The changing of the sportscasting championship guard continued last week as we reported the CBS-Turner Sports plan to transition from the longtime voice of the Final Four, Jim Nantz, to Ian Eagle after Nantz calls the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
Last week’s news was only the latest development in a process accelerated by the unprecedented NFL announcer free agency that resulted, most prominently for this premise, in Joe Buck moving from Fox Sports to ESPN.
The passing of the torch over the next fews years at the major events is astonishing.
1. Super Bowl
The last person to call a Super Bowl other than Al Michaels, Nantz or Buck was Greg Gumbel in 2004, nearly two decades ago.
With Buck off to ESPN, Kevin Burkhardt will enter the mix this February. Nantz, who will be 65, is due to get the next one for CBS the following year. Burkhardt is then scheduled to be on his second in three years, followed by NBC’s Mike Tirico in early 2026. Buck will come back to the fray for ABC/ESPN in 2027.
2. World Series
Buck had called the World Series for nearly a quarter of a century, but relinquished the job when he left for Mickey Mouse’s cash. Even if Buck had stayed with Fox, there were indications he would have given up the World Series this year. Joe Davis, 34, received the coveted gig.
3. Stanley Cup
In NBC’s last year of 2020-21, Kenny Albert got the call on the Stanley Cup, but prior to that, Doc Emrick had owned the NHL’s crown event. Emrick called 15 for NBC and 22 total. Last year, for ESPN, Sean McDonough was on the mic, while this season will end with Albert again receiving the honor for TNT.
4. NBA Finals
Years ago at ESPN, Mike Breen had Tirico breathing down his neck for the NBA Finals mic. Breen stayed in the job and combined with Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson to form a strong team. Breen, 61, will call his 18th Finals at the end of the year.
(Last year saw a slight interruption to Breen’s streak when Mark Jones stepped in to call two Finals games as Breen was sidelined due to COVID protocols.)
While not Finals-related, we should also mention that over at TNT, the legendary Marv Albert retired before last year. TNT has never officially replaced him, but Kevin Harlan did the Western Conference Finals for the network in the first post-Albert era deep playoff call.
The old guard has been on top of the most prominent calls for a long time. Michaels wanted to continue on the Super Bowl, as he tried to retain his NBC job and had heavy interest in ESPN and Fox gigs, which would have potentially meant another Super Bowl that would have broken a tie with Pat Summerall with 11 on TV total. Bob Costas made a playoff comeback this fall, calling the ALDS for Turner. Even Nantz said he is not leaving the Final Four stage completely, saying he plans on still handing out the championship trophy at the end of games.
So, yes, the old guard is hanging around, but the biggest events have new voices — with Davis on the World Series — and more to come.
• Here is what you like about the LeBron James and Maverick Carter deal to call an alternative broadcast of “Thursday Night Football” if you are Amazon Prime Video. It is not that “The Shop” doing an alternative stream of the game on Nov. 17 between the Packers and Titans sounds amazing. Maybe it will be good. Maybe it won’t. It is LeBron, so there will be interest. What is significant is that you want to start a relationship with LeBron if you are Amazon.
Paying all-time athletes to do media for crazy money may make sense — I haven’t seen how it all adds up, but maybe it works — but, more importantly, it is the present trend. Peyton Manning didn’t just go to ESPN. Jimmy Pitaro, the network’s chairman, worked on finding a way to have Manning join after years and years of building a relationship and having Manning say no to working on Mondays. The Manningcast only happened after Pitaro and company promised the NFL it would upgrade its “Monday Night Football” presentation and after Amazon had eyes on Manning.
As for LeBron, he could do a lot of things after he stops playing, but he is already building a media empire. And with big time sports media making it clear they want to be in business with the greatest athletes of all-time, forging a relationship with James is a natural step for any of those companies. ESPN has Manning. Fox Sports has Tom Brady coming. TNT just signed Charles Barkley for a decade. Now Amazon has started a relationship with LeBron and his Uninterrupted company. With the NBA rights deals up in three years, remember a random Thursday in November 2022 if that date one day turns into a marriage.
• Last week, our headline item was about the Big 12 and Pac-12 media deals. We thought the Big 12 would do a deal with ESPN and Fox Sports and would do well, but not reach the magic number of $400 million a year. Well, as my podcast partner, John Ourand, and Michael Smith of the Sports Business Journal first reported Sunday, the conference did indeed agree to a six-year extension for $380 million per season from ESPN and Fox Sports. Initially, we projected the Pac-12 would get similar money from ESPN and Amazon Prime Video. We’ll stick with that, but the Pac-12 might need to find more leverage to get there. The pressure is squarely on Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff.
