- In this week’s SCREENSHOTS, the end of ESPN the Magazine and the beginning of the NBA Experience headline the more interesting storylines in media.
Welcome back to SCREENSHOTS, a weekly report from the intersection of sports, media, and the Internet.
The week after Labor Day, ESPN the Magazine will roll out its final issue. Then the company will turn the page.
“The magazine was always about what’s next,” editor-in-chief Alison Overholt said. “The very first cover said NEXT, and it defined the orientation of the magazine from day one. As we talked through this decision this spring, one of the things we talked about was, Now this is our moment to say once again what’s next.”
ESPN unveiled some of those plans this week. The final magazine issue will be the company’s annual Body Issue, but it will also feature a series of pieces on the magazine’s history, including reconnecting with those first four NEXT cover athletes: Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez, Kordell Stewart (oops), and Eric Lindros. “I think it’s going to be one of the best issues we’ve ever done,” Overholt said.
Even without a print product, ESPN will continue putting out a Cover Story every month, each including written, photo, video and social components and likely having tie-ins with SportsCenter and/or studio programming, as if the story was an event. Cover Stories could also appear on ESPN Daily, a new podcast launching in October.
Meanwhile, E:60 will move from a weekly Sunday spot to a monthly primetime position, with Lisa Salters being elevated to show host in the wake of Bob Ley’s retirement. Outside The Lines will continue in its afternoon slot, while a new show, Backstory, debuts Sunday on ABC. In it, viewers will see investigative reporter Don Van Natta Jr. work through major stories of the sporting past, starting with last year’s U.S. Open women’s final. As of this year, with the magazine now longer around, Overholt’s new title is vice president, editorial director and executive producer, ESPN.
The strategic shifts come roughly 18 months into president Jimmy Pitaro’s tenure at ESPN. “We are being more precise, intentional, and strategic,” Overholt said of his influence on her division, “sharpening the things that have been in our DNA forever.”
When ESPN announced the end of its print product in April, a company statement said, “Our data shows the vast majority of readers already consume our print journalism on digital platforms, and this approach will maximize our reach and impact.”
Overholt said the end came after “a long decision process” involving input from strategy, finance, content, and creative representatives. “We were looking at the reality of the industry and the reality of the business, overlaying that with the power of what the magazine has meant within this company and within the sports media landscape,” she said. “It was a sort of constant and ever-changing conversation about, What do you place the most emphasis on? I was certainly in all those conversations from the day I joined the magazine. For somebody who began my editing career at the magazine, it’s a hard place to be. But...at the end of the day, it didn’t feel like the physical product was the thing that was going to define the impact of the work.”
She added that the magazine’s closure hasn’t correlated within any shrinking of ambition. “The proof of that is in actual commitment,” Overholt said. “Every time we have wanted to tackle a complex issue in-depth or take on a resource intensive project, there’s been no hesitation. The bar is always: Is the story worthwhile?”
THE NBA JOINS DISNEY
Ratings for the Jr. NBA boys global championship game in Orlando Sunday were up 18% over the inaugural contest last year, according to the league. A team from Los Angeles took down representatives from Africa, 70-61, on FOX. A Kansas City-based girls team won their championship earlier Sunday.
“The quality of the play was much higher than I think we even expected when we started this thing,” NBA senior VP for global media distribution and business affairs David Denenberg said. “It’s incredible how good these 14-year-olds are.”
Before the finals, NBA commissioner Adam Silver met with the FOX broadcasters, reiterating the league’s intention to continue investing in the event and becoming more involved in youth basketball overall. In the past, the league has not been shy about its hopes of replicating some of what ESPN and baseball have with the Little League World Series.
“It's only growing,” Fox Sports senior coordinating producer Bardia Shah-Rais said. “Five years from now, it'll be right up there.” FOX does not broadcast NBA games, but the companies have had significant relationships in the past through Fox’s regional sports networks (which are now owned by Sinclair). The tournament also provides a testing ground for both parties. This year FOX tried out skycams—an increasingly common sight at basketball games—and in-game coach interviews.
A day after the final, Silver joined Disney CEO Bob Iger for the grand opening of the NBA Experience at Disney Springs. The two-floor space was first conceived five years ago, when Disney brought the idea to the league after the two sides had agreed to a long term broadcasting deal. For $34, fans can now access 13 different interactive stations, including the chance to play replay center official, NBA VP for global partnerships Scott Lazaruk’s favorite offering.
“It’s really fun to put yourself in that official’s shoes,” he said. “It gives you a new appreciation for being an NBA official.”
• A new documentary from Jane Skinner Goodell and NFL Films traces the lives and impact of the NFL’s “Founding Mothers.”
• LaLiga will extend its US rights deal with beIN SPORTS through 2024, according to Christopher Harris.
• “Out of respect for the victims and all those impacted by the recent shootings,” ESPN and ABC decided to delay coverage of the company’s first ever Apex Legends tournament.
• Craig Kilborn talked to Rob Tornoe about walking away from TV and falling in love with Instagram.
• Deirdre Fenton told Michael McCarthy why she is joining DAZN as the director of original programming.
• I’m fascinated by Rich Paul’s decision to write an op-ed criticizing the NCAA’s agent criteria in The Athletic of all places.
• The smartphone killed the golf clap, evidently.