How Fox will cover the U.S. Open; Inside LeBron's interview with Wade
You are not alone with your curiosity about how Fox Sports will cover a major golf championship.
The host of the coverage is curious as well.
“This is a major venture, with a ton of people who have not done a ton of TV and me who has done a ton of TV but has not done a ton of golf,” says Fox’s Joe Buck, who will make his golf major debut Thursday when Fox airs the 115th U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. “We’ll see how it goes. I’m just as anxious to find out as much as anyone.”
Last year, Fox signed a 12-year rights deal (worth more than $1 billion) with the U.S. Golf Association for the rights to the U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open, U.S. Senior Open and the USGA's 10 amateur competitions. It is the first golf major in Fox’s history and the obvious question that comes up for golf viewers is what kind of broadcast ethos will Fox bring to the event? Keep in mind this is a network that once gave prominent airtime to Scooter, a talking baseball.
“Anytime something is new, some people will like it and some people won’t,” said Mark Loomis, the coordinating producer of Fox’s golf coverage. “I think we are entering it the right way, which is to respect the event first. But we are going to do a lot of things to make the viewer feel they are playing the golf course.”
• MORE GOLF: Mike Davis will be key for U.S. Open success
Loomis said those things include added audio from the golf course including hole mics, giving dimensions to the greens, and providing an enhanced look at shots from the golfer’s view.
“All of these things we are trying need to be in the flow of what we do,” Loomis said. "The technology is part of the experience; not the experience.”
For those who want a quick primer of Fox’s coverage, I compiled some notes below after talking to announcers and executives, and sitting on a Fox Sports golf conference call last week.
• The coverage will begin on Thursday at 10:59 a.m. ET with every Fox cable network joining together to simultaneously show a featured group of golfers hitting their first tee shots from No. 1 at Chambers Bay.
• The first eight hours of the Thursday and Friday rounds will air on Fox Sports 1 from 12-8 p.m. ET, before moving to local Fox stations for the 8-11 p.m. ET window. Coverage on Saturday and Sunday will air exclusively on big Fox from 2 -10 p.m. ET on Saturday and 2-10:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. In the event of a tie at the conclusion of Sunday’s final round, an 18-hole playoff will air Monday at 2:30 p.m. ET on Fox.
• Other analysts along with Greg Norman include former PGA Tour professionals Brad Faxon, Corey Pavin, Tom Weiskopf, Steve Flesch, Scott McCarron and Jay Delsing along with former LPGA star Juli Inkster. Fox will have a course expert available (Gil Hanse) and a rules expert (David Fay). Charles Davis and Holly Sonders will serve as on-course reporters. Curt Menefee and Shane O’Donoghue are additional hosts.
• Online coverage via Fox Sports Go will offer three alternate streams created specifically for the Open. The first alternate stream follows two featured groups on Thursday and Friday, and one group on Saturday and Sunday. The second stream features holes No. 12 and 15 throughout the week. The third stream—U.S. Open 360—is an all-access look from the grounds of Chambers Bay. Fox Sports Go talent includes announcer Tim Brando and analysts Mark Brooks, Buddy Marucci and Natalie Gulbis calling the featured group coverage team. Holes No. 12 and 15 are called by Shane Bacon with analysts/reporters Robert Damron, Debbie Doniger and Eoghan O’Connell. U.S. Open 360 will be hosted by Joel Klatt at a specially designed set location at Chambers Bay. He will be joined by analysts Joe Ogilvie, Morgan Pressel and EA Tischler. Ned Michaels and Robert Lusetich will also make appearances on the digital coverage.
• Fox Sports said Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler will be featured on Fox Sports Go for Thursday's opening round. Mickelson, Watson and Angel Cabrera are grouped together and begin their round at 10:33 a.m. ET. (The beginning holes will be featured on USOpen.com. Fox Sports Go coverage of their round will begin at 1 p.m. ET). Fowler, Woods and Louis Oosthuizen are grouped together and will begin at 5:28 p.m. ET. Their round is scheduled to be shown in its entirety on Fox Sports Go.
• Fox Sports Radio will be onsite including 16 live hours on Thursday and Friday, broadcasting from 12-8 p.m. ET both days.
For more info on the technologies Fox will use, click here and here. “We've built cameras that can get some height in the fairway, and we have these virtual flyovers, but then you can combine them with live aerial shots,” Loomis told Golf.com’s Jessica Marksbury. “And you can switch back and forth from a 'real world' to the virtual world and you can get a better shot. We also have real system audio. Fox has always been big into audio, and so there’s a great history there. And I think maybe around the greens we'll be able to do some things that people haven't been able to quite capture [in previous broadcasts].”
