Q/A with Darren Rovell: On leaving CNBC for ESPN; ‘It felt bigger’

As any good business reporter knows, the element of risk is a theme in many stories.

So now the tables turn on Darren Rovell. Risk now is a part of his story in his recent jump from CNBC to ESPN.

Rovell had the sports business gig all to himself at CNBC. He also had his own sports business show on the NBC Sports Network.

Rovell, 34, landed many high-profile interviews and developed a huge following on Twitter (now in the 240,000 range). He carved out a nice niche at CNBC.

Rovell, though, decided to return to ESPN (he worked there from 2000-06). Obviously, he won’t be the only sports person at the network. While he will have more platforms for his stories, he also will face exponentially more internal competition. It will be more difficult for him to stick out at ESPN.

Money definitely was a factor in Rovell’s decision (ESPN book author James Miller reports he doubled his salary). Interestingly, for someone who talks at length about the cash athletes earn, Rovell declined to go into detail about his financial decision. I guess it is more interesting to talk about other people’s money.

Rovell stressed this decision is about more than just money. A big part, he said, is the ABC component, in which he will do business stories for various shows (Good Morning America, Nightline, ABC Evening News) on the network.

Ultimately, Rovell said of the move, “I just felt this was bigger.”

Here’s my Q/A with Rovell.

Why make the move from CNBC to ESPN?

I was happy with my gig at CNBC. I loved doing my NBC Sports Network show. It was a dream come true. I love working with my team there.

At the end of the day, I felt like being at ESPN was the right move. The ABC part was the deal-sealer.

How much did money have to do with the move?

CNBC did want me back. I was hoping for more interest from NBC Sports to get paid like a host. It didn’t happen.

I won’t do something solely for money. I’m so passionate about my career. Money alone could never get me to go to a place that I didn’t think was the best for me.

I talked to CNN. I talked to other people. I asked, ‘Do I break out? Do I move away from this niche?’ I decided the answer is no. ESPN and ABC can give me the best of both worlds.

Talk about your niche. Why is sports business so interesting to the masses?

I think a flashpoint came when sports became more corporate. Business became more out there, and people wanted to talk about it. Sports fans want to be armed at the water cooler. When you drop a piece of information, it allows you to beat your friend.

There are so many fascinating things about sports business. It touches people more than most people think.

Your career took off when you left ESPN and started at CNBC in ’06. Why?

CNBC gave me a great TV platform, for sure. The difference for me at the time was CNBC was a smaller place to be, but I could be the bigger fish. At ESPN, I was the geek who covered sports business. At CNBC, I was the cool guy who covered sports business.

CNBC wanted me to help turn up the volume. Traders watch with the volume off. CNBC said, ‘Hey, let’s show sports, but you rationalize it as business because it really is business.’

At CNBC and NBC Sports Network, you got so many big interviews with athletes like Tiger Woods and sports executives. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem appeared so many times, he was practically your sidekick. Will you get that same kind of treatment/access at ESPN?

We didn’t have a hard time getting people to come on CNBC. Our pitch to athletes and agents was, ‘Come on CNBC if you want to reach the wealthiest people in the world.’

Now at ESPN, Tom Rinaldi will have that interview with Tiger. How do I get Tiger Woods for business purposes? Does (agent) Mark Steinberg say, ‘He already did Tom Rinaldi?’

Admittedly, it’s going to be a challenge to get the big stars. But that’s the challenge of working in a bigger system compared to being a one-man machine. It’s a challenge I’m willing to accept. I still think I can get the big interview.

You’ve become Mr. Twitter. What has that meant to your “brand”?

It’s become a tremendous distribution platform. If all I did was just about sports business, I’d have about 10,000 followers. People like to have something different in their feed. When something happens in sports or otherwise, I’m thinking, ‘How can I inject the business aspect into it?’

When I was at ESPN (the first time), they had so many writers, I used to think, ‘If I write a great story, will it get on the front page (of ESPN.com)?’ Now because of Twitter, placement is not as much of a concern. It’s harder for something to get lost. Going to the Web site isn’t the only place to find the story. If I write a good story, somebody will link to it again and again and again.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. You’ve gotten into some notorious feuds on Twitter. Other people also have taken shots at you as your profile has increased. How do you feel about that?

Twitter allows people to reach out to you. Negative stuff is going to happen. Anything is fine. Anyone who is in the public eye has to deal with some negativity. It comes with the territory.

So where will people see you at ESPN/ABC?

I’m going to be the sports business reporter covering the beat. I’ll be working out of the ABC office in New York, but I’ll be in Bristol quite frequently. ESPN is going to be my main responsibility. I’ll write for ESPN.com, be on radio, SportsCenter. I do intend to be on ABC quite often.

I love to put the pedal to the metal. I go 24 hours a day. The only way to not get burned out is to change things up. The ABC outlet allows me to stay fresh, to stay hungry.




Equestrian? Are you kidding when Bolt is running 100 meters? NBC needs to air more live during weekend

Here is one way to get around NBC’s tape-delay approach to the Olympics.

