2017 offered no shortage of news on the sports media industry. It seemed like every month this year included a major development for sports television networks to navigate thru, and the sports radio format dealt with its own share of challenges and opportunities while anxiously awaiting the approval of the CBS-Entercom merger. Although it gave media folks plenty of material to digest and discuss, it also left questions about the future.
Nonetheless, here we are at the end of the 2017 calendar, and while some companies would love to put the past twelve months in their rear view mirror and forget they ever happened, we can’t spring forward to 2018 without first looking back at one of the more interesting and challenging years for the sports media business. If 2018 is anything like the one we just experienced, we’re all going to be in for an even bumpier ride. Be sure to buckle your seat belt.
Local Sports Radio News:
The number one story in radio circles for 2017 was the Entercom–CBS Radio merger. What was seen as a positive move for the future of the radio industry was also one which required patience as the new company needed to clear a few hurdles to reach the finish line. In the end, Entercom wound up the undisputed leader in the sports radio format with top performing stations in the majority of major markets, over 40 play by play deals, and ownership of its own national sports network. Former San Diego Padres CEO Mike Dee was hired as the company’s President of Sports and CBS Radio executive Chris Oliviero joined the new group as its Executive VP of Programming. Lost in the completion of the merger were a few successful sports brands including 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston which went to Beasley Broadcasting, Sports Radio 1140 KHTK in Sacramento which was picked up by Bonneville and a smaller signal 1090 The Fan in Seattle which was placed under the operating control of iHeartmedia. Entercom also bolstered its digital efforts by acquiring DGital Media. As we move into 2018 the question becomes, how will the new Entercom capitalize on its position as one of radio’s most powerful companies?
One of the company’s most important stations, WFAN in New York, was dealt two massive blows in 2017. One of those situations was expected, the other came from out of left field. Mike Francesa kept his word and left the station on Friday December 15th, ending a 28-year run in afternoon drive. The Fan announced afternoon drive would be hosted in 2018 by the trio of Chris Carlin, Bart Scott and Maggie Gray. As expected, the station’s new direction was met with immediate criticism, which wasn’t a surprise since change is never popular, especially when it involves the exit of a host who had been on the air for three decades. Entering 2018, all eyes in New York will be on Carlin, Scott and Gray. Meanwhile for Francesa, he’s stated that he’s not done working. The former afternoon king has not yet announced his future plans but has hinted that his next move will likely be something different. Stay tuned.
Equally as challenging for WFAN was dealing with a jolt to its highly successful morning show, Boomer and Carton, which came to an end in September after Craig Carton was arrested for his alleged involvement in a ponzi scheme. Carton is fighting the charges and has since launched a podcast and been linked to a potential opportunity in the new year with Barstool Sports, but his former seat on The Fan’s morning show now belongs to former CBS Sports Radio morning man and Long Island native Gregg Giannotti. With Giannotti earning his shot opposite Boomer, it meant vacating his seat on CBS Sports Radio’s morning program. The network has since announced it will install Marc Malusis and former pro wrestler Taz in morning drive to start 2018.
For WFAN’s lead competitor ESPN NY 98.7 FM, 2017 also involved a few changes. The radio station increased its local programming in middays with the addition of Alan Hahn, Rick DiPietro and Chris Canty and Stephen A. Smith. However, a few months later a decision was made to move Hahn back to evenings and Dave Rothenberg back to middays. An even bigger positive for the station was the month of June which saw Michael Kay edge Mike Francesa 5.2 to 5.1 during their head to head hours M-F 3p-6:30p. It was the first time Kay had finished ahead of the sports radio ratings king for a full month since joining the station in 2002.
In addition to the arrest mentioned previously of Craig Carton, there were other sports radio personalities who found themselves the center of attention for the wrong reasons. 950 KJR in Seattle was forced to cut ties with morning man Mitch Levy after he was locked up during a prostitution sting. Levy is now working on rehabbing his life and image. KJR is still deciding their long-term plans in morning drive. Ethan Skolnick in Miami was taken away by police after assaulting his father. The situation resulted in Skolnick no longer being featured on the airwaves of 790 The Ticket. Ryen Russillo was also arrested, resulting in a suspension at ESPN Radio, after he was discovered highly intoxicated and naked in a stranger’s home in Wyoming.
