This isn’t going to happen.
But this is what should happen.
If CBS Sports wants to set its NFL broadcasting group up for the best possible long-term success, it would move the team of Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts into its No. 1 spot for the 2017 NFL season and let Jim Nantz and Tony Romo handle the games usually assigned to the No. 2 crew.
Here’s why: Eagle and Fouts are currently the best NFL broadcasting team CBS has. They have terrific chemistry, they call a smart game, and they inject humor into a broadcast, which is more than welcome in the sober NFL. Both Eagle and Fouts have worked significant games-including playoff games-and once upon a time (2000 to 2002) Fouts served as the lead analyst on ABC’s Monday Night Football (with Al Michaels and Dennis Miller). If sports broadcasting was truly a meritocracy-it is far from it-they would have already earned the job on merit. They call a better football game than Jim Nantz and Phil Simms.
As most of the sports world knows, CBS announced last week that Romo will become the network’s lead NFL game analyst beginning with the 201718 NFL season. Romo joins Nantz and Tracy Wolfson on the top announcer team for the network’s coverage of the NFL on Sunday afternoons and Thursday Night Football. Romo has zero network broadcasting experience. That means he will be learning the mechanics of broadcasting on the fly while doing the network’s most significant NFL game every week. That’s a high-wire tightrope to walk no matter how bright or prepared you are in an era where social media opinions about broadcasters are impossible to ignore (CBS Sports management was well aware of the vitriol toward Mike Carey, and I believe it impacted their decision to not bring him back.) Not only does Romo have a full Sunday schedule, but he will also be assigned five Thursday Night games. That’s a tough grind even for an experienced broadcaster, given the preparation and travel it requires.
If you look around at the top sports television analysts regardless of sport, from Troy Aikman to Cris Collinsworth to John Smoltz, most had reps on a lower broadcast team before heading to the top job at their network (there are exceptions, including Jon Gruden and Jeff Van Gundy.) The benefit for Romo to do a season or two away from the top spot would be massive in the long run. He’d be able to learn the mechanics of television and the rhythms of his new work life under a far less harsh spotlight. He’d also likely get the opportunity to see a wider variety of teams given how often CBS’s top team does the Patriots and Broncos. It would also reduce Nantz’s workload for a year and that is a valuable thing for a broadcaster that is the face of the sports division. (Another reason why this possibility is so remote: There’s a good chance Romo and Nantz have something contractually that guarantees them the top spot. That’s what a smart agent would do.)
I’ve often wondered why networks become so fixated on one broadcasting team always doing the top game. A couple of years ago, Fox publicly insisted it had no No. 2 team behind Joe Buck and Aikman; that was an interesting move. If nothing else, it incentivizes lower teams to work hard to get a shot at a playoff game. CBS isn’t going to lose a single viewer if Eagle and Fouts are doing its top game. Viewers are coming for the teams and the matchup. Game broadcasters impact how you much you enjoy a telecast but they have zero impact on ratings.
CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus was asked last week about Romo immediately becoming his network’s lead NFL analyst. Here is what he said: “People have said to us, Boy, you're taking a guy who is coming right from the field into a position as a lead analyst, isn't that a risk?’ Well, I think it's a very manageable risk, to be honest with you,” McManus said. “I think Tony will be having all sorts of work this summer, whether it's doing practice games, whether it's doing preseason games, whether it's sitting down and looking at film and tape of other analysts and the kind of job that they do. It's going to be a full time job for Tony really starting this summer. So I think when he goes to the booth, he'll be ready. But will he better Week 6 than he is Week 1? Yes, he will be. Will he better in Year 2 than he will be in Year 1, yes he will. But if we didn't have the faith in Tony, if we didn't have the faith that he could be an outstanding analyst, we wouldn't be taking this risk.”
That risk would be significantly lessened with a season in the No. 2 spot. Yes, I know this isn’t going to happen. But it should for Romo’s sake.
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. Episode 112 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features the Canadian sports broadcaster Bob McCown, the host of the long-running Prime Time Sports show on Sportsnet 590 The FAN.
In this podcast, McCown discusses what sports talk radio is like in Canada; what he considers underrated and overrated skills in interviewing; how one adjusts to a new co-host; whether he remains engaged in his job after 30-plus years; his very public spat with former Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston; the popularity of sports in Toronto; why he does not like interviewing athletes; his longtime relationship with Muhammad Ali; the time the late Bear Bryant gave him an Alabama jacket from his closet; how much longer he wants to continue in his role; how he would define his audience; the role of TV in sports radio; the art of short questions in an interview; the prospect of multiple sports teams in Las Vegas and whether those teams can be successful; what makes Toronto in an interesting sports talk market and much more. The episode also contains my comments on CBS hiring Tony Romo to replace Phil Simms.
