Big Ten’s mega-move, LIV Golf, improving broadcasts and more: Sports Media Mailbag, Part I

Date:

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Welcome to the 32nd Media Mailbag for The Athletic. Writing a mailbag — as egocentric as it is — is always a fun exercise. Thanks for sending in your questions via the website and app. There were nearly 150 questions, so this will be a two-parter. Part 2 will appear later this week.

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Note: Questions have been edited for clarity and length.

The NFL gets its future players free from the colleges. What are the possibilities that when a player is drafted and or makes a team as a free agent, the NFL team has to pay the college from where the player came from a “development” fee? — Joe D.

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The same as me winning an Oscar for Best Actor.

Thanks for the ESPN (“30 for 30”) recommendations! I saw all of them and I was wondering if you have any other recommendations for sports shows, movies, documentaries and even podcasts. — John R.

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Fox Sports has an upcoming serialized audio documentary that looks promising. Tom Rinaldi examined the story of Lyman Wesley Bostock Jr., a hitter with massive promise for the Minnesota Twins in the 1970s who was murdered during the 1978 MLB season. The title of the audio series is “Wesley,” and the series should debut sometime in July. Rinaldi served as the executive producer alongside Gabe Goodwin and Scott Turken from Blue Duck Media, which is show-running a number of Fox Sports podcasts. Goodwin and Turken are former ESPN producers, and Goodwin serves as an executive producer and occasional on-air guest for Michelle Beadle’s podcast (“What Did I Miss?”), which is part of The Athletic podcast network.

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Richard, I’m a huge fan of your work. Every time you bring up Amazon and the NFL, though, I wish you’d address something even more important to fans than the announcers or even the production. Will this be the only NFL game each week that must be seen live? To date, Amazon hasn’t put the Thursday game as an on-demand option. If this is the only NFL game that can’t be recorded and time-shifted, that is TERRIBLE news for fans and is bringing the game back to the mid-1980s before VCRs. — Jason H.

An Amazon spokesperson said time-shifting will be available for “Thursday Night Football.”

What happens when a coach is on television and then gets hired by a team? (Does) the station have to give permission? Is it involved? — Avi B.

Let’s stick to national outlets: Usually, talent agents will negotiate into a contract that the former coach can leave the broadcasting job without a penalty for a job that returns the coach to pro or college sports. The pro team or college would not have to get permission unless the contract specifically prohibits the coach from talking to a non-broadcasting organization about a job.

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If you had the power to change one rule regarding gameplay in each of the major sports to improve the broadcast experience for those watching, what would you change? — Josh C.

NFL: Less a rule change but an enhancement: I’d like the ability as a viewer to switch between watching the game from the traditional cameras to an All-22 look whenever I wish.

NBA: The inclusion of a 4-point shot in the final two minutes of a game.

NHL: Make two to four regular games every season only 3-on-3 play.

MLB: Shortening the distance between bases to bring the stolen base back into the game.


MLS moves to Apple TV in 2023. Will it be a boon or a bust for bringing in new fans? (Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today)

As an MLS fan, I’m conflicted by the new Apple deal. All games on one platform with no blackouts is amazing. But I’m concerned this will hinder the league’s ability to draw new eyeballs. What are your thoughts? — Adam A.

The Athletic soccer department has done exceptional work analyzing the deal and what it means for fans. My thoughts? I do not believe the deal will significantly raise the status of MLS in the United States. Now, that’s very different from whether MLS should have done it. They should have. The money was too great to pass up. The gamble of being with Apple long-term is not a bad gamble for a niche professional league in the U.S. If you are a diehard MLS fan, you likely will pay for Apple TV+ and likely be very satisfied. But I don’t think MLS will grow substantially domestically with this deal. I think the bigger hope is a wave of soccer interest prior to and after the 2026 World Cup in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

What are the chances of CBS televising college football beyond 2023? I prefer FOX and CBS when it comes to media outlets for the Big 10, or do you see the Pac-12 possibly being on CBS? — John S.

I think there is a better than 75 percent chance that CBS will air college football games beyond 2023. What they air will be the big question. They are interested in the Big 10 along with all the other players (ESPN, NBC, Amazon, Apple, etc.). Whatever becomes of the Pac-10/12 and the Big 12, I think CBS would be interested in that as well. I would make ESPN the favorite for Pac-10/12 if it stays in its current form (which is highly unlikely).

Why can’t we all admit that the only thing that matters when it comes to the Big 10 and the SEC adding new members is whether the additional schools will grow the conference’s media deal enough to give the existing members a boost in revenue? If Oregon and Washington can’t expand the total compensation enough to justify splitting the revenue 18 ways instead of 16 then it’s a non-starter. — Jason D.

This is only about money. Nothing more.

