When you’re on the air 24/7 with the dominant sports network, of course you’re going to set the agenda.
The insane coverage of Tim Tebow is a case in point.
The issue came up during a recent teleconference. Here are the replies.
Scott Van Pelt: I do wonder about the chicken and egg, how much of it is dictating what the numbers say, how much do the numbers say what we’re supposed to do. The Tebow story last year which became a full-fledged phenomenon, no other way to describe it. I look at it this way. When Tebow and the Broncos hosted Brady out in Denver. If I recall correctly, NBC wanted to flex in on that. CBS said, The hell you will. I think it did some enormous number.
There were a lot of things in play there. But I think the Tebow storyline was part of it. You see that and you think, that’s not us saying that, that’s two networks fighting over the game involving that guy. That continues the storyline from here and pushing it.
But I do, like you, wondering how much do we dictate and how much do the numbers from people watching elsewhere dictate what we show. Again, I can only tell you, because it’s the truth, we have honest and spirited discussions about what ought to be and sometimes I win and sometimes I lose.
Clearly, ESPN went overboard with its Tim Tebow coverage. Even the network admitted enough was enough.
Mark Gross, ESPN’s senior vice-president and executive producer: We did make a change. Initially we were planning to have Sal Paolantonio with the Jets every day for all the training camp. Honestly, a couple weeks in we pulled back because it did feel at that point, in training camp, that we weren’t generating, we weren’t reporting anything all that new. We just didn’t need to be there every single day.
So we tried something, we thought we were going to have Sal embedded with the Jets for the better part of a month. We tried something. I wouldn’t say it failed, but we tried something, wanted to be aggressive with the coverage. We learned over the first couple weeks that this is pretty good. We also learned, you know what, we don’t need to be embedded with the Jets. We’ll do just fine if we’re not.
I think part of it is, honestly we take chances like every other company takes chances. This company was built on a chance and on a risk. That’s what makes the place so great, is take chances, we’re risk-takers. Some things work out, some things don’t. You sort of pick it up and move on to try something else the next day.
And how does the show get made? Who has input in the production process?
Some interesting stuff from this exchange:
Q. How involved are you guys in the rundown of the show? How much do you voice your opinion? If you feel something is getting too much prominence, you feel it shouldn’t be, it’s in June, you’re doing 15 minutes on Tim Tebow throwing practice passes, how do you voice your opinion on that?
Van Pelt: I’m just smiling because I’m sure Mark is shaking his head right now. Probably we’re more vocal than they wish us to be. They don’t want us to be cheap. It’s a collaborative process. There have been a number of stories. I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say the Tebow story being one of them, anchors will say, Is this the most pressing matter of the moment?
I think with the show that I’m on at 11:00, it’s much more fluid because if something happens in sport, a four home run game, a no-hitter, a buzzer game involving a ranked team, it’s very much in flux. It is from the point we have our 5:00 meeting up till 11:00, that lineup is in pencil, it’s not in pen. Our input matters.
What I really love about the show, this is true, is that our voice, it carries weight, but so does any production assistant, associate producer. Anybody that brings up a point or thought or a storyline that deserves to be looked at, it’s got a shot to make it. The best producers hear out everybody, not just the anchors. I don’t throw my weight around, but I definitely raise my voice about things. I’m pretty sure Charley once did the same thing.
Sage Steele: My primary home is the weekend morning SportsCenters. We have a pretty lengthy conference call on Fridays to set up the entire weekend. Of course, the weekend shows are long. Everything is long these days, but they’re long and detailed. That’s when most people are able to sit home on a Sunday morning as I did with my dad so many years ago.
The meeting is 15, 20 people, editors, all the way up to the coordinators, producers. There’s discussions, ideas. It’s helpful for me as I prepare. There’s a ton of disagreements. They don’t get ugly too often. We’re adults, civil for the most part. Once in a while it’s okay and it’s good.
That means, yeah, we’re here. Many of us have accomplished our career goals ever getting here, but we want more. In the pads, absolutely. With the Tebow stuff, that’s a good example. Like Scott said, you’ll hear us not complain about it but question it, Is this the right thing? Too much? What about this story over here? The discussion is one that must be had. It’s healthy and will continue.
I hear about it all the time, too. The social media, which I just shunned for so many years and have finally begun to accept it. We are constantly asked about it on Twitter, Facebook, at the grocery store, at my kids’ soccer practice. It is what it is. People who complain about it, what do I tell them? Listen, the ‘problem’ is what? You’re telling us we should continue to do it this way because we look at the numbers. We research the numbers, and the numbers shoot up when it’s Tiger Woods, just like when he’s playing in a golf tournament, in contention, the numbers are higher.
It’s a fascinating thing. I think the discussion is healthy and necessary and fortunately, as Scott said, we have people in place that are open and willing to listen to every one of us.