The most interesting person in the sports media; other questions
The lead item of this week's column is absent a familiar voice: Mine.
Hold your applause, please.
Instead, I've paneled nine voices-- a mix of writers and bloggers who cover sports media, an online sports columnist, a New York Times best-selling author, an NFL player, and the president of The Association For Women In Sports Media -- to answer a series of sports media-related questions. The panel includes:
• Geoff Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman.
The panel was asked a series of sports media-related questions with the only requirement being keep the answers tight. They were free to pass on any questions. (Those who cover sports media regularly were asked to answer additional questions.) For those on Twitter, you can follow any of the panelists by clicking on their name above.
I'll have Part II of the roundtable next Monday, with questions including how successful Ray Lewis will be as an NFL analyst, what television entity will end up with the NBA rights and a bold sports media prediction from every panelist for 2014. Hope you enjoy:
1. Who is the most interesting person in the sports media today, and why?
Hruby: Tough question. I'm not going to single anyone out, but the trend in sports media is toward safe, slick, rote, self-congratulatory and audience-flattering work, all of which I find the opposite of interesting. That said: If Keith Olbermann ever returns to ESPN, he immediately becomes my No. 1. Some people just want to watch the world burn.
Littal: Skip Bayless, and it isn't even close. Twenty years from now when they are discussing when mainstream media collided with social media and turned sports journalism more into WWE-style sports entertainment, the photo they'll use will be of Bayless. Fans have been Skip-tized and traditional journalism principles have been thrown out the window. It's all about embracing the debate and having a "take" no matter how ridiculous it is. Being biased used to be frowned upon in mainstream media, but now you can have one of the most recognized sports analysts -- and one of the faces of a network -- tweeting that he is praying to God for LeBron James to fail. I don't blame Bayless. He exploited the fanatical side of fans to make himself rich and famous, and ESPN, no matter what they say, encourages it, and readers and viewers can't get enough of it. Never blame the supplier. Blame the user.
Loh: Doris Burke. She's highly respected as both an analyst and for her sideline reporting. She's one of the best basketball analysts around.
Miller: Let's go for the top two:
2. Charles Barkley. Commanding presence. Devoted fan base. Not afraid of anyone. Vertically integrating into news commentary. The guy can do virtually anything on the tube.
1. Want to discuss French literature or just have a beer in front of a game? Need a speech to fire up the troops or a way to cut several hundred jobs? Need a negotiator with Southern charm and killer instincts? Bristol's Head Raccoon, [ESPN president] John Skipper, is your man, even though he's (or because he's) a seeming bundle of paradoxes. Skipper is, quite simply, one of the most engaging executives of our time. He's made mistakes, but he usually learns from them. While painfully aware of continuous pressure from Burbank [The Walt Disney Co.] to present robust growth and a bodacious bottom line, he gives every indication of genuinely loving his job. It's hard to imagine a single facet of sports media that Skipper couldn't talk about for 45 minutes and make both sense and headlines. Lesson for the file: [Former ESPN president] George Bodenheimer made Skipper his number 2 even though he hadn't worked in television before. It's the substance, stupid.
McIntyre: Impossible to pick just one. Can't we break them down by sport? College hoops: Jay Bilas. NBA: Charles Barkley. NFL: Jay Glazer. MLB: Vin Scully. College football: Kirk Herbstreit.
Ourand: Matt Strauss. Not many people have heard of him, but this Comcast executive has his finger on the pulse of TV's future and is a big reason why NBC's TV Everywhere push in London was so successful last year.
Schwartz: I'm a huge fan of Twitter. That is where I consume most of my sports media. Bomani Jones and Clay Travis are my go-to guys. Both have original thoughts and opinions. They often tweet about subjects outside of sports which I enjoy. Lastly, I'll add Bill Simmons. He doesn't mind saying things that will make his employer upset if he feels it's the true.
