Network trashtalking: ESPN does post to remind Fox Sports, everyone else who is No. 1

Fox Sports is set to announce the launch of its new sports network, Fox Sports 1, today in New York.

So what does ESPN put up on its PR-driven Front Row site late Monday afternoon? A post titled: “ESPN By The Numbers: March, 2013.”

Written by ESPN’s David Scott, the post contains this opening paragraph: “When you’ve been delivering sports fans their news, entertainment and game coverage for 33 years, you tend to accumulate a lot of impressive statistics and factoids.”

The post then basically documents the awesomeness of ESPN.

Wow, talk about timing. I mean, did ESPN know Fox Sports was making its big announcement today?

“Yes, quite a coincidence,” said an ESPN staffer, with tongue firmly in cheek even in an email.

This post was as subtle as Chris Berman narrating football highlights. It is network trashtalking at its finest. It’s Michael Jordan in his prime taunting some new NBA wannabe.

Indeed, it is saying to Fox, “We’ve got a 33-year head start; we own rights to virtually every sports property worth owning; and we have SportsCenter, (an iconic brand even with all its faults).”

So welcome to the game, Fox Sports. Good luck with your new network.


Here’s the entire Front Row post.

ESPN By the Numbers, March 2013

Make up. . .
• 8 US cable networks with more than 18,000 hours of live event programming and more than 11,900 of live studio hours
• ESPN is in 98,516,000 homes nationwide and ESPN2 is in 98,477,000
• ESPN Audio presents 9,000 hours of talk/news/events to 24 million listeners a week via 450 affiliates (360 of which are full-time) including owned and operated stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas
• ESPN Digital Media accounted for 29 percent of all sports category usage in January 2013, more than the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 sports properties combined
ESPN the Magazine delivers more than 14 million readers with the average issue.

Our people. . .
• 7,000 worldwide employees (more than 4,000 based at headquarters in Bristol, Conn.)
• More than 1000 public facing commentators, analysts, hosts and writers

Our Connecticut campus. . .
• 1.35 Million square feet
• 123 Acres (87 in Bristol, Conn. and 36 in Southington, Conn.)
• 16 Buildings
• 27 Satellite dishes
• Additional facilities in Los Angeles, Charlotte and Austin

Digital Center 1

  • 136,000 square feet
  • 3 studios
  • 8 production control rooms
  • 22 edit suites
  • 10 master control rooms

Digital Center 2 (Opening in 2014)

  • 193,000 square feet
  • 4 studios (including new home of SportsCenter)
  • 6 production control rooms

Programming and ratings in 2012. . .

• In the fourth quarter, ESPN averaged more than 980,000 households on a 24-hour basis, and more than 2.3 M homes in prime time.
• ESPN Networks averaged 1.34M HH overall and 2.84M HH in prime.
• In prime, ESPN was the top-rated cable net overall, and among M18-34, M18-49 and M25-54.
• ESPN had the top 10 most-watched programs on cable, 14 of top 15 and 22 of top 25
SportsCenter aired its 50,000th program in September
• 113 million different people use ESPN media each week
• The average person spends 6 hours, 57 minutes with ESPN media each week

ESPN Digital and Social Media. . .
In January 2013:
• In total ESPN digital properties attracted 62.6 million unique visitors, logging 4.97 billion minutes of usage
• Users watched 292 million ESPN digital video clips in January
• ESPN television content generated 13 million social comments, making it the “most social” cable network and the second most social network overall in January
• ESPN video content on YouTube generated 30 million views

In 2012:

• continued to lead the Sports Category with an average minute audience of 77,000, 52 percent higher than its closest competitor
• The five ESPN Local sites (New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and Dallas) averaged 8.8 million unique visitors per month
• averaged 2.2 million unique visitors and 26.8 million total minutes per month
• WatchESPN distribution (which includes live access to ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3 and ESPN Goal Line/Buzzer Beater) is now available to more than 50 million households nationwide
• ESPN Mobile ranked No. 1 across the mobile Web and apps for total minutes (642 million), unique visitors (13.3 million), and an average minute audience of 14,600

ESPN’s value. . .
• Almost all Americans have heard of the ESPN Brand (98 percent); while a vast majority (93 percent) are familiar with it
• ESPN is the favorite network (broadcast or cable) among men
• In Beta Research Corp’s annual Cable Operator Evaluation Study, operators named ESPN the network with the most average perceived value among all networks measured for the 13th straight year
• ESPN also ranked the most important network in their cable system for the ninth straight year with 95 percent of operators describing ESPN as “very important” for subscriber retention and acquisition
• ESPN2 ranked second in average perceived value among cable operators for the eighth straight year. The network also ranked No. 5 as the most important network to operators among the 46 measured networks, up from No. 9 in 2011

Note: Digital traffic numbers are from comScore.


Q/A with Dana Jacobson: On leaving ESPN; joining CBS Sports Radio; and being one of few women in sports talk radio

First of two parts on new CBS Sports Radio network.

Sometimes, you have to go with your heart more than common sense.

At least that’s the way Dana Jacobson (@danajacobson) felt when she decided to walk away from a new contract proposal from ESPN last spring with no other job offers on the table. She said while she loved her 10-plus years at ESPN, the passion for the job wasn’t there anymore.

Also inspired by the desire to live where she actually wanted to live for once (no offense, Bristol), Jacobson, 41, sold her house and car and moved to New York. Opportunity then knocked when the new CBS Sports Radio network offered her a spot on the morning show.

On Jan. 2, she joined Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney to kick off CBS’ big sports talk radio initiative.

In a Q/A, Jacobson talks about why she left ESPN and how it feels to be one of the few women in sports talk radio.