Play by play deals were extended in multiple cities. The Dallas Mavericks agreed to terms to remain with ESPN 103.3 in Dallas, the Philadelphia Eagles inked a new 7-year deal with WIP, the Seattle Seahawks and Bonneville Seattle renewed their vows for a few more years, WDAE in Tampa secured a new agreement with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 98.5 The Sports Hub extended its partnership with the New England Patriots, WQAM and the Miami Hurricanes advanced their relationship with a new contract, 940 WINZ committed further to the Miami Marlins, WFNZ locked up a new arrangement with the Charlotte Hornets, and Arizona Sports 98.7 FM and the Arizona Diamondbacks signed paperwork to continue their association. The Washington Capitals returned to 106.7 The Fan in DC, the Minnesota Twins followed suit by going back to WCCO, and the Detroit Pistons did the same by heading back to 97.1 The Ticket. In Kansas City, 810 WHB and 610 Sports switched allegiances with 810 becoming the new home for the Kansas Jayhawks and 610 teaming up with Kansas State. KGO in San Francisco struck a new deal with the University of California, San Diego State partnered with XTRA Sports 1360, the Los Angeles Chargers found a radio partner in AM 570 LA Sports, as did the Vegas Golden Knights at FOX Sports 1340.
Program Director changes took place in a few key markets. After being unexpectedly let go in Philadelphia, Matt Nahigian quickly resurfaced in San Francisco landing the PD gig at 95.7 The Game after the station dropped former PD Don Kollins. Nahigian’s spot at 97.5 The Fanatic was then filled by former NJ 101.5 PD Eric Johnson, who earlier in his career served as APD for WIP. Former DC programmer Chuck Sapienza took the reigns at 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore, Jeremiah Crowe was elevated to the top spot at KNBR in San Francisco, Jeff Rickard climbed the ranks to the top spot at 107.5/1070 The Fan in Indianapolis, Tony DiGiacomo was charged with leading WFNZ forward in Charlotte, John Mamola was given the keys to WDAE in Tampa, John Hadley was installed as PD at 590 The Fan KFNS in St. Louis, Joey Jenkins earned PD stripes at ESPN Boise and Ben Darnell left North Carolina to become the top guy and Rob Dibble’s partner at ESPN 97.9 in Hartford. Just a few miles down the road, Justin Craig returned to Bristol to become a key part of the ESPN Radio network’s management team, turning his previous post as PD at 98.7 ESPN NY over to APD Ryan Hurley. John Cassio also entered network management joining SiriusXM‘s sports team in Washington DC.
There were a number of additions made on the air as well. After exiting 97.5 The Fanatic and sitting out for a few months, Jon Marks moved across town to host evenings on WIP. His year ended in afternoons with Ike Reese due to Chris Carlin departing for WFAN in New York. After losing Danny Parkins to 670 The Score in Chicago, 610 Sports filled his seat by adding Brad Fanning opposite Carrington Harrison. As Parkins joined The Score, Chris Rongey left the radio station to head home to St. Louis and become part of The Fast Lane with Randy Karraker and Brad Thompson at 101 ESPN. Arizona Sports 98.7 FM added FOX Sports 910 veteran and budget cut casualty Mike Jurecki to its midday program opposite former NFL defensive end Bertrand Berry, Gerry Valliancourt returned to the Queen City to host afternoons for ESPN Charlotte 730 The Game, Chad Doing headed back to Portland to join Travis Demers in afternoons on Rip City Radio 620, 104.9 The Horn strengthened its roster with the additions of Geoff Ketchum, Craig Way and Rod Babers, Robin Carlin left Denver to join Sean Salisbury‘s show in Houston which then added a TV simulcast on beIN Sports, Erik Ainge joined the midday mix on Sports Radio WNML in Knoxville, and ESPN Radio 94.1 in Norfolk brought in Jeff Pantridge to fill the void left by Nick Cattles who headed to Boston to join 98.5 The Sports Hub. Zach Bye got his big break by leaving Albany, NY for Denver to work with Brandon Stokley in middays on 104.3 The Fan, TJ Carpenter moved from Kansas City to Denver to join Mile High Sports Radio which was eventually purchased along with its magazine, website and newsletter by a group led by former 104.3 The Fan PD and host Nate Lundy. Not to be forgotten, Kyle Bailey joined the weekday lineup at WFNZ in Charlotte, Mark Zinno bounced back from being let go by 92.9 The Game in Atlanta to host afternoons for 1230 The Fan 2, Andy Gresh moved to Providence to host on WPRO, Craig Shemon and Pete Sheppard landed in afternoons in Fort Myers on 99.3 ESPN, and a few major cities gained new sports stations including Vancouver with the arrival of Sportsnet 650, New Orleans with the launch of Sports Radio 1280, and Phoenix with the debut of 1580 The Fanatic.