You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.
1a. Thanks to the Toronto Sports Media website for its write-up of the McCown interview.
1b. As CBS Sports found out last week, talent changes at sports networks rarely go smoothly. The hiring of Romo was always going to be a significant story given his fame, the position CBS was hiring Romo to fill, and the person Romo was replacing. After the announcement by CBS Sports and a subsequent press conference to introduce Romo, the news cycle continued when former NFL quarterback Chris Simms, the son of Phil Simms, a Bleacher Report analyst, and someone who has called games for CBS, claimed on his “Simms and Lekfoe” podcast that he was the one who informed his father that he would be replaced as the network’s top NFL analyst.
On Friday, the younger Simms significantly walked those comments back: “I would like to set the record straight that I was not aware that [CBS Sports Chairman] Sean McManus had called my father’s agent, Steve Rosner, the day before the news broke to let him know that CBS was pursuing Tony Romo for the role of the lead color analyst for their NFL coverage,” Chris Simms wrote on Twitter. “I’d like to apologize to CBS for this misunderstanding.”
On Friday SI.com spoke with McManus. He emphatically said he spoke to both Phil Simms and his agent prior to the Romo hire.
“I had a long conversation with Phil,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said to SI on Friday. “We didn’t discuss specifically the [Romo] announcement but we did about what his ongoing role with CBS might be.”
Network presidents and their direct reports do not make talent decisions of this magnitude without informing the agents that represent on-air talent of the upcoming decision. Rosner basically confirmed that to Tara Sullivan of the Bergen Record when he discussed that Phil Simms had multiple years left on his contract and that, “I've had a few brief discussions with CBS in regard to the future.”
On Friday Rosner declined to comment directly to SI.com but did refer to his comments to Sullivan and Chris Simms’s statement.
Chris Simms also theorized that Nantz knew about the decision and likely signed off on it. Via Chris Bils of The Austin American Statesman’s Hookem.com, here is what Simms said to co-host Adam Lefkoe on his podcast:
“I think that certainly a company like CBS, they’re going to run this by Jim Nantz. If I’m going to sit here and be honest with you, yeah that’s what I would envision happens. Jim Nantz is their guy. He is Hello friends.’ He’s kind of the face and voice of the network, and he’s a bigger linchpin than Phil Simms for that network, that’s for sure. I would think in some degree or fashion-I’m not trying to throw Jim under the bus-but yeah, I would think that he signed off on this to some degree.”
Via the CBS Sports PR department, Nantz declined comment on Chris Simms’s comments.
Clearly, CBS Sports execs informed Nantz of its decision to replace Simms prior to the formal announcement of Romo. I’d also say it is a near-guarantee that Nantz was asked what he thought about Romo by his bosses and he likely spoke to Romo prior to the official contract signing. But I don’t believe Nantz ordered the Code Red on Simms. Romo is a multi-million contract for CBS Sports; he's as high profile of a move as a sports division makes, and McManus and CBS Sports President David Berson are not letting talent-even talent with juice such as Nantz-make that kind of final decision. In all my years covering CBS, Nantz never criticized Simms in person or back-channeled any kind of criticism toward Simms. “The decision was made by David Berson, Harold Bryant and me and we informed Jim of the move,” McManus told SI.com regarding the charge that Nantz made the call.
In fact, after I wrote what was a very critical piece on CBS’s subpar Super Bowl 50, I got a call from McManus who proceeded to give me a polite chew out of the column, and defended Simms’s work.
What does this mean for Simms's future? Neither McManus or Rosner would comment on that but I think they are going to find a deal very soon. Simms has multiple years left on his contract- and he’s being paid No. 1 analyst money-and once he gets past the ego bruising of losing the No. 1 spot, there will still be an analyst or studio job waiting for him.
1c. This is a terrific post by Jeff Haggar on the demotions of No. 1 sports TV analysts.
2. Olympic hockey has always been a juggernaut for sports television. The U.S.'s victory over Finland to win gold at 1980 Olympics drew 32.8 million viewers on ABC. Thirty years later, NBC benefited mightily from Canada's thrilling victory over Team USA in the Olympic gold-medal game at Vancouver. That game drew an average viewership of 27.6 million.
While the hockey in Sochi drew much lower viewership, in part because of the early-morning Eastern Time start times, the numbers were still strong in today’s universe. A group play game between the U.S. and Russia drew 4.1 million viewers while the Canada-U.S. semifinal drew 3.9 million.
As for Canada, the CBC reported an average television audience of 8.5 million for Canada’s gold medal winning game against Sweden in Sochi, including more than 15 million Canadians (nearly half the population) watched some portion of that game. Again, keep in mind that final was early AM Eastern Time in North America.
That’s the backdrop for the NHL’s announcement last Monday that it will not participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Games, ending a run of five consecutive Winter Olympics with NHL players.