Spend the weekend at a lake that has limited or no Internet access. Then watch NBC’s coverage at night as if it were live like I did.

What? Can’t get away for the weekend like I did. Well, then you’re screwed.

Once again, Twitter was on fire with angry tweets about NBC’s decision not to provide viewers live coverage of Usain Bolt’s bid for gold in the 100. One positive dividend is the entertaining tweets from #NBCdelayed and elsewhere:

@karljohn  Curiosity actually landed three hours ago, but NBC delayed it until after water polo.

@photoarmy1 Hey everyone NBC is showing live video footage of the landing right now….Neil Armstrong is about to step on the surface.

@bgtennisnation (Brad Gilbert)  Another major foot fault on NBC for not showing the 100 live no other major country would do that still shocked they would do that on Sunday

@EvilMikeTomlin “Usain Bolt leads the 100m after 50m, we’ll be back after this commercial break”- NBC

I think it is going to be tough for NBC to put out this fire. During the week, NBC can justify its line maintaining that people are at work and that it is more convenient for them to watch the big events at night.

But not on the weekend. In case you haven’t heard, viewers watch sports on the weekend. Lots of it.

NBC easily could have shown Bolt’s race live to a large audience. It began late in the afternoon on the East Coast in the U.S. The NFL does fairly strong ratings in that time slot with its doubleheader games.

However, instead of seeing the big race, viewers got taped coverage of equestrian. Yeah, I’m sure horse jumping was second choice on everyone’s list.

Meanwhile, Bolt’s race didn’t air until after 11 p.m. ET. By that time, you had to be on Mars not to know the outcome.

NBC definitely needs to reconsider its stance regarding weekend coverage of the Olympics. We’re conditioned to watch live on the weekend.

And don’t get started with the notion that you could have watched the race live via streaming. The picture quality isn’t nearly the same. Also, by late Sunday afternoon, most viewers need a forklift to pry them free of their big, comfy chairs. Why make it inconvenient for them to have to run to a computer?

As I said, I get the tape-delay approach during the week. But not on the weekend.

You need to be live on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, NBC.

And the latest from NBC:

Usain Bolt still leads after 75 meters. Back in a minute.




No longer marquee: ESPN, Big Ten Network losers with Penn State sanctions

Regarding the NCAA’s announcement, since this is a sports media site, I’ll discuss the TV aspect:

Make no mistake, when the Big Ten added Penn State as its 11th school in the early 1990s, a major component was television. The addition of the school delivered the large Eastern TV market to the conference. It led to marque match-ups with Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions going up against Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, not to mention attractive non-conference games against Alabama, etc.

Penn State’s presence then gave the conference a wide enough national footprint to launch the wildly successful Big Ten Network.

The Big Ten will continue to cash in on a TV deal with ESPN that runs through 2016-17, and the BTN isn’t going anywhere.

But both of its broadcast outlets will feel the pain of the NCAA’s sanctions. Gone for many years is the idea of Penn State football being a marquee draw for television.

Frankly, I think Penn State would have been better off with a one-year “Death Penalty.” The unprecedented long-term penalties for bowls and scholarships are devastating. Unless new coach Bill O’Brien pulls off a miracle, the Nittany Lions are doomed to be 2-10, 1-11 for several years. Or as one tweeter said, “Penn State just became Indiana.”

Penn State had been a showcase team for the Big Ten, with several of its games playing in primetime. In fact, it has two on the schedule for 2012: an Oct. 20 game at Iowa, and Oct. 27 at home against Ohio State.

Will those games be moved back to afternoon starting times? Probably.

Suddenly, Penn State-Ohio State, Penn State-Iowa, or Penn State-anything no longer looks attractive. Perhaps there might be a curiosity factor at first to see how the Nittany Lions and their fans react to the sanctions. But if the product on the field suffers, as expected, viewers won’t watch for long. Those 40-0 blowouts can get boring fast.

Also, bowl TV will be impacted by the four-year postseason ban. Penn State always delivered solid ratings in the bowls.

The brand of Penn State has been diminished, if not decimated. The program was one of the great TV draws throughout the years. Now it is the object of national scorn.

Last fall, I attended the Northwestern-Penn State game. After the Nittany Lions won in what turned out to be Paterno’s final road game, its faithful fans marched through the streets of Evanston, proudly chanting “We are Penn State, We are Penn State…”

Looking back, I wonder what those fans are thinking now.













Q/A with Bob Costas: The kid now is 60; his Olympics legacy

Feel old everyone.

Bob Costas now is 60. Yes, the NBC broadcaster turned the big 6-0 in March.

How did this happen? Wasn’t it just yesterday that Costas was this hotshot kid working NBC’s Game of the Week with Tony Kubek?

I was taken off-guard that Costas had reached such a milestone birthday. And so were others, he said.

“Yes, they’re surprised,” Costas said. “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.”

Age, though, seems irrelevant since the ageless Costas continues to deliver on so many different platforms. He made national news with his masterful handling of the Jerry Sandusky interview; and he’s all over the place for NBC and MLB Network, ranging from football, baseball to golf and horse racing.

