Landon Donovan's broadcasting prospects; NBA media panel

Monday May 26th, 2014

Landon Donovan would have his pick of TV networks if he decided to offer World Cup analysis.
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Currency is a word that gets thrown around by sports broadcasting executives. For example, as the theory goes, Mark Jackson provides great currency for ESPN and ABC's NBA postseason coverage given he's just a month removed from coaching in the league. The same premise is used for Tony Gonzalez and Ray Lewis, two recently-retired stars from the NFL. It's an asset Landon Donovan would provide for any broadcast as a World Cup analyst following his surprising cut from the 23-man World Cup roster.

Is there interest among the sports broadcast networks for Donovan? Of course there is interest. Donovan would be a huge get for either ESPN (which has the rights to the World Cup) or Fox (which owns the rights to 2018 and will have a presence in Brazil via Fox Sports Live on Fox Sports 1). Donovan has also spent time in the Fox studio previously, and a post-career in broadcasting is always a possibility for someone of his standing. As a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy, Fox would be an easy fit given they have a studio and hub in that city. I asked both networks about their potential interest in Donovan.

"We have assembled a world-class team of soccer experts for the World Cup in Brazil and we'd be interested in including Landon in that mix," said Jed Drake, the ESPN senior vice president and executive producer in charge of soccer coverage.

"We've been fans of Landon for a long time," said a Fox Sports spokesperson. "We've enjoyed working with him in the past and would be supportive of whatever he decides to do in the future."

Donovan addressed the media on Saturday about his disappointment in being left off the squad. He was candid when asked whether he should have been on the team. "Based on my performances leading up to camp, based on my preparation for the camp, based on my fitness, based on my workload, based on the way I trained and played in camp, I not only thought I was part of the 23, I thought I was in contention to be starting," Donovan said. "That's why this has all been pretty disappointing."

That kind of candidness about the U.S team during the World Cup would make for interesting viewing. But at the moment, Donovan appears to be sticking to soccer.

"Candidly it is not something that he is thinking about now," Richard Motzkin, the agent for Donovan, told on Monday afternoon. "As you probably saw last night, Landon is focused on playing for the LA Galaxy and remaining prepared if an opportunity were to arise for him to participate on the US World Cup team. I understand and appreciate the inquiry, but that is the current status."

THE NOISE REPORT examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week:

1. The NBA has always been a fascinating league to cover for the sports media, given the personalities, length of the season and popular interest in the game. To give readers some insight into the job, I empaneled five respected NBA media voices for a roundtable discussion on the business.

The panel:

Howard Beck, national NBA writer, Bleacher Report

Frank Isola, NBA reporter and columnist, New York Daily News, SiriusXM NBA Radio host.

Michael Lee, Wizards reporter, Washington Post

Sage Steele, host, NBA Countdown on ESPN/ABC

Marc Stein, NBA reporter, ESPN and -1.

(Editor's note: The panel was asked to go as long or as short as they wanted with their answers. They were free to skip any questions. Some of the answers have been edited for clarity. Part 1 of the panel appeared on Monday.)

QUESTIONS How does covering the playoffs differ from the regular season?

Beck: More media. More crowded locker rooms. More TV cameras cutting off our access to players. But the games are generally better, the atmosphere and the drama more intense, which makes for better stories. It's a lot more fun to write about a game when everything is on the line. (Frankly, there are a lot of crappy regular-season games that just aren't worth writing about.)

Isola: Everything about it is different. The games never end and a 20-second time out is really a two-minute time out. There's more media, less access, better games, tighter deadlines. I love every minute of it especially the NBA Finals. Getting the chance to cover Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, the Spurs, and LeBron in June is a privilege I don't take for granted. Once upon a time, every newspaper covered the Finals. Now, only a handful does it. It's depressing on several levels.

Lee: In the regular season, only the real diehards are paying attention to what happens on a random Tuesday night in Milwaukee. In the playoffs, everyone is watching and breaking down every flaw or overhyping every success. That means that you really need to be on top of your game as a beat writer as well, because people look to the local outlets to educate them on what they might have missed over the 82-game season and what they are currently witnessing. The games aren't played at the same rhythm. They can be spread out over several days and if a team ends a series early and has to wait for an opponent, you still have to come up with fresh story ideas to fill those extended gaps. With television networks in control, the games start later and you have longer breaks for commercials, so that means tighter deadlines. But playoff basketball is so much more fun because every game matters. The real stars start to separate themselves from the imposters and there are always those surprise players who have big games and force you to turn around an in-depth profile in a day or two.

Steele: I covered the finals for SportsCenter the last two years and was thoroughly impressed with the "buzz" in the arenas once it got down to the final two teams. As a huge basketball fan, I also love being given extra time from SportsCenter producers to really break down highlights, X's & O's, strategies, etc. True, there's no offseason in the NFL, but at least the NBA gets its deserved time in the spotlight come playoff time. Taking Countdown on the road for the Eastern Conference Finals has been intense -- and awesome. The environment gets me hyped, and hopefully that energy comes across for those watching at home. That's part of my job -- trying to bring viewers as close as possible to being in the arena. I do struggle being away from my family (husband and three young children) for such a long stretch of time but fortunately they are NBA obsessed and understand that this is the most wonderful time of the year -- second only to Christmas in their minds.

