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Glasspiegal: Witten Could Get ESPN a Super Bowl

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Ryan Glasspiegal has an interesting new column up at The Big Lead. While others are spending another Tuesday mocking Jason Witten and his verbal gaffes on Monday Night Football, Glasspiegal argues that Witten may be the key to better matchups and an eventual Super Bowl on ESPN.

He writes that it is no secret that ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro has been working hard to mend a relationship with the league that became strained under John Skipper’s leadership. Glasspiegal points to Sean McDonough’s and Jon Gruden’s harsh criticism of the league and its officiating as further upsetting to NFL brass. He rehashes the old rumor that the NFL retaliated for the negative coverage by relegating a truly awful slate of games to Monday nights. Witten doesn’t present that kind of critical threat in prime time.

Witten is unlikely to portray the league in a light that its stakeholders will be unhappy with. Even the “left wing” comment, which he later said was a “mix up”, is something actually more likely to endear him with traditionalist NFL owners than make them queasy.

Glasspiegal writes that the once-frosty relationship began to ease up the second ESPN hired Witten to be a part of Monday Night Football.

When Jerry Jones announced Witten’s hiring at ESPN’s Upfronts this past May, it was a symbolic moment of bridge-building in ESPN’s relationship with the league.

ESPN would not only like a more appealing slate of games, which it seems to be getting this year with more appearances by high profile teams and marquee players. It would also like to shed the distinction of being the league’s only broadcast partner that isn’t part of the Super Bowl rotation. Glasspiegal writes that a mended relationship will help, but there is another problem standing in ESPN’s way.

In addition to wanting better matchups, ESPN would love to get into the Super Bowl cycle in the next round of league rights. Perhaps the NFL, which loves broadcast television, would not want the game exclusively on cable, but ESPN could easily simulcast the game with ABC.

The network’s coverage of the College Football Playoff could provide an excellent blueprint for how ESPN might package a Super Bowl. The main broadcast could go on ABC with multiple alternate options on the ESPN Networks. Whatever the case, ESPN certainly is the broadcast partner in the best position to work with the NFL to innovate how the biggest event in American sports is presented. If ESPN gets that, and the NFL gets that, and most importantly, if the fans get that, then as Glasspiegal writes about Witten’s frequent verbal gaffes, “are the growing pains not worth it?”

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Stephen A. Smith, Jay Williams Get Worked Up Arguing Over Kyrie Irving

Smith called Williams “an apologist” for defending Irving.

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Stephen A. Smith may be trying to turn himself down a bit since being hospitalized for COVID during the New Year’s holiday. But as pointed out by the New York Post‘s Ryan Glasspiegel, it sure didn’t look that way on Wednesday’s First Take while arguing about Kyrie Irving with guest co-host Jay Williams.

First Take viewers and sports media observers already know how Smith feels about Irving, who’s refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine and only played in four games for the Brooklyn Nets this season due to health and safety protocols throughout the league.

When Smith announced on-air in December that he tested positive for COVID and was experiencing symptoms, he ended the segment by criticizing the Nets for the “disgraceful move” of allowing Irving to rejoin the team despite only being able to play in road games. (He’s prohibited from playing in Brooklyn due to New York state vaccine mandates.)

On Wednesday, Smith repeated that assertion, adding that it would be bad for basketball if the Nets won the NBA championship with Irving only playing away from Brooklyn’s Barclay Center. And if it wasn’t certain how Smith feels, check out the look on his face at the 1:14 mark of the video below when Williams begins to defend the Nets.

With Kevin Durant out four to six weeks with a sprained knee, the Nets will likely slide down the Eastern Conference standings and possibly lose home-court advantage in the opening rounds of the NBA Playoffs. But with Irving allowed to play on the road, Williams argued that the Nets might enjoy an advantage in opposing arenas. Smith, to put it mildly, disagreed.

“Kyrie Irving being available for just road games and him playing for the Brooklyn Nets under those conditions,” said Smith, “you’re all in or you’re all out, I believe that if the Brooklyn Nets win the championship, it would be bad for basketball.”

Williams, who removed his jacket as he got more worked up, said Smith is attacking Irving’s character and created a narrative against the guard, who has every right not to take the vaccine if he so chooses.