• Really good stuff from YES’s Richard Jefferson addressing Kyrie Irving‘s social media post linking to an anti-Semitic film. Besides making a good point — that Irving could take down the tweet to disavow its content — Jefferson, a former player (and Irving teammate) and an analyst, did some journalism as he talked to Irving and told him what was coming. That is the right thing to do on many levels. It allows Jefferson to see if there was something he was not considering, be a stand-up guy and, in theory, maintain relationships.
• Mike Breen becomes the second Fordham alumnus to receive WFUV’s Vin Scully award for excellence in broadcasting on Tuesday. Michael Kay, in 2018, was the other Fordham winner of the Scully honor.
Clicker Consulting: What Stephen A’s World needs
Manning’s Omaha Productions attempt to take over the sports media world has mostly had them playing the hits. Besides Peyton and Eli Manning on Mondays, they have produced alternative broadcasts with Pat McAfee (college football), Buck and Michael Collins (golf), Rob Gronkowski (UFC) and the latest, Stephen A. Smith (NBA).
Nothing is going to compete with the Mannings, because it is “Monday Night Football” and Peyton has a genius-level football mind.
Last Wednesday, Smith did his own “Manningcast” for Nets and Bucks. It was part of his “Stephen A’s World” brand, and, along with Manning’s Omaha Productions, Smith’s production company was involved, too.
Smith can be found on TV, radio and podcasts seemingly 24 hours a day, so it is not like he needs a new outlet, but Stephen A. also appears to be trying to take over the media world. This newsletter is always here to help, so, let’s — “Omaha! Omaha!” — give some audibles:
1. Stephen A. needs someone sitting with him watching the game. It could be Michael Wilbon or Jalen Rose or whomever. Smith doesn’t seem like he is just home watching TV many nights, but if he has a buddy to just chill with, the concept might — emphasis on the might — seem more organic. But he needs to be having a conversation during the game. The non-Manning Manningcast — which is not associated with Manning — “Kay-Rod” show featuring Alex Rodriguez with Michael Kay, did that. Smith needs to play off someone. Chris Russo would be a fun Smith companion.
2. Smith’s constant presence on the air is a challenge for the show. Unlike when the Mannings take to the air, by the time Smith was on Wednesday he had already been on all day from “First Take” to every last take. So he needs to be put in a different environment. The Mannings are only on once every two weeks or so. That makes their presence feel more special.
3. Stephen A. should not do play-by-play, especially on some random early season game. He’s not Peyton or Eli. He doesn’t see an NBA game like these elite quarterbacks see an NFL matchup, instantly dissecting plays while doing a TV show. When Rose and Kendrick Perkins were on, they were much quicker to point out strategic aspects of the game. Stephen A. is where he is because of personality. That is what has to lead the program.
4. Having Stephen A’s sister, Carmen Smith, cook up food was good. Wilbon went to town on the buffet. I wanted to hear from her about Stephen A. Of the things Smith discusses these days, a Top 5 topic is Stephen A. The game should be in the background and Smith should just be chopping it with some folks.
5. I’d like to see Stephen A. rating all the food on the menu. That might have been fun. (Could be contrived? This might be a double-agent move by us so we can criticize it later. :))
All this said, the Stephen A. show on ESPN2 picked up 10 percent of the two million viewers who watched on both ESPN and the Deuce. That’s a solid number for Smith. Did it add viewers? That’s hard to say, but there is probably something to grow on. The next of the four shows will be on Wednesday at 10 p.m. when the Trail Blazers and Grizzlies play.
Mike Tannebaum’s The 33rd Team raised some eyebrows when it brought in some heavy-hitter executives last week. Tony Petitti is now the co-CEO with Tannebaum, while John Entz, formerly Fox Sports’ executive producer, will be the chief content officer.
The group has brought strategic partners from Liberty Media and Baupost Group. It also has signed a content-sharing agreement with NFL Films.
Tannenbaum and Joe Banner, the former Eagles president, started The 33rd Team as a Zoom connecting former executives to talk about the league. It has since progressed into producing content in a variety of formats.
Its roster of contributors includes Ed Reed, Bill Parcells and Michael Vick. It also is in the fantasy and betting space.
Technology makes it very easy and efficient for its analysts to work on 20-minute videos that producers can splice into shorter content. This is not a new concept, but if you combine it with the expertise that Tannebaum and company have access to, Petitti, Liberty and Baupost believe there is a business. And one day it might not just be the NFL because of the low cost and ease to put content together.
“This production technique lends itself to other sports,” Petitti said.
So Petitti and Tannebaum are starting with pro football, but the college game and other sports could be next.
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