NFL on ESPN: Quality up from previous years; Still several potential clunkers

ESPN can’t help but be envious of NBC. The quality of the Sunday games always are better than Monday night; Seattle and Denver are scheduled for only one ESPN game compared to three on NBC

The lack of the flex option also leaves ESPN in the danger zone. Last year, it got stuck with 0-8 Tampa Bay vs. Miami in November, and 4-11 Atlanta at San Francisco for its season finale.

Still, ESPN has to be pleased with its 2014 schedule. The quality seems to be better than in recent years.

Best games: Philadelphia at Indianapolis in week 2; New England visits Kansas City in week 4. Seattle travels to Washington in week 5 when the Redskins still should be relevant. Carolina at Philadelphia in week 10 could be intriguing.

The NFL also will subject Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden to our lovely December weather in the upper Midwest: Atlanta at Green Bay in week 14 and New Orleans at Chicago in week 15. I’m cold already.

Potential clunkers: ESPN has only one shot at Peyton Manning; its season finale when Denver travels to Cincinnati in week 16. You never know what you’re going to get with the Bengals. Miami at Jets on Dec. 1 has potential roadkill written all over it. Houston at Steelers on Oct. 20 could be decidedly underwhelming.





What will ESPN do with Keyshawn Johnson? NFL analyst arrested in domestic violence incident

ESPN has another situation on its hands.

Yesterday, it was disclosed that Keyshawn Johnson was arrested for misdemeanor spousal battery. Here’s the report.

Obviously, this is a major problem for the analyst on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown. ESPN has strict “zero tolerance” policies in place. In 2010, the network first suspended and then severed ties with Around The Horn panelist Jay Mariotti when he was arrested on domestic violence charges.

It should be stressed that no two situations are the same. That also goes for the people involved.

First things first, the network has to sort out the details of exactly what happened and let the legal process play out. At some point, though, ESPN will have to make a decision on Johnson’s fate with the network.

Obviously, more to come.



ESPN 30 for 30 Soccer Stories debuts: The tragedy at Hillsborough

ESPN 30 for 30 is doing a special soccer series leading up to the World Cup. The debut is tonight with Hillsborough (8 p.m. ET), the story of an unthinkable tragedy at a soccer game where 96 fans died in 1989.

This is an interview Keith Olbermann did with director Daniel Gordon last night.

Here is the summary on ESPN’s 30 for 30 site:


“Hillsborough” is a comprehensive account of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster, a tragedy that occurred during an FA Cup semifinal soccer match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England. The film focuses on the events that unfolded before, during and after the horrifying afternoon that led to the deaths of 96 people as well as the injuries to several hundred more and the traumatization of countless lives.

Beginning on the fateful day in 1989, “Hillsborough” explores what happened and why. It offers a detailed examination not only of the horrific loss of life but also of key developments in the preceding years, months, weeks, days, hours and minutes leading to the disaster. Featuring first-hand accounts of fans in attendance as well as police officers — many speaking on camera for the first time — the film also explores the tragedy through the experiences of families who lost their loved ones and undertook a painstaking journey in a quest for justice that is still ongoing.


It’s Awesome, babee! Vitale, CBS, Turner excited about first big day of NCAAs

I got this tweet last night.

If it is possible to hear someone’s voice via Twitter, it would be Dickie V’s. He comes through loud and clear, no matter the medium.

CBS and Turner were just as excited about the first full day of the tournament, if a bit more restrained. Day 1 pulled in the biggest overnight numbers in 23 years.

Looks like it could be a big tournament for all. Looking forward to more tweet from Vitale.

Here is the official rundown:


CBS Sports and Turner Sports’ exclusive second-round coverage of the 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship across TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV on Thursday, March 20 delivered the highest rating for the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament in 23 years (since the tournament expanded to four telecast windows for the entire day in 1991). Thursday’s games averaged a 6.0/14 overnight ratings/share, up 3% compared with a 5.8/14 in 2013, according to Nielsen metered market ratings.

The overall tournament average rating, including the NCAA First Four, is a 5.6/12, up 8% from a 5.2/12 last year, and is also the highest rating for the tournament at this point in the event since 1991.

Thursday’s coverage, which made NCAA Tournament history with four overtime games in one day, showed ratings growth among the telecast windows.

The first daytime telecast window (12:00-4:45 PM, ET) averaged a 4.6/15 to deliver the highest rating for the time slot in 23 years.  The telecast window is up 12% compared with a 4.1/14 last year.

The second daytime telecast window (2:45-7:15 PM, ET) averaged a 5.4/14 to garner the second highest rating for the time slot since 1991.

The first primetime telecast window (6:45-10:30 PM, ET) averaged a 7.7/15 to register the highest rating for the time slot in 23 years. The window is up 4% over a 7.4/14 in 2013.

The second primetime window (9:30 PM-1:45 AM, ET) averaged a 6.2/12.