Why did you decide to leave ESPN?

I knew how it felt to be passionate about doing something. I wasn’t feeling it as much there. I was trying to figure out my place there (after she left First Take). When I first started doing SportsCenter, it was such an amazing thing do. When I started doing it again (in 2012), it was like, ‘Wow, do I want to keep doing this?’

Last January or February, I didn’t feel like there was something drawing me to stay there other than it’s ESPN. It’s a great place, and there are great people. But I needed to do something else.

Were people surprised when you told them you leaving ESPN?

The people who knew me got it. Most people thought I was crazy. ‘Why are you leaving an ESPN offer on the table when you don’t have a job?’ I get it. There were days when I said, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’

But I knew it was right. I knew what I was looking for. I couldn’t describe it, but I’d know when I saw it. If I ever was going to take a chance–I’m not married and have no obligations–this is the time to do it. I didn’t know how it would end up, but I just knew it would work out.

How is radio different than television?

Radio is more free form. You can’t fake it. When I first talked (to CBS), I said, ‘The thing that I love about radio is the thing that scared me to death when the program director at Sacramento first asked me to do it. What if I don’t know something? I don’t know everything.’ TV is much more structured. In radio, it goes wherever it’s going to go. You can’t hide.

It’s a chance to be myself. Yeah, I’ll say something silly sometimes. Hopefully, I’ll also say something intelligent.

There aren’t many women doing sports talk radio. How does a woman fit in on what is considered a guy-talk medium?

The story I tell is that when I first started at ESPN, my dad would say, ‘You’re really good at it, but I’d rather be watching sports with a guy doing it.’ Then at one point, he called, ‘I know you’re my daughter, and I know you’re a woman, but I stopped thinking about whether I was watching a man or a woman.’ I find that as my biggest compliment when someone said something like to me.

I don’t shy away from being a woman and talk about things the way a woman would. Women also listen (to sports talk radio). I hope to fit in by providing a different take on things, a different chemistry. I can say the things nobody else is saying.

It is amazing to me in 2013, that if you look on a national scale, there’s barely any women doing (sports talk radio). I don’t know why. I’m thrilled I have the chance to do it. I hope some young girls will listen and say, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’

Chemistry is to important on sports talk radio. How do you it is going to work with you, Barber and Tierney?

Sports talk radio is like sitting in the bar with your friends talking about sports. From the first show, I thought there was a good blend. We’re going to be similar on some things, and on some things we’re going to be forever different. When RGIII got hurt, Tiki talked about how he should have pulled himself, because he was hurting the team. I threw it back at him. I said, ‘No way. You never wanted to come out of the game when you were playing. Now you’re saying he should have pulled himself?’ I love those type of discussions.

Where do you hope this all goes?

The TV stuff, we’re playing by ear. I had the opportunity to fill in for Jim (on Jim Rome’s CBS Sports Network show), and that was great. I’ll do some college basketball as we get closer to the tournament.

(When she left ESPN), I never saw the radio thing coming. I hadn’t even thought about radio. It’s very exciting.

I’m not starting over, but it feels like when I first got to ESPN and looked at all the opportunities. It feels the same way here. It’s all very energizing.

Tuesday: The new CBS Sports Radio network has put together a formidable lineup, but will you be able to hear it in your town?


Q/A with Kirk Herbstreit: On whether Notre Dame can sustain success; title teams people love to hate

Perhaps tonight’s title game should be renamed the Polar Bowl, because it features two of the most polarizing teams in the country.

If you live outside of SEC country, you’re tired of that conference winning the BCS title every year. And even if you live within its boundaries, you’re probably thinking, anybody but Alabama and Nick Saban.

Meanwhile, rooting for Notre Dame hardly is an appealing option for the legion of Irish haters throughout the country.

All in all, the dynamic should deliver a huge rating for ESPN, assuming the game is close.

During a teleconference, Kirk Herbstreit, working his sixth straight BCS game, addressed the love-hate aspect and talked about whether Notre Dame’s success in 2012 will be more than a one-year fling.

As you travel around the country, what is your sense of how much of the interest a lot of these games actually comes from people rooting against one of the teams even maybe more so than people rooting for some of these teams, and also, how do you think that plays into the interest in this particular game?

Well, I think you’re right.  I think because the SEC has won six straight National Championships, I definitely feel that the SEC, as much as that region claims all 14 teams, when they get to this point, I think every other conference and every other fan base outside of those 14 teams is passionately rooting against Alabama.

And what’s interesting is in this case, Notre Dame is such a polarizing team, where everybody, no matter when you grew up, you either loved Notre Dame or you just couldn’t stand Notre Dame.  So there are a lot of people out there that I think are going to have to make a tough decision on who to pull for, and I really believe that, again, outside of the SEC, most people, even if they aren’t big Notre Dame fans in this case, because of the six straight national titles, I think they’re going to be pulling with all their hearts to see Notre Dame end that streak.

And as far as the interest, any time you put those two letters, ND, in a National Championship game, I think the level of interest obviously is going to go up, and I think the fact that it’s been since 1988 since the last time they won a National Championship, I think it definitely raises the bar of your hype and the buzz of this National Championship compared to any of the other games that I’ve had the good fortune to call.

Have you heard any people on sort of the other end saying, well, I don’t like either team, so I’m not going to watch, or do you think people just say that but they’ll still watch it?

I think anybody that takes the time to make a comment like that, clearly they’ll be watching the game.  They’ll, in fact, watch the four hours of pregame that we have before the game and be blogging and tweeting about how wrong everybody is on those shows.