Changes also resulted in the exit of a few familiar faces. After battling health issues, Terry Foster decided to shut it down and exit 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit where he had enjoyed a long-term successful partnership with Mike Valenti. Longtime Chicago sports radio hosts Terry Boers and Mike North both announced their retirement from sports radio, 680 The Fan in Atlanta parted ways with longtime morning host Chris Rude electing to feature a two-man team led by Chris Dimino and Nick Cellini. Rob Ellis and 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia cut ties paving the way for Jason Myrtetus to become Harry Mayes‘ new on-air partner. In San Francisco, JT The Brick was dropped from middays at 95.7 The Game (he still hosts his national show for FOX Sports Radio), and KNBR and morning update anchor Kate Scott terminated their working relationship. Additionally, Mitch Moss joined VSiN and co-host Mike Pritchard moved to 104.3 The Fan in Denver, leaving ESPN Las Vegas with a hole in its weekday lineup which it has since filled with local options. Dean Blundell was let go by Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto, Sports Radio 1140 KHTK in Sacramento and PD Kevin Sherrets split up, and Sean O’Connell and ESPN 700 in Salt Lake City pursued different directions. Speaking of Salt Lake, 2017 also saw 1320 The Fan cease operations.
A couple of sports radio legends signed new deals which calmed the nerves of their employers. Angelo Cataldi agreed to terms to remain in mornings at WIP, Jim Rome struck a new deal with CBS Sports Radio, Greg Papa gave his commitment to 95.7 The Game, Chris Kroeger and WFNZ pledged their support to one another, and Bob McCown finalized an agreement to continue hosting at SportsNet 590 The Fan.
The hottest sports radio market in the nation remained Boston where WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub jockeyed for position as the market’s leading brand. Combined the two stations were responsible for nearly 25% of listening among Men 25-54. Each station recorded strong double digit shares and after previously spending a few years as the runner up, WEEI reversed its luck and took the lead in mornings thanks to a dominant year from Kirk and Callahan. WEEI also took the lead in middays with Ordway, Merloni and Fauria inching past Zolak and Bertrand. However if the streaming numbers get included the positions change. The Hub’s Felger and Massarotti stayed in front of WEEI’s Dale, Holley and Keefe in afternoons. Month after month the two Boston station’s have been engaged in an intense battle with each quarter hour potentially making the difference of who wins the next book. Truly a fascinating follow.
Continuing with the two Boston sports stations (WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub), each were nominated for the Marconi Award for Sports Radio Station of the Year. 101 ESPN in St. Louis and 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia also received consideration but the honor was ultimately given to Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket in Dallas who enjoyed a spectacular year in the ratings.
Other strong ratings stories were delivered this year by KFAN in Minneapolis, 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, 670 The Score and ESPN 1000 in Chicago, 104.3 The Fan in Denver, KNBR in San Francisco, 106.7 The Fan in Washington DC, 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, 97.1 The Fan in Columbus, 1620 The Zone in Omaha and ESPN 92.9 in Memphis.
