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What’s Next For NBA Countdown?

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There are very few absolutes in sports broadcasting but one of them is the changing cast of ESPN’s NBA Countdown program. The roll call of hosts over the last decade includes Mike Tirico, Dan Patrick, John Saunders, Stuart Scott, Hannah Storm, Michael Wilbon, Sage Steele and Doris Burke. Michelle Beadle also took a spin this year as a fill-in. The roster of analysts is even longer.

Trying to find the right talent mix for a high-profile sports studio show is understandable for a network heavily invested in the NBA, and some of the changes to Countdown have improved the show over the years. But the lack of on-air continuity makes a sharp contrast to its more popular pre-and post-game counterpart: TNT’s Inside The NBA. (Even a young Bill Simmons celebrated TNT’s chemistry when he spent the day with the crew in 2002 as a Page 2 writer for ESPN.com).

Prior to this NBA season, ESPN installed Steele as Countdown’s main host (and Burke as a secondary one) where Michael Wilbon previously served as a combo host/analyst. Former NBA coach Doug Collins was brought when Magic Johnson abruptly resigned from ESPN last October. Simmons and Jalen Rose were the holdover analysts from last year.

How did that mix shake out? Opinions are all over the map based on the NBA viewers I’ve conversed with this season. Some viewers like Steele. Some think she’s lightweight on basketball. Some viewers like Simmons. Some think he comes off as entitled and whiny. Some viewers like Rose. Some think he desperately tries to be Charles Barkley. Some viewers like Collins. Some people think he looks miserable on set and is miscast as a studio analyst.

From my vantage point, ESPN management failed to nurture the show effectively. What was befuddling during this postseason was the insistence on providing an overload of NBA voices rather than trusting the Countdown team to carry postgames on its own. Think about how Inside The NBA works. While Turner shows live player press conferences and brings on guests (usually for great segments thanks to the byplay between Charles Barkley and current players), Inside never accedes airtime to other Turner analysts to comment. It believes in its cast and wants to brand it as the final authority on the game it just televised.

Strangely, Countdown’s staff was buried Sunday night on the biggest NBA night of the year — the final game of the NBA Finals. The Countdown group did two segments during SportsCenter (around postgame press conferences) for a total of maybe five minutes. They also taped two segments for SportsCenter later that night. Throughout the playoffs and on Sunday night, Wilbon and Stephen A. Smith received a ton of airtime including appearing on ESPN News before the Countdown crew (ESPN News had the first crack at NBA Finals postgame coverage due to MLB airing on ESPN and NHRA drag racing on ESPN2). Is that the sign of a deep bench or that management does not trust Countdown to handle the postgame on its own? Viewers notice this stuff and if I’m doing the assigning, Countdown is getting every bit of airtime so I can build them up with NBA fans against the Barkley-Kenny Smith-Ernie Johnson-Shaq juggernaut.

What happens next? I’d be stunned if the main cast remained the same. Steele signed a multi-year extension with ESPN and when I spoke with her earlier in the year, she was committed to Countdown for multiple years and management was with her as well. I see her back. Rose is likely back, too. Simmons is tough to predict. He worried last year about the travel away from his family and it’s clear there were times this postseason he was not happy with the show’s direction. (Take it to the bank that multiple staffers are frustrated by management’s treatment of the show.) Collins is miscast significantly, in my opinion. He’s easily the best basketball mind on that set but there’s no on-air chemistry between he and his partners. In an ideal world, Collins would do games only (where he is great) and in a really ideal world, ESPN and TNT would negotiate an out so Collins could replace Steve Kerr on TNT’s top team with Marv Albert. If you asked me today, I’d say Collins is not back with the main team.

For more on this story visit Sports Illustrated where this story was originally published.

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Indiana Sports Talk Station Set To Flip Formats

“The promos say that station owner Woof Boom Broadcasting is “building a new radio station for Muncie and Delaware County”.