Without a doubt, people are going to ‑‑ if you’re a college football fan or even if you’re a fringe college football fan, you’re going to watch.  An example for me is Tiger Woods and golf.  I could care less about golf on a weekly basis.  But if Tiger Woods accidentally stumbles into a Sunday, I’m that guy that tunes in and watches golf on Sunday.

And I think if you’re a fringe college football fan and you have Notre Dame and Alabama playing on a Monday night, no matter what you feel about either team, no matter if you despise both these teams, you’re going to be tuned in watching this game.

We’ve seen Notre Dame have these blips before, where previous coaches had a decent run for a year and then quickly fell off.  How is this going to be different?  What’s your sense as far as what Brian Kelly is building there, and will he be able to sustain it beyond this year?

We were around those teams with Bob Davie when he had a team that got in early part of the BCS era when they got into a BCS bowl game, I think it was against Oregon State, and you remember what happened in the Sugar Bowl when they went up against LSU.  This just feels different, not just because they’re undefeated and because they’re in the National Championship, but I’m never one to really pay attention to the recruiting hype of five‑star recruits or why they’re ranked No. 1 or No. 2.  I always like to wait to see players in their first year or two, see how they kind of make that adjustment to the college game and see how they’re maturing and developing.

I just really sense that, as Brent said earlier, with Brian Kelly’s background, I mean, if there’s anybody that’s ever been typecast to be the Notre Dame coach, it’s Brian Kelly, and I think it’s legitimate, his energy and his passion for the school and the way he’s recruiting.  If you look at what they’re trying to do for the future, I think they’re going to use this fifth year as kind of a springboard into the future, and I really believe as long as Brian Kelly is the head coach, with what he has going on right now, if they will hold onto to staff, I think they’ve got something very unique going, and I think this has staying power.  I don’t think this is a, hey, let’s make a run one year and then go away.  I think Notre Dame football has a real opportunity here to be around and compete at a very high level for a long time.

What is the most compelling aspect of this match‑up from your point of view?

I think an interesting aspect of the game is just the hype of dealing with the long layoff, the hype about Alabama trying to win three of the last four National Championships with Nick Saban, the fact that they’re going up against Notre Dame, one of the most storied programs in college football with a new coach who’s reaching out to other coaches who have had to deal with a 44‑day layoff, about how to peak your team at the right time, the fact that it’s uncharted waters for Notre Dame’s program to have to deal with this, and then when they take the field just to see how they both handle themselves.

We witnessed a game last night, if you don’t show up mentally and physically prepared and in the right frame of mind, you can get embarrassed.  And just because that was a Sugar Bowl not in the National Championship limelight doesn’t mean that that couldn’t potentially happen at a National Championship.  I’m sure both those coaches watched that game last night and they both panicked a little bit just to make sure, hey, am I doing the right thing, because you just don’t know until your team goes out and starts to play.

So I think the anticipation of the hype of this particular match‑up and how these teams play early, especially in the game, I think is going to be an interesting aspect of how the game eventually plays out.

Which 8-8 team delivered highest NFL rating for CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN?

I overdosed on the Dallas Cowboys this year. It seemed like Jerry Jones’ mediocre bunch were featured more in Chicago than the Bears.

Yet there is no denying Cowboys can generate the ratings. Even after all these years, they still are America’s Team.

Barry Horn of the Dallas Morning News reports a game involving the Cowboys pulled the highest rating of the year for CBS, NBC, ESPN and Fox Sports.

Last Sunday’s Cowboys-Washington game on NBC had 30.3 million viewers, the most for a prime-time game since 1996.

Here’s the rundown of the top-ranked games for the network:

CBS -Steelers-Cowboys (Dec. 16): 26.9 million

Fox – Redskins-Cowboys (Nov. 22): 28.7 million

ESPN – Bears-Cowboys (Oct. 1): 16.6 million

NBC – Cowboys-Redskins (Dec. 30): 30.3 million

The Cowboys did not appear on NFL Network this year. Surely if they did, they would have had the top rating there too.

Imagine if Dallas actually was good and made the playoffs.



What they said in 2012: Quotes tell tale of year in sports media

Part 1:

I’m a big quote guy, as evidenced by the quote I run at the top of this site.

While going through my review of sports media in 2012, I came across so many relevant quotes from my reporting and elsewhere, I decided to share them. Some are insightful; some are funny; some are just plain stupid. Yet they all tell a tale of what occurred on this beat.

I had so many, I decided to split them into two posts. Part 1 covers the beginning of the site in April through early August.

Frank Deford on current state of sportswriting: “Unfortunately, we’ve gotten swamped by the numbers. People have gotten buried under the numbers. Statistics. That has become everything. Pitch count is more interesting than what the guy is made of. I think that’s a shame because so much of sports is drama.”

Keith Olbermman tweet: “Mickey Mantle debuted in NY in an exhibition vs Dodgers 1951. Bryce Harper debuts vs Dodgers tonight. Announcer then and now? Vin Scully.”

Adam Schefter on taking heat for tweeting during the NFL draft: “I approach the draft just like any other NFL news story. When I learn informaton, it’s my job to report it. I didn’t report every pick; I was more interested in the trades, actually. But if someone felt it detracted from their experience, they could have unfollowed me or not paid attention to Twitter.”

Ohio State president Gordon Gee (a true goof): “‘Sporting News,’ ‘Sports Illustrated,’ a lot of them I don’t read. It’s bad journalism. And, so, why buy them?”

David Feherty on Hank Haney’s book on Tiger Woods: “The fact that Hank wrote the book – I wouldn’t have written the book. I just don’t think it has any class to it at all.”

