The Presidential Candidates Of The Play-By-Play World
“The undertaking was a little more daunting than I thought it might have been.”
This is not a paid political announcement. Thankfully huh?
You will not read about the Electoral College. There will be no mention of blue states or red states. However, I did hold an election, the voting machines all worked, there were no lines to stand in and it all went off without a hitch. That’s because the election I’m talking about took place in my living room. The candidates were selected by me and the winners were also chosen by, yes you guessed it, me.
I should probably explain. My election is all about all-time play-by-play announcers, both past and present. I selected who should be the “President” of each of the four major sports leagues, NCAA Football and Golf.
The undertaking was a little more daunting than I thought it might have been. In a couple of cases the choice was extremely clear and in others not so much. So, the criteria are, which announcer is the one in each of the mentioned sports that others would look to for “leadership and influence”. To make it easier on me, I’ve chosen a President and Vice President for each.
President: Vin Scully
Surprised? Vin Scully is presidential in the way he calls/called games. The style is friendly, yet authoritative. Scully had a command over a broadcast that was unmatched in the game. Working as a solo act most of the latter part of his career, his work became like a ‘fireside chat’ (for you millennials, google it).
Vin was so easy to listen to, because he spoke to his listeners directly and you almost felt part of the broadcast. Staying power was also in Scully’s resume, nearly 70 years with the Dodgers for one, plus countless network opportunities, calling baseball for CBS and NBC. Perhaps two of his most famous calls took place as a network broadcaster in the World Series. There was the 1986 call of the ball getting by Bill Buckner and the 1988 home run by Kirk Gibson off of Dennis Eckersley. Both were incredible in the moment and have lasted the test of time. He is the model all others look to as the standard in the sport. Oh, and did I mention he’s one of the best human beings to ever walk the earth?
Vice President: Jack Buck
This was not an easy choice, but Buck emerged as my selection based on longevity, network experience and being known for several calls along the way. Buck was a fixture with the Cardinals for 40 plus years and had that great deep and somewhat raspy voice that won fans over. His most famous call came in Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS when Ozzie Smith hit a walk-off homer, “Go crazy folks, go crazy!”. Buck worked in the NFL too and was the national radio voice of Monday Night Football alongside Hank Stram in the 1990’s.
Cabinet positions for (in no particular order): Red Barber, Curt Gowdy, Harry Kalas, Mel Allen, Ernie Harwell, Jack Brickhouse, Harry Caray, Bill King, Bob Costas, Marty Brenneman, Jon Miller, Milo Hamilton, Dan Shulman, and Bob Uecker.
President: Pat Summerall
In the late ‘70’s and most of the 80’s, Pat Summerall was the voice of the NFL. If it was a big game in football, chances are pretty good he was on the call. Summerall worked his way up the ranks and became the network’s lead NFL voice, paired first with Tom Brookshier and then of course with John Madden. The latter pairing worked together for 22 years on both CBS and Fox.
Summerall called 16 Super Bowls on TV. He was perfect for television, complimenting the pictures on the screen with a baritone name of the player, then the result of that play. Summerall subscribed to the “less is more” theory and it proved successful in his career. He had a great way of making his partner the focal point.
I’m sure as a former player he knew a lot about the game, but as a great play-by-play guy, he deferred in many cases. Summerall was named the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio and Television Award winner in 1994. He proved a versatile broadcaster as well, serving as CBS’s lead announcer on its PGA Tour coverage.
Vice President: Al Michaels
What can’t this guy do? This “presidential” race was close. While Michaels might be best known for his “Do you believe in miracles?” call in 1980 when the US beat Russia in hockey, he’s been a mainstay in the NFL.
Michaels took over Monday Night Football after the Howard Cosell era and kept that ship afloat. He then moved to NBC, teaming with John Madden and then Cris Collinsworth on Sunday Night Football. So, you’ll probably notice that Michaels appears in several of these sports’ top tiers, doing baseball and basketball in addition to his football work. One of the more well-known broadcasters of several generations is certainly more than qualified as the VP in this category.