Yoder: Bill Simmons and it's not even close. From Grantland to "30 for 30" to The BS Report, his empire is wide-reaching as he's become the face of ESPN. In the last year, he's improved as a television studio analyst for the NBA where he carried a rudderless NBA Countdown in the NBA Finals. When you add in his feud with Doc Rivers at the NBA Draft and giving John Skipper headaches with his Twitter feed having a run at Bristol favorites, it has to be the Sports Guy.
2. When will we see a female play-by-play announcer calling the NFL on a regular basis and why?
Hruby: At least five years. Gender itself doesn't matter; the job takes talent, skill and experience. Period. However, I don't see many female announcers currently in the football play-by-play pipeline, which reduces the odds of a breakthrough. Also, there's still sexism to overcome -- probably more from the audience than broadcasters like ESPN, which I think have been fairly progressive over the last decade.
Lepore: To me, it'd be a no-brainer for Fox or CBS to give it a shot within the next 5-10 years. You have 6-8 broadcast crews every week. Is anyone that worried about who's working Bills-Browns in six percent of the country? The NFL will always have high ratings, but not every game is of the utmost importance. Give it a shot. There are a ton of superb female sportscasters out there. Choose wisely, and I think it'll bring a lot of positive press and even, perhaps, a ratings bump.
Loh: In 2012 [ESPN's] Beth Mowins was the only woman calling college football games. No woman has broken into play-by-play at the NFL level yet, and I think this is largely because there's a perception that for someone to be a good play-by-play announcer, especially in football, they have to have played the sport. I hope to see women elevated to this role. But from our current vantage point, I'm doubtful this will happen in the next five years.
Ourand: Not during the lifetime of the league's current media deals, which end in 2022.
Schwartz: Not for a long time. It's a male-dominated audience who would rather listen to a male voice call the games. There is only one woman calling college football games on a regular basis. It has to probably start there and trickle up to the NFL.
Yoder: At least another generation and maybe more. It'll happen in the NBA first, where Doris Burke is laying the foundation with her great analysis on pro games.
3. What current athlete would have the most success in sports broadcasting and why?
Hruby: Shane Battier. I don't think he'll ever be a Charles Barkley-like superstar, but Battier's knowledge, thoughtfulness and on-camera ease make him the basketball broadcast equivalent of a polished draft prospect who can contribute 15 points and seven rebounds right away.
Littal: Kobe Bryant would be the perfect Inside the NBA guy. He has a little Charles Barkley in him and knows the game so well. Just listening to him talk about basketball would be interesting. You can't teach passion and I don't think he would be afraid to call out other players and coaches. A lot of ex-athletes are scared to speak negatively about their former peers. We wouldn't have to worry about that with Kobe.
Lepore: Roberto Luongo. Anyone who's seen him give an interview knows that he brings honesty and humor whenever he speaks. For example, when he wasn't traded at this season's NHL trade deadline, he put it bluntly: "my contract sucks." He also brings it to Twitter. Or, should I say, whomever @strombone1 is brings it to Twitter.
Loh: Peyton Manning. His football IQ is unquestioned. And c'mon, have you seen his commercials? His comedic timing rivals that of Sandra Bullock.
McIntyre: I thought Shane Battier was terrific at the NBA draft, although he took a mild beating online. R.A. Dickey is an erudite, worldly fellow who will do great in the booth one day.
Ourand: Orioles outfielder Adam Jones has a good rapport with the press and is effective on social media.
Schwartz: Me, of course! But seriously, no one pops to mind. Normally, it helps to be a recognizable name. However, there are lots of intelligent, well-spoken current players who aren't stars. In order to be a successful broadcaster you must be able to translate your thoughts into a way the audience can understand. Keep it simple. That's the tough part.
Yoder: Before Thursday night I was going to say Shane Battier, but instead I'll show my Saints homerism and say Drew Brees. As comfortable breaking down the game as he is sitting with Ellen, he has all the tools necessary to be a success if he chooses a media career over coaching or even politics.