SI’s Richard Deitsch on Chris Berman: “The bellowing never stops. It pummels you over the head like a hard rain, and  it’s forever accompanied by outdated references (“Mel Kiper, to quote Stan  Laurel, ‘Here’s another mess you have gotten me into, Ollie.’ “) and long-winded  intros that last nearly as long as a Presidential campaign. Mostly, there is  Chris Berman simply talking and talking and talking.”

Chris Berman:  “I just talk to people everyday walking down the street. That’s what I care about. That’s good enough for me. They didn’t like Ted Williams either. Now, I’m not Ted Williams.”

ESPN exec John Wildhack defending Chris Berman: “It seems that at times, criticizing Chris has become a pastime for some, as opposed to presenting an actual review of the work he does. What’s important is he works hard, he’s prepared, he’s extremely passionate about it and he is a huge sports fan which allows him to connect with the sports fans we serve.”

Bill Simmons in a tweet on Grantland being denied a credential to a NHL playoff game: “Still laughing that the Blues denied @katiebakes for a media credential last week. The NHL is the best. DON’T COVER US!!! STAY AWAY!”

Dave Kindred on the late Furman Bisher: “One time, two years ago, his glorious wife, Linda, called him in the Augusta  press room and Furman became a high school kid in love. “I just finished,  honey,” he said. “It wasn’t much. I keep trying. I’ll do that perfect column  someday.”

Saints owner Tom Benson on demise of the New Orleans Times-Picuyane: “It is hard for me to imagine no Times-Picayune on Monday, February 4, 2013, the day after our city hosts Super Bowl XLVII.”

Veteran sportswriter Tom Pedulla on being fired from USA Today: “If you think someone’s job was in jeopardy, you’d want to do it face-to-face to make the best possible decision. I never got a face-to-face interview to keep a job I had for 31 years.”

Former Fox Sports chairman David Hill on the future of sports TV:  “The next big development for all of us is the second-screen experience. I don’t believe that has been explored in terms of potential as it should be. If you look at multi-tasking that is going on, a valid second screen experience (people watching a second screen in addition to the primary screen) – which could be American Idol – is going to be a huge development down the road.”

Tiger Woods on new media: “You’ve got to be able to stand out somehow to get eyes going to your site or to your media, and I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s the criticism that there is. I was looking at it the other day, if LeBron didn’t have a good game, then the Heat are done and he should retire.  I’m like, geez, guys, he just won MVP.  But I think that’s just the nature of the volatility of the new media in which we are involved in now.”

Phil Mushnick controversial column on Jay-Z: “As long as the Nets are allowing Jay-Z to call their  marketing shots — what a shock that he chose black and white as the new team  colors to stress, as the Nets explained, their new “urban” home — why not have  him apply the full Jay-Z treatment?

“Why the Brooklyn Nets when they can be the New York N——s? The  cheerleaders could be the Brooklyn B—-hes or Hoes. Team logo? A 9 mm with  hollow-tip shell casings strewn beneath. Wanna be Jay-Z hip? Then go all the way!”

Michelle Beadle on rampant speculation about her future: “I find it ridiculous. It’s a little stupid. I’ve changed jobs a couple dozen times since I started in an amusement park at 16. … I got a little sick of myself. It’s been an odd situation. Hopefully, it will come and go and everybody will get back to their business. Very weird. Who knew?”

Ozzie Guillen on Twitter: “Yeah, I hate Twitter. Everybody following me can (expletive) his pants. You can quote me on that one. … Don’t follow me anymore. Twitter is a stupid thing. I never make money out of that. When you speak Spanish, you speak Spanish. When you speak English, you don’t know how to spell ‘English.’ Get a real job, get a life. I don’t make money out of that. I’m done.”

Colin Cowherd on hockey writers: “Hockey doesn’t get the cream of the crop in our business…What do you think I’m giving the kid out of Fordham? The New York Islanders. He’s cheap, he’s bright, and his brother used to play hockey.”

John Skipper on NBC Sports Network: “We’ve been doing this for 32 years and I do think  there’s a little too much respect paid to the great brand names. Everybody sort  of assumes, ‘Oh, my gosh, NBC is going to a 24/7 network and it’s a two-horse  race.” But they don’t look like we look. You guys saw all the stuff today –  mobile, Internet. We have more viewers in an average minute on ESPN mobile than  they have on NBC Sports Network.”

NBC Sports response: “The NBC Sports Group brands are among the most powerful brands in sports. We don’t look like anyone else and we’re very proud of that fact. They’ve been at this a long time and at a significantly higher cost to consumers. Our audience and market share are increasing as evidenced by the NHL playoffs and at great value to our viewers.”

CBC’s Ron McLean invoking images of 9/11 in open to a NHL playoff game: “From the capital of the U.S. of A., it’s New York and Washington. The economic and political engines of America, united in the birth of the country, they’re also linked in tragedy. They were the twin targets of the coordinated attacks on 9/11. It’s crazy to compare what the emergency responders did during that time, but a spirit has to start somewhere. And as you enjoy this series between the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals — Game 6 comin’ up, 3-2 New York.”

Dan Jenkins: “Who is the best the sportswriter who wore shorts? I keep trying to envision Grantland Rice or John Lardner in shorts. It never occurred to me to wear shorts. I’d look too silly to wear shorts.”

ESPN’s Vince Doria on hockey: “It’s a sport that engenders a very passionate local following. If you’re a Blackhawks fan in Chicago, you’re a hardcore fan. But it doesn’t translate to television, and where it really doesn’t transfer much to is a national discussion, which is something that typifies what we do.”

