From the best broadcast team to the top studio show, to the worst hot take and most bizarre innovation, here are the 2018 SI Media Awards.
After a volatile 2017 in sports media, things were a little bit calmer in 2018—sort of. Over the past 12 months, there were still plenty of ups and downs, newsworthy moments, developing trends and memorable performances in the world of sports, media and the internet. The SI Media Awards recognize all of these things, so without further ado, we present to you the 2018 winners.
Best Broadcast Innovation: Statcast
I can’t tell you what wRC+ means, and yet I still found ESPN2’s Statcast presentation of the NL Wild Card game to be a breath of fresh air. With Jason Benetti calling plays while stat guru Mike Petriello and former player Eduardo Perez offered their perspectives, the broadcast team ultimately showed a respect for the viewer that can’t be taken for granted. The broadcast didn’t serve to educate or argue, it merely embraced where baseball is right now, and where it’s likely heading. The numbers prevented anyone on the call from falling back on cliché, even if they wanted to. (It also helped that they got a great game, stretching into the 13th inning before the Rockies beat the Cubs, 2-1). There’s tons of talk in the industry about alternative streams and feeds based around new broadcast voices, betting experts, unique camera angles, and so on. But I think Statcast could stand as the first supplementary broadcast worth the trouble. —Jacob Feldman
Broadcast Team of the Year: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, FOX
FOX added another game to Buck and Aikman's workload, calling on them to handle duties for the network's new Thursday Night Football package. It turned out to be a brilliant move because, unlike ESPN's Monday Night Football, there hasn't been any blowback to FOX's crew (except for the usual crowd the refuses to see how much Buck has improved over the years). Buck and Aikman couldn't be more comfortable with each other and the duo enhances every game they call. Buck has mastered the art of knowing when to turn things up and keep things steady. When he raises his voice and takes things to another level, you know it's a big moment. Aikman analyzes plays in ways fans can understand and doesn't go heavy on the inside football talk. So many analysts these days like to go into football speak—"You see the guy drop back into coverage even though the QB thought it was gonna be a cover 2 with a shell" blah, blah, blah—to show off, not to serve the audience. Thankfully, Aikman does not do that and gives viewers the information that's easy to digest. The best thing you can say about Buck and Aikman is that they have been together a very long time, but they keep getting better. —Jimmy Traina
Best Sideline Reporter: Tracy Wolfson
As viewers settle in to enjoy Tony Romo’s long career as CBS’ top NFL analyst, it’s time to give his teammate some due. Wolfson is a perfect fit with Romo and Jim Nantz, offering a similar balance of enthusiasm and gravitas, whether covering Tom Brady’s thumb in the AFC Championship Game or the mass shooting five miles from the Rams’ facility this fall. She also has become a March Madness mainstay, again working alongside Nantz and this spring getting her hands on Sister Jean’s pregame scouting report and covering UMBC’s historic upset. With the crew set to call February’s Super Bowl, expect Wolfson to continue delivering. —Feldman
Best Rookie Analyst: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
From his first race in the booth this year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was already drawing comparisons to Tony Romo, with his earnest excitement during the final lap generating memes. As the season progressed, he grew more comfortable with the ins and outs of the broadcast, better able to channel his fan’s energy and racing royalty knowledge as an addition to a crowded broadcast team that also includes Rick, Burton, and Steve. Ultimately, his passion for the sport provided a much-needed boost as NASCAR fights for relevancy. (Fans will also enjoy Earnhardt’s four-year-old podcast.) —Feldman
Best Studio Show: NBA on TNT
As long as this show is on the air, it's going to win this award. There is simply not another sports show on TV like it. Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal have set the standard and can't be matched. Chemistry, humor, legitimate analysis and fun. The show has it all. Unlike NFL studio shows, which act like football is on a level with curing life-threatening diseases, the NBA on TNT crew makes it obvious sports are not to be taken too serious and they are there to have a good time.
They even call each other out for dumb opinions in an authentic way, not the fake, scripted way they do it on the awful hot take shows that air during the day. —Traina
Best New Show: The Shop, HBO
When the best player in the NBA, or in any sport, perhaps, opens up and gives you real conversations, it's going to be special. That's what has happened on HBO's The Shop, which has only aired two episodes, so far. But those two episodes were unlike anything we had seen on sports TV before. In each episode, LeBron James was joined by a group of people from different walks of life—Draymond Green, Odell Beckham, Snoop Dogg, Jon Stewart, Ben Simmons and Drake as just a few of the names to appear on the show—in a barbershop for an unfiltered conversation about life. LeBron and Drake have discussed how to figure out when the time is right to walk away from their careers, LeBron and Snoop have talked about how important it is to not be surrounded by "yes men" and LeBron has opened up about fatherhood. The end result is a riveting 30 minutes of television. —Traina
Fastest Riser: Booger McFarland
Four years ago, McFarland’s Tampa Bay radio show was canceled. What a blessing in disguise. The two time Super Bowl champion defensive tackle went on to join the SEC Network, impressing enough executives to get a highly coveted Monday Night Football gig alongside Joe Tessitore and Jason Witten. Well technically Booger isn’t next to them, but rather commentating from a movable contraption at field level. Still, he’s provided some of the beleaguered crew’s highlights this season, including a viral discussion of players’ public urination habits. Before the year, lead producer Jay Rothman compared Tessitore to Frank Sinatra, Witten to Captain America, and McFarland to Charles Barkley. Nearly a full season in, McFarland is by the far the closest to living up to that hype. —Feldman
Breakout Broadcast Star: Aly Wagner
More significant than the history she made as the first female announcer to call a Men’s World Cup on U.S. TV was the performance Aly Wagner. The former U.S. national team player was the breakout star of FOX’s uneven coverage last summer. —Mark Bechtel
Best Investigation: Brett McMurphy
Urban Meyer will coach his final game at Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. His sendoff from the media will be muted largely because of a Facebook post made in August. Former ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy chased a tip about one of Meyer’s longtime assistants, Zack Smith, assaulting his now ex-wife, Courtney. In so doing, McMurphy found evidence suggesting that Meyer knew about the allegations despite his denial at a press conference. Meyer ultimately apologized and was suspended for three games in what would be his final season with the Buckeyes. McMurphy had to post his investigation on Facebook because giving it to a media outlet could have voided his contract with ESPN, which laid off the college football reporter in April 2017 but was still paying out his contract. McMurphy reported for weeks before posting and even enlisted unnamed editors at major publications for assistance. —Feldman
Worst Hot Take: Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com
It's impossible to just pick one for this category, but we're going with a July 26 column that ripped Stanford running back Bryce Love for skipping Media Day in order to attend class. Line after line from Dodd came off like a piece from The Onion.
