1. Phil Steele, eponymous college football editor and publisher: For hardcore college football fans, the name above represents glorious information overload. There are plenty of college football preview magazines in the marketplace but none whose annual debut is more anticipated from fans (and media members) the way Steele's is. His 328-page preview guide is, as the man himself likes to say, "120 media guides rolled into one." One of the most notable and appreciated aspects of his guide is that he gives the same amount of coverage to Florida Atlantic that he does Florida.
Steele turned 50 this year -- he was the subject of this terrific 2009 profile in The Washington Post -- and resides in his native Cleveland with his wife, Rebecca, and two daughters, 17-year-old Sierra and 5-year-old Savannah. He said his college football preview has increased to a circulation of roughly 500,000 and is produced by a staff of 20 to 25 who work on football year-round. For Steele, it is clearly a labor of love, in addition to a multimillion-dollar business.
"While the other magazines are great, quick reads to satisfy your summer football fix, I have heard from hundreds of members of the media and thousands of college football fans that they use my magazine almost every day of the football season," Steele said. "My main goal every year is to be the most accurate magazine and we have had a good track record. While we don't finish No. 1 every year, it is the most accurate magazine over the last 13 years combined."
2. Beth Mowins, ESPN play-by-play announcer: Too often quiet Bristol pros get lost amid publicity-lustful carnival barkers such as Skip Bayless and Woody Paige. But we deservedly highlight Mowins here because whether it's women's basketball, softball or college football, she comes prepared, professional and attacks her craft with passion. The network wisely promoted her this season for a full-time slate of college football on ESPN2's Saturday noon telecast. She'll work with analyst Mike Bellotti and do very well, including chip away at the antiquated notion that football play-by-play must be delivered by a man.
3. Michelle Beadle, ESPN personality: Earlier this week I grabbed a cup of coffee with Jim Miller, the author of the best-selling book Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN and the foremost ESPNologist on the planet. At one point the conversation turned to Beadle's remarkable on-the-record, some-words-not-safe-for-work interview with Deadspin. While there might not be an official ESPN policy prohibiting its employees from speaking with Deadspin, rest assured Deadspin is thought of by some in ESPN management in much the same manner the Soviet Union felt about the Afghan Mujahideen. I have no idea what Beadle's career strategy is -- maybe she doesn't either --- but her candor and seemingly untouchable state these days is compelling theater.
"She's done an amazing job of branding herself in a place where the only branding that goes on is about four letters," Miller said. "And she has been able to brand herself in a most unique way. Both sides of the proverbial coin are presented here because you look at the situation and the first thing you want to do is stand up and applaud because she's being incredible honest. She doesn't care whether or not PR is going to come down on her. She's just telling it like it is.
"On the other side you think, 'Wait a second. As somebody who knows the company, she must understand that this cannot go on forever.' It begs the question: Is she doing it to show ESPN that 'I don't need you and I have something else to do'? Or does she really believe that she can bend the rules and be totally unique?"
4. SiriusXM NFL Radio: During the lockout I found myself impressed by the content from SiriusXM NFL Radio despite the lack of player movement. From March 12 (the beginning of the work stoppage) through July 25 (the end), SiriusXM NFL Radio conducted 1,089 interviews, according to Andrew Fitzpatrick, the network's communication director for its sports properties. Fitzpatrick said that number had increased to 1,233 through last week, a group that ranged from Jake Locker to Julio Jones to Jeff Saturday to NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash.
While there's no doubt SiriusXM NFL Radio exists in principle to promote the league, Sirius management has brought in quality hosts (i.e. Bob Papa and Adam Schein) and hired credible beat reporters such as Alex Marvez and Ralph Vacchiano to host shows. That group outweighs some of the coaching backslappers on the air, led by Pat Kirwan. If you are a SiriusXM subscriber who follows the league, I'd consider NFL Radio a must-listen on Mondays and Tuesdays.
