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How Far Will ESPN Go to Heal NFL Relationship?

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Last week, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro told The Washington Post that the network had informed the NFL that it would not be showing the playing of the national anthem before games as a courtesy to the league. He said it was part of a larger effort to show the NFL just how much ESPN values their partnership.

In his mailbag column this week, The Athletic‘s Richard Deitsch was asked what that larger effort might entail. Specifically, the email wanted to know if the NFL could demand an end to any investigative reporting done on the league, its teams, or its players. Deitsch didn’t go so far as to say it would put an end to investigative reporting, but Pitaro’s comments do put the network’s reporters in an interesting situation.

I think the journalists who do investigative work would be wise to be concerned. ESPN is undoubtedly going to continue to cover the NFL daily and will break plenty of compelling stories that involve players etc … But will we see deep investigative pieces on the issues that really chafe at the NFL brass (concussions, ownership scandals, the nexus between social justice and the national anthem policy)? That’s the large question because the reality is fellow NFL media rightsholders are not doing those stories on the league. (And if you think the NFL hasn’t punished ESPN for being a reporting pain in the behind, I have a monorail to sell you in North Haverbrook — just look at ESPN’s Monday Night Football schedule prior to this year.)

Deitsch added that the network itself is in a curious spot. It makes sense that ESPN values its relationship with the NFL, but it has to value its reporters too, as that is what makes ESPN’s NFL coverage different from the coverage provided by any of the league’s other TV partners.

The reality is that what is best for ESPN’s business is to avoid covering stories that tick NFL owners off. But I’d argue ESPN’s journalism is also something that separates it from every other sports media entity in partnership with professional leagues.

The outlet that Deitsch worries would be most affected by any editorial mandates from the corporate level is Outside the Lines. The show has already lost its Monday time slot during the NFL season, and with its long time leader Bob Ley taking a 6 month sabbatical, Deitsch worries that OTL will lose some of its strength.

For its part though, ESPN has already told Deitsch that it is still committed to OTL. It is hard though to read Pitaro’s comments and not see the network taking OTL off the air the same night it is airing NFL games as a way to distance the show from the league.

Sports TV News

ESPN Will Honor Vin Scully By Airing Iconic 1988 World Series Game 1 Tonight

ESPN will air an encore presentation of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series as a tribute to Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scull

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Vin Scully

ESPN will air an encore presentation of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series as a tribute to Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully. The network will air the game tonight, August 3 at 8pm ET on ESPN2.

The 1988 World Series was between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics. Scully was on the call for the classic game which is notable for an injured Kirk Gibson coming off the bench and hitting a walk-off home run.

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Matthew Berry Joins NBC Sports

Berry is expected to host a daily podcast and have his own Sunday fantasy football show.

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Matthew Berry

Matthew Berry, the fantasy football expert that helped to elevate the niche to mainstay programming surrounding the football season, is joining NBC Sports.

Berry, who left ESPN less than a month ago, is expected to host a daily podcast and have his own Sunday fantasy football show, sources told The New York Post. The show might go against Fantasy Football Now, his previous show that airs on ESPN2.

The show is also expected to be on NBC’s streaming service, Peacock, as well as possibly on some NBC affiliates. Berry could also make appearances on Sunday Night Football.

NBC Sports declined comment.

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NBC Pushing for Big Ten/NFL Primetime Pairing in Media Rights Deal

“The Big Ten would have exposure in every TV home,” said one source to Front Office Sports. “It would also be a smart idea to follow the model of the most successful sports league in America.” 

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Big Ten media rights negotiations are getting closer to being completed. The results could mean a minimum of $1.25 billion annual distribution for the conference’s soon-to-be sixteen members. One of the bidders in the process, NBC, has an interesting idea to make the Big Ten the “NFL of college football conferences.”

NBC has reportedly pushed the idea of combining Big Ten broadcasts with its existing Notre Dame coverage and would feature the Big Ten in its primetime window. With CBS, ESPN/ABC also bidding on coverage packages, such a series of deals would make the Big Ten the only college football conference that would be seen across all of the American broadcast networks. Something only few entities have done, like the NFL.

NBC is also pushing the allure of having primetime Big Ten football on Saturday night and primetime coverage of Sunday’s only NFL evening game with Sunday Night Football.

“The Big Ten would have exposure in every TV home,” said one source to Front Office Sports. “It would also be a smart idea to follow the model of the most successful sports league in America.” 

The Big Ten’s current media rights deals expire after the 2023 season.

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