From increasing Thursday Night Football ratings, to a creative deal to expand coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament, to helping mint a new wave of must-see golf stars, Sean McManus is one of sports television’s top innovators. As chairman of CBS Sports, he presides over an enviable batch of big-league properties that put up enviable results in 2015. According to Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. president and CEO, McManus is “a first-class guy and a great leader of the division” whose trademarks are strong relationships, savvy negotiating skills and stellar leadership.
A McManus pet project, CBS’ Thursday Night Football, averaged 15.8 million viewers this year, up 6% from last year, and several Sunday afternoon games vaulted into the fall’s roster of most-watched programs. The run of pigskin glory will culminate in February with Super Bowl 50. McManus took a time-out from big-game preparations to speak with B&C’s Michael Malone and Dade Hayes in his New York office. An edited transcript follows.
What are you most proud of in 2015?
At the top of the list would be Thursday Night Football. We had some really lofty goals in terms of promotion, branding, marketing, production and presentation. We’ve worked incredibly closely with the NFL and I think all of the expectations that we had have been either met or, in most cases, exceeded. The ratings have grown over last year. We have settled into a really good rhythm from a production standpoint and the marketing has been unprecedented—we’ve done more marketing for Thursday Night Football than any product in the history of CBS, and it has really worked out.
Give us some more specifics about the marketing.
In a 24-hour period before the first game was going to air on the NFL Network [Thursday games were simulcast on CBS and NFL Network during Weeks 2-8, then were exclusive to NFL Network, with CBS producing, starting Nov. 5. They will be simulcast again Dec. 3], Stephen Colbert did about a minute and a half on the transition in a lighthearted, funny way. CBS This Morning, that Thursday, did a big feature on the NFL and the matchup and the Golden Football promotion. The Talk, our syndicated show, did a football-themed cooking segment talking specifically about the NFL Network. [CBS] All Access did a major piece in its program. Then at 8:25 [p.m.] we did a promo for Thursday Night Football in The Big Bang Theory, our No. 1 show. Just in that 24-hour period, the quality and value of the promotion is unprecedented.
What’s the status for Thursday Night Football next season?
We’re talking to [the NFL]. I’d like to think the results we have shown will have a bearing on who airs Thursday Night Football next year. But the NFL was very open about the fact that they wanted to do a one-year deal and that’s what we have. But some time in the next month or two we’ll be sitting down with them. I’m sure there’s a lot of interest from other parties but we’ll make our case and do everything we can to keep it on CBS.
Any concern that NFL programming loses its novelty when so much is available on TV?
Oversaturation is something we all worry about. The fact of the matter is, we haven’t reached that point yet because Monday night’s ratings are still very, very strong, Sunday nights are really strong, Sunday afternoon continues to be strong and Thursday night is growing year after year. There is still an appetite for the amount of football that’s programmed. If anything, the interest seems to be greater in the sport than it has ever been.
Ratings outside of football are down. Why are people tuning in to NFL content in such giant numbers?
First of all, it’s such a great sport for television. The players really are gladiators out there. And the way the sport is played and the way it’s covered, it’s just incredibly visually dynamic. And there’s always all sorts of storylines—the NFL is now a 12-month a year product; it is always in the news, sometimes for bad things, a lot of times for good things. The fact that there are only 16 regular season games, every game is important and it generates a lot of interest.
Fantasy football has had an affect, especially on the younger viewers.
And I think the new ways in which the NFL is consumed, whether it be on mobile, on the DirecTV package, NFL Red Zone, all feed into this general level of interest. It just seems to get bigger and bigger every single year.
The NFL has some very successful cable distribution, both on the NFL Network and on ESPN. But I believe strongly in the broadcast platform and I think it’s been proven that for certain properties, like Thursday Night Football, that network television is still really, really important.
There have been layoffs at Turner Sports and ESPN. Is CBS Sports the right size, staff-wise?
I think we have the right size. I work for a man, Leslie Moonves, who believes you should make money on sports programming. Other networks have a different philosophy, which I wholeheartedly respect. They have deficit-spent on properties like World Cup Soccer, Olympics, Major League Baseball, where they may not be making a pure profit on it. But from the position of building their assets, whether it’s cable companies or cable networks, they have been good deals for them. We have chosen not to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in our 24-hour sports network [CBS Sports Network]. We’ve taken a different approach. So when there is a bit of a downturn, we haven’t had the need to downsize. I never like to see it when other companies announce layoffs, but I think we’re positioned pretty well for the future and our properties work for us financially. We are not, by and large, losing money on our sports properties.
What’s happening on CBS Sports Network?
It’s basically live events—live football, live basketball. We’ve got some really good studio programming, such as Boomer & Carton, which is simulcast in the morning. We have Adam Schein [host of Time to Schein] that airs every afternoon. We do Monday QB, which features people like Phil Simms and Trent Green and Steve Beuerlein and Dan Fouts giving a quarterback’s perspective on what happened that week in football.
We have a lot of really good studio programming with Inside SEC Football and Inside College Football. We have a three-hour Sunday morning show, which is an adjunct to NFL Today, and We Need To Talk, which is the only female-hosted show. That should’ve happened a long time ago; I’m proud that we were the first ones to do it.
We are trying to build the network from the ground up and I think we’re doing a really good job. But we haven’t, as I said, gone out and spent hundreds of millions of dollars on properties because we believe we should be making money in the cable sports business. And eventually we will be competitive for the marquee properties. Right now we are doing it in a more conservative, more measured way.