Cabinet positions (in no particular order): Jim Nantz, Dick Enberg, Curt Gowdy, Joe Buck, Jack Buck, Howard Cosell, Dick Stockton, Frank Gifford, Charlie Jones, Lindsey Nelson, Ian Eagle, Kenny Albert and Greg Gumbel.
President: Marty Glickman
When I wrote an earlier piece on Marv Albert, the name Marty Glickman came up a lot. Marty was a mentor to Marv and many other soon to be broadcasters. Glickman entered broadcasting in 1939 with a job in radio. In 1946 he became the radio voice of the Knicks, a post he held for decades. He also was the play-by-play man for the New York (Football) Giants, the Nets, the Jets, the Dodgers (Brooklyn) and Yankees. Pretty impressive resume.
Perhaps the most “presidential” thing he did in his storied career was to mentor young broadcasters. I already mentioned Albert, but he also served in the same role for Bob Costas, Bob Papa and Ian Eagle among others. Glickman is credited with coining the basketball terms, the lane, key, midcourt stripe and swish. That’s called leaving a mark on a sport.
Vice President: Marv Albert
It only seems fitting that the student follows the teacher in this category. Albert’s voice is unmistakable, his excitement with every call, that wit and of course the catch phrases, including “YES”. He’s among the best to ever call the sport, but again we deferred to the teacher, followed by the protégé.
Cabinet positions (in no particular order): Mike Breen, Chick Hearn, Jim Durham, Kevin Harlan, Johnny Most, Ian Eagle, Dave Pasch and Dick Stockton.
President: Mike Emrick
As I wrote last month, Mike “Doc” Emrick is as good as it gets in a sport. Doc announced his retirement after nearly 50 years of calling hockey as a professional. His command of the English language and hockey is unmatched in a broadcaster. Not only was he the top of the heap in the booth, everyone you talk to, feels he is the top of the mountain as a human being. To this day he listens to young broadcasters’ tapes to give them pointers, nurturing the next generation of announcers. You knew it was an important game when Doc was on the call.
Vice President: Bob Miller
Miller wrapped up a legendary career with the LA Kings a few years ago. Miller was with the Kings since 1973, so you know he became THE credible source for hockey in Southern California. Being around that long affords you the opportunity to speak your mind. Those that listened to him, understand he wasn’t afraid to tell you what he thought. Miller also had a great reputation for telling great stories with his easy going style and personality he really made it work well for many years behind the mic.
Cabinet positions (in no particular order): Gary Thorne, Lloyd Petit, Jiggs McDonald, Mike Lange, Dan Kelly, Bob Cole, Foster Hewitt, Dave Strader, Sam Rosen and Howie Rose.
President: Keith Jackson
“Whoa Nellie!”, “Fum-BLE!” and “Hold the phone” were just a few of well-known expressions uttered by Keith Jackson. He missed just one college football season in his 50-year career, because he was doing play-by-play for the inaugural season of Monday Night Football in 1970. He was the ultimate in “big game” college football announcers in his day. Big weekly matchups and big bowl games were his calling card.
The voice was folksy and warm and the catch phrases weren’t contrived, they fit the style and seemed so natural. How can he not be “president” when he basically renamed Michigan Stadium, “The Big House”, giving it the nickname that it’s still known by today. Jackson is also credited with naming the Rose Bowl, “the Grandaddy of them All”. The stadium’s radio and TV booths were named “The Keith Jackson Broadcast Center” in 2015 and a statue of him was erected outside the stadium earlier this year. Talk about an impact. Jackson was also well known for calling Major League Baseball, the NBA, NFL and contributed to ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
Vice President: Vern Lundquist
Our VP has quite his own resume. He was the radio voice of the Dallas Cowboys until 1984, calling legendary games like the “Ice Bowl” and several Super Bowls. He moved to ABC calling a few college football games, but the talent pool made it difficult for him to ascend. He moved to CBS to call college basketball, golf and the NFL. After a brief departure to Turner Sports, Verne returned to CBS and became its voice of the SEC.
Lundquist called many a huge game, but he’s quoted as saying the best one was the 2013 Iron Bowl when Auburn beat Alabama on a 109-yard return of a missed field-goal attempt with one second on the clock.
