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Bruce Beck Still Wants to Outwork His Competition

“I certainly wasn’t more talented but I just believed you could build relationships and you could outwork people.”

Derek Futterman




Bruce Beck has been to the Olympic Games – but not as an athlete. For 10 different iterations of the heralded worldwide sporting competition and display of cultural diffusion, Beck has been a reporter bringing viewers local and national stories.

Now in his 26th year as the lead sports anchor at NBC 4 New York (WNBC-TV), he has many stories to tell of those experiences, including watching Michael Phelps win eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008, Usain Bolt being victorious in three consecutive 100-meter Olympic dashes, and Sarah Hughes pulling off a shocking gold medal victory in Salt Lake City in 2002. Beck, like these athletes, had a passion for what he was doing and worked hard to refine his talents into an award-winning career in sports media.

“My story’s not a perfect story,” Beck said. “I’m not as talented as many of these guys in the industry, but I guess I’m a survivor.”

Beck’s official workplace is 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the acclaimed New York City landmark which headquarters NBCUniversal and the iconic Christmas Tree during the holiday season. Yet Beck often finds himself working remotely, whether that be locally from Citi Field in Queens; Yankee Stadium in the Bronx; or across the Hudson River at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ or at national events such as the Super Bowl or Kentucky Derby.

On a day where he is not scheduled to be on-site – well, that can change at a moment’s notice because of the unique fluidity of the New York marketplace. “The Big Apple” is home to over a dozen professional teams, many hallmark events and famed college and high school athletics programs.

“Once in a while there’s a boring day for the broadcast, but rarely,” Beck said. “Something always happens; something always comes up. One of the hardest jobs for me is prioritizing, ‘What is the story today?’”

Beck grew up near the New York metropolitan area in Livingston, N.J. and was enamored with sports, along with perfecting his impressions of the local broadcasters. At the age of 8, he began imitating Marv Albert; in fact, he can still recite six commercials he did. When he and his family would play basketball in the driveway, Beck would announce the games in the style of Albert, along with other commentators such as Howard Cosell, Keith Jackson and Marty Glickman.

When there were no sports to consume, he would grab a utensil from the kitchen and commentate his mother’s cooking routine, doing anything he could to use his voice and practice the trade.

“She thought maybe I was a little crazy,” Beck said, “but maybe she thought I was on to something because she never criticized me; she just laughed.”

Beck’s first bonafide broadcasting experience was in junior high school when he was responsible for delivering the morning announcements. By the time he was in high school, he was working with the school basketball team, still imitating Albert, and hosting game shows for the team on their bus rides to and from games.

In 1974, Beck matriculated at Ithaca College where he studied accounting and forayed into media-related endeavors on the side. He initially applied undecided though but still found a way on WICB, the school’s radio station, for early morning broadcasts and compiled local reports to air on station programming.

Over his time as an undergraduate student, he anchored Sunday night broadcasts and did play-by-play announcing for sporting events on campus while also working as the television sports director in his senior year. He cemented a legacy at the school by being the first nonmajor to win the National Honor Society AERho Award for Outstanding Broadcaster; however, Ithaca College was not his first choice. Beck had hoped to attend Northwestern University but his request for admission was turned down in a letter that remains preserved at his desk.

“When I was the keynote speaker about eight years ago for St. John’s University Staten Island Campus… I held it up,” Beck said of the letter. “I read from it. I use it as the power of rejection.”

Upon his graduation from the school four years later, Beck did not waste any time entering into the professional world in a job with Suburban Cablevision TV3 in East Orange, N.J. The broadcast outlet gave viewers the ability to watch local athletics programming, taping high school and collegiate sporting events and subsequently airing them, utilizing remote production trucks and commentators.

In addition to live games, the channel broadcast talk shows, one of which was titled Time In that was hosted by Beck and another he co-hosted called Scorecard. Eventually, he was working as the assistant sports director alongside Bob Ley, who was the outlet’s sports director and the person who initially hired Beck.

Ley, however, departed Suburban Cablevision TV3 in 1979 to be one of the first employees for a new all-sports network called ESPN. It turned out to be the place where Ley primarily worked for the majority of his career, hosting national shows such as SportsCenter and Outside the Lines to millions of viewers around the world.

Bruce Beck is a big believer in trying to outwork his competition Photo provided by Beck

Meanwhile, Beck, who questioned whether or not Ley had made a prudent decision, had been promoted to sports director. For the next three years, he was working to elevate the channel’s sports coverage and manage its team of broadcast professionals as he continued to provide play-by-play commentary for select matchups.

“It built the mechanics and it built kind of the framework for my career today in terms of how much attention to detail I take and how serious I take my preparation,” Beck said. “Bob Ley – can you think of a better mentor? One of ESPN’s greatest ever in terms of integrity, in terms of broadcasting. I was really lucky.”

In his youth, Beck had imagined what it would be like to work with Marv Albert – and those early aspirations turned into a reality when he entered what former New York Knicks public address voice John F. X. Condon referred to as “the magical world of Madison Square Garden.”