Read the entire interview on Broadcasting Cable where this article was originally published
Lauren Shehadi: Ernie Johnson Is The Model For Studio Hosts
“To me, he’s the greatest in-studio host. What he does best is facilitate greatness.”
In addition to her job at MLB Network being a host on MLB Central, Lauren Shehadi is hosting TBS’s Tuesday night baseball coverage each week with Jimmy Rollins, Curtis Granderson, and Pedro Martinez. The Tuesday night games are new for Turner Sports this year after doing only Sunday games during the regular season in addition to the network’s postseason coverage.
Shehadi was a guest on The Kyle Koster Show this week and she was asked what the goal was for her with the MLB on TBS Tuesday broadcasts. She takes a lot of inspiration from what she sees on Inside The NBA on TNT.
“I always think about Ernie Johnson in the same building. To me, he’s the greatest in-studio host. What he does best is facilitate greatness. He gets the most out of Shaq and Kenny [Smith] and Charles [Barkley]. If there’s no ego involved, it’s all about how the show can be so great.
“You look at him and you think how can I be like that? You want to be authentic and be yourself, but in the sense of getting the best out of your guys and girls that you talk to every day. That was my goal going in, Be authentic.”
Shehadi said she gets to spend a lot of time with Johnson and the rest of the Turner Sports crew. Tuesday nights tend to be something of a corporate family reunion.
“On Tuesday nights, we all sit in a room and we all watch NBA, MLB, and NHL when it’s on. We get Shaq’s reaction to Sandy Alcantara’s slider in real-time. What we see from Inside The NBA is when they do demos. When they get up and walk and they are casual and they do little bits, that’s what we try to take to our show, but we want it to feel authentic.”
When Shehadi isn’t hosting Turner Sports’ baseball coverage, she is a part of MLB Central every weekday on MLB Network with Robert Flores and Mark DeRosa. On that show, the goal for her is how to make baseball relatable to everyone:
“That’s the sweet spot of MLB Central. No question is silly. Nobody is smarter than the other. We laugh at ourselves. We laugh at each other. It is just a fun 4 hours, grab your coffee, let’s talk the game, let’s laugh because life is short and baseball is fun.”
AT&T Sportsnet’s Kelsey Wingert Shows Off Stitches After Being Drilled Line Drive
“The veteran reporter is expected to get married in June. Doctors are “hoping” the scar doesn’t effect her big day.”
Baseball reporters at the regional level have some of the toughest jobs in all of sports. Not only do they cover each for all 162 games, but there’s always the potential for getting drilled by a foul ball.
While all MLB ball clubs have expanded their netting this season to protect fans sitting close to the field, Rockies sideline reporter Kelsey Wingert suffered a nasty injury via a foul ball earlier this week.
A scary incident took place on Monday’s outing against the Rockies and San Francisco Giants at Coors Field in Denver. In the ninth inning, Giants outfielder Austin Slater hit a foul ball off Daniel Bard, with the ball heading straight to the dugout, right where Wingert was standing while reporting for AT&T Sportsnet.
After getting attended to by the Rockies medical staff and walking it off, giving fans a “thumbs up,” Wingert ended up having to go to the hospital where she received multiple stitches to her forehead.
The 29-year-old reporter took to Twitter on Wednesday to express her gratitude towards the Rockies organization and AT&T Sportsnet general manager David Woodman, who along with his wife Paula, stayed by her side at the hospital.
“I had a CT scan to make sure there was no internal bleeding or fractures and all came back clear. Thank God,” Wingert said on Twitter Wednesday. “The stitches will have to come out in a week. I’m very lucky it wasn’t worse. It was just really scary and bummed me out given the circumstances.”
You would think this was the first time Wingert got hit by a ball but back in 2018 while working for Fox Sports and the Atlanta Braves she was struck by a foul ball while standing near a camera past the Braves dugout, resulting in a fractured eye socket.
Wingert retweeted a photo taken of her black eye after returning home where she made light of what could’ve been an awful occurrence.
While recovering from her wound, Wingert will be taking a few games off. The veteran reporter is expected to get married in June. Doctors are “hoping” the scar doesn’t effect her big day.
Greg Olsen To Partner With Kevin Burkhardt For Super Bowl LVII
“Last season was the first Burkhardt and Olsen worked together. They largely won rave reviews.”
The deal isn’t done yet, but Andrew Marchand of The New York Post reports that Greg Olsen is on his way to joining Kevin Burkhardt in the top NFL booth at FOX. Although Tom Brady will take over that role after he retires and leaves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Olsen will spend at least this season on FOX’s A-Team.
Last season was the first Burkhardt and Olsen worked together. They largely won rave reviews.
Earlier this year, the former Panther told The Mac Attack on WFNZ in Charlotte that he was disappointed he didn’t get to call a postseason game. He will more than make up for that in 2023. As Burkhardt’s partner, Olsen is in line to be the analyst for Super Bowl LVII.
Marchand writes that we could get a taste of what is to come in February. He speculates that if the Buccaneers are not in the Super Bowl, it is possible Tom Brady could make his FOX debut, either in the booth alongside Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen or as part of the network’s studio show.
Now, FOX has to make a decision about it’s number 2 NFL booth. According to Marchand, Drew Brees is a candidate to be the analyst. Adam Amin and Joe Davis have emerged as candidates for the play-by-play role.