Cabinet positions (in no particular order): Lindsey Nelson, Brad Nessler, Chris Fowler, Brent Musburger, Ron Franklin, Chris Schenkel, Sean McDonough and Gus Johnson.
President: Jim Nantz
“Hello friends…” Jim Nantz has been a fixture in the 18th tower during CBS’ coverage of the PGA Tour. Hard to remember a time when he wasn’t the anchor of the coverage.
I wrote in my “Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Jim Nantz” on July 2nd, “He’s got that perfect tone for the tower on 18. Nantz has the ability to paint a picture with his words, even though you can see those pictures on your television. That’s not easy to do. He sets scenes at the beginning of each day’s golf coverage and it almost sounds like a song. It’s on the melodious side and ear pleasing as well.” My thoughts on that haven’t changed, he’s the standard to me in golf broadcasting. Can’t wait for the Masters to fire up here soon!
Vice President: Dan Hicks
Hicks has served as lead play-by-play host of NBC Sports’ PGA TOUR Golf Channel on NBC tournament coverage since 2000. He’s been part of NBC’s coverage of the U.S. Open, the Ryder Cup, the President’s Cup, and dating back to 2007, two World Golf Championships, all a part of network television’s premier golf package. Like Nantz, Hicks sets the stage well and does a great job of handling the reins on an interesting group of characters on the telecast. That broadcast includes David Feherty who is always quick with his wit and unique sense of humor. Also keep in mind, Hicks worked with Johnny Miller who always kept him on his toes.
Cabinet positions (in no particular order): Pat Summerall, David Feherty, Terry Gannon, Verne Lundquist, Dottie Pepper, Gary McCord and Peter Kostis.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.
Robert Griffin III Wants to Tell Your Story the Right Way
“Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
During last season’s VRBO Fiesta Bowl, Robert Griffin III was part of ESPN’s alternate telecast at field level alongside Pat McAfee. Suddenly, the Heisman Trophy winner took a phone call. Once he hung up the phone, Griffin divulged that his wife had gone into labor and proceeded to sprint off of the field to catch a flight. An ESPN cameraperson documented his run and jubilation as he returned home to welcome his daughter, Gia, into the world. It encapsulated just what motivates Griffin to appear on television and discuss football, and why he is one of ESPN’s budding talents with the chance to make an impact on sports media and his community for years to come.
“This was an opportunity for me to go out and be different in the way that the media covers the players and truly get to the bottom of telling the players’ stories the right way,” Griffin said. “I look at this as an opportunity to do that.”
Griffin was a three-sport athlete as a student at Copperas Cove High School, and ultimately broke Texas state records in track and field. In addition to that, he played basketball and was the starting quarterback for the school’s football team as a junior and senior, drawing attention from various schools around the country. He ended up graduating high school one semester early and quickly became a star at Baylor University in both football and track and field.
Robert Griffin III’s nascent talent was hardly inconspicuous, evidenced by being named the 2008 Big 12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year and then, three years later, the winner of the Heisman Trophy. In the end, he graduated having set or tied 54 school records and helped the program to its first bowl game win in 19 years.
Ultimately, he transitioned to the NFL in a career with many trials and tribulations, but through it all, he never lost his sense of persistence. Nearly a decade later, he returned to college, but this time as a member of the media covering the game from afar. Unlike a majority of former players though, Griffin did not formally retire from playing football when inking a broadcasting contract with ESPN.
“I haven’t retired yet at all,” he said. “I tell everyone that asks me the question that I train every day [and] I’m prepared to play if that call does come. I’ve had some talks with teams over the past two years; just nothing has come to fruition.”
While Griffin’s focus as a broadcaster is undeniable, he never thought about seriously pursuing sports media until his broadcast agent pushed him to do so. He was urged to take an audition at FOX Sports. Griffin broke down highlights and called a mock NFL game alongside lead play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt. He was not prepared for that second part, but impressed executives and precipitously realized a career in the space may not be so outlandish after all.
Griffin then moved to ESPN where he experienced a similar audition process, this time calling a game with play-by-play announcer Rece Davis. Once the audition concluded, it was determined that Griffin would not only begin working in the industry, but that he would be accelerated because of his ability to communicate in an informative and entertaining style.