Donna  de Varona on 40th anniversary of Title IX: “My work in Title IX gave me a voice I wanted to have as a broadcaster. But there was a lot of pushback. My visibility was often threatened. I often got comments about my activism being an issue, forcing me to make choices. That did two things for me: It made me fight harder and stay at ABC, and also to work on Capitol Hill.”

Darren Rovell announcing in a tweet (what else?) that he is jumping to ESPN: “I’m thrilled to have reached an agreement in principle with ESPN. No matter how others bash it, Bristol is truly a magical place.”

APSE president Michael A. Anastasi in speech to sports editors: “Many of you have heard me say this before, but I think it’s worth repeating. With so much change, so much challenge, so much new, this is exactly the wrong time for editors to stop talking to each other.”

ESPN’s Vince Doria: “If social networking never existed, we wouldn’t miss it. We wouldn’t know it ever existed. We wouldn’t feel our life was impaired in any way. We lived without e-mail. How did we operate without it?”

Geoff Ogilvy’s wife, Julie, on Twitter: “How does Johnny Miller have a job when he speaks such nonsense???”

Phil Mushnick: “Allowing ESPN’s Chris Berman to call golf’s U.S. Open is like giving the Class Clown a jumbo can of Silly String.”

Skip Bayless: “Miami was the heavy favorite to win it all and I’m not backing off. I’m not writing them off. I’m sticking with them in seven games, because they’re still the Miami Heat.”

Ken Harrelson after over-the-top criticism of an umpire: “I talked to Bud Selig yesterday. We had a talk. Actually, Bud talked and I listened. If it was a prize fight, they would have stopped it in the first round.”

Bob Costas on slain Israeli athletes not being honored at Olympics: “I intend to note that the IOC denied the request. Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. Here’s a minute of silence right now.”

BTN president Mark Silverman on his network not covering important Penn State press conference: “We wanted to have covered it. Frankly, it was human error. There was an internal communications issue. We regret not having shown that press conference.”

Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertham on Joe Posnanski’s Paterno book: “The great lesson that Paterno may have taught (a player) pales in comparison to the cover-up. People who read the book will say they don’t care about (his great deeds). I worry this will be the literary version of the Matt Millen fiasco.”

Joe Buck on Tim McCarver going into Hall of Fame: “When I had him sitting to my right and I had him seconding an opinion of mine, it gave me instant credibility. I owe him a lot and I’ll be there, the proudest one there not at the podium when he goes in on Saturday.”

Tim McCarver: “If somebody told me back in 1980 that I would have a 32-year career, and that I’d be receiving this honor, I’d say no way. For three years, I couldn’t even break into the Phillies broadcast booth. I was just hoping to make it, much less be mentioned as a Ford Frick winner. Believe me, when I started out, this award wasn’t even close to being on the radar.”

Bob Costas on turning 60: “It doesn’t seem that long ago to me that the word irreverent seemed affixed to my name. ‘Irreverant newcomer.’ I went from irreverent to venerable in what seems to me like the blink of an eye.”









Top sports media stories in 2012: Spiraling rights fees, ratings; ESPN cleans up; Mixed opening for NBC Sports Net

From my perspective, the biggest sports media story in 2012 occurred on April 16. That’s when went live. Then again, I’m biased.

There has been plenty of other sports media news in 2012. Here’s a look:

Infinity: While talking about the outrageous rights fees for sports the other day, Ed Goren, the former top production man at Fox Sports, noted that Fox paid $400 million for its first four-year deal with the NFL in 1994.

“Remember when everyone thought that was out of sight?” Goren said. “Now it’s nothing.”

Indeed, $400 million barely would get you the NFL preseason in today’s market.

The lavish spending continued in 2012. Baseball was the biggest winner, with ESPN, Turner, Fox all re-upping with a new megadeal. As a result, Bud Selig and friends will more than double their annual haul from $750 million to $1.55 billion when the new contract kicks in.

Other sports also enjoyed the money grab with new expensive contracts. There seems to be no end how much the networks, especially ESPN, will pay in rights fees. Even the European Premier League went to NBC for $250 million over three years. Keep in mind, this is for a league not based in the United States and for a sport most Americans don’t care about.

Why the sports lust by the networks? See the next installment.

Soaring ratings: In a continuing splintered TV marketplace, ratings continue to rise for sports (with the exception of baseball: more on that below). Sunday Night Football on NBC is shooting for its second straight season as the top-ranked show in primetime. The Summer Olympics were the most-viewed event of all time and the NFL’s overall numbers are ridiculous. Elsewhere, there were ratings increases for the NCAA basketball tournament, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup playoffs, and more down the line.

Sports remains the last bastion of true reality television. And you have to watch it live. It’s not the same on DVR.

If sports fans keep watching, the networks will keep paying. It’s that simple.

ESPN: President John Skipper spent like crazy with deals for baseball, the new college football playoff, Big Ten, ACC, SEC, etc. Guess you can do that when your network is valued at $40 billion. Skipper secured crucial programming for the long haul, and even better, shut out his upstart competitors.

NBC Sports Network, Year 1: Some things worked; others not so much. The Stanley Cup playoffs did solid numbers, as fans loved the multi-platform approach, and the Summer Olympics had viewers seeking out the network.

However, any momentum has been dulled considerably with the NHL lockout. Speaking of games, NBC Sports Network couldn’t get in the game for baseball or make deals with the major college conference for much needed live sports programming. The Big East still is out there. What’s left of it.

NBC Sports Network remains a work in progress, but it is difficult to see how far it can go without significant games.

Gold medal: NBC did record ratings, exceeding expectations for the Olympics in London. However, the complaints about the tape delay approach reached new heights. It all is so antiquated in today’s modern media age.