• Last year’s U.S. Open ratings tanked for NBC. The network drew 4.6 million viewers for the final round of coverage, which saw Martin Kaymer go wire-to-wire and win by eight strokes. That was the lowest audience for the final round on record and down 38 percent in viewers from 2013 (viewership was hurt by ABC’s broadcast of a World Cup match between France and Honduras). Should Fox be troubled by that? No, says Bill Wanger, an executive vice president of program research and content strategy for Fox Sports. “Martin Kaymer was not a household name and another key issue was NBC was up against the World Cup,” Wanger said. “We think the numbers are an aberration and will go back to the norm for Sunday’s final round.”
• MORE GOLF: Meet Cole Hammer, 15-year-old playing in U.S. Open
• Buck and Norman spent a week together last year at Pinehurst watching an NBC feed of the U.S. Open in a production truck. They’ve played golf together a few times together and have spoken often by phone. Norman said that he and Buck have spent enough time together with each other where “I feel comfortable right now.” Buck compared Norman to his longtime partner Troy Aikman regarding his preparation and professionalism.
• Norman said he is fond of the broadcasting style of NBC’s Johnny Miler. “It irks me when I watch TV and every player hits a perfect shot and every player is the greatest short game player in the world,” Norman said. “In totality you see these players are the best in the world but when they do something wrong, you need to point it out.”
• There is a limit of six minutes per hour of national commercials (that’s less than a usual sporting event).
• I asked Loomis what he would consider a successful production. “If we get a great event that we document well, it is a success,” Loomis said. “Beyond that, did we do what we said we would do, which is bring a little different perspective to it, and I think we can’t help bring a different perspective to it.”
THE NOISE REPORT
1. The sixth episode of the SI Media Podcast features Joe Buck, the lead broadcaster for Fox Sports’ coverage of Major League Baseball, the NFL and as noted above, this week’s U.S. Open Golf Championship. You can listen on Soundcloud and via iTunes here.
On the podcast, Buck discusses how he prepares for different sports, his favorite curse, how he deals with online hate and what mementos he keeps with him from his late father, Jack Buck.
Some highlights from the conversation:
On Fox broadcasting a major golf championship for the first time:
“The one thing we have to do – and I could be dead wrong here – is act like we have been here before. If you come on the air and you are going 600 miles per hour and every time Jordan Spieth pops up on your screen you are running through everything he has accomplished, the kind of guy he is, the way the putt breaks, how he got to the green, who is agent is, how his sister influenced his career, if I am at home, I’m ready to pull my ears. It is just too much. I’d rather err on the other side. I’d rather err on the side of let’s let the fact that we are at basically a 290-acre public golf on Puget Sound by the Olympic Mountains in this great piece of the Pacific Northwest.”
On his social media experience (Buck has a Twitter account but no longer tweets out):
"I found that I was spending an inordinate amount of time either engaging people that were giving me crap, sparring with somebody that was being funny back, or engaging someone positive. It was really everything. I think Twitter kind of breeds a lot of the negatively and I know that when you write articles about me there is kind of an apology to the Twitter haters that you start with that always catches my attention . So it’s kind of like a 'Hey, I’m going to praise Joe, but I get it Twitter, I know a lot of you on Twitter don’t like him.' I understand that. I think the Twitter stuff has always been out there; there just hasn’t been Twitter. I can tell you that my Dad used to get letters in what I would describe in the category of pasting individual letters together to write a letter. There was hate stuff, racial stuff, it was unbelievable. That was someone taking the time to send to our family’s house. It’s obviously different now – you are only 140 characters away and the send button.
"So I found myself chasing these little fires down and having it [Twitter] open during a game. I was in Philadelphia from what I remember and I had the feed open and I think it was Boston-Philly game and if you want harsh comments, do a Boston-Philly game and have your Twitter feed open. I started reading the comments and I found myself almost reacting to it and it was curtailing what I was saying or an opinion I was giving. I found myself saying, 'What am I doing? This is a dead end and moronic.' So I thought I’m just going to take this off my phone and it will eliminate a lot of the headache.”