A reunion was created in Houston by Gow Media. Lance Zierlein left SportsTalk 790, turning his previous timeslot over to Josh Innes. The talented host then spent a few months on the sidelines before returning to the airwaves at ESPN 97.5 with former partner John Granato in morning drive. Zierlein and Granato enjoyed success together previously at Sports Radio 610 and KGOW 1560. Also making the move to Gow Media was former 790 afternoon host Charlie Pallilo. The Houston sports radio veteran took over middays on Sports Map 94.1.
In Los Angeles, ESPN LA 710 evolved its afternoon show from Marcellus Wiley and Kelvin Washington to Marcellus, Kelvin and Eric Davis. That then was adjusted to Marcellus, Eric and Sean Farnham, except now Davis’ future is in question following sexual harassment allegations from his time at the NFL Network.
After spending the first half of the year away from the microphone following a 2016 exit in St. Louis, Dino Costa was given a second chance. The polarizing talk show host landed the afternoon gig at 102.9/750 The Game in Portland but that opportunity also vanished after Costa created a stir in the market by taking aim at Black Lives Matter supporters and women sports talk show hosts. The Game has since inserted CBS Sports Radio’s Bill Reiter in afternoons.
iHeartmedia in Denver made a bold move to turn Denver Sports 760 into an all-Broncos channel. The station was rebranded as Orange and Blue 760 in July. Among the personalities featured on the channel include Broncos play by play voice Dave Logan and former Broncos Steve Atwater, Ray Crockett, Tyler Polumbus and Matt McChesney.
Unfortunately 2017 didn’t end without the sports radio format losing a few good men. AM 1300 The Zone in Austin lost morning co-host Sean Adams unexpectedly in September, former Philadelphia Phillies catcher turned 97.5 The Fanatic contributor Darren Daulton passed away in August, and Cleveland sports radio host “The Big Sports Kahuna” Kendall Lewis died in April.
The National Sports Radio Circuit:
ESPN Radio brought to an end the marriage of Mike and Mike, leaving hurt feelings in the process. Mike Golic acknowledged being blindsided by the decision and confirmed that he considered retiring before being presented with the option of teaming up on a new show with Trey Wingo and his son Mike Golic Jr. For Mike Greenberg, the company’s plans to launch a new television show with Greeny as the centerpiece alongside Michelle Beadle and Jalen Rose were stalled. The new program is expected to debut live from New York City in April 2018.
The ending of Mike and Mike was not the only major change at ESPN Radio. The network announced Stephen A. Smith would join the weekday lineup in 2018, taking over the 1p-3p ET timeslot. Smith had already been hosting during those two hours on ESPN Radio’s New York and Los Angeles stations. By adding Smith, ESPN Radio committed to moving Ryen Russillo and Will Cain into afternoons except Russillo surprised the company by deciding to exit in order to pursue different opportunities on the West Coast. Although Russillo will be gone from network radio, he will continue producing a podcast for the company thru the summer of 2018. The decision to shift Russillo and Cain to PM drive was made possible due to the company shifting Bomani Jones away from his national radio show into the podcast space. The other two moves at ESPN Radio included Jason Fitz replacing Israel Gutierrez opposite Sarah Spain and Freddie Coleman and Ian Fitzsimmons being inserted into the 9p-1a ET position. Jalen and Jacoby followed Bomani’s path and are focusing more on creating digital content.
FOX Sports Radio added to its lineup by signing Doug Gottlieb away from CBS Sports Radio. Gottlieb was inserted into afternoons on FSR replacing Jay Mohr. To fill Gottlieb’s spot on CBS Sports Radio and the CBS Sports Network, the company turned to Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney who were holding down the midday slot. Damon Amendolara vacated his evening show to replace Tiki and Tierney in middays, and Bill Reiter joined the network to take over Amendolara’s evening shift. CBS Sports Radio also confirmed plans for Jim Rome‘s radio program to gain a television simulcast in 2018 on the CBS Sports Network.
