviewed, even if they loathed Simpson and believe him to be a double murderer (as I do).
Will Simpson ultimately do an interview with a sports outlet? History says he will, especially given he is known to watch sports programming. Simpson did an interview with AM 1150 Sports Radio Los Angeles in November 1997 but took only football-related questions. Two months later ESPN’s Chris Myers (now with Fox Sports) did a nearly hour-long live interview with Simpson in Jan. 1998. In Dec. 2002 Simpson did a SportsCenter sitdown with Dan Patrick, then of ESPN, that the network programmed as a one-hour special on a Monday night. I’d be stunned if we don’t see a Simpson interview on a sports outlet by the end of 2018.
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the most notable sports media stories of the week)
1. Episode 128 of The Sports Illustrated Media Podcast is a sports media roundtable featuring Chad Finn, the sports media writer and general columnist for the Boston Globe and Boston.com, and Andrew Bucholtz, a staff writer and editor with Awful Announcing.
On this podcast, we discuss the rise of the paid subscription model in sports media including The Athletic, DK Pittsburgh Sports and the Boston Sports Journal; FS1’s opinion-heavy programming in the post-Jamie Horowitz era; why many New England sports fans do not trust ESPN; the future of Bill Simmons on linear television; why FS1 hired Ray Lewis; what exactly is a sports hot take; why Chad is exhausted by FS1; the potential of Mike Greenberg as a solo host; where Katie Nolan will land; the chemistry between Mike Golic and Trey Wingo; whether NBC’s hockey programming is smart; how Jay Cutler and Tony Romo will do in Year 1 as analysts and much more.
You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.
1a. I paneled 29 play-by-play broadcasters from across the country on what they eat or drink to stay on top of their game when an event they’re covering goes long.
2. Depressing and disappointing to see Vice Media cut the majority of its Vice Sports editorial staff to focus on video content. The site consistently published quality work. The announcement follows the current trend of media companies catering to advertisers (and not consumers, per se) with a larger pivot to video. The list of those digital entities featuring sports writing that have suffered layoffs in 2017 includes (but is not limited to) ESPN, Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated and Yahoo! Sports.
2a. Highest Recommendation: The latest 30 for 30 Podcast on "Kelly" Cheung Yin Sun, a famed advantage player in mini-baccarat who teamed with poker star Phil Ivey to pull off an elaborate scheme that netted them over $20 million and landed Ivey in court. The podcast was reported by Rose Eveleth. Great stuff.
2b. After you listen to the above podcast, check out a companion podcast featuring ESPN vice president and author Chad Millman interviewing Eveleth about the piece.
2c. John Ourand and David Broughton of Sports Business Daily, on MLB local ratings trending down.
2d. The Athletic's new San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose site launches Aug. 1. Among the hires: Longtime Bay Area sports columnists Tim Kawakami and Marcus Thompson and former SI senior writer Phil Taylor. That’s a great trio.
3. The Golf Channel said it was able to show an extra 200 action shots from its coverage of The Open because of sponsors supporting “Playing Through” (a second screen appearing for the coverage, which plays the ad buy).
3a. Bill Simmons revealed an interesting detail about Grantland on a recent media-centric podcast with guests Bryan Curtis and Jim Miller. Simmons said the current portfolio of podcasts at The Ringer makes 10 times as much money on podcasts as Grantland did. He did not cite the specific numbers. “ESPN could have just owned podcasts,” Simmons said. “They were there first. They were in the space. They had mine. We at Grantland had a lot of success with our pods early but they were insistent on putting them on PodCenter instead of just floating them out all over the place. It just should have been a growth industry that could have replaced ESPN Radio one day. They didn’t know what to do with it. They used to throw my podcasts into their giant Subway [ad] deal. I was the free set of tires you got.”
4. Non sports pieces of note:
• Meduza’s Danya Turovsky had a detailed look at how Moscow is preparing for the coming cyber World War. Probably the most remarkable piece I read last week.
• From Tobias Rose-Stockwell: This Is How Your Fear and Outrage Are Being Sold for Profit.
• "I’m a scientist. I’m blowing the whistle on the Trump administration."
• The Detroit Free Press has an hour-by-hour look at the 1967 riots, with details and annotations.
• CJR spoke with the six New York Times public editors.
• From Bloomberg Businessweek’s Lauren Coleman-Lochner: Moneyball for Dead Celebs: This $5 Billion Business Sells Elvis and Michael Jackson
• From The New Yorker: The Life of a South Central Statistic
• Amazing correction in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
• When a crash toppled a Confederate statue, a Southern town—half black, half white—collided with its past. By David Montgomery of The Washington Post.
• From Joel Anderson and Aram Roston of Buzzfeed: The moneyman behind the alt-right.
• Tommy Tomlinson interviews former Georgia football coach: Vince Dooley… on gardening.
• Remarkable work by the L.A. Times: An overdose, a young companion, drug-fueled parties: The secret life of USC med school dean.
• From Martin Salazar of the Albuquerque Journal: Restrictions on lunches have seniors indignant.
• Via Politico: Inside the 24 hours that broke Sean Spicer.
Sports pieces of note:
• Terrific story by ESPN.com’s Mechelle Voepel on Sue Bird, who makes public her relationship with girlfriend Megan Rapinoe.
• From Jere Longman of The New York Times: Usain Bolt is the fastest sprinter ever in spite of—or because of?—an uneven stride that upends conventional wisdom.
• Great piece by Mirin Fader for Bleacher Report on basketball's Ogwumike sisters.
• Check out The MMQB All-Time NFL Draft
• From The Atlantic: Is Surfing More Sport or Religion?
5. Fox announced its plans for the 2017 MLS All Star Game.
5a. Per Douglas Pucci of Awful Announcing: The 30 for 30 documentary on the New York-based sports radio team of Mike Francesa and Chris Russo drew 657,000 viewers on July 13, the least-watched 30 for 30 documentary nationally since "Angry Sky" on July 30, 2015 drew 390,000 viewers. Now, as expected, the doc did phenomenally well in New York, drawing a 2.5 local rating in New York, the top-rated 30 for 30 in the history of the market.
5b.Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand chronicled how the league commissioners of the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB view gambling.
5c. Thanks to Robert Seidman for the invite on The World's Fastest-Growing Sports Media Podcast.
5d. Per Pucci: ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 755,000 viewers for its entire Wimbledon coverage, down 13 percent from last year.
5e. Surreal viewing: Here’s O.J. Simpson, working for NBC Sports, interviewing Dan Marino and Keith Jackson in 1992. He then throws it back to Bob Costas and Bill Parcells.