4. Where do you see Fox Sports 1 five years from today?
Littal: Depends on how different they want to be. Going head-to-head with ESPN is like fighting Floyd Mayweather. Everyone has the same plan, but it is different when you get in the ring. You have to be more creative. You can't just hire the same old sports reporters, TV people and ex-athletes. You have to think out of the box. They should have given Bomani Jones whatever he asked for times 10. Those are the type of people who are future of the industry. You have to give some of these young bloggers and journalists making waves in the industry opportunities. They have fresh faces, perspectives, and more importantly, they are hungry to make a name for themselves. If they do that, they will be a legitimate alternative for people who are dying to hear fresh voices and see fresh faces on a network not named ESPN.
Lepore: I think they'll be the most credible alternative to ESPN. I suspect that it will be largely determined by the network's commitment to studio programming and journalism. Both networks have baseball and enough college sports to be able to program live events 52 weeks a year, if not every single night. That said, I like Fox's taking some pieces of what other sports networks do well (i.e. a daily football show, which ESPN and NBCSN already do) and trying out some new things (a night per week dedicated to UFC). I think if they let anchors Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole perform to their full potential, "Fox Sports Live" could garner some younger viewers looking to mix in sports highlights with reruns on Adult Swim.
McIntrye: Rolling out a third channel, minting money and becoming a network that people look to for sports besides just football.
Miller: Some industry economics won't change. A-Rod and Brian Cashman will sing "Kumbaya" together before John McCain's a la carte bill becomes law, and sports fans don't cut cords. Five years from now, Fox Sports will be over $1.00 sub, and if you're a News Corp shareholder, that's a beautiful thing.
Ourand: It will be the clear number two to ESPN in sports media. It has enough rights (MLB, World Cup, NASCAR, college football) to ensure that it will have a successful launch.
Yoder: A clear number two in the sports cable world, and well ahead of NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network, but still behind ESPN's global behemoth. Considering Fox's history in network TV and cable news and the rights they already have, FS1 will be a success, just not an all-conquering one.
5. You are starting a sports network. Who is your first hire and why?
Hruby: Honestly? I'd hire a super-smart lawyer to unwind the project. There just isn't room for another national network, not when the current incumbents (including Fox Sports 1) already have bought up all of the essential properties and rights, and not when the entire sports TV business model of getting people who don't care about sports to subsidize your business through their monthly cable bills could very well fall apart in the next two decades.
Lepore: Ian Eagle. He's a credible play-by-play man who can work multiple sports and big events. The guy goes from football to basketball to tennis and doesn't miss a beat.
Littal: [ESPN's] Michael Smith. I think he is a combination of everything you would want in a new age media journalist. Smart, funny, well connected, excellent on television and radio, but isn't buffoonish like some of the other headline ESPN guys.
Miller: A new sports network may or may not have deals in place for great games or events. It could have the NFL or just Australian Rules football. Regardless, you need to send a signal to viewers that a) you're serious and here to stay b) that quality is in your DNA, and c) that you may be new but you have a solid connection to the best traditions of the past. First hire: Al Michaels. Let his credibility, gravitas maximus, and high recognition factor be a classy, de facto branding of the new enterprise. He'll make soap box derby races sound important, and once you got him, it will make it easier for other top notch (and younger) broadcasters to follow.
McIntyre: I'd say Charles Barkley, but the NFL rules, so I guess you have to go to either Peter King or Jay Glazer. Inflammatory opinions or information are the way to go.
Ourand: John Skipper. The most important part of a successful sports channel is live sports rights. I want the guy who has cut the most deals and has the best relationships with the rights holders.
Yoder: Dan Patrick. In this day and age you need a multi-faceted talent to build around. With Patrick not only do I have a great studio host, but I also get one of the top radio hosts in the country. He narrowly edges out Scott Van Pelt.