Said Mark Lazarus, Chairman, NBC Broadcast and Sports, in a statement to SI: "We are disappointed for the NHL players who will not participate in 2018. The Olympics are the biggest hockey tournament in the world, and we look forward to seeing great players represent their countries next year in South Korea."
Will viewers tune into Olympic hockey without the NHL players? The odds are NBC and CBC will take a significant hit. On this note, I paneled a group of hockey writers to answer the following question: How will the absence of NHL players (outside of the few who get permission) impact the viewership of Olympic hockey and why?
Sports columnist, Toronto Star
My guess is viewership will be affected, but it will depend on where you look. The people who were going to watch the Olympics anyway might find it interesting. But if you're a North American fan, and you've gotten best-on-best since 1998, you're sure as hell going to have to be an addict to wake up in the middle of the night to watch the Spengler Cup in Olympic clothes. If you're a potential NHL fan in China, you'll see slower, largely anonymous players. (They might have been anonymous anyway, but sending name players means people can learn their names.) The problem with the idea of non-NHL players now is that it makes the Olympic tournament something close to a pure curiosity. In 1980 the Miracle on Ice was only a miracle because the Soviets were sending a monster team stuffed with political implications. Maybe-maybe-enough Russians will escape the NHL's clutches to make them a prohibitive favorite. But that's the Olympic tournament's only real hope to be something bigger.
ESPN SportsCenter host and Frozen Four play by play announcer
Ratings at the Olympics will be impacted greatly by the absence of NHL players-especially if viewers find bad hockey played by anonymous players. It will be curious how much erosion Canada sees. Probably not as much. That being said, I do wonder if a USA-Russia game could suddenly mean more and become an event with strong ratings if geopolitics once again creates tension between the two countries. If the USA gets in any gold medal game, especially vs. Canada or Russia, I would think the ratings will still be strong if the time slot is good. I would watch.
ESPN senior writer and ESPN NHL Insider
Those of us in the hockey world admittedly live in a bubble, especially in the U.S. We assume that the general U.S. sports fan was looking forward to seeing Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews represent their countries in the Winter Olympics for the first time when the reality is that I’d bet many American casual sports fans couldn’t identify which country each of them would be playing for right now. Because of that, my sense is that we’re probably overestimating the impact not having the NHL in the Olympics is going to have. When T.J. Oshie became an American sensation after scoring on shootout attempt after shootout attempt to help beat the Russians in Sochi during the 2014 Winter games, the dad of one of my son’s friends came up to me after the tournament and asked if T.J. Oshie played in the NHL, and if he didn’t why not?
Oshie, by then, was a pretty established standout on the Blues. It was that moment I realized Americans were going to cheer on Team USA taking on the Russians at that point in the Olympics regardless of who was on the team. This particular sports fan didn’t know Oshie was an important player on the Blues heading into the Olympics. He just knew he had a memorable moment for the U.S. and he was now a T.J. Oshie fan. That's kind of how the Olympics work. Maybe my sample size is too small, and I’m letting one anecdote color my opinion too deeply, but considering that Team USA's greatest men's hockey moment came without NHL players in 1980, my bet is that American fans will still tune in with or without recognizable NHL stars.
Blackhawks writer, Chicago Sun-Times
I think it will have a significant impact, given the time difference. Hockey fans are just crazy enough to rearrange their lives to watch the United States play Russia or Canada play Sweden at 4 a.m. when you've got Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane, or Connor McDavid and Erik Karlsson playing. There certainly still will be some die-hards who do that to watch relative unknowns and prospects play, but that number is going to be significantly lower. More than four million people watched U.S.-Russia (the T.J. Oshie game) in the Sochi Olympics. Those are Stanley Cup Final numbers on NBC in prime time, and this was pool-play on cable at 6:30 a.m. Don't get me wrong, if the United States is in the gold-medal game, especially if it's against Canada, the ratings will still be great. But if it's Sweden-Russia? Or Canada-Finland? At the crack of dawn? With no recognizable names? No chance. The U.S. going for gold in any sport will always draw viewers in the U.S. But without the NHL, any other game is going to take a big hit.
Editor-in-chief The Atlantic (Toronto), and NHL analyst for TSN 1050Radio
There'll be a big impact. The fact that the games are in South Korea, a brutal time zone for hockey viewers in North America, will compound that. I remember watching the Nagano Games (which was the exact same time zone) in the middle of the night when I was living on the West Coast. Will anyone do that if it's a collection of overmatched American and Canadian players who are from European leagues?