On what it’s like to read negative comments:
“Anyone that you would ask that question to and says on some level it doesn’t bother them is a freaking liar. There is no way you could read that about yourself and feel that. Then you get on the person’s profile and it’s like a 15-year-old, and I have a 15-year old and a 19-year-old. So I am going to start sparring with some 15-year-old and try to do one-up, gotcha thing? That stuff is death by 1,000 cuts…So, yes, it does it bother you if you let it and subject yourself to it. I think the only person who legitimately doesn’t care is Charles Barkley. I think Barkley really doesn’t care about what people say. I’ve seen it first-hand when I have been around him. And I think he broadcasts that way. It’s why I love the guy and why I think he is really good at what he does. Is he the most prepared guy in the world? Probably not. Is he the most refreshing guy to watch on TV? Yeah. Because he speaks from his heart and gut.”
The second podcast guest this week is the ESPN baseball writer and editor Christina Karhl. On the podcast Karhl, who is GLAAD board member, discusses coverage of transgender athletes, how sports media outlets have handled the Caitlyn Jenner story, the advantages of covering baseball onsite versus away from the stadium, moderating ESPN's upcoming panel on trans athletes in an effort to educate its newsroom and more.
Kahrl, on the Jenner coverage:
“I think overall the coverage has actually been very good and positive. And that’s where I can not only wear my ESPN hat but also my GLADD hat because I think there was a lot of preparation and understanding including the amount of groundwork that was done by Diane Sawyer and her team in the ABC special with the content they delivered for a mainstream audience. It’s not like this was a special for Logo TV. This was designed very well to explain a complicated issue to a mainstream. To then have the Vanity Fair cover and the ESPYs news to come out, in a sense, most trans people don’t have the opportunity to slow walk this through public consumption…Jenner has had the unique opportunity to slow walk this and explain it to a mainstream audience slowly so that the response can grow organically and involve a level of self-education, like using GLADD’s media resource guide on trans topics or talking to people like me….I know there has been some pushback and there is going to be some pushback --we are in a dynamic society -- but overall for what the response has been – and in sports – I think it has been tremendous.”
2. When athletes interact with each other on camera in an honest and unscripted way, interesting things can occur. That was the case following Game 3 of the NBA Finals when LeBron James sat down in the postgame with his former teammate Dwyane Wade and ESPN SportsCenter host John Anderson. The nine-minute interview was interesting television, with a relaxed James opening up to Wade about the MVP voting and other subjects. Anderson, the longtime ESPN host, did a terrific job of knowing when to step back to allow the two Hall-of-Famers-to-be some airtime. On Friday I emailed Anderson to ask him a couple of questions about a very good sports TV moment.
SI.com: When did you learn that you would be conducting an interview with James and Wade, and how much of the logistics (if any) were set up prior to the game?
Anderson: I knew I was doing SportsCenter postgame from inside the arena from the start of the day. I guess at some point during pregame warmups I was told we had a request in to James for him to join us if the Cavs won. Even with Wade on our coverage I figured it was a bit of a stretch but hoped it would come together. I believe the idea was hatched when Michael Shiffman (one of our senior coordinating producers) brought the idea to the NBA Countdown people who were responsible for bringing Wade in as a guest analyst.
SI.com: Obviously, the potential for great television is to get Wade and LeBron to interact. But that's not an easy road to navigate as the host/moderator. How did you approach it?
Anderson: The aim was to get them to interact, hopefully, as friends and not as interviewer and subject. I wanted to make sure I got in some of the basics along the way but mostly let their bond and their shared experiences as friends, teammates and NBA finalists carry the load. That conversation was the rare access and information that would be memorable to the viewers. And I’m pretty sure it was.
SI.com: LeBron was as relaxed as I've seen him as an on-air subject. Did you sense that as well?
Anderson: I don’t know if he was relaxed our just exhausted from the game! Certainly Wade was responsible for a lot of that. Not only did he facilitate James coming to our set but I think there was a well of goodwill for me to draw from because of their friendship. I asked Wade while we were waiting to do the segment if he thought I could poke James a little about his high shot total in the series and he gave a smile and the okay. I thought it was also a smart move by our producers to start with showing James and asking him about the celebration outside the arena. He gets lots of basketball questions all day every day. The fans and their joy was new for him to see in the moment.
SI.com: How would you project Wade as an analyst (studio or otherwise) should he enter the profession after his career?