Stein: The games actually matter. That's the biggest difference. This postseason, sadly, games are still being overwhelmed some nights by the Donald Sterling madness, which is unavoidable but frustrating. We already suffer in this country from too many regular-season games that mean nothing in all the major team sports. It would be nice if the playoff games could be the focus. What staffer from another outlet do you wish you could work with and why?

Beck: Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated and Zach Lowe of Grantland. Lee is just an incredibly gifted storyteller, one of the best feature writers around. Zach has an incredible head for the game; no one integrates Xs and Os, analytics and old-fashioned reporting as seamlessly and effectively. If I'm picking teammates, I'm picking the guys I could learn the most from. I could easily list a dozen others I admire, but I'd start there.

Isola: We have a lot of fun on the Knicks beat. Al Iannazzone (Newsday), Steve Popper (Bergen Record) and Ian Begley (ESPN) all work hard and like to break balls. Mostly we pick on the two young guys; Scott Cacciola of the New York Times and Chris Herring of the Wall St. Journal. They're both very talented. And of course all of us goof on [New York Post writer] Mark Berman. As for national guys, I'd love to work with [Yahoo Spoprts'] Adrian Wojnarowski. He's a beast. A newspaper guy at heart; great work ethic, great sources, great writer. I've always enjoyed spending time with and reading K.C. Johnson [Chicago Tribune], Brian Windhorst [ESPN] and Mike Wells [ESPN]. I knew them when they were young punks. We'd have fun on a beat. Bruce Arthur [Toronto Star] is a smart and a wannbe New Yorker and Chris Ballard [SI] is incredibly talented at both covering basketball and playing basketball. And he has no ego. He may be the only one in the business.

Lee: I guess I'd have to go with Lee Jenkins with Sports Illustrated. He consistently brings it.

Steele: Charles Barkley. Who wouldn't? I sat next to him on a flight to San Antonio during the Finals last season and it was by far the most entertaining, hysterical, memorable flight I've ever taken. Ernie Johnson has his hands full with Sir Charles because it is impossible to predict what he is going to say. But EJ obviously does a great job with that crew -- he has for 15 years -- and at the end of the day, Charles makes sure everyone around him maintains perspective and has fun at work. It's all about being a good teammate, right?

Stein: Wouldn't mind going into the feature-writing bunker with Lee Jenkins for a couple weeks to try to learn some of his tricks. More time in the company of my man Ken Berger, CBS Sports' resident Crossfit addict, presumably wouldn't hurt me, either. Why have we not seen a women calling play by play on either radio or television in the NBA?

Beck: I don't think I'm qualified to answer that question, but it's a great question. Worth asking the network executives who make those decisions. (Maybe in a future SI panel discussion?) I will say I'm a huge fan of Doris Burke's work on ESPN. I'd hope her success encourages the networks to look a little harder for the next great female broadcaster, whether color commentator or play by play.

Isola: I have no idea. But if any female does the job I'd advise them to use fewer clichés and be more conversational. Every American broadcaster should listen to NBC's Premier League coverage. They don't give you straight play by play. They speak to you like an adult. I'm a big fan of Doris Burke. I first met her when she broke in with the Knicks. Other than making more money, she hasn't changed. Very humble. I've actually impressed her with my women's college hoops knowledge. Sage Steele is impressive as well. I wish I could be her agent.

Lee: I'm not really sure. I can't really say since I'm not in a position to hire anyone to call play by play. Traditionally, those roles are reserved for former players or coaches who have been in the league and can provide insight based on their past experiences. Listeners usually give those guys more credibility because they can share old stories and take them behind the curtain. I certainly think there are some capable women out there -- Doris Burke and Stephanie Ready come to mind -- but I guess the folks calling the shots don't want to break from the norms.

Steele: As usual, this part of our industry is slow to evolve. We're getting there. My friend and colleague Doris Burke is a perfect example of someone who has broken barriers in the NBA as a female color commentator. But despite being one of the best in the business regardless of gender, and despite having earned the respect of virtually the entire league, she still deals with unfair, sexist criticism on a daily basis. However, Doris -- like so many of us women -- realizes that the more successful we are as sportscasters, the more criticism comes our way. She's tough. I'm tough. But we are also human and the cutting criticism does take its toll. So...we shall see. But I pray the time for a woman calling games in the NBA comes sooner rather than later. I just hope she is ready for what will undoubtedly come with it.

Stein: Is that true? I thought Doris Burke has already done NBA play-by-play. If she hasn't, I'm sure she will. I know she's been a game analyst as part of her various duties and can only speak here as their teammate when I say that Doris and Sage are two of our captains. How do you imagine you will define this job five years from now?