Is there any incentive for the TV partners to renegotiate the ACC deal? It seems that right now it is cheap inventory, and if the ACC collapses, it makes it easier for the SEC to poach the schools it wants. — Pat T.

Can you give us some insight into how a network estimates the value of a team being added to or subtracted from a college football conference? For example, how would they estimate the impact of USC and UCLA moving to the (Big 10) conference? What data are used when deriving these estimates? And how accurate were estimates of previous moves such as Nebraska leaving the Big 12? — Jeff P.

John Canzano had an interesting column recently that quoted former Fox Sports Network president Bob Thompson placing Stanford’s media rights value at $35 million and Oregon at $45 million. Estimates would include market size by population and media ranking, the viewership and potential viewership of the teams coming in. The Athletic’s Matt Fortuna had a good piece on Notre Dame’s move as it relates to the ACC and the ACC/Pac-12 talk.

When will LIV Golf get a television deal? Who is likely to pay for media rights? — Dave C.

The LIV Golf series seems to have gained some momentum lately, but still has no media rights deal in the U.S. and is currently giving away its product for free on YouTube & Facebook. I’m curious what you think its prospects are for securing such a deal considering CBS, NBC, and ESPN are all likely out given their contracts with the PGA Tour? — Christopher V.

I came here to ask exactly the same type of (LIV) question. Without a TV deal, how long can they really stick around? Yes, they have very deep pockets but they can only lose money for so long before the plug gets pulled. What about FS1 or a network like that? I honestly don’t know anyone who would stream DAZN for LIV Golf. – Merri M.

I think LIV will get a media deal in 2023. I do agree with all the readers above who recognize that it won’t be with any company that has ties to the PGA. My reasoning: If you think sports media entities will pass on LIV because of allegations of the Saudi government’s complicity with the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, or its alleged involvement in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or its treatment of gay people, let me introduce you to ESPN and Turner, who partner with the NBA, who partners with China, and Fox’s World Cup coverage from Russia. I think LIV will sell its rights cheap in the U.S. and someone will bite.

Brooks Koepka


LIV Golf is currently operating without a U.S. TV deal. Could that change in 2023 and beyond? (Soobum Im / USA Today)

I know I’m one of the very few who are genuinely delighted to see Pierre McGuire returning to TV. Think there is any chance he gets a deal in the U.S.? — Dane D.

McGuire just worked the NHL Draft for Sportsnet (Canada). I think there is much more likelihood he lands with a Canadian broadcasting job. I could see him doing a hockey podcast for a well-known U.S. sports media brand, though.

Every baseball fan hates when their team’s game is moved to a national broadcast. It used to be prestigious, but now it’s often so bad that you mute the sound and try to sync the TV to the team’s radio broadcast. Do MLB execs know this, and if so do they care? — John H.

I’ve yet to read a positive comment online about MLB using streaming on Apple and Peacock. What do you hear as far as how the league is feeling so far? I get that the streaming platform is the future, but MLB isn’t the NFL. You have to be a diehard to search it out online. Just some thoughts now that we’re at midseason. — Brian W.

I don’t think EVERY fan hates this, but where I do think league executives have essentially given the fan base a middle finger is by selling their national inventory to so many media partners. If you are a baseball fan that wants to view every national game, you must subscribe to ESPN, FS1, MLB Network, Apple TV+, Turner Sports, Peacock and YouTube TV. Ridiculous. I think MLB is happy to have a relationship with the streaming companies because they know the potential for long-term money.

In the (Big 10) negotiations, is there any advantage for NBC in all this since the (Big 10) covets Notre Dame, which has such a strong relationship with NBC? — Matt C.

How does the future possibility of adding additional teams in conference realignment affect Big Ten negotiations in their media rights deal? For example, if Notre Dame were to join in a couple of years, does the contract/payout get modified, do existing teams just take less, etc.? In the event of the latter, payouts are fixed and existing teams take less when new members join, as well as the likelihood that conference membership will change a lot over just a few years, does this incentivize shorter media deals? — Colin K.

Pete Sampson of The Athletic looked into the calculous of Notre Dame joining a conference, as did The Athletic staff, including the ACC’s league grant of rights. Would NBC have any advantage in Big Ten negotiations? I don’t think so unless Notre Dame says that they’ll only join the Big Ten in football if NBC is involved, and why on earth would they say that?

Do you believe conference realignment in college football will have any significant long-term impact on television viewership? — Jonathan C.

For certain. I think viewership of the non-Power 2 conferences will take a significant hit outside of out-of-conference matchups against schools from the Big Ten or SEC. Conversely, I expect CFP playoff expansion will be a near certainty, and that will bring viewership between 10-20 million viewership for those early-round playoff games. The two super conferences are set to be highlighted in the best linear television time slots and there are only so many of those linear time slots that exist.