It seems NBC is listening.

“We evaluate our business models all the time, and seek the best ways to satisfy the majority of viewers, as well as advertisers, and our affiliate stations,” said NBC Sports president Mark Lazarus. “We have to wait for the data from these Games to come in, and then we’ll make our plans accordingly.”

Prediction: Everything will be available live on your TV for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Next train out of Bristol: ESPN saw some big name personalities walk out the door: Michelle Beadle, Erin Andrews, Jim Rome. So much was made of their departures that the ESPN PR crew started to issue press releases for routine contract renewals, as if to say, “Hey, somebody likes it here.”

Skipper didn’t seem upset about the defections: “Getting excited about people leaving is very overrated — whether it be executives or on-air. Mostly it gives somebody else a chance to shine. I can’t think of a single instance where losing a talent has been significantly debilitating to a specific program. I don’t think we’ve ever canceled a program because we couldn’t find somebody to do it.”

One big name who stayed: Scott Van Pelt.

World Series blues: While other sports showcases continue to go up, the World Series declined again. Sure, another four-game sweep didn’t help. But there’s also another element in play. For whatever reason, the World Series doesn’t seem to matter as much as it used to. Baseball, unlike the other sports, has gotten extremely provincial. If your team isn’t playing, you’re not interested, or as interested.

Penn State: The biggest sports story of the year saw premature reports of Joe Paterno’s death and the Big Ten Network taking hits for not covering the NCAA press conference that announced the unprecedented sanctions. On the plus side, Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter Sara Ganim won the Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the scandal.

Musical chairs: Yet another wave of conference realignment. Maryland and Rutgers in the Big Ten? Louisville in the ACC? All in the name of maximizing TV revenue.

Poor UConn. The Huskies look like the little kid standing while the others have their chairs.

Gruden: ESPN went to a two-man booth for Monday Night Football, elevating the status of Jon Gruden. It resulted in much fascination for the former coach, who could keep that post for the next 10-15 years if he wants. A big if considering he could be on the sidelines in 2013.

Finally tuned in: After oh so many years, Time Warner cable finally agreed to a deal to carry the NFL Network. As a result, New Yorkers finally were introduced to a wonderful man named Scott Hanson and NFL RedZone.

Tebow mania: Yeah, ESPN went a bit overboard. The network took more hits for its coverage than Tebow did playing quarterback for the Jets.














Top newsmakers for 2012: No denying that everyone talked about Skip Bayless

When I launched ShermanReport on April 16, I had some initial concerns that there might not be enough fresh content to do a daily site.

Couldn’t have been more wrong.

There’s so much territory to cover, it can be overwhelming at times. For a solo performer, it is a challenge to keep up. It’s never dull, that’s for sure.

As 2012 nears a close, I’m going to reflect on the year in sports media this week. Today, I begin with newsmakers. My criteria is people who were interesting, intriguing, controversial, and generally seemed to be in the news cycle, for better or worse.

Here we go:

Skip Bayless: Yes, Skip Bayless. I can see your eyes rolling, but name me someone who has generated more sports media talk?

I know he is extremely polarizing, and he routinely gets obliterated from the critics. Twitter nearly exploded when he got nominated for a Sports Emmy.

This isn’t to say that Bayless and First Take rank as the best in 2012. The latest episode involving Rob Parker off-mark comments about Robert Griffin III are an example why many people feel the show is a stain on ESPN. A blow to its credibility.

However, whenever the topic is sports media in a podcast or elsewhere, I’m hard pressed to think of a time when the discussion didn’t include Bayless and First Take. My former Chicago Tribune colleague receives a remarkable amount of attention for a mid-morning show on ESPN2. Not exactly prime time. Love him or hate him, people tune in to hear Bayless’ and Stephen A. Smith’s views. The show continues to do a strong rating and Bayless has nearly 1 million followers on Twitter, up from 550,000 in April.

More so, athletes react over what he has to say. Kevin Durant, Jalen Rose, Charles Barkley, and Terrell Suggs, to name a few. Again, somebody must be listening.

In a Q/A I did with Bayless in April, I asked if he saw himself wearing the black hat. He said: “The thrust of our show is people trying to take me down. They just want to see me lose. That’s why they love Stephen A (Smith). He calls me Skip “Baseless.” Fine. Then I quickly prove to the audience that I’m not baseless and win the argument from him, using live ammo, real facts that he can’t refute.”

Will Bayless be at the top of the list again in 2013? I wouldn’t bet against him.

Bob Costas: Costas hit a milestone birthday, turning 60. While it’s just a number, he continued to define his status as perhaps the sportscaster of his generation in 2012. He tied it all together in hosting yet another Olympics for NBC. Even more so, he stepped out on controversial issues: The failure to do a memorial of the slain Israeli athletes at the Olympics and his anti-gun commentary during halftime of a Sunday night game. If sports has a social conscience and voice, it is Costas.

Mark Lazarus: Unlike his predecessor Dick Ebersol, the NBC Sports president took a low profile in being at the helm for his first Olympics. While the tape delay issue had viewers screaming, they still watched in record numbers. Bottom line: The Games even turned an unexpected profit for NBC. Lazarus didn’t have to say much more than that.

John Skipper: The ESPN president oversaw the network’s buying spree in 2012, locking in important long-term rights deals. Skipper also is refreshingly frank. He earned plaudits for admitting that ESPN went overboard with its Tim Tebow coverage.

Joe Posnanski: No sportswriter faced a more intense spotlight than Posnanski. His much-anticipated book Paterno was roundly criticized. The response was so extreme, Posnanski did limited interviews and virtually no public appearances. As a result, his move from Sports Illustrated to being the signature name for the SportsOnEarth site received little fanfare.

