Doris Burke Is The Trailblazer This Industry Needs
“There’s going to be a generation of kids who grow up where a woman is calling the NBA Finals.”
As a woman in the world of sports broadcasting I have to say, there are few individuals that are universally respected, admired, and adored as Doris Burke. The calm, confident light that always shines through in every situation, Burke is somehow always right and despite knowing it all, she never comes across as a know-it-all. She shirks the glory herself, which allows her audience to bask in the glow, effortlessly and perfectly balancing her unrivaled work ethic with the power to connect and resonate with even the most impenetrable viewer. The fact is that Doris Burke is unlike any other in sports media industry. A pioneer, a trailblazer, a Hall of Famer and history maker. It is absolutely clear why she was chosen to become the first woman to serve as the analyst on a broadcast of the NBA finals.
The incredible achievement has been truly well deserved from a broadcasting legend remains humble, grateful and honored. She lends advice, help, kindness, or her only free 15 minute window for an impromptu radio interview with the men and women of this industry without hesitation. So, in order to properly celebrate the amazing Doris Burke’s latest milestone, I wanted to share The gratitude from within the sports broadcasting world by sharing the floor with incredible talent from across the board. The resounding message being: today we salute you Doris. You are the real MVP. Thank you!
Perhaps one of the individuals who is most familiar with the energy Doris brings to each broadcast, post game and interview is the man who will be sitting beside her as she makes history in the NBA finals broadcast: Marc Kestecher
“It will be an honor to share the mic with Doris during the Conference Finals and Finals,” he told me. “She’s been a trailblazer in so many aspects of her broadcast career, and this will be no different. Her preparation, her knowledge of the game and her ability to communicate it with our audience will be a big asset to our crew.”
Kestecher highlighted how profound of an impact Burke’s career has made on the league, network, audience and his personal career.
“Doris has earned this assignment. She has spent years perfecting the craft. I’ve worked TV games with her in the past, and we’ve been in the same circles for numerous NBA Finals. I’ve leaned on her for advice many times over those years. It’ll be great to finally work together on radio for the biggest NBA games of the season.”
Sarah Spain, who makes up one half of another coed collaboration alongside Jason Fitz on ESPN Radio’s Spain & Fitz, has been a tenacious supporter of her ESPN colleague—at times, voicing the gratitude and respect she has for Doris Burke on her national evening radio program.
“Ah, I think my first reaction was ‘duh! and then—Actually, I’m surprised she hasn’t done that before.’ At this point, it feels like Doris is in all the spaces and places that the top voices in the sports are at and and rightfully so. So it’s remarkable that there are still opportunities that are ‘the first’ among women. There’s been tremendous growth in recent years, but this is a reminder that even the very best at what they do are still sort of documenting the door of some of the top positions.
“Doris has made it so clear with her work ethic, her talent, her sense of humor, her intelligence, her insight, and her class and professionalism, that she’s deserving of these opportunities. And there are always going to be critics of women’s voices in male dominated spaces, but I think it’s really telling that so rarely do I see people taking shots at Doris for anything other than the most absurd and immature things like, ‘I just don’t like hearing a woman talk’ or ‘I prefer the voice of a man,’ right? Because she’s so talented and prepared and quality at her job. You can’t criticize her for any meaningful reasons, so you’re left with the dumbest and most pointless criticisms and if any at all, and even those criticisms have been getting even more few and far between because she’s established herself as beyond reproach with her work.”
Charlotte Wilder has been a tremendous young talent. Now working with FOX Sports, weaving her opinions and unique sense of humor in with the sports news coverage in her content she has been a tremendous addition to the revamped FOXSports.com.
“Even the day she followed me on Twitter, I sort of freaked out a little bit, she told me. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, if Doris follows me maybe that means I’m, like not such an imposter maybe, you know, actually supposed to be in this role.'”
“Doris, is such a pro and so deeply talented. She just has ‘it’, that thing that you can’t necessarily verbalize what it is, but you just want to watch her. You want to hear what she has to say, of course, because she’s deeply knowledgeable, she knows the game, knows the players and has insight better than, I think, anyone. I think she is THE most talented NBA analyst/commentator/broadcaster.
“Now, there are a lot of other talented people in the same position, but there’s something about Doris, where there’s this confidence when she gets on screen and I just immediately think ‘I trust this person.’ I enjoy watching this person do what they do and execute the craft so flawlessly; to see someone, not just a woman in this industry, but any other person in this industry, who emits that level of competence, which might someday be possible. To see her elevated to what is one of the highest positions in the field, calling the NBA Finals, it is a real testament to her hard work, her talent, and to those who have recognized that, to then put her in that position.”