6. Who is the most overrated talent in the sports media today and why?
Littal: Chris Berman reminds me of a musician who, when he first came on the scene was hot and innovative, but never kept up with the times and still is releasing music that sounds like 1993 and not 2013. He is living off his name recognition more than the quality of his work. He is the T-Mac (Tracy McGrady) of the media industry right now.
Lepore: Gus Johnson. The internet loved Gus Johnson for his passionate, over-the-top broadcasts of NCAA tournament games, and they should have because those are events that require over-the-top moments. However, he brings that style to every broadcast. It's admirable to a point, but at some point, you have to admit USC-Hawaii football in September doesn't match March Madness.
Ourand: Gus Johnson. I wish he would stop screaming all the time.
Yoder: A long list of Bristol favorites like Chris Berman, Skip Bayless, and Stephen A. Smith are easy choices, but thinking outside the box my pick is Trent Dilfer. He has decent insights, but for some reason he comes across like he's always talking down to me as a viewer as if I couldn't understand what it means to play the quarterback position in the National Football League.
7. Who is the most underrated talent in the sports media today, and why?
Hruby: Dave Zirin, sports columnist for The Nation and author of many books. Can make the obligatory LeBron vs. Jordan argument with the best of them, but also sees and understands that sports don't exist in a bubble - they're part of the bigger social, political and cultural world.
Loh: Linda Robertson, sports columnist at The Miami Herald . She's a great reporter and an exquisite writer.
Ourand: Ian Eagle. He's a professional play-caller who should have higher-profile gigs.
Yoder: It's a tie between two ESPNers: Chris Fowler and Mike Tirico. Both are pros of the highest order and are adept at hosting in the studio or doing play-by-play across a multitude of sports.
8. What sports entity do you trust most when reporting news about LGBT issues in sports?
Hruby: Cyd Zeigler of Outsports.com and ESPN's "Outside the Lines" crew.
Lepore: I'll throw a bit of shameless cross-promotion to my SB Nation cohorts at Outsports.com. It's always intelligent and thoughtful, often very funny. I would also put Patrick Burke's, the man who runs You Can Play Project Twitter feed.
Littal: I am online media, so I tend to trust online media who are more independent thinkers than print or broadcast on certain issues like LGBT in sports. Online media were the only ones when Jason Collins came out to the masses that would report it wasn't all positive, that some of the hero worship went too far. When it comes to controversial issues, I like hearing those independent online voices more than anyone else.
Loh: Chris Kluwe's Twitter account, HuffPost Gay Voices, and Outsports.com -- which, for the longest time, was the only media outlet that dared to delve into LGBT issues in sports.
Ourand: I think the overall sports media, in general, has been progressive on this issue.
Schwartz: Online sites. I know not all online reports are accurate but I try to read reliable websites.
Yoder: Outsports is a pioneer in the field and the go-to online source for LGBT issues in sports.
9. What is the best national radio sports-talk show and why?
Lepore: Does Slate's "Hang Up and Listen" count? I'm not very fond of most sports-talk radio, because it often feels as if me and the hosts and the callers are speaking a different language. I'll say Scott Van Pelt's show is pretty good when I've heard it.
Littal: The Jim Rome show. Rome was doing things 10 years ago that are just catching on in sports talk radio right now. I think he was ahead of his time in the way he cultivated his brand and audience. He did that without the help of social media -- he built an organic following that were going to stick with him through thick and thin.
McIntyre: I actually listen to almost zero talk radio, as I'm barely in the car. The only ones I watch on television occasionally are The Mike Francesa Show, Colin Cowherd, Dan Patrick, and Scott Van Pelt.
Ourand: Does Tony Kornheiser still count?
Schwartz: Colin Cowherd. While you might not agree with everything he says, he is intelligent, sticks to his guns, and often has good perspectives on life. It's also apparent he puts in time for research. I appreciate that.
