My Day at ESPN
“Men don’t like wishy-washy men, women don’t like wishy-washy men. People like strong opinions, once it comes out of my mouth it is your decision how your receive the message.”
Colin Cowherd on being both loved and hated for his radio show at ESPN
Love and Hate, two very strong emotions, but words that you commonly hear when you get in a discussion about ESPN. In many ways they remind me of Jay Z (sorry Whitlock). We all remember “Reasonable Doubt” version Jay Z and for some, that will always be the quintessential Jay Z, not the half billion corporate branded Jay Z we know now.
There was a time that ESPN was Roc-A-Fella records. In the old days, if you wanted to be a sports journalist you had to work for a newspaper, but when ESPN came along it changed the game. Your goal was to be on Sportscenter. I know, because I was that 16-year-old kid pretending to be Craig Kilborn doing my high school sports homeroom announcements.
Times change, the industry moves in a different directions, what was cool in high school, seems old, tired and too corporate as an adult. The kid grows up, finds his own voice and start doing his own thing. I am not a critic, but just like Colin said I am not afraid to express my opinions. There are things I don’t like about ESPN and I’ve expressed that publicly, they could have just ignored me. In the grand scheme of things I am just a very small blip on their radar, but instead of doing that, they personally invited to Bristol to their media day.
I found this to be a great opportunity to learn more about the inner workings of the company, their upcoming NFL and College Football coverage, their big plans for Sportscenter and to get some answers to some questions I have had for a very long time.
As I mention I had an opportunity to speak to Colin Cowherd first. Colin is one of the things that is right with ESPN. I don’t always agree with what he says, but at least it isn’t watered down and simply trolling. He believes in what he is saying and if you don’t, that’s ok with him. He is what Skip Bayless should be, but isn’t (more on Skip later).
After that there was a College Football discussion highlighted by the members of College Football Gameday. Gameday is fun and they have great chemistry. They are expanding the coverage to three hours this year and the way people consume football that shouldn’t be an issue. It is the one problem that shouldn’t worry ESPN when it comes to Fox Sports 1, Gameday is far and away the best college pregame show around.
The NFL discussion was more interesting. It is my belief that the Sunday and Monday NFL Countdown shows need retooling. The addition of more Matthew Berry (which means more fantasy football coverage) is great, but in the long run, I don’t think Ray Lewis will add much. Tedy Bruschi did make an excellent point on how ex-players are best when they are breaking down film and giving inside information on what coaches and players are thinking.
One of the big issues with me and others in my profession is credit from the mainstream sports networks, especially when they get their information from Twitter or blogs. I asked Adam Schefter who is big on breaking stories on social media what he thought. He said that ESPN is unfairly criticized for not giving credit and it doesn’t matter who breaks the story they should get the proper recognition. While he acknowledged that sometimes you just don’t see who put out the information first, it is something everyone needs to get better with.
It was a very good answer, but it is something I need to see in practice. I still see too much “multiple sources” and “internet sources” from stories where I know who is the direct source. If I know who is the direct source, then ESPN should know. They talked about the high expectation for ESPN to be perfect, to me that applies in this case. Make sure you are giving the proper credit. They might not be making a billion dollars, but they are working just as hard on stories as you.
We had the pleasure of having lunch with the President of ESPN, John Skipper. I have been a lot of networks corporate offices and rarely do you get a chance to speak with the head guy in charge and have him take your questions for an hour and half. That’s a level of access that can’t be beat, so that was very big in my opinion.
Jason Whitlock said on Bill Simmons’ podcast that Skipper was the driving force behind him coming back to ESPN and will allow him to do a “Black Grantland” style site.
I asked Skipper to expand on this, mainly because I have done “Black Grantland” before Grantland was even formed. What I was told was that nothing is set in stone, but similar to ESPNW and other side sites that ESPN have, doing an African-American based site is something they are interested in. While some would think this would bother me, it actually doesn’t.
All I have ever wanted is for more African-American online writers get an opportunity and if ESPN gives them that, I am all for that. Everyone can’t build a site from scratch like I did. I was extremely fortunate and caught a lot of breaks to get to where I am at, so I hope ESPN explores more in the future.
Skipper also spoke on a myriad of topics from Fox Sports 1, Obtaining and renewing rights, Keith Olbermann’s return, job layoffs, future of Sportscenter and much more.
No question was off-limits and he answered each one of them. Maybe some of the answers wasn’t what we wanted to hear, but at least we did get some idea of what direction he wants to take ESPN in.
After lunch Skip Bayless walked through the hallway and didn’t speak to anyone. Obviously, my presence had him shook.
We took a tour of the entire ESPN campus and campus is a good word for it, because it is massive. Imagine your local news studio and then multiply it by 100, that is the size of ESPN. Lot of sets, hidden rooms and history in this huge facility and that was before we saw what will be the new Sportscenter set in 2014.
My first impression was that ESPN waited a year too long to do this. While Sportscenter is somewhat interactive, it still feels a little old school at times. With the new set, it seems that they understand they need to catch up with the times. Mark Gross the Sr. VP and executive producer of Sportscenter told me that you can’t get your sports news from anywhere like you can from SC, I totally disagree with that.
People just want the news, they don’t necessarily care how they get it or who they get it from as long as it is immediate and available to them on the go. The two-minute highlight that was a staple of Sportscenter just isn’t as important anymore. Something happens like A-Rod hitting a homer after being plunked is already been replayed on Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Youtube, MLB.com and 1000 sites before Sportscenter even comes on the air.
While I disagree that SC is appointment viewing anymore, I like the vision they are going with it. More interaction, more getting to know the anchors, more graphics, more quick hitting, more digital, more technology driven. They have to make Sportscenter fluid and not rigid. That is something Sr. VP of Content, Digital and Print Media Rob King spoke about. Making Sportscenter mobile and on the go. I believe that is something their new set up will help with.
No one universally loves the top dog. Because, if you are any type of competitor you want to be the top dog yourself.
ESPN is the top dog, so from Fox Sports to the worst sports blogger on the planet, that is who you are looking up to. While there are some things I will never see eye to eye with them on at least they are open to a dialogue. Does that mean anything I write here or that people said at the media day will change anything?
Maybe, maybe not, but a voice spoken alone is better than a voice not heard at all. I can comfortably say I was able to speak my peace.
As far as the hosts they were all very nice, accommodating and spoke highly of myself and my staff. Plus, there was free food, so with that being said, it was always going to be a win for me.
Also a special thanks to Kia who afforded me the luxury of driving this beautiful Kia Sorento from New York City to Bristol. It will be definitely be the next car that I purchased. I love the feature where it lets you know if there is a car on your blindside. Also, it had wonderful gas mileage and even though it is an SUV, it drove as smooth as a sedan.
You can find out all the information about the Kia on their official website Kia.com.