As a player, he saw the way media members covered teams – sometimes bereft of objectivity – and therefore saw assimilating into the industry as a chance to change that. Now, he is focused on telling the stories of the players en masse while being prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice.
ESPN’s intention was to implement Griffin on its studio coverage, but once executives heard him in the broadcast booth, the company had a palpable shift in its thinking. He was told he was ready to go out into the field and start calling games immediately, something of a surprise to him. FOX Sports felt similarly. This led to a bidding war between the two entities, which ultimately concluded with Griffin inking a contract with ESPN. He appeared over its airwaves plenty of times as a player, and even participated on a variety of studio shows in 2018 where he was almost permanently placed on NFL Live. This time around though, Griffin was suddenly preparing to work with Mark Jones and Quint Kessenich on college football games. He did not have time to consider the implications of the decision, instead diving headfirst into the craft and remaining focused on what was to come with producer Kim Belton and director Anthony DeMarco at his side.
“These guys took me under their wing, and I’m beyond indebted to them for that,” Griffin said of his colleagues. “They taught me everything that I know about the industry. They taught me everything I know about how to present things to the masses to where it can be easily digestible. They’ve allowed me to allow my personality to shine through.”
Demonstrating his personality was a facet of his makeup Griffin felt was inhibited by playing professional football, but he knows it would have been considerably more difficult to attain a chance to cover the game had he not laced up his cleats. Calling college football games with Jones accentuated his comfort in the booth because of Jones’ adept skill to appeal to the viewers and penetrate beyond the sport.
“He has the way to connect different generations of listeners to hear what he’s saying and perceive it in the same way,” Griffin said. “To me, that’s what we all strive to do in this industry is to be able to find the connective tissue between the fan who is 60 or 70 years old, and the fan who’s in their late teens or early 20s.”
From the beginning, everyone told Griffin to be himself and not adopt an alternate persona in front of the camera. That advice has guided him as he approaches his third year working in the industry.
“It is so hard to maintain a character or try to be someone that you’re not, but if you are who you are every single day, then every time you show up on camera you will be that person,” Griffin said. “I’ve made sure that when I stepped foot in front of that camera, I was going to be myself.”
Griffin identifies his style as pedagogical to a degree, critiquing players as if he was coaching them on the sidelines. He will never look to penetrate beyond football with his criticism, as drawing conclusions and using unrelated parlance could be viewed as indecorous. In short, Griffin III knows what it means to represent ESPN.
“We’re not a gossip website. We’re supposed to be critically acclaimed, prestigious journalists, and at the end of the day, that’s how I try to approach the job that I do. That’s why I got into the business – because I felt like there was a little of that going on, especially during my career, so I would never do to somebody else what was done to me.”
Over the course of his NFL career, Griffin was subject to immense criticism that went significantly beyond the gridiron. For example, sports commentator Rob Parker suggested that Griffin was not fully representative of the Black community and proceeded to question if he was a “cornball brother.” The incident resulted in Parker receiving a 30-day suspension from ESPN, and after he defended his comments and blamed First Take producers in a subsequent interview, the network decided not to renew his contract.
“My goal as a member of the media is to tell players’ stories the right way, and if I don’t know you personally, I’m never going to make it personal,” Griffin said. “Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
In addition to broadcasting college football games with Jones on ESPN and ABC, he also appears on-site for Monday Night Countdown, the network’s pregame show leading up to Monday Night Football. Making the decision to add NFL coverage to his slate of responsibilities meant that Griffin would be able to tell more stories and utilize his knowledge of players during their collegiate careers to enhance the broadcast.
The energy that he felt attending tailgates and interacting with fans at the college level gave him a unique skill set to translate to the NFL side, leading him to present the production team with an unparalleled idea for Week 1. He wanted to race Taima the Hawk, the live game mascot for the Seattle Seahawks who flies around Lumen Field prior to the start of each home game. It was an outlandish idea, but one that made sense for television because of the visual appeal it can present.