Anderson: In the limited time I was with him, that hour so after the game, I was quite impressed. I think Sage Steele might have a better handle on it since she spent far more time working with him on NBA Countdown. But he was taking notes in a small journal, jotting down thoughts. He made some really nice observations—I thought his point that Steph Curry, regardless of his stats, needed to act and carry himself like the MVP for the benefit for his teammates was especially keen insight. He seems a kind of quiet but you don’t sense that he is timid. If he wanted a career in TV he wouldn’t have any trouble. A little volume and a touch more energy and he’d have people watching.
SI.com: Anything of note happen after the interview concluded?
Anderson: The two of them spoke for a couple minutes right after we got done and it was apparent they are genuine friends. There was an ease and a rapport between them that was easy to see. If there was any sort of friction or resentment from James leaving Miami for Cleveland it was either never there or long gone.
2a. Taking Anderson’s advice, I reached out to Steele on Saturday for her thoughts on Wade: “After we finished Countdown leading up to Game Three, I told him that if he doesn’t do TV after he hangs it up that I would kick his a%$. I think Dwyane has real potential. He obviously has to temper what he says right now because he is still playing. But that considered, I thought he was real solid with his takes and analysis. The toughest part of being on live television in front of millions is being yourself, being natural, and I thought Dwyane was great at that. He obviously has the resume but he also has strong opinions and seems to have a feel for being able to talk X’s and O’s in a way that even casual fans can comprehend. That’s easier said than done.”
2b. The NBA Finals is averaging 18,896,000 viewers through four games, up 24 percent from last year’s Miami-San Antonio series. ESPN said the NBA Countdown pre-game show has averaged 6,002,000 viewers, up 20 percent from 4,984,000 viewers a year ago. For digital viewers: Game 4 of the NBA Finals drew 744,500 unique viewers on Watch ESPN.
2c. ESPN NBA Analyst Jeff Van Gundy on Sirius XM NBA Radio: “If they (the Cavaliers) pull it off and he (LeBron James) pulls it off then I think it will be the greatest individual achievement that I have seen since I came into the NBA. I just can’t think of, as I try to recollect, another greater individual accomplishment. I don’t think there is one.”
2d. James is the most overanalyzed athlete in America. Part of that, of course, is his own doing: His on-court greatness demands evaluation. Part of it is timing: Unlike Bill Russell, Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan, James plays in a digital age, a never-ending 24/7, multi-platform loop of analysis. He is a constant source of content for the nation’s most powerful sports brand because, as ESPN’s research analysts will tell you, major storylines and narrow-casting on popular subjects brings a significant uptick in ratings. No U.S. athlete is more popular than James right now and with that spotlight comes commentary, from the thoughtful to the Baylessian.
I’ve been thinking for some time about how James gets covered and specifically how he’s been covered during this remarkable NBA Finals. Last week I paneled some respected NBA voices – J.A. Adande (ESPN), David Aldridge (Turner Sports); Ken Berger (CBSSports), Ric Bucher (Bleacher Report), Frank Isola (New York Daily News), Michael Lee (Washington Post), Jeff Zillgitt (USA Today) and asked them to evaluate the Finals coverage of LeBron and whether it was fair.
2e. Sportswriter Alex Wong, also known by the pen name Steven Lebron, hosted a 90-minute podcast with ESPN’s Steele, who went in-depth on her journey to ESPN and her relationship with Stuart Scott.
3. Fort Wayne Komets announcer Bob Chase, who inspired Mike Emrick to become a hockey broadcaster, turns 90 in January and is still calling games. Here’s a profile I did of Chase last week.
4. Sports pieces of note:
• For any college/young journalist interested in sports content, I'd recommend reading this from SI’s Tim Layden.
• Dean Potter jumped. Graham Hunt followed. Potter’s longtime girlfriend snapped photographs. Then came confusion, hope and despair. From John Branch of the New York Times.
• Really enjoyed this profile of Brazilian women's soccer team star Marta by ESPN’s Bonnie Ford.
• CCTV, the Chinese state broadcaster, is broadcasting the Stanley Cup on site for the first time. Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star profiled one of its broadcasters.
• Mark Kram Jr. on being the son of a famous sports writer.
• Great story by ESPN’s Katie Strang on the Los Angeles Kings and a year of struggles.
• SI’s Chris Ballard profiled Jerry West's impact on the Warriors.
• ESPN Outside The Lines reporter Paula Lavigne on how often crimes involving college athletes are prosecuted and what factors influence them.
• ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh on LeBron James’ workload.
Non sports pieces of note:
• Beautiful writing by Stephanie Wittles Wachs on her late brother, Harris.
• From Juliet Elperin: What it was like to cover Beau Biden’s funeral.
