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What’s Left In the Game of Broadcasting Musical Chairs?

“The game of musical chairs is ongoing at this point with much movement in the booths across the land. These announcers are just trying to have a seat available when the music stops.”

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Baseball reopened for business last week and we expected to see a free agent frenzy, but it didn’t really materialize right away. Things are starting to heat up in the NFL. With the new league year beginning, there will be some players changing teams there too. There is another free agent bonanza to watch. This one isn’t on the field. It’s in the booth. The game of broadcasting musical chairs has begun. 

Now that some of the biggest names in broadcasting are putting on new uniforms, networks, like teams, are looking for replacements. I think the same questions that football general managers are asking themselves are plaguing those in charge of the major networks as well. 

Before we dive into the “musical chairs” of the broadcast booth, let’s examine the money factor. If I had a dollar for every network or sports franchise that cried poor, well, I could probably buy that network or team, right? But here they both are, throwing around cash like saltine crackers.

The NFL for example is basically printing money with its popularity, licensing and worldwide appeal. The networks benefit from their connections to the various leagues because advertisers want their commercials seen by a big audience. Oh, and they are willing to pay big bucks to accomplish that goal. 

With that idea in mind, let’s break down the changes so far in the network broadcast booths. 

ESPN

The Worldwide Leader opened the pocketbooks to bring Troy Aikman over from Fox to call Monday Night Football. Aikman’s deal is worth 90-million-dollars over 5-years. That’s roughly 18.5-million a year, more than Tony Romo is being paid at CBS. So, Aikman is the top analyst now at ESPN, demoting the current booth to ‘B’ games on the network. Brian Griese took off to get into coaching as he saw the writing on the wall. 

Next at ESPN, Joe Buck joins his old pal Aikman as the top MNF team. Buck had one-year left on his deal at Fox and is expected to fetch something in the 5-year, 70-million- dollar range. According to the New York Post, Fox tried to keep Buck with a 12-million a year offer. 

Will this also include a trade? As you may or may not remember, when ESPN/ABC allowed Al Michaels to go to NBC, the Disney company agreed only after securing the rights Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Look it up!  Maybe Fox will offer up Stewie from Family Guy to do the intros on ESPN’s telecasts of the Monday Night Football? 

AMAZON

The shakeup here is far less seismic than the one at Fox/ESPN, mainly because of the newness of this telecast. Amazon is taking over the broadcast rights to Thursday Night Football and needs to fill its booth. While the Jeff Bezos streamer has been pursuing Al Michaels (more on that in a moment), it has reportedly filled its analyst role with the Kirk Herbstreit. Herbstreit is expected to continue in his ESPN role on College Football with Chris Fowler. Herbstreit does have some NFL experience, he and Fowler called final week games in both 2021 and this past season. 

NOW WHAT?

Ok, so now you know where some have gone, let’s investigate some of the folks that will replace those empty spots. Fox has the most openings with the number one booth from the past all gone. But they have other sports there that were covered by Buck, creating some other unique openings. NBC will likely turn to Mike Tirico to replace Michaels. CBS is standing pat. 

FOX

Openings:

#1 NFL play-by-play and #1 NFL analyst. Also available #1 MLB play-by-play. 

Let’s take these one at a time. I’m going to give you a list of who I feel are, could, or should be candidates. I may go a little off the rails with some thoughts. I know hard to believe I’d go off the rails, right? Stick with me here. 

NFL play-by-play candidates: Kevin Burkhardt, Kenny Albert, Ian Eagle, Al Michaels, Kevin Harlan.

Personally, I’d love to see Fox swoop in and get Michaels. At 77-years old, he’s far from done, with plenty of zip left on his fastball. Michaels is needed on an NFL telecast, but Fox could offer a little more, Major League Baseball. How cool would it be if Michaels was able to call the Fox Saturday Game of the Week and then the MLB playoffs and World Series?

I know travel would likely be an issue for Michaels who would probably prefer to stick around the Los Angeles area, but that would be incredible. Michaels handled Cincinnati Reds broadcasts for a few years and was ABC’s lead voice on Monday Night Baseball for a long time too. I guess I’m saying more of Michaels is never a bad thing to me. 