Stepping into “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” Beck covered games and worked as an in-studio host for MSG Networks, contributing to events including Golden Gloves boxing, the Millrose Games and the National Horse Show. Additionally, Beck was the primary interviewer for the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, the latter for whom he also hosted television studio coverage.

“I was the youngest guy working on the airwaves in New York,” Beck said. “It was the opportunity of a lifetime. I still had a high-pitched voice; I was still far from accomplished but I was able to get reps in a tremendously professional environment and I continued to improve throughout the years.”

As a reporter, Beck had the opportunity to interview prominent figures in the world of professional sports including Patrick Ewing, Mark Messier and Bill Russell. Having the ability to elicit thoughtful and cohesive answers from interviewees was always Beck’s focus, and although he thoroughly prepared for each interview, there are instances where it was best to go with the flow of the conversation.

“I did an interview with Dennis Rodman at the Garden and I said to him, ‘Dennis, this is the best offensive start you’ve ever had to a season. Are you happy with your offense?’,” Beck remembered, “and he said: ‘Man, I won’t be happy until I’m 6 feet underground.’ I took all my notes and I just threw them in the air, kind of, and I just said: ‘Why? How come? What made you feel this way?’”

To this day, Beck follows the three principles of interviewing he learned at a young age; these are: (1) – Asking the question everyone wants to know. (2) – Asking the question nobody else will ask. (3) – Deriving a follow-up question based on a previous response.

Effectively interviewing comes from active listening and comprehending answers in the moment to guide the discourse. Similar principles apply when it comes to live game broadcasts in which one duty of the play-by-play announcer is to ensure the color commentator is properly positioned to offer their esoteric knowledge and informed opinions.

No matter the sport – whether it was filling in for Sam Rosen on the boxing broadcast; to calling college football and basketball games; or covering the Yankees in different capacities – Beck was ready for the challenge and to duly perform his role.

“I was always taught that the color man is the star so if you could do a solid job as a professional play-by-play guy and set up the color man,” Beck said. “If he had a good broadcast, you had a good broadcast. We had a who’s who of announcers that was working for MSG, and I was just fortunate to be around them.”

In 1994 at the age of 38, Beck’s contract with MSG Networks was not renewed in what could have been a significant blow to his career without his inherent persistence and drive to succeed. In what some might call a devastating setback, Beck, who was disappointed, tried to remain optimistic that he would find a way to succeed.

“Jerry Eisenberg once said to me, and this kind of tied into how to treat people too, ‘You better remember us on the way up, because you’re sure as hell going to need us on the way down,’” Beck remembered. “He also said, ‘If you’re always on a high note, when you do come down you’re going to have an uncushioned crash.’”

Beck began announcing Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) events as one of the promotion company’s first announcers, starting with UFC 4 held at the Expo Square Pavilion in Tulsa, Okla. His previous background commentating combat sports also helped land him a gig as a commentator for Showtime Championship Boxing, contributing during the network’s fight weeks around the country.

In addition to these jobs, Beck also called harness racing for ESPN, college basketball for Prime Network with Al McGuire and Rollie Massimino and college football and basketball for CBS Sports.

He was often on the move, taking a total of 102 flights in 1997 – some of which he boarded as the jetway was moving away from the terminal – and built what he says was a “mini-empire.” Through all the minutiae and spontaneity of his work schedule, Beck focused on embracing new challenges and building relationships in the process.

“I did anything that was asked upon me because it was just a matter of preparing, having great energy and being able to work with your color guy and knowing your material well enough that you could carry a broadcast,” Beck said. “It was fun; it was invigorating.”

At the same time, Beck was the host of Sports Images and Comcast Sportstalk for CN8 with its studios located in Union, N.J. Working other freelance jobs during the day, he found himself having to race to the studios four nights per week for the latter program and would sometimes arrive two minutes before the show was set to hit the air.

“I believed in outworking people,” Beck said. “I certainly wasn’t more talented but I just believed you could build relationships and you could outwork people and you could be up at 2 or 3 in the morning and you could study and you could do any assignment.”

By the fall of 1997, he received an audition with Dennis Swanson, the president and general manager of WNBC-TV New York, for the role of weekend sports anchor with the network. Shortly thereafter, Beck’s “three hard years” ended when he was officially hired by the network. He remains there nearly 26 years later.

“Local reporting [has] changed over the years but the secret sauce really hasn’t changed,” Beck explained. “The trust of your audience; relationships with those people you cover; and good old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting. Being in the trenches; in the locker room; on the ballfields.”

Beck’s approach to local reporting is in identifying the key story and finding unique ways in which to present them, doing so in longform on the Sunday night sports show Sports Final. As an employee of a local news affiliate, he seeks to find aspects of sports bridging news in his reporting as well, telling stories to viewers such as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft obtaining and delivering masks to New York City at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stories like that, which were told in the months without live sporting events, helped NBC 4 New York win the prestigious Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for its reporting during the early stage of the pandemic and continues to make the local network a trusted voice in the marketplace.