“If you know anything about hawks, they can fly up to 120-140 miles per hour, so they’re like, ‘There’s no way he’s going to beat this hawk in a race, but we’ll do it,’” Griffin said. “To that crew’s credit, they never once balked at any of the creative ideas that I brought to the table because they want to try different things and be exciting and have fun on the show.”
Griffin ended up winning the race, commencing the new season of Monday Night Countdown with immediate excitement before the Seahawks’ matchup against the Denver Broncos. He thoroughly enjoyed his first year on the show and having the chance to work alongside Suzy Colber, Adam Schefter, Booger McFarland, Steve Young, Larry Fitzgerald and Alex Smith.
“They always tell me, ‘Hey, anything you’re not comfortable with, you just let us know and we won’t do that thing,’” Griffin said of the show’s producers. “My answer always back to them is, ‘Well, I won’t know if I’m uncomfortable with it if I don’t try.’”
While Griffin had what looked like a seamless assimilation into the broadcasting world, he had a difficult moment when using a racial slur on live television in discussing Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. The clip quickly gained traction across the internet, and Griffin issued an apology on his Twitter account for using the pejorative language and claimed that he misspoke.
“I was shocked that it came out in the way that it did, and I immediately jumped on it and apologized because there’s no need to deny,” he said. “You messed up. You move forward, and I think that’s the easiest way to get over those types of things and to get back on your feet.”
The football season at both the college and professional level is undoubtedly a grind, and it requires a combination of dedication, passion and persistence few people possess. Robert Griffin III has garnered the reputation of being an “overpreparer,” often partaking in considerably more information than necessary to execute a broadcast. The information he consumes and conclusions he draws combined with his experience at both levels has cultivated him into a knowledgeable analyst who makes cogent, intelligible points on the air.
“I over-prepare for everything, and 70% of the information that I soak in going into a game or going into a broadcast for Monday Night Countdown, I don’t use because there’s just not enough air time,” Griffin III said. “There’s not enough opportunities to talk on it all.”
At the same time, he makes a concerted effort to make the most of his time with his family and separate himself from the field, engaging in activities including playing ping pong, going to the movies and supporting his children. He also embarks in charity work through his RG3 Foundation and strives to teach his daughters the importance of giving back. The mission of the nonprofit foundation is to discover and design programs for underprivileged youth, struggling military families and victims of domestic violence, and it has made a significant impact since it was launched in 2015.
“Trying to end food insecurity; making sure that our under-resourced youth have access to the things that they need just to survive – talking about food, clothes, books, the ability to learn [and] putting on these after-school programs,” Griffin elucidated in describing the organization’s mission. “We want to have an impact on our community. We mean that with everything in us and have shown that to be the true case of why we do this.”
Griffin’s wife, Grete, serves as the executive director of the foundation and also runs her own fitness business. Staying physically and mentally in shape is something they actively try to accomplish in their everyday lives, and lessons they are passing down to their daughters.
“I’m 33 years old right now, so if I want to continue to train every single day, I can do that for the next 10 years if I need to,” Griffin said. “Not taking hits and being physically fit is also a good thing for your own health, which is something me and my wife are extremely passionate about.”
Although his experience is in playing football and working in sports media, Robert Griffin III does not believe in limiting himself and would consider exploring opportunities outside of sports and entertainment. He wants to become the best broadcaster possible no matter where he is working in the industry and continue finding new ways to be distinctive en masse.
“We’re storytellers,” he said. “We’re here to break down things [and] to tell people a story the right way; things that people are interested in, and that expands across all media levels. We’re not closing the door on anything from that standpoint.”
While he was playing in the NFL, Griffin dealt with a variety of injuries that ultimately kept him off the football field and made it difficult to display his talents. Ranging from an ACL tear, shoulder scapula fracture and hairline fracture in his right thumb, staying healthy was a challenge for him over the time he played in the NFL.
Through surgeries and rehabilitation, he learned how to face and overcome these challenges. It has shaped him into the broadcaster and person he is today as he looks to set a positive example to aspiring football players and broadcasters everywhere.