You'll get the diehards. You won't get the casual hockey fan. The best the IOC can do is either start the games at night in Korea and have them begin at 7 or 8 a.m. in the Eastern Time Zone. Then you lose much of the West Coast. Or go for a noon start in Korea and have them begin at 11 p.m. Eastern and lose a lot of those viewers who can't stay up until 2 a.m. There's basically no good option. And without the marquee talent, that'll be reason enough for the majority of viewers to stay away. And we don't live in a tape-delayed world anymore. Everyone who cares will have a notification on their phone as soon as the result comes in, even if that's right when they wake up.
3. I predicted that the women’s basketball Final Four moving from Sunday-Tuesday to Friday-Sunday would decrease its television ratings, especially with the semifinals on ESPN2.
But the opposite happened.
Mississippi State’s historic upset of UConn set up a huge rating for the NCAA title game. The network drew 3.827 million viewers (for a Sunday 6:00 p.m. ET start ) for South Carolina's win over Mississippi State, up from 2.972 million viewers for UConn's win over Syracuse last year, (which aired on a Tuesday night) The game peaked at 5.34 million viewers from 8:00-8:15 p.m. ET, a massive number for women’s hoops.
As for the semifinals: Mississippi State’s upset over UConn drew 2.76 million viewers on ESPN2, the network's most-watched semifinal in four years. The Stanford-South Carolina semifinal drew 1.518 million viewers.
3a. ESPN said the entire NCAA women’s tournament over 63 games averaged 744,000 viewers per game across ESPN’s networks, up 6% from last year.
3b. The Top 10-rated TV markets for the women’s title game:
1. Greenville. S.C.
4. Sports pieces of note:
SI’s Chris Ballard, on Monty Williams after unspeakable tragedy.
Great piece by Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan on the fool’s gold of the University at Buffalo chasing football dreams.
From Curtis Rush: Three Maple Leaf ushers have 139 years of NHL memories.
Boston Globe writer Eric Moskowitz on the 1967 Red Sox and the baseball summer that changed everything in Boston.
Via Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant: 20 Years Later, Losing Whalers Still Heartbreaking.
SI’s Jon Wertheim on Shohei Ohtani , the reigning MVP in Nippon Professional Baseball, the world’s top league outside the majors.
From John Branch of the New York Times: Behind Kevin Durant’s Jersey Number, a Cold-Blooded Murder.
The Denver Post’s Nicki Jhabvala, on Broncos lineman Ryan Miller and his post-concussion syndrome.
Bergen Record columnist Tara Sullivan, on why Autism Awareness Night has special meaning for the general manager of New York Red Bulls.
Non sports pieces of note:
From Christina Frangou for Swerve: The last day in the life of an ordinary man who decided he wanted to die.
In 2014, the Tampa Bay Times set out to count every officer-involved shooting in Florida during a six-year period.
From the New York Times: I survived a Sarin gas attack.
Via The Seattle Times: How Pearl Jam formed.
How a group of student journalists took down a principal with a suspect resume.
A Chicago cop is accused of framing 51 people for murder. Now, the fight for justice. By Melissa Segura of Buzzfeed.
Via The Guardian’s Samira Shackle: On the frontline with Karachi’s ambulance drivers.
Where top lawmakers stand on Syria: Now and in 2013.
From the New York Times: Sleep Is the New Status Symbol.
5. The NFL announced last week that Amazon will replace Twitter regarding the live streaming element of Thursday Night Football. Amazon will live-stream the 10 TNF games carried by CBS and NBC as part of a one-year deal that the league announced late yesterday. Sports Business Daily reported Amazon paid $50 million for the rights, beating out Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for the rights. Regarding Amazon’s production, the games will only be available to Prime subscribers.
5a. Broadcasting & Cable’s Jon Lafayette’s examines how Amazon might (or might not) sell its ad inventory
5b. ESPN released its new social media policies regarding politics. Strangely, that release came through a public editor column and not the PR department.
5c. Sports Media Watch compiled the Final Four viewership history from 1975 to 2017.
5d. Here’s NBC’s playoff hockey schedule.
5e. NASCAR on NBC host Krista Voda made her NBC Sports Group horse racing debut on Saturday’s coverage of the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes, and Santa Anita Derby. She will serve as host of NBCSN’s Kentucky Derby week coverage.
5f. The first round of the Masters tied for the lowest rating for any round of The Masters since 2005.
5g. SI.com’s Ben Golliver profiled longtime Turner Sports host Ernie Johnson.
5h. Pro Football Talk reported that the NFL Network reduced the suspension of commentator Brian Baldinger from six months to four months after Baldinger said the Eagles should put a bounty on Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. He is back on the air. Baldinger was guest on the SI Media Podcast in November and discussed the severity of the suspension.
5i. Many of you asked for some back story information on why ESPN removed Sage Steele from its NBA studio coverage-this was sloppily handled publicly for both Steele and Michelle Beadle (who share the same talent agency, ironically). I’ll have something on this later this week.