• The intersection of this writer (the best obit writer in the country in my opinion) and subject is sensational.
• Via The Daily Beast: My real-life Orange is the New Black.
• Farhad Manjoo on what Twitter should do next—a laser focus on communal experiences.
5. If you are photographer or love sports photography, you will enjoy this Scooby Axson piece on last week’s SI cover.
5a. Dick Vitale has signed a contract extension with ESPN through the 2017-18 CBB season.
5b. Here's Episode 1 of the "It's Sports, Stupid" podcast with Maggie Gray and me. First guest: ABC/ESPN's Mike Breen:
5c. Fox Sports 1 analyst Andy Roddick will serve as BBC analyst for Wimbledon.
5d. Fox’s Champions League final between Barcelona and Juventus drew 2.2 million viewers, the second most-watched UEFA Champions League Final ever, trailing only the 2011 edition between Barcelona and Manchester United (2.6 million).
5e. The Sports Journalism Institute (SJI), the training-internship program co-founded in 1993 and still directed by ESPN News Editor Sandy Rosenbush and Leon Carter, the editorial director of ESPN’s upcoming The Undefeated site, was recognized with the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism. SJI is a nine-week training and internship program designed to attract talented women and minority students to journalism through opportunities in sports reporting and editing and enhance racial and gender diversity in sports departments nationwide. Rosenbush is a former editor at Sports Illustrated and someone I consider a professional mentor. It’s a well-deserving honor.
5f. Last week Carter, the editorial director of The Undefeated, ESPN’s still-to-launch website on the intersection of race and sports, was named the interim head of the site when ESPN announced in a Friday afternoon news dump that the writer Jason Whitlock had been removed as the top edit staffer. As is often in such matters, the official statement was filled with corporate-speak.
“As we continue to move forward in the process of creating The Undefeated – a new ESPN site focusing on race and sports – we have collectively decided to make some structural adjustments that will maximize the skill sets and strengths of our team, leading to the best possible output for the site and for all of ESPN,” ESPN said in a statement. “To that end, Jason Whitlock will now be entirely focused on what he does best: creating distinctive and compelling content, which will live across various ESPN platforms. Jason’s thought-provoking perspective has always been a hallmark of his work and this will allow him to completely devote his time and energy to that. As a result, he will make significant contributions to multiple ESPN entities and programs. Since returning to ESPN, Jason has been instrumental in assembling the foundation of a strong editorial team, formulating the vision for the project and collaborating with our digital product team to develop the blueprint for the site.”
Not mentioned in ESPN’s release was a near 10,000-word piece in April by Deadspin writer Greg Howard titled “How Jason Whitlock is Poisoning ESPN’s Black Grantland” that examined management issues at the site. Through its reporting, Howard wrote that he acquired 100 documents outlining the inner workings of the site including emails, transcripts of staff meetings and phone calls. The story also included audio of a staff meeting straight out of the David Brent playbook.
At last count the Deadspin story had close to a half-million page views and launched nearly as many conversations between ESPN employees who consumed the story and commentary the way a viper devours a locust. So often ESPN has doubled-down on staffers who have faced criticism from Deadspin or other outlets, and ESPN president John Skipper has shown a particular affinity for content creators plucked from other networks or those close to Erik Rydholm, the executive producer of Pardon The Interruption, Highly Questionable, and Around The Horn. On that end, Whitlock is very close to the Rydholm group and arrived at ESPN from Fox Sports the same month as the Fox Sports 1 launch.
The network said Whitlock will continue writing and doing TV for ESPN and I’d bet big that he ends up on Rydholm shows and radio properties connected to Rydholm. (My advice to any young sports broadcaster: Find a way to know Erik Rydholm.)
As for the future of The Undefeated, Skipper has repeatedly said the project is of considerable importance to the company. It’s also important to sports journalism as a whole. ESPN has more resources than any other sports media outlet to provide young writers of color the opportunity (and a healthy wage) to pursue interesting and thought-provoking pieces on the intersection of race and sports. Can The Undefeated find traction? Who knows? But Carter is a bright guy who has managed egos before at the New York Daily News and ESPN.com and cares about journalism. If nothing else, he should settle things internally now that he has the title in name and standing. He may also get some writers back in the fold who refused to work for previous management. As someone who works at a school with a ton of talented young content creators, I’m rooting for the site to succeed.
5g. This TSN piece on women’s soccer inside Brazil’s favelas is tremendous. Kudos to Rick Westhead and Josh Shiaman.