Clearly, Posnanski’s book was hurt by a deadline that was moved up to cash in on the timeliness of the story. But even worse, he appeared too close to Paterno and his family to write an objective book that this subject required.

Michelle Beadle: After several months of over-the-top speculation about her future, Beadle bolted ESPN for a package at NBC. She shined in a hosting role at the Olympics. Always entertaining, Beadle will add a new show at NBC Sports Network in 2013.

Erin Andrews: Speaking of over-the-top, Andrews also left ESPN and signed on at Fox Sports. The big lure was a chance to host a primetime college football studio show in advance of Fox’s Saturday night game. Alas, Andrews and the show generally got panned. Look for some changes in a second attempt in 2013.

Chris Berman: Speaking of polarizing figures, it’s often target practice on Berman. His act, once unique and fun in another decade, now is viewed as old and tired. It’s almost as if he has become a characterization of himself. If only he listened to the many people who have to be begging him to tone it down.

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch blew him up several times. Following Berman hosting the NFL draft, he wrote: “The bellowing never stops. It pummels you over the head like a hard rain.”

Of the critics, Berman told Michael Hiestand of USA Today: ”I just talk to people everyday walking down the street,” he says. “That’s what I care about. That’s good enough for me. They didn’t like Ted Williams either. Now, I’m not Ted Williams.”

That is quite true. He is not anywhere close to comparing his situation to Ted Williams’.

As for ESPN making any changes with Berman? Don’t count on it. He signed a long-term deal in 2012.

Jim Rome: Another escapee from ESPN, Rome took his act to CBS, where he was given many platforms. His daily show on CBS Sports Network reaches a limited audience simply because the network still doesn’t register in the mind of most sports viewers. He recently launched a weekly show on Showtime. We’ll see how that goes. In a few weeks, he will take his radio show to the new CBS Sports Radio Network.

The biggest Rome news occurred when he got in a flap with NBA Commissioner David Stern. It stemmed from a poorly-worded question about whether the draft was fixed.

The move to CBS clearly is a work in process for Rome. He knew it would take some time. However, he will want to see some progress in 2013.

Jeff Van Gundy: Van Gundy has emerged as a star for his blunt, honest analysis of the NBA for ESPN. You have to listen closely because he is capable of saying anything at any given moment. He wasn’t shy about criticizing the network when it backed out of a deal to hire his brother, Stan. He’s become one of my favorites.

Bill Simmons: ESPN’s franchise man on so many different platforms was given another toy by being added to NBA Countdown. The studio show is a work in progress, but Simmons’ addition has made for a different feel. A basketball junkie, he has a unique and at times quirky perspective on the game. I have found myself listening to hear what Simmons has to say.

Tim McCarver. The announcer called his 23rd World Series, a record. He also received the Ford Frick Award at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, an honor that was long overdue.

John Clayton: Who knew that the 58-year NFL analyst wore a ponytail, worshipped Slayer, and lived with his mother? The cult of John Clayton grew with one of the year’s best commercials. It even received a tweet from LeBron James.

Darren Rovell: Hey, somebody actually jumps to ESPN. What a concept. Rovell left a gig at CNBC where he was the big fish in a little sports pond. Now he’s swimming among fish of all sizes in the ESPN ocean that is the Pacific. The move has some risks, but Rovell felt when ESPN calls (a second time for him), you dive in.

Frank Deford and Vin Scully: Let’s finish with two legends who still are going strong. Deford wrote his memoirs in a terrific book, Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter. As you would expect from Deford, it was entertaining and insightful, covering more than a generation of sports writing. At age 74, Deford still goes strong with his commentaries for NPR and work on Real Sports for HBO.

What can you say about Scully, the ageless wonder? Now 85, he gave us the best gift possible by deciding to return for yet another year in 2013. Remarkable.










Update: Rob Parker suspended: His stupid statement sign of larger problem at ESPN and elsewhere

Update: ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz just posted this tweet: “Following yesterday’s comments, Rob Parker has been suspended until further notice.  We are conducting a full review.”


These kinds of stories make me sad. I’d rather be writing about something else than somebody making stupid statements on television. I call it chasing fires. Some people love it. I don’t.

Yet you can’t ignore what Rob Parker said yesterday on First Take. And it appears as if he is about to incur ESPN’s wrath.

In case you missed it, Parker went off about Robert Griffin III.  “Is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother?” Parker said.

Parker went on: “I’ve talked to some people in Washington, D.C. Some people in [Griffin’s] press conferences. Some people I’ve known for a long time. My question, which is just a straight, honest question, is … is he a ‘brother,’ or is he a cornball ‘brother?’ He’s not really … he’s black, but he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black, but he’s not really like the guy you’d want to hang out with. I just want to find out about him. I don’t know, because I keep hearing these things. He has a white fiancé, people talking about that he’s a Republican … there’s no information at all. I’m just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue. Tiger Woods was like, ‘I have black skin, but don’t call me black.’ People wondered about Tiger Woods early on — about him.”

Stephen A. Smith, in one of the smartest things he said on the show, cut off the discussion: “I’m uncomfortable with where we just went.  RGIII, the ethnicity, the color of his fiance is none of our business, it’s irrelevant, he can live his life any way he chooses… I don’t judge someone’s blackness based on those types of things.”

Apparently, Parker’s views on Griffin didn’t go over well in the corporate offices at Bristol. An ESPN spokesman said the comments “”were inappropriate and we are evaluating our next steps.”