What is the business reason for not creating a game-sound-only option (no commentators) on sports streaming? The only place I see it is in biathlon, but I’d love to have that in the NHL or NBA. — Michael S.

The business reason is that most people have consistently shown they prefer announcers. It hasn’t been monetized to where outlets would consistently do it.

Does the fact that the color analysts for two of ESPN’s top properties (Saturday night college football and “Sunday Night Baseball”) have supplemental announcing jobs (Amazon and YES) say anything about how Disney views ESPN as a long-term property? — Joshua G.

Honestly, the only thing it says to me is that Kirk Herbstreit and David Cone — and their talent agents — enjoy money and working. It also says that Amazon (for Herbstreit) and ESPN (for Cone) were smart to pursue respected announcers who were under contract elsewhere and figure out a way to make this work.

Kirk Herbstreit


In addition to his regular ESPN college football duties, Kirk Herbstreit will join Amazon as an NFL analyst for “Thursday Night Football.” (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

Who is your favorite person you’ve ever interviewed? And who is the one person you haven’t yet interviewed, but really want to? — James P.

This is a really hard question because I feel incredibly lucky to have worked for name places that allowed me to intersect with some very interesting and well-known people. I did a one-on-one interview with Pelé inside a private screening room at The Museum of Modern Art. That was very cool. I was part of a journalism group interview with Mikhail Gorbachev at his office in Moscow. Very memorable. I interviewed Heidi Klum in Lower Manhattan as she was being body-painted by Joanne Gair, a famous New Zealand makeup artist. Again, quite memorable. Someone I’d love to interview but likely never will? Michelle Obama.

How much does Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson impact ratings compared to the TNT crew with (Charles Barkley), Shaq, Ernie (Johnson) and Kenny (Smith)? I have to imagine if TNT had the NBA Finals, the ratings would truly boom even more. I continue to read about how much Van Gundy and Jackson ruin the game and even the halftime show for ESPN is beyond repair. Any thoughts on that? — The Gigante

What do you think is the future of national commentary teams for the NBA? A lot of fans seem to really dislike a lot of the mainstay national commentators. — David S.

Apples and oranges. “Inside The NBA” is a cable sports studio show that airs prior and after games. The universe of people watching is millions less than an NBA Finals game on ABC. If TNT aired the NBA Finals, viewership would be lower because the reach would be lower. Has nothing to do with broadcasters. Now, as always, the broadcasters you like are subjective. I think ESPN’s NBA game broadcasters are generally very strong and I consider Mike Breen as good as any NBA play-by-play caller in history. The ESPN/ABC NBA Finals halftime show, for me as a viewer, is miles behind “Inside The NBA.” But this has been the case for a long time.

Who do you think ends up with Sunday Ticket? — Trent W.

See the item below in “The Ink Report.”

F1 U.S. TV ratings have grown in the last several years thanks to the “Drive to Survive” Netflix documentary. The group behind that documentary, Box to Box Films, is now producing one centered around the Tour de France. Where would a similar TV ratings bump to F1 leave pro cycling in the U.S. TV sporting hierarchy? What other sport would you love to see be given a similar treatment? — Clark E.

If pro cycling could get the viewership numbers Formula One is getting now — which is consistently over a million viewers on race day — it would be game-changing for the sport. They’d get a nice media rights deal. For some context: The Tour de France drew 1.05 million viewers on NBC for the penultimate stage of the 2019 race, the largest live audience for the event since 2013 (1.08M). But that’s an outlier number. The entire race in 2019 averaged 359,000 viewers on NBC and NBCSN. Last Sunday, Tour de France coverage averaged 347,000 viewers on USA Network. I think Formula One is a much more attractive television sport in the U.S. than pro cycling given F1 stars are far more well known compared to pro cycling’s stars. Here’s The Athletic’s primer on this year’s Tour.

What would be your ideal tennis commentary team? — Shaun D.

Some combination of Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Mary Carillo, with Carillo acting as the play-by-play person. Agassi and Roddick, when they have done broadcast analysis, are the best I’ve ever heard. If you want a traditional tennis caller, add Chris Fowler or Ian Eagle.

Will Toronto ever win a round of playoff hockey? — Aaron M.

They will in 2023.


The Ink Report

1. I spoke to ESPN director and producer Russell Dinallo and host and reporter Jeremy Schaap this week about a fantastic E:60 documentary the two ESPN staffers collaborated on. They (and big credit to editor Lauren Saffa as well) tell the story of Barry Bremen, a Detroit-area novelty goods salesman who in the late 1970’s was known as “The Great Imposter.” Bremen pulled off a series of high-profile sports pranks including walking onto the court of the 1979 NBA All-Star Game to shoot layups on the court with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, and Dr. J, crashing baseball’s 1979 All-Star Game to shag flies in the outfield for 30 minutes, and posing as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader at a Cowboys-Washington game. The stunts landed him on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, “The David Letterman Show” and “The Today Show.” Bremen died of cancer in 2011, but that’s where the story begins in many ways. More than three dozen people have now learned that Bremen is their biological father, through sperm donation. They found out about each other — and Bremen — through genetic testing and the painstaking efforts of one of the children to track their lineage. “The Great Imposter and Me” debuts on July 12 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN and will be available for on-demand streaming on ESPN+. Here’s our conversation.

