Media Circus (cont.)
Erin Andrews becomes a free agent on the same day as LeBron James, though her contractual status will become clear long before the man from Akron's future home is resolved. In a move that no doubt had some suits at ESPN none too happy, Andrews recently highlighted to USA Today her "crazy" number of suitors.
Andrews owes much of her fame to timing. She came along at the explosion of the sports blogosphere, and to her credit, she handled her Internet It Girl status with humor and aplomb. When I left her off my list of the decade's best sideline reporters, I heard about the omission from her defenders, many of whom reside in the Nutmeg State.
I think Andrews does an adequate job and I've always described her as a personality who occasionally practices journalism. Why? Because great sideline reporters will put themselves in uncomfortable positions with a coach or organization to provide news for the viewer. They'll also occasionally ask questions that tick people off, because those questions need to be asked. There's no doubt that her subjects like Andrews, and with that comes access and information. There's also no doubt that the personality part of her equation has risen dramatically with her appearance on Dancing With The Stars. So the question is, How valuable is she now to ESPN?
Deadspin.com examined that last week, and the issue piqued my interest. So I contacted a longtime television agent who negotiates contracts with networks, including ESPN.
My agent surmised that Andrews is currently making in the neighborhood of $200,000-$250,000. (Someone such as Suzy Kolber would likely be making double or more, given her work on Monday Night Football and hosting shoulder NFL programming.) ESPN often structures contracts that pay talent by events or dates worked on the calendar. The more dates you work, the more you make. Obviously, high-profile talents such as Jon Gruden have significant leverage to make their own number.
Andrews is clearly liked by certain members of ESPN management, including executive producer of production Norby Williamson, who told SI.com a couple of months ago, "We think Erin is terrific on the sidelines. She clearly has some interest in things beyond sports, and we have had some interest for Erin in things beyond the sidelines." People on her college football crew have told me that she's collegial and hard-working. She also has her detractors, including people at ESPN, who question her interviewing ability, and her long-term ability to evolve beyond the sidelines. The agent I spoke to asked a fair question: If Erin Andrews is such a valuable asset to ESPN, why have they not expanded her brand or platform outside of sideline reporting?
If Andrews sticks around on a one- or two-year deal, I imagine ESPN (and ABC) will expand her assignments to justify the increase in salary and exposure. As far as the "crazy" offers, one imagines that they include a sports/entertainment play (Versus, anyone?) or a straight gig on an Extra TV-type of show. "I think someone will have to create something very specific for her to do well," said the agent. "I think she could get a job at an Entertainment Tonight or something like that, but I also think she'll flame out there."
I'm not sure I agree with that assessment. The bar for red carpet interviews is about the size of Emmanuel Lewis, and I'm confident that Andrews can pull out as much information from Cameron Diaz as Kevin Frazier does. "On a financial basis, there is no way to justify paying Erin Andrews $500,000 a year," said the agent. "I don't believe anyone knows who the sideline reporter is for the game before the game is on. You can't promote that. You can't put that in TV Guide. But she's in the news all the time. Is that valuable for their brand? I think there are people there that think it might diminish the brand, but it's an interesting question. The problem is no one knows."
There was something the agent mentioned that struck me, and it's worth keeping in mind because it might be Andrews' biggest chit for a new deal at ESPN. Advertisers love big names, and it's why Andrews flogs televisions next to Peyton Manning and razors beside Tony Parker. "They may pay $500,000 a year because they may think she's a big, big person to have at their upfront presentations," said the agent. "They might think having her in the room with corporate sponsors will drive a lot of ad dollars."
When ESPN hired Bob Knight in February 2008, I had one question for network executives: Why would a news-gathering operation with hundreds of working journalists hire a guy who has consistently treated members of the media with contempt? The answer came from Williamson, who said that SportsCenter had probably been the biggest critic of Knight when there have been controversies or when there have been potential issues involving Knight. "ESPN, SportsCenter, Outside the Lines and ESPN News had aggressively asked those questions and dealt with those issues," said Williamson. "I feel very comfortable given our position and how we examined that. To be honest with you, that gives us the credibility to go there."
Knight has since developed into an entertaining and often informative analyst in both the studio and in game broadcasts. But he still plays by his own rules.
Upon the death of John Wooden, here is what we heard from Bob Knight: Nada. Zip. Zero.
During a June 10 appearance on ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike in the Morning last month -- six days after Wooden's death -- Knight was asked about conference realignment, USC sanctions and how much coaches know in programs, but not about a coach he competed against both on the court and in the public's imagination. Why haven't we heard from Knight on Wooden? Well, he has long had issues with Wooden as pointed out here and here, and made it clear that he won't do interviews about Wooden. That's fine as a private citizen but not when you are a paid analyst for the Worldwide Leader in college basketball. I'll be reminding myself of this during one of the 3,000 times this winter when Dick Vitale tells me how great Knight is.
Here's a transcript, courtesy of the Orange Country Register's excellent Kevin Ding, from one of the more comic moments of the NBA Finals.
STUART SCOTT: Magic, last year Dr. Jerry Buss' son told me standing at this podium, now that we won, we need two to beat Boston. We need to catch Boston's 17 championships. Now you're one away. What does it mean to beat the team that you're chasing all time?
MAGIC JOHNSON: First of all, let me congratulate the greatest owner in the world in Dr. Jerry Buss and the Buss family. Then I would also like to congratulate the back to back champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. Unbelievable. I want to say to the greatest coach in the world, Phil Jackson, and we do have the greatest player in the world in Kobe Bryant, and I think all the hard work paid off for this team. But the credit goes to this team and Phil Jackson but also to Dr. Jerry Buss for always putting the best product out on the court and to the greatest fans in the world, the Los Angeles Lakers' fans. Here's your trophy.
Prior to the Lakers' defeating the Celtics in seven games, Johnson worked as one of ESPN's NBA analysts -- something he has done for the entire playoffs. Obviously, Johnson, a part-owner of the Lakers, is not objective when it comes to his team, and both TNT and ESPN decided that they could live with the Ralph Sampson-sized conflict of interest to employ one of the most famous living basketball players around and a very likeable guy (although an average analyst). Where it morphed into the theater of the ridiculous last week was when Scott interviewed the Larry O'Brien trophy-holding Johnson on the court following the game. I wish Magic (the analyst) had interviewed Magic (the owner). That would have been memorable television.
Tweet after tweet they came, a wave of real-time analysis from across the country. At one point on Friday night, after typing "Chris Berman" into Twitter Search, there were 30 consecutive tweets bashing Berman's coverage of the U.S. Open, including here and here and here and here and here. Admittedly, I don't watch much golf outside of the majors, and there are plenty of better critics of the coverage of the sport. I also believe ESPN when its executives say that they listen to feedback from their audience. Well, the audience is certainly saying something here.
This terrific New York Times piece beautifully debunks an utterly nonsensical story about how people in Spain were in an uproar over Spanish reporter Sara Carbonero, the girlfriend of Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas, covering the team during the World Cup.
A couple of months ago I tweaked CBS Sports for its refusal to ask its own employee, Bill Cowher, about his possible coaching destinations last season. (Instead, you had to go ESPN's NFL pregame show for updates on the former Steelers coach.) Conversely, I now come in praise of ESPN's Hannah Storm, the network's NBA producers and analyst Byron Scott for treating viewers like adults. During the NBA Finals, Storm asked Scott on-air about being pursued by the Cavaliers, among other teams. The former Nets coach answered the questions like a straight-up guy and the whole thing took 45 seconds.
Boomer: Which NHL teams improved at the trade deadline?
Boomer: Could Phil Jackson really fix the Knicks?