“The eight-year career that I was able to have thus far didn’t come without roadblocks in the way [and] didn’t come without adversity. Learn from the adversity that you go through and learn from all the things and the lessons that you have that sports teaches you, and then go be able to present that to the masses.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pac-12 Pushing Enhanced Access, Deion Sanders Reeks of Desperation
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Coach Prime if those game telecasts aren’t seen?
Getting experimental has drawn some attention to USFL and XFL broadcasts during each league’s seasons. The Pac-12 is apparently hoping the same approach will draw viewers to its football telecasts beginning this fall.
Last week, the conference announced that its broadcasts on ESPN, Fox Sports, and Pac-12 Networks would feature enhanced access for viewers. Head coaches will be interviewed during games. Players and coaches will be mic’d up during pregame warm-ups. Cameras will have pregame and halftime access to team locker rooms. And handheld camera operators will be allowed to film parts of the field and game experience which were previously prohibited.
Those familiar with USFL and XFL telecasts will likely see some similarities to the greater access that those leagues allow their TV partners. Coaches are mic’d up on the sidelines, giving viewers insight into play calls and strategy. Players are interviewed during the game, providing near-instant reactions to success or failure. Cameras in the replay booth show how officials decide to either overturn or uphold calls on the field.
What the Pac-12 intends to do with its broadcasts won’t go as far as the USFL and XFL. Access to coaches and players is being expanded but will still have limits. The conference doesn’t have to demonstrate familiarity, credibility, and legitimacy to fans and media.
Spring pro football leagues are a tough sell to mainstream sports fans accustomed to college football and the NFL from September through January. Especially when the level of play is subpar and rosters are filled with unfamiliar names, the USFL and XFL have to give fans more reasons to watch.
USC, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon are established national brands and regularly compete with the top teams in college football. Utah has played in the past two Rose Bowls, seen on millions of televisions during the New Year’s Day holiday. All five of those schools finished among the final AP Top 25 rankings of the 2022-23 season. USC quarterback Caleb Williams won the 2022 Heisman Trophy.
Yet the Pac-12 is promoting the gimmick of enhanced access because it needs to attract positive fan and media attention. Right now, most of the headlines the conference is generating aren’t flattering.
Notably, the Pac-12 needs a new media rights deal. Losing two of its most prominent schools, USC and UCLA, to the Big Ten in 2024 certainly isn’t helping with that. Rumors have persisted that Washington and Oregon could soon follow. Additionally, the Big 12 is reportedly eyeing Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah as possible expansion targets.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is left to tout Colorado’s new head coach, Deion Sanders, as a selling point in a new media rights deal. Never mind that Sanders hasn’t coached a game in Boulder yet. The Buffaloes are also coming off a 1-11 season and have won more than five games only once since 2007.
If Coach Prime is as successful as Colorado hopes, how likely is he to jump to a better program and stronger conference? And as mentioned in a previous paragraph, even if Sanders sticks around, Colorado could be poached by the Big 12. How much value would Coach Prime provide for the Pac-12 then?
ESPN’s deal with the conference expires in July 2024, shortly before USC and UCLA defect, and reportedly has no intention of renewing. (ESPN could still agree to a package of lower-tier games for late-night broadcast windows, but Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reports that doesn’t appear likely.) Fox’s agreement is up at the same time, though prospects of a renewal seem more optimistic. The network needs Pac-12 games to fill its college football Saturday inventory.
The options from there aren’t promising. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reports that current speculation has USA Network, part of the NBCUniversal conglomerate, as a possible landing spot. According to The Athletic, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff believes that the conference’s next media rights deal will have a large streaming component with Amazon and Apple TV+ mentioned as potential partners.
A streaming partner might be good from a financial standpoint, helping produce some of the revenue that ESPN has cut off. But forcing fans to find your product and asking them to pay for another TV platform isn’t a good way to draw interest. It may well be a path to irrelevance and obscurity. That’s not going to compete with the Big Ten and SEC, or even the Big 12.
And as The Athletic’s Chris Vannini points out, how can streaming be expected to save a conference like the Pac-12 when it isn’t even helping TV networks (or standalone providers) right now? Disney is losing money with Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu. NBCUniversal has lost billions on Peacock, as has CBS with Paramount+. Maybe the Pac-12 won’t care about that because it got paid. But there’s little chance for growth.