Clay Travis continued increasing his national profile in 2017. The national sports radio morning host for FOX Sports Radio and owner of Outkick The Coverage went on the attack against ESPN, calling out the network for declining ratings, subscription losses and questionable decision making over situations that involved personalities with Republican and Democratic views. Travis also broke the news of ESPN removing Asian play by play announcer Robert Lee from the Virginia-William and Mary broadcast because of concerns of his name offending viewers. Travis’ relentless pursuit of ESPN got under the skin of Bob Iger and John Skipper and resulted in national appearances on FOX News and CNN. During one of those visits, Travis told CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin he believes in two things, The First Amendment and Boobs, generating another firestorm of reaction. The exchange gained Travis tons of national attention but also a removal from CNN’s programs. Travis later claimed that FOX News also pulled him off of their shows to appease Iger, the Walt Disney Company‘s Chairman and CEO.
As much as Travis’ feud with ESPN helped advance his stature in sports media circles, one could make a case that his biggest impact was made when he led a social media revolt against the University of Tennessee after the school hired Greg Schiano as its new football coach. Travis wrote on his website and utilized Twitter to encourage fans to make their voices heard about Schiano being a bad hire for the school due to previously being linked to a child sex investigation from his time spent at Penn State. Travis even went to the extent of tweeting out Tennessee AD John Currie‘s cell phone number. The story picked up steam, resulting in Tennessee rescinding its offer to Schiano, removing Currie as AD, installing former football coach Phillip Fulmer as its new AD, and hiring Jeremy Pruitt to lead the Volunteers football program.
SiriusXM continued making moves to improve its programming offerings. The company announced plans to launch SEC Radio and Pac-12 Radio, struck a partnership with ESPN to rebrand College Sports Nation as ESPNU Radio, inked a six-year extension with NASCAR and came to terms with Barstool Sports to give the brand its own 24/7 channel starting in January 2018. A pretty good year for Scott Greenstein and Steve Cohen.
The year also included two of the most powerful multi-media rights and sponsorship holders in college sports play by play announcing their intentions to join forces. Learfield and IMG College revealed in September their plans to align. If approved by the DOJ it would make their joint worth more than 2.5 billion dollars. Assuming approval is granted, the companies will represent a total of 220 schools including 70% of Division I universities.
2017 will also be remembered as the year when broadcast outlets began increasing the amount of air time given to sports betting content. VSiN launched in Las Vegas on SiriusXM, spearheaded by Brian and Brent Musburger. Speaking of Brent, he was utilized as a sports betting expert on ESPN during the network’s March Madness coverage, something previously shied away from on sports television. FOX Sports Radio entered the space in a bigger way with the addition of RJ Bell. The Chernin Group launched The Action Network, luring away ESPN digital executive Chad Millman to run it, and Scott Van Pelt continued advancing the discussion on his midnight SportsCenter program on ESPN. With the Supreme Court weighing the possibility of legalizing sports gambling, if approved, it could provide a huge boost to TV ratings, audio content, and ad revenue.
A Crazy Year in Sports Television:
There’s no other way to put it, 2017 wasn’t kind to ESPN. For every win the company enjoyed, an avalanche of negative news soon followed, culminating with the unexpected resignation from company President John Skipper. Former ESPN President George Bodenheimer has since taken the reigns of the company on an interim basis as Bob Iger tries to determine who’s best suited to lead its efforts going forward into 2018 and beyond.
Perhaps the biggest move in sports television in 2017 was CBS‘ decision to hire Tony Romo as its lead NFL analyst, replacing Phil Simms alongside Jim Nantz. Simms was moved to a studio role on the NFL Today on CBS, part of a few changes to the show which included dropping Bart Scott in favor of Nate Burleson and losing Tony Gonzalez who preferred to work on the west coast for FOX Sports. Although Romo’s addition was met with initial doubt by media pundits, the former Cowboys QB has proven to be exceptional, possessing the ability to read and predict what may happen next.