Yoder: The Dan Patrick Show. Patrick does a great job with interviews and his merry band of 'Danettes' add an element not seen elsewhere. This show proves you don't need contrived debate or low-rent humor to be entertaining.
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.)
1. The man behind the Hockey Night In Canada's remarkable playoff montages wants his work to reflect the humanity of the game. "I want to create a meaningful piece of art that makes people think or feel, or maybe both," says CBC producer Tim Thompson, who creates the pregame and postgame montages that have drawn raves from Manhattan to Manitoba.
Thompson's work opens every Hockey Night In Canada Saturday broadcast during the regular season as well as each night of the playoffs on CBC. He has produced the CBC montages for the past five seasons and owns his own production company, Boundless Productions (You can find him on Twitter here).
The CBC's final hockey montage this season, set to the Rolling Stones song "Gimme Shelter" and running at the conclusion of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, was a huge hit on social media. Thompson said it took him three days to put the final four-minute montage together, which you can (and should) click here. "The closing song is a difficult one to choose because you want something with a mood to it, with twist and turns," Thompson said. "It can't be totally happy and joyful. There are wonderful highs and crushing lows [in the playoffs] and if you put a stirring piece of music under the right images, the result can be chilling and moving.
Thompson said he had been trying to clear (purchase for use) "Gimme Shelter" for years but the price was expensive and sometimes the song had not been available for use. (Songs can cost thousands of dollars to license and it's only for one-time usage.) Thompson said the CBC pays two fees for song usage -- one for the entity that owns the recording and one for the writer of the piece -- for the one-time rights. (The $6,000 or so for Gimme Shelter was money well spent.)
The brilliance of Thompson's work brings up a notable void in the U.S.: Why don't we see such hockey montages from NBC? Thompson said he gets messages from viewers in the U.S. asking the same question. "Your NFL Films is incredible, so unique and something it means so much to Americans," Thompson said. "I know what we do gets people excited and fired up for the game."
1a. The Stanley Cup Final was the most-watched on record (the data goes to 1994), averaging 5.764 million viewers across NBC and NBC Sports Network (NBCSN). NBC said the series was up 91 percent (3.012 million) over last year.
1b. The entire Stanley Cup playoffs averaged 1.467 million viewers on NBC, NBC Sports Network and CNBC over 84 games, the most-watched post-season since 1997 (1.52 million on ESPN/ESPN2/FOX).
2. Heat forward Shane Battier can thank Bill Simmons for his NBA Draft assignment. According to ESPN senior vice president Mark Gross, Simmons suggested using a current NBA player to handle the draftee interviews. "After Bill's suggestion, we worked with the NBA, who suggested Shane Battier," said Gross, who oversees ESPN's NBA coverage. "When his name came up, I thought it would be perfect. He's a smart guy, he's been in the league, and he was coming off having just won a title."
The reviews on Battier were mixed -- praised in some corners, excoriated in others. He's clearly a bright, thoughtful guy based on his interviews and no doubt could be successful in broadcasting in the right situation and with more reps. What he lacked last week was even the mildest instincts of a reporter. He failed to ask Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel about dropping in the draft -- one of the major stories that night -- and too often repeated the same question for every player. "We thought the entire team, including Battier, did a great job informing and entertaining," Gross said. "We're happy Shane took us up on our offer to work the draft and we hope to work with him down the road."
2a. The sequence of ESPN reporter Shelley Smith asking Clippers coach Doc Rivers a question, Rivers going off on Bill Simmons, and Simmons firing back at Rivers was riveting, uncomfortable and -- best of all -- honest television on a network that too often manufactures debates and B.S. arguments -- no pun intended. A great moment for ESPN because viewers were treated to authenticity.
2b. Rece Davis showed you what happens when you assign a professional host to a draft. One day ESPN management will catch up to this column and we will celebrate that day with a latte.
2c. Nice work by ESPN PR to highlight production assistant Daniel Ferguson, who prepared player highlight packages of the international prospects for the NBA Draft. Read here about what can be a challenging assignment.