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Sports fans in Muncie, Indiana may soon lose their favorite sports station. Listeners to Muncie Sports 92.5 have heard promos teasing a new station coming to the frequency.

The promos say that station owner Woof Boom Broadcasting is “building a new radio station for Muncie and Delaware County”. The station has also changed its call letters. What was WXFN is now WMUN.

Muncie Sports 92.5 airs on two signals. 1340 AM is a 1000 watt station. 92.5 FM is a translator signal.

The station airs an hour-long local show hosted by Mark Foerster on weekdays at 4 pm. It carries syndicated programming from FOX Sports Radio and is the local affiliate for the Indianapolis Colts, Indiana Pacers, Cincinnati Reds, IndyCar Series, Ball State University football and women’s basketball, and three local high schools.

ESPN 680 is still available from nearby Marion,IN. Two Indianapolis sports talk stations are strong enough to be heard in the town as well according to Radio Locator.

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Pat McAfee: Sean McVay Isn’t Ready For A Broadcasting Career

“I think the reason why the narrative was able to build so much was because we saw Tony Romo make $17 million. We saw Troy Aikman make $17.5 million.”

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Sean McVay was among those rumored to be potentially on the move to the broadcast booth this offseason, but ultimately the head coach of the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams decided to stay put. He was reportedly offered a mega-contract from Amazon to join the Thursday Night Football crew.

It appears McVay has a future in TV, but he’s made it clear he wants to remain a coach for the time being.

Pat McAfee on Monday told co-host A.J. Hawk that thinking about a future that doesn’t involve coaching in the NFL isn’t how McVay is wired.

“That’s how football people are. That’s literally how coaches are,” McAfee said. “It is just, we are either preparing for football season or we’re in football season. And when we’re not in football season, they’re wishing they were in football season so they’re acting like they’re in football season by watching more film, being more dialed in.”

McAfee also said the recent shuffling of broadcast crews, and the paydays associated with those moves, is what really turned up the heat on McVay speculation.

“I think the reason why the narrative was able to build so much was because we saw Tony Romo make $17 million. We saw Troy Aikman make $17.5 million.”

Pat also made it very clear that whenever McVay decides to make it to the booth, he’s likely going to be a star.

“I do believe a lot of us think to ourselves, I can’t wait for that guy to get in f–king TV though,” he said. “He’s going to be amazing on the microphone I think, A.J.”

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T-Bob Hebert and Jacob Hester: Drew Brees Chatter Began With His Tweet About Saints

“They’ve had to know a life without Drew as the quarterback. They’ve had to have leaders step up that weren’t Drew Brees certainly on the offensive side of the football.”

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There have been rumors about what’s next for former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, but nothing has been set in stone. He took to Twitter over the weekend to dispute a report that he is out at NBC and make it clear he’s still weighing his options.

Brees feeling like he still has a fire to play in the NFL got the attention of T-Bob Hebert and Jacob Hester on 104.5 ESPN in Baton Rouge. Hebert on Monday said Brees expressing interest in coming back throws a wrench in all the planning the Saints have done to hand over the reins to Jameis Winston.

“It almost feels unreal where it’s this deal where it’s like, OK you had finally moved on, you made peace with it, it was all good, it is what it is, you’re ready to roll with your new guy,” he said. “And right when you think you’ve finally moved on, that text comes in and cracks open that door. But you’re happy, right? But can you say no to him?”

Hester noted that it was a Tweet from Brees expressing the desire to return to New Orleans that began the conversations and speculation about his future in broadcasting. However, he thinks it may be too late for Drew Brees to walk back into the Superdome and be greeted with open arms.

“If this was last year, and he had just retired and maybe had the itch to come back, maybe he could have that feeling. But he also has to understand that the team has had to move on,” he said. “They’ve had to know a life without Drew as the quarterback. They’ve had to have leaders step up that weren’t Drew Brees certainly on the offensive side of the football.”

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