The second move which created instant second guessing, was ESPN‘s decision to replace Chris Berman‘s spot on Sunday NFL Countdown with Samantha Ponder. Berman’s presence and personality has been missed this season, leaving questions about the network’s plans for next season. Countdown has had its moments but has lacked that must-watch feeling that previously existed on Sunday’s. That may not be as much on Ponder as it is a reflection of Berman’s large impact on the show.
Jay Cutler was expected to join FOX Sports as an analyst working with Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis, but once Ryan Tannehill went down with an injury in Miami, the former Bears QB cancelled his plans to move into the TV booth for one last shot with the Dolphins. Although Cutler didn’t make the jump to FOX, the NFL’s Senior VP of Officiating did. Dean Blandino signed on to become a second rules analyst for the network and his addition has been met by mostly positive reviews.
Among the many controversies to plague ESPN in 2017 included Jemele Hill publicly blasting the President of the United States Donald Trump, labeling him a white supremacist. The comments created a strong divide among media folks and a lot of unnecessary negative media attention for the worldwide leader in sports. The situation became even more magnified when the company chose not to punish Hill for her remarks, a stark difference compared to how the company handled other personalities with opposing views. Hill has since reiterated her position during a podcast conversation with former NFL running back Arian Foster. Despite the political firestorm over Hill’s tweet which included drawing a response from the White House, ESPN did take action against Hill for a separate incident. The SC6 host was suspended for encouraging fans on Twitter to boycott the NFL’s advertisers as a response to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones declaring that any player on his team who protested the flag would not participate.
Not all was bad at ESPN though. The company vastly improved its NBA coverage by adding the best reporter in the business, Adrian Wojnarowski. The basketball bloodhound exited The Vertical along with former front office executive turned insider Bobby Marks. Also making the jump to ESPN was social media star and rising TV personality Katie Nolan who left FOX Sports 1 after being sent to the sidelines for most of the year without any clear explanation. Nolan now serves as a contributor on multiple network shows and is launching a podcast for ESPN in 2018.
Rex Ryan was another headline hire made at the network but reviews of his performance so far as an NFL analyst have been underwhelming. The former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills coach especially drew criticism for his performance on the Monday Night Football opener between the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers. Fortunately for the outspoken coach his less than stellar performance was overshadowed by Sergio Dipp who stole the headlines when his first report from the sidelines was presented in awkward fashion, leading to an explosion of social media memes, GIFs and video clips, making him a top trending subject on Twitter.
Talent additions aside, ESPN continued displaying its brilliance with its 30 for 30 documentaries. Among the films to stand out in 2017 were Celtics/Lakers: Best of Enemies, John Calipari’s “One and Not Done”, “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, The Tommy Morrison story and the 1-hour special on Mike & the Mad Dog. Anticipation is already high for the forthcoming 2018 film on Bill Parcells and Bill Bellichick.
ESPN demonstrated that it can have some fun too. The company dedicated Tuesday August 8th to rebranding ESPNU for 24-hours as ESPN The Ocho. The idea was inspired by the popular 2004 film “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” which featured Vince Vaughn, Christine Taylor and Ben Stiller. Among the sports featured on The Ocho included American Disc Golf, Roller Derby, Ultimate Trampoline Dodgeball, Juggling, Table Tennis and Cornhole among others.
One issue which wasn’t a laughing matter and rose like a phoenix inside the media industry was sexual harassment. Allegations increased throughout the year, leading to a large number of high profile terminations. FOX News parted ways with Bill O’Reilly and Eric Bolling, FS1 cut ties with top executive Jamie Horowitz, NBC dropped Matt Lauer, CBS/PBS/Bloomberg cut Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin was ousted by MSNBC, Pete Rose was sent packing at FOX Sports, and the NFL Network, The Ringer and ESPN dealt with a lawsuit filed by former employee Jami Cantor which claimed that Marshall Faulk, Warren Sapp, Eric Davis, Donovan McNabb, Ike Taylor and Heath Evans and media executive Eric Weinberger all sexually harassed her at work. A second employee, Erin McParland, has since come forward and added Michael Irvin‘s name to the mix, offering additional details to Sports Illustrated. Many of the accused are off the air pending further investigation. Other allegations were made by Jenn Sterger and Adrienne Lawrence against ESPN, Lindsay McCormick towards the NFL Network, and Seattle Seahawks analyst Warren Moon was accused of the same by a California woman named Wendy Haskell.