2d. The NBA Draft averaged 2.999 million viewers, up slightly from 2.959M viewers for last year's telecast but down from 2011 (3.202M). The TVSportsRatings Twitter feed reported that the draft was down in two key demographic categories: Men 18-49 (down 4 percent) and Men 18-34 (down 14 percent). It was up 12 percent in Men 50 and older.
3. The ambitious "Nine for IX" series from ESPN Films -- nine documentaries about women in sports, each directed by women filmmakers -- debuts on July 2 at 8:00 p.m. ET with "Venus Vs.," a profile of the impact tennis player Venus Williams had on getting equal prize money in tennis. The series, inspired by the 40th anniversary of Title IX, will run throughout the summer. It's an important project for ESPN and well done on the network for devoting significant resources and airtime for it. "The long-term hope is to integrate more and more of those voices into the regular rotation of ESPN documentaries," said ESPN Films executive producer Connor Schell. "I'm a big believer that diversity of storytellers is incredibly important.''
"Venus Vs.," directed by the talented Ava DuVernay, is well constructed and entertaining (especially for tennis fans) but only scratched the surface of the compelling story of Williams. "Pat XO," which debuts on July 9 and recounts the impact of former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, is a much stronger film. Newsday's Neil Best has seen a number of the docs and has a good piece here.
Asked if there was ratings pressure on the documentaries, Schell said he did not feel any from his bosses. "We set out to tell really, really good stories and important stories," Schell said. "As far as I am concerned, we accomplished that...I hope it draws a big audience but there is no ratings pressure on it."
4. Among the memorable pieces this week:
• Grantland's Louisa Thomas wrote a terrific profile of Candace Parker and the challenges of motherhood in the WNBA.
• Loved this feature by SI.com's Grant Wahl on a Williams College graduate playing pro soccer in Afghanistan.
• Robert Lipsyte had his debut column as ESPN's new ombudsman.
• The Hollywood Reporter profiled ESPN president John Skipper.
Two non-sports piece of note:
• This first-person piece on domestic violence by poet Courtney Queeney was brilliantly-written about a subject that demands attention. I can't urge you enough to read it.
•A remarkable profile of one of America's top suicide researchers.
5. In what is arguably its best talent hire so far (based on performance and popularity), Fox Sports 1 has landed the longtime ESPN college basketball announcer Bill Raftery to serve as its lead game analyst for its Big East basketball package. Raftery will partner with play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson for regular-season and tournament games. The network said he would also continue to work as an analyst for CBS and Turner on the NCAA men's tournament. Fox Sports said the likely date of the first Johnson-Raftery game will be Nov. 8.
5a. This Rich Eisen podcast interview with Falcons linebacker Brian Banks is recommended. The backstory: At 16, Banks was convicted of rape, though always maintained his innocence. He took a plea deal and went to prison for five years and two months, then served almost five more years under a form of near-house arrest before his accuser recanted her story.
5b. NBC Sports Network will air MLS Breakaway on August 3 at 9:00 p.m., a 90-minute whip-around show that features four games at the same time.
5c. Awful Announcing's Andrew Bucholtz recaps the final TSN show for anchors Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole.
5d. Strong work from SportsCenter with this feature on members of the military uniting with their families.
5e. Showtime's broadcast of the Adrien Broner-Paulie Malignaggi welterweight title fight on June 22 drew an audience of 1.3 million viewers, the second-largest viewing audience for a bout on Showtime since the network began tracking individual fights in 2009.
5f. As previously reported by James Andrew Miller, ESPN confirmed that Kirk Herbstreit has signed a contract extension that will keep him at ESPN through 2022. He will continue to call ABC's Saturday Night Football and make weekly appearances on a variety of ESPN shows including ESPN College GameDay. When the new College Football playoff begins in 2015, ESPN said Herbstreit will call one national semifinal and the national championship.