Linda Cohn: Scott Van Pelt Was Passionately Opposed To ESPN Adding Bottom Line
‘Wait a minute, how are we telling people the score before they see the highlights? That doesn’t make any sense.’
ESPN’s ever-scrolling ticker at the bottom of our screens wasn’t always there. The technology and idea didn’t fully merge onto the network’s programming until 1995. As common place and necessary as it feels now, it was met with some disagreement internally at the beginning.
Linda Cohn recalled one of those moments when she and some of her cohorts were learning about this “new thing” that scroll on SportsCenter and give the final score sometimes before the highlights even aired. She told the story on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast with Jimmy Traina.
“We were like, ‘what?’, said Cohn upon hearing of the idea at first. “I thought you cared about how we present our on-camera lead-ins, which is what we write, to present this big game and to build up the anticipation and to get the audience involved even though one of these teams they couldn’t care less about them.”
Cohn recalled Scott Van Pelt debating against the idea in the same meeting.
“So I remember Scott standing up, and when he stands up he’s even taller,” said Cohn, “he put on such a great debate saying everything we were thinking. ‘Wait a minute, how are we telling people the score before they see the highlights? That doesn’t make any sense.'”
Cohn added onto the discussion by giving a film analgy.
“It’s a like a great movie,” Cohn began. “We are telling the end of the movie before we saw the whole movie. What are you doing?”
In the end, ESPN still decided to adopt the technology onto their flagship show.
“We had no choice, we had no say, and we did it and the rest is history.”
Ryen Russillo: Media Will ‘Move The Goal Posts’ on Nikola Jokić When Denver Wins
“We all get it – we all have to figure out new ways to say stuff, but sometimes you’re just speechless.”
Nikola Jokić, better known to NBA fans as “the “Joker,” and the Denver Nuggets are two wins away from securing the franchise’s first ever NBA championship. The team has been at the center of debate across major sports networks over the last several weeks. Those in and around Denver believe the team has not received enough attention to this point, especially when having Jokić, a two-time league MVP and five-time All-Star selection. Now that the entire country is being exposed to the generational talent, along with venerable teammates Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr., the Nuggets are gaining notoriety many argue their play should have merited long ago.
Yet the fact that Denver is far from other major locales, along with the fact that the team has never previously won a championship, has ostensibly penalized the organization in terms of garnering coverage.
“I’m not going to name names on this one, but it was a colleague who said something [like], ‘I’m speechless after somebody did something amazing,’” recalled Ryen Russillo, podcast host and commentator for The Ringer. “And then another colleague [said], ‘It’s your job to not be speechless,’ and I thought, ‘Woah.’ That back-and-forth made the rounds. We all get it – we all have to figure out new ways to say stuff, but sometimes you’re just speechless.”
There are implicit rules to effective sports television according to Russillo, especially debate shows. One is to stick to what works and to talk about players who will move the needle. The most recent example that draws parallels to Jokić is with Giannis Antetokounmpo, and how he rapidly gained legitimacy and plaudits when he led the Milwaukee Bucks to an NBA championship in 2021.
“If Denver ends up winning this thing, which I’d expect they will, all of a sudden the rules change,” Russillo said, “and we’re allowed to talk about [Jokić] in the way we always should have talked about him.”
Russillo previously hosted radio shows for ESPN. He and former NFL quarterback Danny Kannel hosted the Russillo Show together, but ended his time at ESPN hosting solo when Kannel was laid off. While he returned to the “Worldwide Leader” and ultimately co-hosted the SVP & Russillo podcast with Scott Van Pelt, he departed the company in August 2019 to join The Ringer. Russillo made remarks about his time with the company on a recent appearance with Bryan Curtis on The Press Box podcast.
“Especially when I worked at ESPN, I think half the time I was on the phone with NBA teams, it would be to hear them bitch about somebody else that said something at ESPN,” Russillo shared. “I’d remind them; I’d go, ‘Just so you know, I work with a lot of these people, and it’s hard to watch everything. I try to watch everything and it’s really hard. Just remember that not everybody up there that’s on TV is watching nearly as much [as] they may think they are.”
Both Russillo and Curtis know that if the Denver Nuggets are to win the NBA Finals, it will represent a “coronation” for Jokić to become a regular part of the vernacular. Russillo believes he will be legitimately considered as the best all-around player in the NBA, but stopping there will never be enough for shows based on attracting an audience.
“It’ll be, ‘Does he have a chance to be this?,’” Russillo surmised. “We move the goalposts on players… [and] you have to raise the stakes. Once everything becomes accepted, ‘accepted’ isn’t a good topic anymore. It has to be, ‘Could there potentially be pushback from this?,’ and that’s kind of the game.”
Skip Bayless: ‘I Get Cancelled Every Other Night on Twitter’
I keep arms length from Twitter, from the reactions. I tweet, but I don’t read.”
Skip Bayless has been in the sports media business for decades and he has gotten the chance to see firsthand how the industry has changed. When he started, there wasn’t much talk radio, no debate shows, and no internet for that matter.
On his podcast, The Skip Bayless Show, Bayless was asked by a fan in what ways has coverage of sports changed when he first started covering them to what it is today. He said he might someday write a book about that subject, but he thought back to a time when he covered the Dallas Cowboys and how easy it was to talk to players.
