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Duke and Gonzaga Turn In Big Ratings For ESPN

“An average audience of 2.79 million tuned in to see the game.”

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Conventional wisdom says that it isn’t basketball or hockey season until football is over. That is probably still true, but on Friday night ESPN proved that if you get big name programs with some star power together, college basketball can hang any time of the year.

Duke’s win over Gonzaga brought more eyeballs to ESPN’s coverage of early-season college basketball since 2018. An average audience of 2.79 million tuned in to see the game. That is the largest audience for a college basketball game played before New Year’s Day since the same two teams met in the finals of the Maui Invitational three years ago and drew 2.85 million viewers.

The real win is that the game outrated a college football game on the same night. ESPN’s coverage of NC State’s win over North Carolina only drew 2.68 million viewers. It is an added bonus that Duke can hold over their Tobacco Road rivals.

Before the game, Duke was ranked #5 and Gonzaga was ranked #1. After, Duke rose to #1. Since then, the Blue Devils fell to Ohio State and likely will drop in next week’s rankings. Still, every Duke game this season will come with a little extra attention. This is the final season with the legendary Mike Krzyzewski on the Duke bench.

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Chris Russo Debates Barry Bonds With Stephen A. Smith to Delight of Many

The positive response may have been due to Russo understanding the assignment. Mad Dog will yell back! He called Stephen A. “Stevie”!

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ESPN

If ESPN’s First Take and Stephen A. Smith wanted a heated discussion about the Baseball Hall of Fame 2022 election results, bringing on Chris Russo as a guest was probably the best choice for Wednesday’s show.

Sure, someone like Jeff Passan, Tim Kurkjian, Eduardo Perez, or Doug Glanville could’ve joined Stephen A. and Molly Qerim at the desk for a reasoned, informative discussion. But the volume wouldn’t have been high enough to match Stephen A.

Someone needed to shout back! And there might be no one on TV or radio who can get as loud, as outraged, as indignant as “Mad Dog” Russo. On one side, Stephen A. argues that Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame. Counterpoint from Mad Dog (a San Francisco Giants fan): Bonds should not.

As could’ve been expected, the debate got loud. Those watching at work may have needed to use headphones.

But rather than denounce all the noise, all the yelling, social media and sports media observers appeared to enjoy Stephen A. vs. Mad Dog.

Maybe because the debate only lasted for one six-minute segment, rather than the entirety of the show. But the positive response may also have been due to Russo understanding the assignment. Mad Dog will yell back! He called Stephen A. “Stevie”!

Here’s a sampling of reactions:

Marchand’s view of Russo’s appearance is particularly interesting and not just because he covers sports media for a living. In the new version of First Take with rotating combatants to face Stephen A. at the table, isn’t Russo a capable opponent? No one wants to see a wrestling superstar face a jobber, right? Edge vs. Seth Rollins is a marquee matchup!

Judging by the response from fans on social media, Russo is someone First Take should bring back on a regular basis. Maybe even, as Marchand suggests, one day per week. But maybe not for a whole show, for the sake of our ears and temples.

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Meadowlark Media to Create Content For Spanish-Speaking Fans in U.S.

The plan is to oblige an underserved audience by providing a product for one of the fastest growing demographics in the U.S.

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Meadowlark Media, co-founded by former ESPN President John Skipper, and Ocellated Media are expected to announce a strategic partnership later today. Their plan is to create Spanish-language audio and unscripted video programming for Latino sports fans living in the U.S.

According to Skipper, “the content available does not mirror the proportion of the population,” which fuels the interest in non-English programming. Very little sports programming is delivered in a language other than English, although Latinos make up around 19% of the total population. Understandably, that community would like to hear the programming in its native language.

Meadowlark and Ocellated recently decided to work alongside Skydance Sports to produce Good Neighbors, a documentary about the rivalry between the U.S. men’s national soccer team and the Mexican national team.

The documentary will include current and former members of both teams with each player interviewed in his first language. It will not be told from a specific team’s point of view.

“We want it to play in both Columbus, Ohio and Mexico City,” Skipper said.  