Perhaps Costas is evidence that 60 is the new 40.

Next week, Costas will return to his familar role as NBC’s primetime host for the Summer Olympics. It will be his 10th Games overall for NBC, and ninth as host.

It’s an incredible run. Think about it: Given the huge ratings for the Olympics, Costas is the most watched broadcaster of this generation.

On the eve of the Olympics, I had chance to visit with Costas during a media day session in NBC.

How does it feel to turn 60?

I don’t feel any different than I did either 10 or 20 years ago. I said this before to somebody, ‘When the miles go by on the right side of the odometer, you don’t take notice. When the number of the left side clicks from 5 to 6, you do take notice.’

Yeah, I’m aware of it. I don’t feel any different than I did when I was 40. But I realize mathematically, I’m equidistant between that and 80. So the facts are the facts. I’ll keep doing this for a while, but I’m not going to be one of these people who hang on just for the sake of being on the air.

There comes a time when everybody should transition. I hope when that time comes in my place, I’ll know it before they tell me.

Nobody will accuse you of slowing down. You have a full schedule with baseball on MLB Network, Football Night in America, shows on NBC Network, other assignments, not to mention the Olympics.

One of the things that has happened to me, because I’ve been around as long as I have, and have done reasonably well, I can do things more or less on my own terms. I’m not forced to present myself in a way where someone who’s younger and trying to break in would be forced to present themselves. To get attention. To jump out of the pack.

The tone and sensibility of what I do is not that much different than it was 10 years ago when I started working at HBO. I bring that same tone and sensibility to the NBC Sports Network. That’s who I am. There are lots of people who I watch and enjoy, where I say, ‘I really like that guy. Or I like that woman. But it would be foolish for me to do it that way, And it would be foolish for them to emulate me.’

Luckily I have enough standing where I can do what do in a way where it seems true to me.

You hear so much talk about the need to reach the younger demographic. Yet so many of the top sports broadcasters are in their 60s and 70s. How do you explain that dynamic?

You have people who are well-established. They have a certain standing. You hope as you continue, you do a good job. Al Michaels is in his 60s (67). It would be foolish to say, let’s get someone who is 35 for the sake of someone who is 35. He won’t be remotely as good as Al Michaels.

How do you view your career as being defined by the Olympics the same way Jim McKay career was defined.

Even to be in same sentence as Jim McKay is a compliment. The world has changed considerably. When Jim hosted Olympics, or for that matter, Wide World of Sports, people were utterly amazed that you were getting a television transmission from Munich or Sarajevo, or wherever. The total of hours were different, the sensibility and expectations of the audience was different. There was a great sense of wonder. He was in fact, he was spanning the globe to bring you a wide world of sports of which people were not familiar.

This is a different world in which we now live. Also, a lot of what Jim did, although he did horse racing and golf, a lot of stuff he did with Wide World seemed to be related to the Olympics. So the Olympics were even more at the center of the definition of him than they are from me.

They are big thing for me. People, though, also associate me with baseball, football, and to a certain extent, basketball (from calling games in the late 90s).

What is your approach as host?

You’re looking for personal stories. You’re also looking for quirkiness too. I think any good broadcast, not just an Olympic broadcast, a good broadcast of a baseball game should have texture to it. It should have information, should have some history, should have something that’s offbeat, quirky, humorous, and where called for it should have journalism and judiciously it should also have commentary. That’s my idea. That’s my ideal. Sometimes we exactly hit that, sometimes we don’t.

How has covering the Olympics changed since your first in 1988?

I will say this, that the essence of good storytelling, and the essence of good broadcasting remains the same.  You know, there, there are a lot of things that technology has brought us, and these additional, you know, tubes of communication have brought us that are wondrous, and a lot of it is just crap.  You know, the more you broaden anything out, it’s like American Idol auditions, you let everybody audition, and you’re going to find some diamonds in the rough.  You’re also going to find people who would be lousy singing in the shower.

The essence of what’s good hasn’t changed.  The essence of how you call a ball game well, you know, there may be different camera angles, there may be different graphics, there may be ways that you can interact with social media if you’re watching it, but the way Al Michaels calls a football game is not that much different, nor should it be, because it’s perfect, than it would have been in 1970.  You know, so some of the features may be shorter because of attention span, some of where we funnel the viewership may be different, but the way in which I anchor the games, based on what they ask me to do, is not much different.

My point I think it was pretty clear, is this: that our objective, at least from a broadcaster standpoint, hasn’t changed that much.  It’s to do a good broadcast, it’s to present things well.  Now, what these additional platforms have done, is that they’ve given us opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. This isn’t an Olympic example, but I think it’s a good example, I wouldn’t expect NBC as a network to do a show like the one they do each month with me on the NBC Sports Network.  HBO did that, they were well suited to do it.  Now we come close to replicating that idea here on, on the eighth floor, that well suits the NBC Sports Network. But my objective in doing that is just the same as it would have been 20 years ago, to do a good show with good content.