Random, non-sensical Tim Tebow reference? Check.
"Put it this way: Try to envision Tim Tebow in his heyday skipping SEC Media Days of because, well, school. Right or wrong, that wouldn't have happened. The need to better himself, the conference and his school would have outstripped another summer school lecture."
Calling going to class "a bad look?" Check.
"Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott had to know on some level this was a bad look—his league's best player not showing for the conference's football rollout."
Acting like Love skipping a completely useless event was some significant moment? Check.
"But his absence does set a dangerous precedent. This is going to give every star player an excuse to Skype in."
How on earth did college football survive with Love no-showing Media Day? —Traina
Biggest Disruptor: The Athletic
The biggest force for change in sports media this year wasn’t a flashy video platform or a tech titan shaking up the industry. Instead, it was an old-school subscription service quadrupling in size, gobbling up name brand writers from across the country and making the case that it can be a one-stop shop for sports reporting. The Athletic also underwent two more funding rounds, with its eyes on growing beyond text into podcasts and video in 2019. No matter how that goes, the company has already proven potential to change the way fan communities interact with the news—and each other. —Feldman
Dumbest Sports Talk Radio Stunt: Aaron Goldhammer, Cleveland ESPN 850
In April, ESPN Goldhammer said he'd eat horse poop if the Browns drafted Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick. Cut to early September and Goldhammer eating horse poop covered in ketchup. —Traina
Best Interview: Jalen Ramsey Has Something to Say (About Literally Everyone)
The Jaguars are not good this year, but that makes Jalen Ramsey’s absurd, scrolling-through-his-phone-ripping-quarterbacks preseason conversation with GQ’s Clay Skipper all the better. The Jacksonville corner didn’t hold back—when does he ever?—calling Matt Ryan overrated, saying Joe Flacco sucks, and arguing that Josh Allen “is trash.” Now, rumors suggest Ramsey could be traded this offseason. Can he please wind up in Atlanta, Baltimore, or Buffalo? —Feldman
Best Podcast: Carruth
“Every journalist hopes to find a story that fascinates them for years,” Charlotte Observer columnist Scott Fowler wrote, promoting his first podcast. “This one is mine.” Fowler has been covering Rae Carruth since before the former Panthers wide receiver had his pregnant girlfriend shot in a drive-by in 1999. Nearly two decades later, he does the story justice, making clear in the first episode that the seven-part story would be as much about a miracle as a tragedy. In living up to that pitch, he shows what a local news organization can do as well as the heights a sports or true crime podcast can reach. —Feldman
Best Sports Movie: Realm of Perfection
Director Julien Faraut has not produced an authorized biopic of John McEnroe. In fact, this is hardly biography at all. Instead, Faraut used archival footage from the 1984 French Open to interrogate the difference between filmmaking and broadcasting, the fine line between art and sport. The result is a study of genius, madness, and tennis. But what sticks the longest is a fresh look at the relationship star athletes have with time itself. —Feldman
Best Social Presence: The Ringer
Sitting somewhere between This is SportsCenter and SNL skits, The Ringer’s short videos represent a special blend of artistic ambition and beautiful stupidity. Last month, the parody song “Halleluka” got deserved praise from Steve Kerr, but that was only the outfit’s most recent opus.
Greatest “Hard Knocks” Moment: Browns offensive line coach Bob Wylie hates stretching
Early in the season, linebacker Carl Nassib was a lock for this award after explaining the way finances work.
However, offensive line coach Bob Wylie came on like gangbusters late to claim the award in what ended up being a non-competitive battle thanks to his speech on stretching.
"Stretch is way overrated. Did you know, World War I, World War II, all those guys that fought in that war, they did push ups, jumping jacks, sit ups, climbed rope and ran. None of this fancy shit. And they won two World Wars... You think they were worried when they were going across Normandy about f---ing stretching?"
Of course, it was Wylie's look combined with this magnificent speech that made this the single best moment of the "Hard Knocks" season. —Traina
Most Bizarre Innovation: Booger McFarland's Crane
ESPN tried to convince people that the third Monday Night Football analyst would be able to see things no other analyst in the history of NFL broadcasting would see because he was elevated on a crane. The results were a disaster. Fans in the stadium were mad because McFarland’s crane blocked their view, fans watching on TV were mad because ESPN constantly cut away from the field to show McFarland hoisted up, and his analysis was not enhanced one bit by the contraption. —Traina
Promo of the Year: Sunday Night Football, NBC
For the Packers-Patriots Week 9 matchup between Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, NBC called on the Michael Jordan to read a dramatic speech about the G.O.A.T discussion. Viewers, though, thought Jordan was talking about him and LeBron James until the twist at the end. This worked on every level and was so well done. —Traina