FiveThirtyEight: Nate Silver’s new site launches today; What is behind fox logo?

Nate Silver’s long awaited debut of FiveThirtyEight happens this afternoon. It’s no coincidence.

Silver’s site will be crunching the numbers for the NCAA basketball tournament. Today is the one day of the year when everyone really cares about those numbers.

The site is a huge initiative for Silver and ESPN. His unique analytics will cover a broad spectrum from politics to entertainment to weather. Sports will account for about 30 percent of the content.

Silver explained his vision for FiveThirtyEight in an interview with Joe Coscarelli of New York Magazine. He talks about the fox logo.

Can you explain the mythology behind the new fox logo?
The fox logo comes from a quote which was originally attributable to an obscure Greek poet: “The hedgehog knows one big thing and the fox knows many little things.” The idea being that we’re a lot of scrappy little nerds and we have different data-driven — I hate data-driven as a term — but data journalism takes on a lot of different forms for us. Often, yeah, it does mean numbers and statistics as applied to the news, but it also means data visualization, reporting on data that is both numerate and literate; down the road, it came mean investigative journalism. It can mean building models and forecasts and programs. At the same time, it’s still data journalism. It’s not enough just to be smart. There’s a particular series of methods and a way of looking at the world. 

Plenty of pundits have really high IQs, but they don’t have any discipline in how they look at the world, and so it leads to a lot of bullshit, basically. We think about our philosophy for when we choose to run with a story or when we don’t. We talk about avoiding “smart takes,” quote-unquote. This is data journalism, capital-D. Within that, we take a foxlike approach to what data means. It’s not just numbers, but numbers are a big part of this. We think that’s a weakness of conventional journalism, that you have beautiful English language skills and fewer math skills, and we hope to rectify that balance a little bit.


Did Bill Simmons of Grantland, which is also run independently under the massive ESPN umbrella, give you any advice about turning from an individual writer to more of a manager?
There are all these quote-unquote personal-brand sites and Grantland is the one that was ahead of the pack in terms of having two or three years under its belt. We learned a lot from them. One thing we learned is that it’s definitely possible to launch too soon.

He was realistic about the fact that for the first six months or a year, there’s no way around the fact that a lot of your time is going to be taken up with management tasks. I realized that before signing the deal with ESPN. That’s something I was willing to do — kind of eager to do in the sense that it’s something new for me and that makes it kind of challenging and fun.

At ESPN Front Row, Anna Livia Coelho did a Q/A with managing editor Mike Wilson. She asked about the sports aspect of the site.

Nate Silver became well-known for his political coverage, and ESPN is well-known for its sports coverage. So how will the new FiveThirtyEight build a bridge between the two?
We’ll build the bridge out of numbers. Politics and sports and our other areas of focus – science, economics and lifestyle – are data-rich areas. Just about everything in our lives today can be measured. We’ll use data to tell stories about the world.

Will the new FiveThirtyEight feature the same amount of political coverage as before?
Politics will always be a huge story for us, particularly in election years.

What are some of the stories we should expect to see in the next coming weeks?
Some snapshots for you: At this point in the race, Hillary Clinton has a better chance of becoming president than anyone in history. . . This winter wasn’t the worst by any single measure, but it was awful by a whole bunch of measures. . . “Romeo and Juliet” has a misleading title. . . Millions have left the workforce and may never come back. . . Baseball managers generally don’t make much difference in their teams’ performance.

Stay tuned for more.


New 30 for 30: When Big East was a beast

The latest 30 for 30, Requiem for the Big East, is one big trip down memory lane. Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.

Ewing, Mullin, Thompson, Pearl Washington, Rollie, Louie….Great stuff.

Ben Koo at Awful Announcing did a review. He writes:

Requiem For The Big East was interesting, well made, insightful, well paced, funny, and sad. It’s significant enough of a story that if you’re not a college basketball fan, it’s still compelling enough of a story to warrant the investment in watching. The film leaves you with a strong taste of “those were the days” and that says a lot considering for many including myself, we didn’t live through those days. Despite that, the storytelling is so dynamic that the tinge of nostalgia resonates regardless. With that in mind, Requiem For The Big East clocks in as one of the better 30 for 30’s and one you’d be wise to set your DVRs to record.


The official rundown from ESPN:


“Requiem For The Big East,” directed by Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Ezra Edelman, explores the meteoric ascension of the Big East Conference, and how in less than a decade under the innovative leadership of founder and Commissioner Dave Gavitt, it became the most successful college basketball sports league in America.

The film is told primarily through the lens of famed Big East coaches such as Jim Boeheim, Lou Carnesecca, Rick Pitino and John Thompson, former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, and some of its most iconic players like Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and Ed Pinckney. It chronicles the rivalries and successes that led many of them to become household names.