OK, Lincoln Riley, Chip Kelly, Dan Lanning, and Kyle Whittingham could be interviewed during games. But they probably won’t say much interesting during a game. Caleb Williams, Bo Nix, and Michael Penix Jr. will be mic’d up during warm-ups. Maybe we’ll see coaches and players going crazy in the locker room at halftime. Just remember that Peyton Manning said most players only have time to use the bathroom and have a snack. There’s your compelling television.
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Deion Sanders if those game telecasts aren’t seen by large audiences? To say otherwise is desperate. That’s exactly where the Pac-12 is.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
ESPN Deal Used to Mean Stability for ACC, Now It Means Anything But
It was April 19, 1775 when the first shots of war were fired on battlefields in Lexington and Concord that would send shockwaves across the world. Some brave soul among a group of rebel farmers and blacksmiths, doctors and lawyers literally pulled the trigger on what would become known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”. Indeed, the world would never be the same.
The college athletics version of that event was June 11, 2010. On that day, regents at the University of Nebraska officially applied for Big Ten membership and were unanimously approved by the other eleven schools (if the number in the conference name not matching the number of schools in that conference is something that bothers you, this column may not be for you). From that day forward, we have never really exited the “expansion era”.
One conference that has gone largely untouched in that time is the ACC. Only Maryland has left the ACC since 2010, heading to the Big Ten, and the conference has added Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville in that same window. That is significant when you consider only the SEC and Big Ten have avoided any departures in this era. Every other major conference has seen great turbulence while those three conferences have primarily seen only growth.
That trend may actually continue for the ACC and that may not be a net positive for the conference or the ACC members. This is thanks to the long term grant of rights deal the conference schools negotiated with ESPN. The grant of rights means ESPN holds the broadcast rights to all home games of the current ACC schools, and do so for the next 13 years.
When the deal was signed in 2016, the 20 year media rights deal seemed like a win for the ACC, creating stability in a time of great instability. Now, what seemed like a “must have purchase” may be the impulse buy that the league schools regret for decades.
Put simply, the ACC has been lapped in the media rights race by the Big Ten, SEC and even the Big 12. At best, the ACC schools are working at a $10-15 Million per year deficit when compared to Big 12 schools. At worst, they are operating at a much larger $30-$40 Million annual deficit when compared to Big Ten and SEC programs. It would be a battle of monumental proportions for the ACC to compete on the same level as those other conferences at that large of a disadvantage.
The conference’s options are slim. ESPN has a deal that is locked for 13 more years, what benefit would it be to them to renegotiate just so the ACC can compete? For instance, it would require $140 Million annually from ESPN just to place the ACC in the same financial neighborhood as the Big 12 Conference. What would be the benefit to ESPN in doing that?
The other option for ACC schools would be to bang the departure drum. Almost all legal analysts have painted a very grim picture for the schools that would be itching to leave. The exit fee is $120 million and may get the schools some nice parting gifts but does not give them their media rights. Their home game broadcast rights will still be a part of the ESPN deal with ACC. That greatly reduces a departing school’s value to any other conference.
Maybe ESPN is willing to broker a deal for a departing school if it is going to a conference, such as the SEC, that has a large rights deal with ESPN. If one of the schools desires a departure to the Big Ten, who has large deals with networks not named ESPN, one would have to think The Worldwide Leader would be in less of a deal-making mood.
Some league athletics directors, led by Florida State’s Michael Alford, are suggesting teams be incentivized for success. Breaking the code; rather than equal distribution, the power schools want a bigger share of the money. This is where Wake Forest points out that it is all they can do to exceed football expectations on their current stipend, what will become of them if that money shrinks? It seems that conferences and leagues that steer away from an equally shared revenue model have had a difficult time making that work long term.
Maybe the ACC teams that are ready to punch out could flash back to the period of time our country was in with the events we started this column remembering. They have a team in Boston, go throw some tea in the harbor and revolt, have a modern day Boston Tea Party. As it stands now, there are several ACC members that want to leave the party they are part of. Their only problem is they are all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.