Beck: I'm not that imaginative.

Isola: Former Daily News reporter fired for inappropriate Twitter comments. Just kidding. (I hope.) The job will still be the same but we'll be doing more web related content. Also, more analysis and less game detail which is fine by me. My game stories are basically columns now anyway. We need more critical analysis and less stories with quotes. Sometimes, the player's canned comments ruin the story. We should go back to the way it was 50 and 60 years ago. The way soccer is covered in England is the model. The writing and the storytelling is better.

Lee: That's tough, because I wasn't on Twitter five years ago and I have no idea what I'd do without it now. But I've been hearing for years -- even when I was in Atlanta over 10 years ago -- that the traditional game story will probably be gone and replaced by something else. In all likelihood, there will be more post-game commentary instead of straight fact breakdowns with quotes. Since fans can get stats, play-by-play and highlights from TV and websites, beat writers will be forced to take a stance on a nightly basis instead of just laying out the information and reporting. Newspapers will be engaged in more head-to-head battles with the blogs and other outlets since there seems to a stronger attempt to monetize clicks and page views. My prediction is probably already five years behind.

Steele: Considering how little it has changed over the past few decades, I don't expect the host role to change much at all in the next five years.

Stein: I'm pretty confident that looming technological advances mean I can't give you a good answer. I'm just sitting here eagerly awaiting the next Twitter, which is to say the next tool handed to us that completely changes the way we do business. I'm sure it's in the works, but I obviously have no clue what it'll be. I've been a Twitter user for the last five years and can barely remember how we did anything without it. You know somebody is cooking up something to throw us all for a loop again.

2. Fox Sports 1 is starting to realize that an editorial ethos based solely on fun and frivolity is not going to take down ESPN. The network has made some notable hires, poaching college football reporter Bruce Feldman from CBS Sports and adding Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski (who will continue to work full-time at Yahoo Sports) as a contributor to Fox Sports Live and America's Pregame. Fox Sports executives made the contact with the agency that represents Wojnarowski -- the Atlanta-based CSE -- a month ago and a deal came together quickly. Wojnarowski will have a camera in his home -- similar to ESPN's Adam Schefter -- so he can pop on the network if news breaks. "The idea is to work him into our coverage on a fairly regular basis," said Scott Ackerson, Fox Sports 1's executive vice president of news. "If something were to break in the NBA, we would have him as a go-to person."

Ackerson said he expected Wojnarowski would still break most of his NBA news on Yahoo. "Once the story is out, nobody ever remembers where it was broken," Ackerson said. "If he were to break a story on Yahoo and he comes on our air, we are able to say you broke the story, Adrian. I don't see it as much of an issue."

2a. I asked Ackerson if he wanted to respond to ESPN president John Skipper saying Fox Sports Live had not made any inroads on SportsCenter's audience. "I hope to they continue not to be worried about us because I love it when we are underestimated," Ackerson said. "Would I like more viewers? Absolutely. But we didn't get into to this to be a six month or a year or a short term process. The goal is to build an organization that people want to watch."

3. As part of its extended Belmont Stakes programming, NBC said it will air a 30-minute documentary titled California Chrome: The Unlikely Champion. The documentary is being produced by NBC's Olympics features unit and will be narrated by Bob Costas. An NBC spokesperson said the network has behind the scenes video from The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes as well as additional footage gathered during multiple visits with owners Steve Coburn in Nevada, Perry Martin at his laboratory near Sacramento, jockey Victor Espinoza at his home near Santa Anita, and trainer Art Sherman at his barn at Los Alamitos racetrack. The doc will run on NBCSN on June 4 at 6:30 PM ET and June 5 at 7:30 PM ET.

4. PBS will air American Pharaoh -- a 60-minute documentary featuring the story of the Egyptian national soccer team and coach Bob Bradley -- on June 16 at 10 p.m. ET on PBS.

5. Fox Sports 1 continues to search for auxiliary programming that will attract an audience. The latest from their original programming unit is Back of the Shop, a cross between a documentary series and a reality show set at Bronx's Jordan Sport Barbershop. The premise of the show is taping the conversations pro athletes have at the barber shop. The pilot episode, which was taped last September, featured David Ortiz, Alfonso Soriano, Knicks forward Iman Shumpert and former NBA player Larry Johnson. Filming for subsequent episodes resumed in April. The show will air in its regular time slot (Tuesday, 8:30 PM ET) starting this week. The second episode features Snoop Dogg, Mariners stars Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez, Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. It premieres June 3 (8:30 PM ET).

5a. TNT is averaging 6,256,000 total viewers through the first three games of the Western Conference finals, up 30 percent over last year (Spurs-Grizzlies).

5b. Worth checking out is this Rogers SportsNet feature ("Home and Really Far Away: The Boys from Whale Cove") on a hockey team from Whale Cove, Nunavut (population 350 and 99 percent Inuit) traveling to Toronto for a hockey tournament.

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