Richard Deitsch reached to miltiple current and former ESPN air talents for his “Media Matters” column this week for The Athletic. He asked what they have heard from management about the transparency and conviction they are allowed to speak with about the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests.
“The stick to sports on the field era appears to be over,” Deitsch quotes one unnamed but “well-known ESPN talent” as saying.
Jimmy Pitaro, who was appointed president of the network in March 2018, has often been saddled with accusations of bringing a “stick to sports” mantra to Bristol. While the network has covered President Trump’s tweets and comments when they relate directly to sports, for the most part the network rarely delves into social issues.
That hasn’t been the case in the last two weeks though. Coverage of protests around the country have not been limited to Stephen Jackson’s friendship with George Floyd, pointing out which athletes are at marches, or reaction to Drew Brees’s comments about players kneeling during the national anthem.
“What you’ve seen, heard and read across ESPN outlets over the past week is a meaningful reflection of the profoundly intense and personal array of emotions sweeping through the collective consciousness of our audience,” senior vice president and editor-at-large of ESPN Content, Rob King said.
ESPN personalities like Maria Taylor, Elle Duncan, and Booger McFarland have been free to talk about their experiences with racism and share their opinions on current situations.
“You know, I think that ESPN realizes that we are in a seminal moment in history and everyone is going to look back and wonder what side of history are you going to fall on?” Taylor told Deitsch. “I think that everyone’s realizing it, from the NFL and Commissioner (Roger) Goodell down to every major company and ESPN is included. If we are silent now or if we silence our employees now, then that will be the wrong move. The only acceptable way to deal with this moment is to accept wrongs and allow us to have open conversations and be a part of the solution that moves this country forward, because right now it’s really hurting.”
The position is very different from 2017, when then-SC6 Jemele Hill was suspended for two weeks after ESPN said she violated the network’s social media policy. After Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that he would bench any player that knelt during the national anthem, Hill tweeted about a possible boycott of the team’s sponsors.
Hill told Deitsch that ESPN’s reaction to this moment isn’t causing feelings of jealousy or frustration. In fact, she says that she feels relief in seeing her former employer and other sports outlets embrace the conversation.
“The reaction of black athletes to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd certainly didn’t give them any choice, but I’m pleasantly surprised that these outlets didn’t rush to get past it. They devoted some thoughtful, honest conversation to a difficult issue,” Hill said. What I hope these outlets learned is that not only can it lead to good television and reporting and be valuable information for readers and viewers, but that asking their black employees to remain distanced from these kinds of conversations is unrealistic.”
Poll Data Shows Tepid Response To Tom Brady Joining FOX
“A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.”
FOX Sports reportedly signed Tom Brady to a 10-year deal worth $375 million to make the seven-time Super Bowl champion the new lead analyst for its top NFL broadcast once his playing career is over.
A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.
The poll said 2 in 5 NFL fans have a better opinion of FOX Sports following the deal, with 41% of NFL fans being at least somewhat more likely to watch a game with Brady as an analyst.
Data shows one-third of NFL fans think the deal Brady reportedly agreed to is worth about the same as its reported value.
That reaction could probably be described as “tepid”. That may be exactly what FOX expects and maybe all it wants.
Last week, Domonique Foxworth of ESPN suggested that the paycheck is less about what the network thinks Tom Brady means to viewers and more about showing the NFL that the network values its product.
FOX Not Interested In Joining Streaming Sports Wars
“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take?”
The CEO of FOX doesn’t plan on forking over billions of dollars to be people’s last choice for paid streaming services.
Lachlan Murdoch said at a time when more than 80% of American homes already have some kind of paid streaming service, it’s not worthwhile to jump on that train.
Amazon, Netflix and Disney+ typically account for the average streaming presence in a household.
“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take,” Murdoch said at a tech conference earlier this year. “And so the billions of dollars that’s being spent by multiple aspirants is all for that last position. And so we are extraordinarily — I want to say that — we’re happy to be sort of sitting on the sidelines.”
Murdoch told Benjamin Swinburne that when it comes to the NFL, FOX’s media rights are the same as CBS, NBC and ESPN. The main focus for the company remains on keeping games on TV.
“We don’t believe it helps us to put those rights under a streaming service or free on over-the-air. We think it’s very important that those rights remain exclusive to the broadcast environment,” Murdoch said.
FOX does stream games through its app, but it is only the games it is also carrying on its broadcast network or FS1.
NBA Draft To Get Simulcast From ESPN & ABC
“This follows the simulcast model ESPN and ABC have employed for several years with the NFL Draft.”
ESPN is set for the 2022 NBA Draft coming up on June 23 at 8 p.m. from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The network announced Wednesday the crews that will handle coverage on both ESPN and ABC.
ABC will broadcast the first round in primetime. Kevin Negandhi will host and will be joined by Stephen A. Smith, Chiney Ogwumike and Jalen Rose. Monica McNutt will be reporting and interviewing draftees.
This follows the simulcast model ESPN and ABC have employed for several years with the NFL Draft.
Malika Andrews will host both rounds for ESPN. Jay Bilas, Kendrick Perkins and Adrian Wojnarowski will share the set. Analysts Bobby Marks and Mike Schmitz will contribute.
“We’re thrilled that Malika Andrews will host this year’s ESPN presentation as she brings her well-documented, widespread skillset to our main set,” said David Roberts, head of NBA and Studio Production for ESPN. “The event will showcase the scope and depth of our NBA and college basketball talent roster with accomplished journalists and high-profile personalities across ESPN, ABC and ESPN Radio.”
ESPN will air a pre-draft red carpet show hosted by Cassidy Hubbarth from 5-6 p.m. Perkins and Richard Jefferson will also make appearances.