Layoffs were another unpleasant story which affected organizations such as ESPN, FOX Sports, Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, Buzz Feed, MTV and Vice Sports. Among the notable names to lose employment at ESPN due to budget cuts were Jayson Stark, Ed Werder, John Clayton, Ron Jaworski, Merril Hoge, Andy Katz, Marc Stein, Trent Dilfer, and Danny Kanell. Seth Davis and Lindsay Schnell were among the cuts at Sports Illustrated, and Stewart Mandel was among those who were eliminated at FOX Sports as the company shifted away from written content in favor of video.
Continuing on that topic, despite evidence showing an increased interest in video consumption and advertising, media outlets were taken to task for pursuing video strategies at the expense of the written word. FOX Sports in particular came under fire, especially when respected writers and reporters Ken Rosenthal and Bruce Feldman were left to post breaking news and columns on Facebook and Twitter. Feldman eventually landed a writing gig at Sports Illustrated and the adverse affect of choosing video over print became an opportunity for upstart The Athletic which began raiding newspapers and websites for their best journalists. The company launched divisions in San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Cleveland, Toronto and Montreal, building their business by relying on subscriptions from readers and promising no advertising or video, just exceptional journalism. Among the familiar names to join the group included Rosenthal, Seth Davis, Stewart Mandel, Peter Gammons, Tim Kawakami and Andrew Brandt. All industry eyes will be on the digital platform in 2018 to see if their strategy is sustainable.
Meanwhile at FS1, a new morning show was introduced in September, featuring Hall of Fame NFL wide receiver and former ESPN analyst Cris Carter, former sports radio host Nick Wright and former Today Show correspondent Jenna Wolfe. The program, First Things First, was created to make the network more competitive in morning drive and offer a live lead in to Skip and Shannon: Undisputed. FS1 also strengthened its roster by adding Ray Lewis, Tony Gonzalez, Mark Schlereth, Eric Davis, Michael Vick, Danny Kanell and Chris Broussard as contributors.
As those additions were made, two popular personalities moved on. 2017 saw Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole‘s run in the United States come to an end, as a new adventure began north of the border. The comedic sports television duo were cut loose by FOX Sports but quickly landed on their feet at TSN.
The year included some memorable contributions from FS1‘s Jason Whitlock. The Speak For Yourself personality offered a thought provoking commentary during an interview with Michael McCarthy of the Sporting News, explaining how the media landscape has drastically changed due to the industry taking its cues from San Francisco rather than New York. Whitlock also ruffled a few feathers by stating that LeBron James was too rich to experience real racism and for welcoming a Colin Kaepernick impersonator into the studio and mocking the free agent QB. One personality to take exception with Whitlock was nationally syndicated hip hop radio personality Charlamagne Tha God.
In a stunning move, the Walt Disney Company spent over 52 billion dollars to acquire a large number of key assets from 21st Century Fox, including the company’s 22 regional sports television networks. The purchase should increase ESPN‘s local opportunities and decrease FOX‘s regional distribution. 21st Century FOX did retain ownership of FS1 and FS2 but how future viewership and revenue potential will be affected as a result of the sale is a story which many will be keeping an eye on in 2018.
The narrative on the decline of sports television ratings continued with the NFL, NASCAR and College Football all experiencing a dip in overall viewership. The NFL was placed in an especially difficult position as player protests during the national anthem increased as owners expressed their frustrations publicly and privately. On the other hand, the NBA was one of few leagues to enjoy sizable gains. One change which has television network’s feeling optimistic about 2018 is a recent announcement from Nielsen to adjust its measurement and place a heavier focus on video streaming. The downside of increased sports video consumption on electronic devices is a stronger appetite from Facebook, Amazon and Twitter towards acquiring sports programming rights. That could become an economic problem in the future for sports television companies.
