Sports Media Watch presents 20 notable sports media stories of the year 2011. Today, #15-#11, including the departure of an influential executive, fiascoes at ESPN and CBS Sports, and the resurgence of one of sports’ preeminent TV draws.
#15: David Hill Leaves Fox Sports
After the departures, in one fashion or another, of execs Dick Ebersol, George Bodenheimer and Ross Greenburg in 2011, this year brought the exit of another big-name sports TV executive — Fox Sports chairman and CEO David Hill. After thirteen consecutive years at the helm at Fox Sports, and seventeen years overall, Hill exited for a broader role within News Corporation.
Along with longtime FOX exec Ed Goren, who retired this year, Hill was a driving force behind several sports TV innovations — such as the now-ubiquitous score bug that, prior to FOX, only appeared on-screen after a team scored. The departure of Hill marked an end of an era for arguably the most influential broadcast sports division of the past two decades.
#14: The (Newest) Stan Van Gundy Saga
Always one to complain about a perceived slight, former NBA coach and longtime curmudgeon Stan Van Gundy received fresh material in October when he was snubbed by ESPN. Along with Bill Simmons, Van Gundy had been widely rumored to join ESPN’s “NBA Countdown” studio show, and by numerous accounts was close to getting the job. At the last minute, however, ESPN moved in another direction – adding Simmons and Jalen Rose to the show.
Van Gundy was — not surprisingly — displeased, even accusing the NBA league office of blocking him from the show. ESPN and the NBA denied that was the case, but based on previous accounts, it would not be unprecedented for the NBA to keep undesirable personalities off of national telecasts. Jeff Van Gundy, brother of Stan and ESPN’s lead NBA game analyst, certainly seemed to believe that was the case. “There’s certainly circumstantial evidence that something from the outside — presumably the NBA — changed [ESPN's] thinking,” Van Gundy told USA Today (USA Today, 10/23).
#13: ESPN Fires Writer, Suspends Anchor, For Slur
ESPN found itself at the center of controversy in February after the mobile and tablet versions of ESPN.com ran the headline “Chink in the Armor” in reference to Asian-American NBA player Jeremy Lin. The headline was only up for a half-hour — and in the middle of the night — but it understandably resulted in the firing of the editor responsible, Anthony Federico. While Frederico apologized and denied any racial intent, it would frankly be a stretch to believe the headline was a complete coincidence.
In an attempt to perhaps overcompensate for the offensive headline, ESPN also suspended anchor Max Bretos for using the term during a “SportsCenter” interview. Bretos’ usage was cringeworthy, but seemed far less likely to be intentional than the headline.
#12: CBS’ Joe Paterno Fiasco
The death of Joe Paterno in January was yet another chapter of the Penn State saga, and one that offered some hard lessons for the sports media. Amid reports that Paterno was near death on the night of January 21, the Penn State student-run publication Onward State reported on Twitter that the former coach had passed away. The report was cited by a variety of outlets, none more bursting with credibility than CBS Sports. But unlike other websites, which explicitly cited the Onward State tweet, the only attribution CBS offered was a link buried within the text of the story. In other words, anyone reading the CBS report would have reason to assume that the organization was reporting the news independently.
When it turned out that Onward State was incorrect, CBS quickly made sure to include explicit attribution. By then, it was too late. Several outlets that would never have run with the story if Onward State was the only source — including this website — had already cited the CBS report. By the time the dust settled, Onward State’s managing editor resigned, and the CBS reporter who filed the story was fired.
#11: Notre Dame’s Resurgence
The return of Notre Dame football to championship contention was a boon for NBC — and ABC — during the 2012 college football season. After a rocky start in which NBC had its lowest rated opener in three years, five of the network’s seven games had increases in ratings and viewership of at least 50% compared to last year. NBC finished the season averaging a 2.8 rating, up nearly 70% from 2011 and a six-year high.
But ABC was the true beneficiary of Notre Dame’s drawing power this season. Four Notre Dame telecasts on the network, all in primetime, averaged a 5.3 rating — including a “Saturday Night Football” record 9.4 for Notre Dame/USC on November 24. That Notre Dame/USC game was the sixth-highest rated regular season college football game of the past two decades, but only the second-highest game of the season. The Alabama/Georgia SEC title game one week later earned a 9.8. Corporate sibling ESPN figures to get the biggest bump of all for Notre Dame coverage, as the January 7 Notre Dame/Alabama BCS title game should set an all-time cable TV record.
The #10-#6 stories of 2011 will be posted on Wednesday, December 26.