5. NFL analyst, ESPN: In these crazy economic times, the one job immune to any downturn is analyzing the NFL for ESPN. Over the last 10 days the network announced the hirings of Hugh Douglas, Eric Mangini, Bill Parcells, Jerry Rice and Damien Woody. Awful Announcing has kindly listed all of ESPN's NFL analysts here, with some thoughts on who might be hired down the road. Also worth reading is this fromNew York Times sports reporter Richard Sandomir, who notes that "Mangini's 33-47 record, combined with his blandness, inaccessibility and secrecy as a coach, do not suggest TV greatness."
6. Bill Richards, coordinating producer, Fox NFL Sunday: With the promotion of longtime Fox NFL Sunday coordinating producer Scott Ackerson to the not-so-short title of executive vice president, production and executive producer, Fox Sports Media Group, Richards takes over the lead producer role of the popular pregame show, halftimes and The OT postgame show each week. That's a big shift given that Ackerson had been the major behind-the-scenes player on the popular show since 1994. Most fans understandably are interested when on-air talent changes, but it will be interesting to see what touches Richards, who worked side-by-side with Ackerson the last seven years, adds to a show that has consistently drawn the most pregame viewers for more than a decade.
7. NBC Sports Network: Versus will be rebranded the NBC Sports Network on Jan. 2, 2012, and the network is off to an interesting start in terms of inventory. Along with its 10-year deal with the NHL, NBC announced earlier this week that it entered into a three-year media rights agreement with MLS that begins at the start of the 2012 season. The deal includes 45 MLS games and four U.S. national team contests annually, which will be televised live across both NBC and NBC Sports Network.
What's clear is that the NBC Sports Network will attempt to siphon off some viewers from ESPN, so expect some sort of SportsCenter-like show, as well as NFL-related programming. That competition will be good for quality sports broadcasters who will get some leverage with a new player in the marketplace.
8. ESPN soccer backlash: First things first: ESPN has absolutely treated soccer like a big-time property, especially when it comes to the World Cup. It's been praised in this column, and there is no bigger supporter of soccer in this country than ESPN executive vice president of content John Skipper. But with such commitment also comes expectations, and the network would be wise to learn from the avalanche of criticism it took this week by not opting out of a regional Little League game on ESPN2 to show the start of Jurgen Klinsmann's U.S. national team debut -- the game was moved to ESPNews at the start before being moved back to ESPN2.
This wasn't some run-of-the-mill MLS game; it was a game with great interest to the soccer diehards who provide ESPN with a base of interest in the sport. Broadcasting & Cable's Ben Grossman and SI.com's Grant Wahl both echoed the frustrations of fans.
9. Tony Bruno, sports-talk host: Bruno was suspended for a week from his radio show (owned by DirecTV) following a tweet (which he quickly deleted) in which he called Giants pitcher Ramon Ramirez an "illegal alien." Such genius was part of a cyberattack on San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy. Bruno later apologized, though he did so with a healthy edge against his critics.
His tweet was indefensible, an ethnic slur that rightly touched off plenty of anger. (Los Angeles Daily News sports writer Tom Hoffarth has written extensively on it.) At last check, Bruno's Facebook page had become a depository of people smacking him down.
Bruno has had a long career in sports radio and, for the most part, he's been very good at it. He should offer contrition on the air upon return because part of his lifeblood is getting guests from pro teams. If he wanted to really elevate the discussion, he could examine how and whether an athlete's ethnicity plays into fandom. But this is sports radio, after all, where too often low-hanging fruit is the meal of the day.
10. "Great stuff" from (fill in the blank) ESPN Radio guest: Given ESPN's size and prominence, it's understandable why the folks in Bristol occasionally come off as the Worldwide Leader in Narcissism, though media narcissism is by no means limited to Bristol (I'll raise my hand here, too).
But if I can make a small suggestion to those running ESPN Radio -- a big suggestion would be installing Jeff Rickard or Bob Valvano as the weekday overnight host -- it is that the value of the word "great" gets significantly devalued when your hosts repeatedly cite every ESPN analyst/personality/reporter/writer as delivering "great stuff" every time they are on the air. The truth is not every spot is great, nor is the information passed on the stuff of angels. So please temper the self-love, ESPN Radio. With love, RD.