Three years ago, Sean McDonough attended Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues from TD Garden with a few of his friends. From his seat, he looked up towards the ninth floor of the arena. There he saw the widely-regarded voice of Mike “Doc” Emrick calling the action. It had been nearly 15 years since McDonough had donned the headset for ESPN calling hockey after the network lost the broadcast rights following the 2004-05 National Hockey League lockout. He always aspired to one day be calling hockey games once again. Now he is and will call the biggest series of the season on ABC.
Three years later, McDonough will be the voice on the microphone bringing hockey fans the action during the Stanley Cup Final. A lot has changed since McDonough last broadcast hockey on a regular basis seventeen years ago.
“The game is a tremendous amount faster; the players’ talents are on display – speed and skill,” McDonough said. “From a broadcasting standpoint, there was [a] kind of adjusting to [the fact] that you don’t have time to look at your notes… the play goes too fast.”
In the first season of the new media rights agreement, he has worked alongside two new broadcasting partners: reporter Emily Kaplan and analyst Ray Ferraro. During the first few games of the season, McDonough and Ferraro would call games together in the broadcast booth, while Kaplan would be stationed between the benches reporting on the action throughout the game. ESPN executive Mike McQuaid heard Ferraro do a game from ice level once and was impressed. After that, team decided to permanently adopt the format. It’s something that has paid dividends and helped differentiate the broadcast during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I think I can see the game better on the ice; I think I’m more connected to it. I think I can catch things that are available that you can’t see how ever many feet above the ice Sean [McDonough] is in each game,” Ferraro said. “The negative is that you don’t have the access of just putting your hand up a little bit and going, ‘I think I can add here.’ I prefer, personally, to be on the ice, but if the decision was to go upstairs, I’d go upstairs.”
The media rights agreement between the NHL and ESPN is multi-platform in scope. It aims to bring the league and network to the forefront of innovation through the adoption of cutting-edge technologies and unparalleled access. The issue that hockey presents for live broadcasts, perhaps more so than any other sport, is it’s pace. As a result, it has been incumbent on the production team to be judicious in the implementation and execution of new wrinkles of the broadcast, including live score bug graphics, ambitious camera angles and the synthesis of analytics-based information.
“You can have all these fancy toys, [but] the game goes so fast [that] you can’t use half of them,” Ferraro said. “If you’re trying to show something and the puck goes 200 feet up the ice and there’s a goal while you’re showing some animation, then it’s gone [and] you missed the goal. There’s a tough balance… to try to make [the broadcast] new and entertaining, and use analytics and do a coherent show.”
Another part of the broadcast that has the potential to interfere with game play is Kaplan’s commercial break interviews with coaches. The interviews take place either on the bench or via headset depending on building logistics. Each interview runs the risk of being played back while a goal is scored in real time, meaning that Kaplan’s reporting needs to be concise and efficient.
“I do think it’s a tough assignment because it’s such a tiny window,” said Kaplan. “At the same time, I think it’s such unique access… I try to get real-time reactions; real-time moments that can support Ray and Sean on the broadcast.”
Nearing the end of their first season together, the lead trio for NHL games on ESPN figures to continue to grow and maximize their potential, helping to augment the network’s coverage of the sport and it’s overall growth.
“ESPN has been out of the game for so long, and we want to come back in a big way, but these things do take growing pains,” said Kaplan. “We’re in year one of seven right now – and I know we’re in a really good place – but it will only get better.”
“I don’t think we’ve experienced the high yet,” added McDonough. “I think the chance to do the Stanley Cup Final is a dream come true for me.”
The NFL Still Considering Multiple Offers For Sunday Ticket
The NFL has had the respective bids of Disney, Apple and Amazon for weeks now. DirecTV has not bid for the package but has stated it is willing to partner with the new rightsholder for a potential deal.
DirecTV currently has the rights to Sunday Ticket. That deal expires at the end of this upcoming football season. The NFL is expected to make a boatload of cash when they decide which media organization gets the next rights to the package. The only question is… who will that be?
Alex Sherman of CNBC reports that the NFL has had the respective bids of Disney, Apple and Amazon for weeks now. DirecTV has decided not bid for the package. However, they are interested in partnering with the new rightsholder for a potential deal. DirecTV knows that Sunday Ticket is a staple in bars and restaurants and is interested in maintaining those relationships.
Outside of the bar/restaurant industry, success has been limited for the satellite provider with the football package. Fewer than two million subscribers signed up for Sunday Ticket each year which made the package a money-loser for the satellite TV provider.
According to the report, the NFL wants more than $2 billion for the rights and a stake in NFL Media, which is being packaged with Sunday Ticket. Also on the table is the NFL’s mobile rights. The league’s previous mobile agreement with Verizon has ended.
An interesting piece of the negotiations is Sunday Ticket price. According to the report, a buyer would have limited flexibility on pricing. The NFL signed contracts with CBS and Fox and within the framework of those deals, language mandates Sunday Ticket have a premium price. That’s to prevent loss of viewers from the networks that feature local market Sunday afternoon games. So essentially, the price is the price for the consumer.
F1 Renews With ESPN For U.S. Media Rights
ESPN was reportedly in a three-way bidding battle with Amazon and Comcast. According to the report, F1 told both Amazon and Comcast on Friday that they had decline to accept either one’s offer.
The reported value of the three-year contract is set to pay F1 $75-90M per year for the U.S. media rights. Amazon had offered to pay roughly $100M per year, with the right to sublicense to a linear broadcast network. Comcast’s offer was similar to ESPN’s in terms of value and the structure. They also wanted to put select races on it’s streaming service, Peacock.
Netflix was in on the negotiations, as well. The makers of Drive to Survive, the streaming series that many credit with the sport’s explosion in popularity in recent years, wasn’t close on on their financial offer. Also, it seems F1 executives were not ready to put all of its races on a streaming service just yet.
Currently, F1 receives $5M per year for ESPN to broadcast it’s races. ESPN has grabbed about 1.0 million viewers per race. That makes F1 a more than viable option for the network to invest into again. ESPN will be able to put a small number of races on its ESPN+ streaming service exclusively. The vast majority being on ABC or ESPN.
Skip Bayless Says He And Stephen A. Smith ‘Sorted Out’ Their Disagreement
“Brothers fight. We have fought before. I’m assuming we will fight again.”
Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless were locked in a war of words last week following the First Take host’s appearance on JJ Redick’s Old Man and the Three podcast.
The origins of their partnership were discussed and Bayless admitted he did not like the way Smith characterized the state of First Take before he arrived on set. Smith insisted that Bayless simply misunderstood what he meant by saying that he was told the show needed him.
Over the weekend, Skip Bayless says he and Stephen A. Smith got together at the Bayless home in California to talk things out in private.
“He was in LA, he came over, we sat by the pool,” he said on the latest episode of The Skip Bayless Show. “It wasn’t the easiest conversation for a while, but we slowly but surely sorted it out. We got through it, and we have been through so much together.”
Bayless reiterated that he considers Smith a brother. They love each other. That doesn’t mean they are always going to remember events the same way or see eye-to-eye all the time.
“Brothers fight. We have fought before. I’m assuming we will fight again.”
Fighting doesn’t mean the relationship is fractured. In fact, Skip Bayless was adamant that he remains closer to Smith than he is to most people in his life.
“I don’t trust easily because of the way I was raised, but I do trust Stephen Anthony Smith. Trust him with my life. Always have and always will. I trust he will always be there for me, and you better believe I will always be there for him.”