The two probably could’ve gone on longer, but moderator Molly Qerim closed the segment because Williams had a radio appearance scheduled. Williams then amusingly accused Smith of planning a debate that he knew would be cut off. Smith responded by calling Williams “an apologist” for Irving.

This got heated! And they’ll shout it out over this topic again with fewer than 40 games remaining in the Nets’ season.

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Ron Franklin, Longtime ESPN Broadcaster, Passes Away at 79

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Ron Franklin was a prominent voice for a generation of fans growing up watching college football and basketball on ESPN. The veteran broadcaster passed away on Tuesday at the age of 79.

The sad news was first revealed by Mike Barnes, communication consultant and former sports director at Austin’s KVUE.

Franklin is best known for his work with ESPN, where he called games and anchored studio shows from 1987 to 2011. In addition to college football and basketball, he also called tennis, college baseball, and Olympic sports during his tenure at the network.

Before joining ESPN, Franklin was a sports director for news stations in New Mexico, Tulsa, and Houston in the 1960s and 1970s. From 1971 to 1982, he was the play-by-play broadcaster for the Houston Oilers. Franklin then moved on to call University of Texas football and men’s basketball from 1983 to 1988.

Fran Fraschilla, Franklin’s longtime broadcast partner on college basketball, shared the news on Twitter upon learning of it.

Unfortunately, Franklin didn’t avoid controversy during his time at ESPN. In 2005, he was reprimanded by producers after a condescending remark to sideline reporter Holly Rowe in which he called her “sweetheart.” Five years later, he called reporter Jeannine Edwards “sweet baby” during a production meeting. When she objected, Franklin followed up with a profane insult.

Franklin was pulled from the radio broadcast of the Fiesta Bowl after the incident and fired by ESPN soon thereafter a colleague reported him to management. He sued the network for wrongful termination, a case that was eventually settled out of court.

Plenty of other colleagues, friends, and fan expressed their condolences for Franklin on social media after hearing of his passing, including Dick Vitale and former NFL coach Wade Phillips.

“He’s going to be missed. I just think of all the great times we had working together,” former broadcast partner Mike Gottfried told AL.com. “I just knew the guy came prepared, he worked hard, he studied and his voice was so dominant, and so good that everybody knew he was. He loved the game, he loved the coaches, he loved the players.”

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Sinclair’s Estimated Streaming Service Fee Much More Expensive Than Competitors

The estimated fee of $20.25 would be a good deal more than other direct-to-consumer services such as the Disney bundle, priced at $13.99.

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Sinclair’s Diamond Sports Group recently gained streaming rights for live NHL and NBA games. The company is working hard to become the premier direct-to-consumer service in sports. However, as Sportico’s Anthony Crupi reports, that will likely come at a premium price for consumers.

Outlined in Sinclair’s 8-K quarterly report filed to the SEC, all scenarios point to a monthly subscription fee of around $20.25. But will that be the most profitable scenario in which Diamond Sports achieves 975,000 subscribers for $237 million worth of revenue? Or will it result in the lesser scenario of 309,000 subscribers, predicting $75 million in revenue?

The rates are based on Diamond’s ability to stream NHL and NBA games in its affiliated franchises’ local markets. The fees are expected to increase as Diamond renews its legacy distribution deals with its member MLB teams. The Bally Sports nets have distribution deals in place with 14 MLB clubs, but only the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, and Milwaukee Brewers have signed off on a streaming agreement.

In 2021, Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley in 2021 took issue with refuted reports of the company seeking a $23 monthly fee for consumers. Yet he also provided no details on what price the company had in mind.

The estimated fee of $20.25 would be a good deal more than other direct-to-consumer services such as the Disney bundle, which includes ESPN+, Disney+, and Hulu, priced at $13.99.

Sinclair still has a few loose ends to tie up. Its recent $600 million financing deal and associated NBA renewal will be vital for the DTC launch. Last spring, the company’s broadcast division renewed its carriage agreement with Charter. But Sinclair’s standalone RSN deal with providers is scheduled to finish before March 31.

Charter’s Spectrum is the nation’s second-largest cable-TV provider. At the end of 2021’s third quarter, the company serviced 15.3 million residential video subscribers. Renewing the RSN contract is currently being negotiated, but agreeing to such deals is touchier now than ever.

The Diamond RSNs have been non-existent for 8.42 million DISH Network subscribers, even before Sinclair acquired the 21 former Fox Sports channels for $9.6 billion in August 2019.

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