So why does something like this happen? I think it is due in part to the environment that’s been created at ESPN and elsewhere with these debate shows. It’s all about getting noticed. Get your name out there on Twitter. Get people talking about you. Get people wanting to tune in to hear what you say next.

In order to do that, you have to be controversial, outrageous. At times, you have to be really out there. Really, really out there.

It’s cause people to cross the line and then some. They don’t think and consider the impact of their statements, especially when it is about a volatile subject like race. Then the trouble begins.

Rob Parker got himself noticed with his comments about RGIII. His clip, posted by Awful Announcing, has received nearly 300,000 pageviews on YouTube as of this morning. However, I can’t imagine he is enjoying this kind of attention.




Skipper defends ESPN: Standards of journalism are at highest order

It’s been open season on ESPN of late. John Skipper has decided to fight back.

In an interview with John Ourand of Street and Smith’s Sports Business Daily, the ESPN president reacted to mounting criticism from various outlets (Deadspin, Awful Announcing in particular) that the network’s journalistic standards have been reduced, and that its brand has been diminished by an endless array of debate shows, headed by First Take.

The always candid Skipper clearly thinks enough is enough. “The brand’s never been stronger,” he said.

Regarding standards:

We have standards of journalism that are at the highest order. There’s a separate question, which is, ‘Are we adhering to them?’ But at least our intention and what we publish is that we are going to adhere to high standards. We don’t discourage the scrutiny, we welcome it. Generally, we react to it….

We started Front Row so we could be a little more transparent. I don’t think anybody responds more or has higher standards. So I reject the overall criticism that we’re not doing this stuff.”

On whether ESPN goes soft with its league partners:

The thing that makes me angriest is that ESPN has a conflict. Give me three examples where we pulled up. I think that we did a comprehensive story on stadium and arena food standards and found about one quarter of the stadiums to be deficient in terms of their health standards. I don’t recall anyone else doing that or being in that much conflict with all of their partners. I think I remember a whole week of stories about the concussions in the NFL. But people still write it as a matter of fact, ‘Of course, ESPN’s not leading the way in writing about concussions.’ Other than the N.Y. Times, we’ve clearly been the most aggressive on that. Talk to David Stern about whether he thinks we pull up on stories.

And here’s my favorite. Regarding criticism of First Take:

It’s just another show. It’s not journalism. Nobody goes, ‘Gee, look how awful it is that CBS does these awful reality shows. Doesn’t that taint their great news organization?’ We have seven networks. There’s 8,760 hours per year. We’re programming 50-60,000 hours per year. … But people say, ‘Gee, that awful debate that you’re doing, how can the great ‘SportsCenter’ coexist with the debate of ‘First Take.’ I don’t know, how do infomercials coexist with the great journalism they’re doing someplace else? We’re not a micromanaged place. Jamie Horowitz is the producer of ‘First Take.’ He’s gone in a direction that’s working. Ratings are up.

So here’s my question: Who’s going to be the more upset? Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith over Skipper comparing them to “awful” reality shows; or with the polarizing hosts, reality shows being compared to First Take?

Given the way Skipper spoke out, I’m sure he would have no problem holding his own on First Take. Now there’s a show.



Sorry Northern Illinois: ESPN gets stuck with lemons with Orange, Sugar and Rose Bowls

If I’m ESPN and I just paid billions of dollars to secure the rights to the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta Bowls, I can’t be pleased with what I got this year.

With the exception of the title game, the biggies lineup has to be the worst in recent memory. And I’m not just talking about Northern Illinois here:

Orange Bowl: NIU vs. Florida State.

Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Louisville.

Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Stanford.

Fiesta Bowl: Kansas State vs. Oregon.

It’s almost as if the Notre Dame-Alabama title game is so good, the BCS said we have to balance things off with some uninspiring games. Only K-State-Oregon rates as a truly marquee match up. The others? Forget about it.

Wisconsin has five losses, and just saw its coach bolt. But the Badgers are playing in Pasadena thanks to Ohio State being ineligible for a bowl. Louisville? Somebody has to put an end to this idea that the Big East champion deserves a BCS bid.

And Northern Illinois? Listen, the Huskies are a great story and had a great season. But they barely register in my backyard in Chicago. And the Huskies coach also departed to take over North Carolina State, hardly a football hotbed. Let’s just say it will be the first and only time the Wolfpack job will be considered a step up for a BCS coach.

Will the country really tune in to watch the Huskies play in the Orange Bowl? ESPN definitely will push the Goliath angle. But after a full helping of games on Jan. 1, by the time the Orange Bowl rolls around in the evening, America might take a pass on watching a MAC team.

It isn’t just me. ESPN’s very own Mark Schlabach ranked all the bowl games. While he had the Fiesta Bowl second, he had the other big money BCS bowl games lower on the list; Sugar was sixth; Rose seventh; and Orange eighth. And you can make the argument that the Capital One Bowl, featuring Georgia-Nebraska, should be slotted higher than ninth.

Meanwhile, Schlabach ranked the Oklahoma-Texas A&M match-up in the Cotton Bowl third. Cotton Bowl officials have to be doing handsprings with likely Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Fox also is thrilled with the prospect of a primetime game on Jan. 4.

And Fox gets that game at a fraction of the price ESPN shelled out for the BCS bowls.

Don’t think that is going unnoticed by ESPN. While ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit got roasted for expressing his outrage over NIU’s bid over the air, privately the executives were grumbling just as loud in the suites in Bristol. Two of your BCS teams, NIU and Louisville, never appeared on national television on a Saturday this year.

Given its considerable investment, you could be sure ESPN will push college football officials for a system that guarantees the big-money bowl games also are the best games. It also would be a nice thing to do for fans.

That’s not asking too much, is it?