Year in sports media: TMZ, not ESPN, breaks biggest stories; Simmons follies; NBA cashes in

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana looks back at the year in sports media.


When I first launched Sherman Report in April, 2012, I initially was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough material on sports media to support a regular blog. I soon discovered just the opposite was the case.

There was so much news and content occurring, I had to make an executive decision. I couldn’t be The New York Times and run “all the news that’s fit to print” on sports media. I had to make choices about what I post, and that still covers considerable territory.

One thing is for sure: the world of sports media never is dull. It was another eventful year in 2014.

Here’s what stood out:

TMZ, not ESPN: The two biggest stories in sports in 2014 were broken by TMZ, an outlet dedicated to trashy gossip about celebrities. Yet it was their video and audio tapes that exploded the lives of Ray Rice and Donald Sterling and subsequently dominated the national conversation.

TMZ was lauded for the scoops, although paying for stories hardly qualifies as journalism. But does it matter in the new media landscape? People just want information, and TMZ delivered.

NFL rules: Despite the furor over the Rice and Adrian Peterson stories, the NFL’s ratings for women viewers actually increased. Overall, the league drew some of its biggest numbers for games in years. A new Thursday night package on CBS and NFL Network also did well despite several blowouts.

Fans might have been outraged, but they still wanted to follow their fantasy players.

Conflicted: The Rice story, which placed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell under fire, also put the spotlight on ESPN. Would the network bash the head of its most important league partner? ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte called the network’s journalism “inconsistent” in his farewell column. However, when it came to Goodell and Rice, “Outside The Lines” delivered solid and often damning reporting on the commissioner.

And Keith Olbermann strongly advocated for Goodell’s dismissal. That had to make for some interesting meetings between ESPN president John Skipper and top NFL brass.

Simmons follies: It was an eventful year for Bill Simmons. As editor of Grantland, he had to issue an apology for a story that outed the subject as a transvestite, perhaps contributing to the person committing suicide. He also moved from “NBA Countdown” to hosting his own NBA show.

Then he earned a three-week suspension for calling Goodell “a liar” in a podcast. Simmons reportedly was none too pleased about being sent to the sidelines. With his contract up next year, there will be plenty of speculation about his future in 2015.

Slam dunk: The NBA hit the jackpot with a new $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and TNT. Funny thing: $24 billion doesn’t even sound like an outrageous amount of cash during a period when sports TV rights continue to explode.

Striking out: The new Dodgers Network left many fans in the dark in LA. Several big distributors balked at the fee. The impasse could mark a change in the landscape, at least on the local front for individual teams.

Soccer fever: For a couple of weeks during the summer, the U.S. was captivated by the World Cup. ESPN pulled in some big numbers for the games in Brazil. Wake us again for the 2018 Cup in Russia.

Eyes on Sochi: Bob Costas had the most famous case of pink eye in TV sports history. The ailment caused him to miss several days of his host duties of the Winter Olympics. No matter, as NBC delivered strong ratings. Like the World Cup, nothing sells in the U.S. like a heavy dose of nationalism.

Falling series: Baseball, meanwhile, continues to slide in reverse—at least for its postseason. Despite San Francisco and Kansas City going to seven games, the World Series averaged only an 8.2 rating, the second lowest in history. Mind-numbing, endless games continue to make many of the telecasts unwatchable, especially for those in the younger demographics. Baseball knows it has a serious problem with the pace of play. Implementing changes, though, will be difficult.

The R-word: Announcers became part of the story on the controversial Washington nickname. James Brown and Phil Simms were among those who said they weren’t going to use it, simply referring to the team as “Washington.” Overall, the story received unprecedented coverage, with increased protests to have the nickname changed. However, owner Daniel Snyder is entrenched.

Lineup changes: Fox Sports decided it needed two people to replace Tim McCarver as its lead analyst: Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci. The new team had some rough spots, as Reynolds, in particular, wasn’t warmly received by several critics.

Meanwhile, ESPN decided to elevate Chris Fowler to its No. 1 voice for college football, relegating Brent Musburger to the new SEC Network. Fowler is a superb talent, but it is going to take a while to see if he truly has a distinctive voice on play-by-play. Fans also realized how much they missed Musburger on the big telecasts when he did the Alabama-Auburn game in primetime for ESPN.

Not No. 1: Fox Sports 1 celebrated its first birthday in August as a work-in-progress. Airing postseason baseball games helped draw viewers to the network. However, its studio shows still barely register compared to ESPN, and not getting a slice of the NBA deal was a big setback.

Last words: Rick Reilly said he is finished writing columns, saying he wants to pursue other projects. If so, it’s the end of a great aspect of his career. However, a part of me believes he will pop up again somewhere else.

Also, the extraordinary Gary Smith left Sports Illustrated.

Shortstop to publisher: Who knew that Derek Jeter wanted to get into media? Shortly after playing his last game, he launched The Players Tribune, a site that allows athletes to bypass traditional media to tell their stories. Of course, many of their stories will be vetted, if not written, by their PR crew and agents.

Hall protest: Dan Le Batard decided to let Deadspin readers determine his Baseball Hall of Fame selections as a protest to the voting policies. He took plenty of heat. I always considered Le Batard as a serious journalist. However, this stunt was beneath him.

Worthy: My favorite sports media story was Roger Angell receiving the Spink Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was way, way overdue for the 93-year-old who still has his fastball after all these years.

And finally: Many thanks to the fine folks at the National Sports Center Journalism at Indiana University for allowing me to use this space in 2014. It is a privilege.

Happy holidays to all. See you in 2015.


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