“You’re still covering a multitude of things on a Sunday night,” Beck explained, “but you get two, usually, longform stories with a guest that you’re going to cover – and that’s the way I usually approach it. We’ve had a lot of athletes; a lot of coaches [and] some of the premier guests around. Other times, I’ll get a writer who’s covering the team who might have the better inside scoop. We’re trying to show depth and we’re trying to give [viewers] a behind-the-scenes look.”

Bruce Beck has worked at NBC 4 in New York in addition to several other roles during his storied career Photo provided by Beck

Over the years with NBC 4 New York, Beck has covered events both near and far with the mission of accentuating local perspectives and giving viewers unique access. The ability to do this, though, comes through establishing and maintaining mutually-beneficial relationships.

For example, Beck visited the home of former St. John’s University and NBA head coach Lou Carnesecca where he conducted an exclusive interview with him reflecting on his career. They had fostered a relationship when Beck was hosting Carnesecca’s eponymously-titled show on MSG Network.

Although the industry has considerably shifted in terms of the creation and distribution of content, motivated reporters like Beck are resolute in their mission to uncover and present compelling stories – all while being cognizant of their audience.

“You have to be innovative; you have to be creative,” Beck said. “I think you have to reimagine, and that’s what I’ve tried to do and that’s what I’ve encouraged younger people to do. You’ve got to reimagine in today’s day and age, but there’s still a place in my mind for local news although it’s redefined.”

As a reporter, Beck’s use of social media is an imperative aspect of his job, especially in being able to connect with viewers at a moment’s notice. When he is not promoting upcoming broadcasts or breaking news in the field, he uses the platform to break the metaphorical third wall between followers and professional media members. By giving them an inside look as to just where and how he does his job, he communicates and displays the story within the story; a sort of metadrama encompassing the craft.

“Take them to places they can’t go, and tell them things about you that they don’t know,” Beck said. “That’s what people want from me on social media. ‘Where am I? Am I [in] the Yankee locker room? Is this a cool spot at Dodger Stadium? Let me show them something they can’t normally get to.’”

In addition to working with NBC 4 New York, Beck’s versatility has allowed him to take on other roles over the years, including an eight-year stint hosting programming on NBA-TV. He currently works with Rutgers University on its digital athletics programming, along with freelancing as a commentator for Top Rank boxing coverage airing on ESPN+. Beck’s work ethic and ability to adapt helped him in his quest to succeed in the New York marketplace, interacting with players, coaches and other team personnel to create meaningful, impactful connections.

“I never feel like I can cover everything but I love to be in the field; that’s what I’m known for,” he said. “I’m known for outhustling people and being at every possible event I can get to, and yet I know I still don’t do a good enough job because it’s impossible.”

Beck has covered several Olympic Games during his career Photo provided by Beck

Six years ago, Beck pioneered the Bruce Beck Broadcasting Camp, a place for aspiring sportscasters to learn from industry professionals, gain experience in various different roles, and become inspired by the craft.

For the 15 years prior, Beck held a similar broadcasting camp with sportscaster Ian Eagle with attendees including MLB Network host Scott Braun, ESPN NHL reporter Emily Kaplan and NBC News correspondent Jesse Kirsch.

Some of the guests who have attended the program in recent years include MSG Networks/ESPN basketball commentator Mike Breen, NFL on FOX play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt and YES Network reporter Meredith Marakovits. This year’s program begins on July 17 and takes months of planning and coordinating for Beck, who is assisted by his wife Janet.

Whether it is mentoring students at the camp or on late-night phone calls on his way home from work; or volunteering with different charities to help those less fortunate, Beck recognizes the value and importance in being a source of goodwill. Even if other people see it as being naïve, Beck continues to find a way to exude a sense of optimism while working in “The City That Never Sleeps” for over 40 years.

“You can’t change the world but you can impact lives,” Beck said. “….My father and mother taught me [that] receiving is nice, giving is nicer [and] giving back is nicest of all. My parents, who are the foundation for everything that I’ve ever accomplished; they taught me that and I’ve tried to pass that on to my two kids and my five grandkids.”

In March 2017, Beck was the winner of the Jessica Savitch Award of Distinction for Excellence in Journalism from Ithaca College – his alma-mater. The honor was not only for his career as a multimedia journalist, but also as a source of support and mentorship for aspiring professionals looking to work in sports media. Even though studying in upstate New York was not his first choice, the foundation he built in college and has extended throughout his ongoing professional career is surely deserving of a gold medal.

“It’s easy to get up when there’s a storyline that changes every day in New York and there are these teams that are striving for excellence that [don’t] always achieve it,” Beck said. “That drive; there’s dreams of success and fears of failure for all of us every day, and I think that drives me and it drives the athletes and it drives the coaches and I think it even drives the fans. I haven’t lost it yet; I haven’t lost my desire to generate good news, good stories and cover the people that are worthy of it.”

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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.”

Derek Futterman




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.

Courtesy ESPN Images

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.”

Courtesy ESPN Images

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.”

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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?

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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.

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ESPN Deal Used to Mean Stability for ACC, Now It Means Anything But

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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.

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