By keeping the documentary unbiased, playing it in multiple countries, and capitalizing on soccer’s standing as the world’s most popular sport, the companies have set themselves up for a high value project.

Besides the Good Neighbors documentary, viewers can expect most of the collaborations going forward to be in Spanish. The plan is to oblige the underserved audience by providing a product for one of the fastest growing demographics in the U.S. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the Hispanic population grew 23% between 2010 and 2020.

Up to this point, Telemundo and Univision have been the go-to networks for Spanish-speaking programming and the bulk of sports-related content for the demo. But Meadowlark and Ocellated aren’t trying to compete with them. They actually see those networks as potential buyers.

Based in Mexico City, Ocellated brings a level of market expertise, authenticity, and in-house production capabilities to the partnership. 

“Production services in Mexico are quite efficient and significantly less expensive,” said Skipper, “so on selective projects we’ll take advantage of that.”

Along with today’s announcement, Meadowlark and Ocellated will also introduce a new daily Spanish-language sports, entertainment, current events and sports betting podcast, to be hosted by Jorge “El Burro” Van Rankin. The plan is for the podcast to complement Meadowlark co-founder Dan Le Batard’s daily show.

“We will not have to build [the audience] from scratch,” Skipper said. “We can use Dan’s show to help launch [the “El Burro” show] and [to] get it an audience. And over time we think we can develop a fairly significant audience.”

If everything goes well, Skipper expects the two companies to replicate the model and “build [out] some other Spanish-language podcasts around the world.”

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Jay Glazer: ‘We Changed It Into a Relationship-Based Business’

“I’m going to build relationships and over time, more scoops would come from those relationships.”

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While Jay Glazer is famous for his work as an insider on FOX NFL Sunday, his journey to get to that point shows where hard work and a dedication to never giving up can take you once your foot is in the door.

Glazer was a guest on The Adam Schefter Podcast to talk about his new book, Unbreakable: How I Turned My Depression and Anxiety into Motivation and You Can Too and he got into the origin of how he got into the sports business.

When Glazer was covering the Giants for the New York Post, he knew he did not have the same experience as other reporters, so he had to find a different way to stand out. He did it in a way that now seems normal to any reporter, but was not common in the late 90’s:

“When I walked in the Giants locker room early on, I said, man, I don’t have the same education as everyone else, I don’t have the same experience,” Glazer recalled. “How can I be different? If these guys work 9-5, I’m not going to outwork them by a little, I’m going to outwork them by a lot. I’ll be here at 7 a.m. till Strahan drops me off at 9 p.m. because I couldn’t afford bus or subway fare both ways. Michael would drive me in every single day. He understands my plight. That’s a great friend right there.

“I also said I’m going to build relationships with people. I think back then, it was taboo to have relationships with players and coaches. In New York, it was taboo to do that. I said, well, that’s where I am going to be different. I’m going to build relationships and over time, more scoops would come from those relationships.”

After Glazer was at the New York Post, he got a full-time job as the NFL insider for CBS SportsLine beginning in 1999. While he wasn’t on TV, he was able to do something different that changed the media landscape:

“What that allowed me to do is become the first minute-by-minute breaking news guy in America, Me vs. Len Pasquarelli and John Clayton of ESPN… That was the birth of what we do,” said Glazer. “There was no crawl before us. You newspaper guys used to get pissed at us because you guys would file something at 6 p.m. and then we break something at 10 p.m. at night so your back page would be moot. We started an industry with this. We raised access for everybody. We changed it into a relationship-based business.”

Despite Glazer competing with ESPN and other media outlets to be first with stories, he still calls Adam Schefter before the beginning of the season to wish him good luck. In fact, Schefter says Glazer was the one who is the most responsible for the credit system on ESPN’s bottomline:

“I tried to make it into a fight, me vs. all of ESPN, David vs. Goliath,” Glazer said. “People don’t know Adam and I talk before every season. I call you up and say to you and Mort, good luck. We need each other because we need opponents. We need to fight someone. Let’s do it clean. We can all get rich and do it the right way. Let’s make sure we get all of our stuff right.” 

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