Women began to earn a larger presence on sports television in key roles in 2017. Beth Mowins,broke new ground becoming the first female to call a nationally broadcast regular season Monday Night Football game. Mowins more than proved she was ready for showtime. Kate Scott made history next by becoming the first woman to call a Pac-12 college football game on television. Doris Burke, Kara Lawson, Lindsay Whalen, and Sarah Kustok were all given bigger opportunities as analysts and play by play announcers, and Kerith Burke was added to Golden State Warriors television broadcasts replacing Rosalyn Gold-Onwude who landed a national opportunity on TNT and NBA TV. Although not perfect, progress was made.
The year also saw Britt McHenry redefine herself. The attractive sports sideline reporter was let go by ESPN during its April layoffs but began breathing fire as an opinionated political commentator, earning new fans and critics in the process.
Barstool Sports experienced its fair share of attention led by the news of landing a television show (Barstool Van Talk) on ESPN, only to have the network pull the plug on the program one week after its debut. Former President John Skipper said at the time that ESPN removed the show because he was not comfortable with the network being associated with Barstool, leading many in media circles to question how executives at ESPN could allow the program to reach the air in the first place without doing extensive research. The partnership gained stronger attention inside ESPN after ESPN host Samantha Ponder took to Twitter blasting Barstool for its content and previously taking personal shots at her.
Adding to the company’s headaches was a social media firestorm created by former FOX Sports College Football reporter Elika Sadeghi who took exception with Barstool‘s contractual language, which she said permitted the company to place her in an environment where she might be exposed to “nudity, sexual scenarios, racial epithets, suggestive gestures, profanity and references to stereotypes.” Upon learning of the critical remarks by Sadegi, Barstool president Dave Portnoy fired back claiming that the legal terms were similar to what SNL and Comedy Central ask of their employees and taking Sadeghi to task for trying to insert herself into a story to gain attention.
But all wasn’t negative for Barstool. The company dominated the iTunes charts once again thanks to the popularity of Pardon My Take hosted by Big Cat and PFT Commenter. Dave Portnoy‘s group added a number of talented personalities including Michael Rappaport, Pat McAfee, Dallas Braden and Julie Stewart-Binks. The company has also confirmed it’s held talks with former WFAN host Craig Carton. Perhaps its most impressive feat has been the way the brand has further cemented its position as one of the best sports social media engagement outlets, especially with younger fans. Barstool also made business decisions to launch a 24/7 radio channel on SiriusXM in 2018, purchased the amateur boxing company Rough N Rowdy, and capped off the year by announcing the addition of female Chief Revenue Officer Deirdre Lester.
After losing his HBO television show in late 2016, Bill Simmons focused on the things he does best in 2017. Simmons continued producing his highly successful podcast, announced the launch of Ringer Films which is presently working on a documentary about former WWF wrestler Andre The Giant, and added former NFL executive Michael Lombardi as a content contributor. Simmons also utilized his relationship with Mike Francesa to bring the former WFAN host on to his podcast to make his popular football picks for the remainder of the 2017 NFL season. The Ringer website also continued producing exceptional written and audio content with Bryan Curtis contributing a number of great sports media pieces.
The TV and print industries also saw 2017 end minus a few outstanding members. Legendary sports broadcaster Dick Enberg passed away in December. Accomplished sportswriter Frank Deford was lost in May. Longtime New York Knicks analyst John Andariese died in March. Sportscaster Bob Wolff left us in June. Dallas Stars broadcaster Dave Strader died in October. Former NBA player and broadcaster Steve “Snapper” Jones passed on in November, and legendary WWE manager and color commentator Bobby “The Brain” Heenan joined the man upstairs in September.
And of course Sports Illustrated‘s Richard Deitsch continued to use Twitter to call out Skip Bayless‘ TV ratings on FS1. Whether you’ve been a fan or critic of the approach it’s been highly entertaining.