“When I first got into the sports media business, print dominated. Daily newspapers were king… When I first started covering the Dallas Cowboys (1979), I would go out to their practice field at lunchtime when the players were available and it was like I was entering a multiplex of theaters. I just had my pick. I could go to the Roger Staubach movie or the Charlie Walters movie or the Too Tall Jones movie or the Drew Pearson movie. I had movies to watch everywhere I wanted…I would fill my notebook every lunchtime.”
One of the things that made it easy for Bayless was that newspapers were a way for the athlete to control their message and the only outlet to get statements across.
“They were all happy to talk 1-on-1 as long as I wanted. If you wanted to meet them after practice, meet them at their house in the evening, they would do it because you were all they had as an outlet. If they wanted to make a statement, there was no Internet. They had to make the statement to you into your newspaper and hoped that you got it right and presented it the way they wanted it to. If they wanted to make a public image, it had to come through your feature story, your column that you wrote about them, you can make or break them through your coverage. They knew it and they catered to it. Those were some of the greatest lunchtimes in my life.
“Now of course, it’s about the Internet. Now players can control their message and carefully craft their image through the statements they post and the pictures that they post. Newspapers are a thing of the past. There’s still a place for newspapers and there’s still a place for reporting, but it’s not like it used to be.
When Bayless was a writer, he mentioned the amount of letters he would get on a daily basis and most of the messages he received back from readers were of a positive nature.
“I used to get 20-30 snail mail letters a week. I would get more than anyone else would because I was outspoken. I would answer everyone of them by hand.”
In this era of social media, Bayless knows the vitriol that he gets, whether it is from something he says on FS1’s Undisputed or his podcast. He doesn’t consume it all directly, but he knows about most of it.
“Now I’m told that I get cancelled every other night on Twitter. I’m told by my wife Ernestine who does monitor this that if I consumed all the evil aimed at me on various social media platforms. Sometimes she will read me some of them just for our amusement. If I actually allowed into my psyche all the misinformation, all the out-and-out lies she sometimes reads to me, if I let it all sink in, I’d wind up in a straightjacket on some funny farm somewhere and I don’t have plans to do that just yet. I keep arms length from Twitter, from the reactions. I tweet, but I don’t read. Someday I’ll write a book on all of the above because I’m just touching tips of the iceberg.”
Ricky Keeler is a reporter for BSM with a primary focus on sports media podcasts and national personalities. He is also an active podcaster with an interest in pursuing a career in sports media. You can find him on Twitter @Rickinator555 or reach him by email at RickJKeeler@gmail.com.
Doris Burke: Recent, Current Players Bring Valuable Perspective to Broadcasts
“I love that perspective, so what you do is unique and it’s special.”
The “new media” movement in the National Basketball Association isn’t all that new, as both former and current players are launching their own production companies and programs to more effectively disseminate messaging to consumers. JJ Redick, who retired from the NBA in 2021, established The Old Man and the Three podcast through his company, ThreeFourTwo Productions. He also continues to appear across ESPN programming and as a studio and game analyst for the NBA on ESPN, offering his analytical and esoteric perspectives.
Having athletes recently removed or continuing to play provides fans with a complete point of view about how the game has evolved and is played today. Redick and co-host Tommy Alter welcomed ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke to the latest episode of the show, and started their conversation by acknowledging something she and other colleagues have done while on the air.
“There have been numerous occasions where you and Mike [Breen], specifically, have talked about The Old Man and the Three on the broadcast,” Redick said. “Without question, every single time that it happens, we all kind of freak out and we’re shooting each other texts on the group chat. It does mean a lot to us that you guys recognize sort of what we’re doing here – and I don’t know if it was you or Mike – but I know one time, one of you called it a ‘therapy session.’”
Burke replied by conveying how essential it is that basketball coverage contains voices from different areas of the game. Being able to divulge how active participants view the game offers consumers unparalleled thoughts and opinions.
“I hear this in Jeff Van Gundy’s coverage of an NBA Finals where once or twice a game, something Jeff says can only be heard from somebody inside the game who’s actually been in that moment,” Burke said. “The beauty of you and Dryamond, and what you bring to the table as media personalities now… [is that] you understand the daily grind and the experience of these players.”
There are many factors with subtle connections to the sport an athlete must consider on a yearly basis, including whether or not to make the sacrifice of traveling without family or put in the physical and mental preparation necessary to perform. Burke expressed to Redick that although players probably try to project a different persona than how they feel on the inside, discerning the core perception is invaluable.
“I would assume you had moments when there’s crises of competence for you as a basketball player,” Burke said. “Those are really special to the viewers who happen to tune in to our coverage or listen to your pod, and I just love that dynamic.”
Burke is currently broadcasting the NBA Finals on ESPN Radio alongside Marc Kestecher, Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and P.J. Carlesimo, and she is learning something new every time she takes the microphone. As Game 4 of the NBA Finals is set to tip off Friday night at 8:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. PST, she knows to expect an intelligent, informed set of opinions and storytelling from her colleagues and does the best to bring it out individually as well.
“I’m sitting beside P.J. on these Finals games right now, and there’s just times in the middle of a broadcast; I’m hitting him [with], ‘Coach, would you lift Michael Porter Jr. from the starting lineup given that he’s struggling?,’” Burke said. “I love that perspective, so what you do is unique and it’s special.”