2. The MLB Draft has never had the cache of the NFL, NBA and NHL Drafts, but MLB Network has invested significant resources in the last few years to produce a ton of content. The first 80 picks of the 2022 MLB Draft will air Sunday on MLB Network from Los Angeles beginning at 7 p.m. ET. MLB.com will stream Day 2 (Monday) and Day 3 (Tuesday) beginning at 2 p.m. ET.  The on-air talent includes Greg Amsinger (host), Dan O’Dowd (analyst), Harold Reynolds (analyst), Carlos Collazo (from Baseball America), Jim Callis (from MLB Pipeline), Jonathan Mayo (MLB Pipeline), Scott Braun (host), Lauren Gardner (reporter), UCLA head coach John Savage and Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello.

Last year I wrote about how MLB Network coordinating producer Marc Weiner approaches MLB Draft production. As the point person for his network’s coverage, Weiner is charged with producing a television program where the majority of his viewers are not familiar with the selections. In many cases, MLB Network analysts, hosts and reporters are introducing draft picks to fan bases across the country for the first time, especially those picked beyond the first round.

3. Roger Goodell told CNBC last week that the “Sunday Ticket” package will be moving to a streaming service. The decision is expected by the fall. Per reports, CNBC, Apple, Amazon and Disney/ESPN+ have all submitted bids to be the league’s exclusive “Sunday Ticket” distributor. Goodell also told CNBC that the NFL will be launching its own streaming service, called NFL+, for the upcoming season. If it comes to fruition, expect a lot of NFL Films content at the beginning.

4. Sports pieces of note:

• WWE’s Vince McMahon Agreed to Pay $12 Million in Hush Money to Four Women. By Joe Palazzolo, Ted Mann and Joe Flint of The Wall Street Journal.

• Browns, Baker Mayfield and trying to identify where it all went wrong. By Jason Lloyd of The Athletic.

• From NFL QB to mushroom farmer: Jake Plummer’s life-altering journey into the queendom of fungi. By Parker Gabriel of USA Today.

Via Tim Britton of The Athletic: 17 stories about Keith Hernandez’s impact on the Mets, as a player, a captain and a broadcaster.

• College football was betrayed by the adults who were supposed to protect it. By Sally Jenkins at The Washington Post.

WNBA announces big changes at All-Star Game, but familiar fan frustrations persist. By Chantel Jennings of The Athletic.

Non-sports pieces of note:

• How Istanbul Became the Global Capital of the Hair Transplant. By Alex Hawkins of GQ.

• Elon’s Out. By Matt Levine of Bloomberg.

• “Our babies see people get shot while they’re at a playground, and there’s no counseling,” one South Side resident said. By Robert Klemko of The Washington Post.

• The Women Who Built Grunge. By Lisa Whittington-Hill for Longreads.

• ‘Dad, that’s it. She’s dead’: Another day of loss in Ukraine. By Cara Anna and Mstyslav Chernov of the Associated Press.

• Putin’s War Was Never About NATO. By Natalia Antonova of Foreign Policy.

• The good news: Johnson’s on the way out. The bad news: look who’s on the way in. By Marina Hyde of Guardian.

• Cassidy Hutchinson Held Their Manhoods Cheap. By Tim Miller of The Bulwark.

• Teachers go to the ‘dumbest colleges’ — who said it and why it matters. By Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post.

• He Had a Dark Secret. It Changed His Best Friend’s Life. By Sam Dolnick for The New York Times.

• Uber broke laws, duped police and secretly lobbied governments, leak reveals. By Harry Davies, Simon Goodley, Felicity Lawrence, Paul Lewis and Lisa O’Carroll of The Guardian.

• James Caan Was Unlike Any Other Leading Man. By Alan Siegel of The Ringer.

• A Day After Shinzo Abe’s Killing, People Wonder ‘Why Did This Happen in Japan? By Miho Inada and Alastair Gale of The Wall Street Journal.

• The Lottery Lawyer Won Their Trust, Then Lost Their Mega Millions. By Simon van Zuylen-Wood of Bloomberg Businessweek.

• The piece that stayed with me most this week: She died in a Manhattan penthouse but was buried on an island for the poor. By Mary Jordan of The Washington Post.

(Top photo: Trevor Ruszkowski / USA Today)





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