The Big East was a groundbreaking athletic and business creation that encapsulated the era and region in which it was born – from the toughness of the players and coaches hailing from some of the Northeast’s most storied cities, to the executives and Wall Street brokers who thrived because of it. Launched in 1979—the same year that ESPN was born—the Big East used the burgeoning cable TV network and the media as a whole to help spread its gospel to fans and future players across the nation. But “Requiem For The Big East” is also a tale of change as the super conference eventually found itself in a new era fighting for survival.

Musburger takes high road on ESPN move: ‘Happens all the time in corporate life’

You could make the argument that if Brent Musburger was 47 instead of 74, he still might be ESPN’s lead voice for college football.

But Musburger knows how the game works in broadcasting. He once was the young guy moving up the ladder at CBS. Much younger in fact than 47. Along the way, some veteran announcers were moved aside to make way for him.

Now it is his turn to be on the other end with ESPN wanting to promote Chris Fowler.

That’s likely why Musburger took the high road in an interview with Richard Deitsch at yesterday. He addressed ESPN moving him from its lead voice on college football to lead voice on the new SEC Network.

“I’m going to be 75 in May. You can take someone who is 75 and tell them, ‘Hey, it’s been great. You did a terrific job. Thank you very much but we have to move in another direction.’ I get that. It happens in corporate life all the time. So if this was a good time for them to take a different direction, they should go for it. I’m delighted to be offered a three-year deal when I am 75 years old. I love going to games, I love the excitement and I want to continue. It is a heck of an opportunity for someone who does not want to play golf every day.”

Earlier, though, Musburger did admit to being disappointed about not being involved in the new college football playoff telecasts.

“Obviously, I was disappointed I was not going to be doing one of the semifinals and the final. I’m not going to mislead anyone with that and I have told Skipper and Wildhack the same thing. But I also know that was not going to change anything. It was time to take a different challenge and move on. Did I sit around and cry about it? Absolutely not. There’s no need for me to look back. I have to look forward.”

Spoken like a true pro.

Chris Fowler: Named new voice of college football for ESPN; will continue to host GameDay

Chris Fowler’s ship has come in.

If anybody deserved a shot to have it all at ESPN, it is Fowler. He has excelled in all of his roles, but especially as host of College GameDay.

However, at age 51, Fowler wanted more. As much as his studio work is admired, he knows to go down as a true voice of college football, like Keith Jackson and Brent Musburger, he needs to be on the call for the big games. Now he will get his chance, doing double duty for the pregame show and then in the evening for the primetime game. It will culminate with him and Kirk Herbstreit working the new college football playoff games.

Basically, the fall now will have Fowler running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. Good thing he is in good shape.

Here is the official release from ESPN:


Multisport commentator Chris Fowler – widely regarded as one of the most versatile and talented announcers in television – will remain with ESPN as a lead voice on many of the network’s marquee events, primarily college football and tennis Majors, through 2023.
Fowler, who called ESPN’s Thursday night college football series from 2006 to 2009, will return to the college football booth as part of the nine-year extension, working play-by-play on the weekly Saturday Night Football series on ABC with analyst Kirk Herbstreit and sideline reporter Heather Cox. Fowler, Herbstreit, who have worked together on ESPN’s College GameDay Built by The Home Depot since 1996, and Cox will also usher in the new era in college football, teaming up to work a College Football Playoff Semifinal game and the College Football National Championship. He will continue to host College GameDay, a position he has held since 1990.
He will also remain an integral part of ESPN’s tennis coverage, highlighted by the four Majors — Wimbledon, US Open, French Open and Australian Open — where he hosts and calls matches. These include championships from Australia, Wimbledon and, beginning with ESPN’s exclusive coverage in 2015, the US Open.
“Chris Fowler is a one-of-a-kind talent who brings an amazing work ethic to every project he works on,” said John Wildhack, ESPN Executive Vice President, Programming and Production. “His ability to skillfully document some of the world’s most popular sporting events continues to impress sports fans year after year and his love for college football is on full display every week on GameDay. Chris will bring the same great qualities to the Saturday Night Football stage and new College Football Playoff, joining his long-time colleague Kirk Herbstreit and respected reporter Heather Cox.”
Fowler joined ESPN in July 1986 as the first host/reporter of Scholastic Sports America for two years. Over the years, he has also hosted the network’s coverage of the FIFA World Cup soccer, SportsCenter, SportsCentury, horse racing’s Triple Crown races, men’s college basketball including on-site Final Four coverage and the first few editions of the X Games and Winter X Games.
“I am very excited about hosting GameDay for a 25th year and extending my work with Kirk Herbstreit for a 19th season and beyond,” said Fowler. “There is a strong legacy of top college football voices on ABC, from Chris Schenkel to Keith Jackson to Brent Musburger. I’m looking forward to returning to the booth and being a part of that incredible tradition. As for tennis, I can’t wait to continue and expand my role in ESPN’s industry-leading coverage.”