Albert is already a busy guy with the NHL, MLB and NFL responsibilities he already has. Harlan would be awesome, but he’s a busy guy too with NFL both on television and radio, NCAA and NBA. Eagle could be an interesting name to look into. I think his NBA work and the fact that he is able to call NCAA Tournament games where he is now at CBS would make him stay. 

Realistically, if Fox is looking inward, Burkhardt is the obvious choice. He has ascended to the #2 broadcast on Fox and has a good knack for calling the sport. Not too much, not too little, I think he does a great job and would flourish in the lead role. He’s visible enough on the network, with his work during the MLB Playoffs, so introducing him to the audience would not be necessary at all. He works well with all types of personalities, if you don’t believe me just watch his studio work for baseball, dealing with A-Rod, Big Papi and Frank Thomas. He is highly qualified and would make an excellent top dog at Fox. 

NFL Analyst candidates: Greg Olsen, Kurt Warner, Michael Strahan, Sean Payton, Drew Brees, Mina Kimes.

I would like to see Fox just end the speculation and name Olsen the guy alongside Burkhardt. The two have great chemistry and Olsen is really good at what he does. Coming off the field and into the booth doesn’t always translate as I’ve said a million times in this space, but he’s made it work. The free-flowing thoughts, the excellent insight and the sometimes-disheveled look work for me and should work for Fox as well. But we know that obvious choices to us don’t always translate to the obvious choice for executives. It would be a tremendous booth. 

Strahan is already at the network as well, but how many jobs can one guy have? I like Strahan’s personality and he’s excellent on the Fox pregame show, but I’m not sure how that would translate to the booth. Warner has the experience and he’s very good. I wonder why Amazon didn’t get him to be in their booth for TNF? Payton is the flavor most are tasting these days, his name is all over the place, but again, I think his skills would be better served in a studio setting to start with. Brees has not been impressive so far, early in his broadcasting career. 

Kimes is an interesting name to consider. She’s proven her knowledge of the NFL with her work on ESPN. She is talented and entertaining and would be a good choice for any network at this point. The fact that she never played football at any level is seen as a detriment, I say nonsense. 

Kimes contributed to analysis for Rams pre-season games with Andrew Siciliano of NFL Network and five-time Pro Bowler Aqib Talib. Kimes more than held her own in the booth. It would be a bold choice, but not a crazy one at all. 

WORLD SERIES

If Fox can’t get Michaels for the baseball postseason, they have a terrific candidate in-house already. Joe Davis would have no problem stepping in and taking over that booth alongside John Smoltz. He is a talented broadcaster that already endured the tough task of replacing Vin Scully in the Dodgers television booth. He did it seamlessly and in a very professional manner. That’s not easy and he handled it perfectly. Davis would be a great choice for Fox in that role. 

AMAZON

This is the intriguing one. Michaels is thought to be the top candidate to take over the Thursday Night Telecasts on Amazon Prime. I’ve already given you my thoughts on Michaels, and I wonder if this would be a satisfying situation for him?

Yes, it’s the NFL one night a week just like when he was at NBC, but Amazon has ZERO postseason games and the thought of the playoffs without Michaels is not one I’m in favor of. To me this is a situation that will be fluid. You could list all the names that I did for the Fox opening, but the postseason situation may be a deal-breaker for some. 

You’ve already got Herbstreit reportedly in the fold, right? He’ll be able to continue his work with ESPN, so why not reach out to Fowler? If they could both continue to be the voices of College Football on ESPN, it would work. ESPN won’t need them as the ‘back up’ team on Monday Night Football, with Steve Levy and Louis Riddick in the fold already. It would be a good, “first” booth for Amazon until they can secure some postseason rights. 

The game of musical chairs is ongoing at this point with much movement in the booths across the land. These announcers are just trying to have a seat available when the music stops. 

BSM Writers

Who Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion Best?

Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.

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The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.

In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?

We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?

Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:

Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN

ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.

The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.

Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.

Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.

“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”

Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.

“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?

“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”

Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.

Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.

The NFL Today – CBS

CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.

Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.

The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.

Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.

Fox NFL Sunday

The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.

Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.

Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.

Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.

Football Night in America – NBC

Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.

But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.

Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?

When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.

But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”

“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”

Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.

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BSM Writers

Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers

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Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.

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BSM Writers

Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area

Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.

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Joe Rogan

For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.

As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.

I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.

At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.

From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”

But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.

But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.

However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.

One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.

Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.

There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.

Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.

At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.

There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.

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