Lauren Brownlow, a host and reporter for ESPN Radio’s Raleigh/Durham-area affiliate, 99.9 the Fan, has cultivated a significant following on local, regional and national levels, and she explained the role Doris Burke played in finding her voice as her career began to take off.
“I was at a point in my career where I felt very conscious of the fact that I was a woman in this business and I didn’t want people to know that. I very much wanted to just laugh that, ‘Hey, I just want to sort of blend into the background here. I’m not here to disrupt your space. Like, I’m just here to do it as a colleague, right? Don’t be troubled by my female presence in your male space. I’m not going to just act like you guys and be quiet and not dress too feminine and do all of these things.
“I think the moment, it all sort of clicked into place for me, I was realizing, ‘okay, Doris is doing all of these things in the same kind of a way. She’s doing her job extremely well, and yet she’s still facing this kind of like rampant. sexism.’ That was definitely an awakening for me where I said, I’m able to do this, that I can just be me in this space—to be a woman in sports media and have that be okay. I don’t have to blend in and act like my male colleagues. I just had realized that there was nothing that I could do if Doris Burke, who has this immense wealth of knowledge, obviously, played the game, and did her job so well, if she was still facing this kind of sexism. Essentially it was like, there was nothing I was going to be able to do to please people anyway, because of the fact that I was a woman, I was not going to please some people. So it was a good thing in the end for me, because it sort of helped me be more comfortable in my own skin and allowed me feel more comfortable being myself.”
Doris Burke will make history as the first woman to serve as the analyst on a broadcast of the NBA Finals later this month. Sarah Spain says it should be more that just an exciting moment for women in the broadcasting world. This should be viewed as a progress report.
“One cool thing is that every time there is a first for women is after her that it can just be the norm, even if you need to push for it to be the norm and for it to not be a one off. Once you get it out of the way, you can sort of move forward and the more people see women in these positions, the more accustomed they get, the less likely they are to react negatively for no other reason than a lack of comfortability.
“When it started out, and there were two female sports on-air anchors at the same time, nobody even thinks about that anymore; that happens all the time. Female analysts, female color, female play by play—the ceiling keeps getting higher. And one of the issues that we have to address and continue to work with is that the basement remains the same. Those lower level opportunities, the harassment, the lack of respect, the lack of belief that the better woman is there for the right reasons that you could do the work and knows her stuff, you still have to battle all of that to make a name for yourself and achieve the agency and voice to be respected, but the fact that the ceiling keeps getting higher and the opportunities keep growing for women, it makes me super hopeful.”
I asked Spain how Doris Burke is able to turn even her most vocal doubters around. What makes her so good? Why is she the right woman to break through this particular glass ceiling?
“I think her authenticity is huge and the fact that she always feels so calm, controlled and prepared,” Spain answers. “She’s always prepared. She comes with statistics in the background. She has incredible credibility as a Hall of Fame collegiate basketball player as a Hall of Famer herself, and there’s a real sense of a sort of calm and professionalism throughout. You know, she has a good sense of humor—she’s not dry or serious. It just always seems like you trust what she’s saying is right. You trust that it comes from a place of knowledge, as she’s going to take you through a broadcast or through an analysis.”
“There’s going to be a generation of kids who grow up where a woman is calling the NBA Finals,” Charlotte Wilder says matter of factly. “I think the goal is to get to a point where we don’t need an article like this saying that ‘there’s a woman calling this game’ because it is so normal. Maybe we can really get to a point where there are two women calling the game. I think that the more you get people in these positions, and the more women help other women into these roles, which, the people who keep me sane in this industry, the people who I rely on, both personally and professionally are women (and I have the most amazing producer Kristin Scott at Fox Sports, she’s so deeply competent). So in terms of having those people in your circle, and in your corner is great, but then I look at Doris. I can’t really say enough about how good she is, and just that in and of itself, I think, is inspiring.
“You know, you think of legendary people in the booth or calling games and you know the voices but you also know the personalities. They’re very professional but they infuse it into their broadcast. And what I absolutely love about Doris is how funny she can be. She is irreverent, I absolutely lost it when she said, ‘Well, I’m always right, just ask my ex-husband’ and returned to calling a game like that. That to me was like, yeah, that was sort of the thing that I would think I would tweet as a joke, and for her to say that on a broadcast with such confidence, knowing that it was going to just hit was an iconic moment because we’d never heard that before. It was so nonchalant and unapologetic.”
Lauren Brownlow says that she can’t help but be torn over Burke’s moment. She is excited to see a woman sit in the analyst’s seat for the NBA Finals for the first time, but frustrated that it took until 2020 to get here.
“You know, it feels like this should have happened long before now and it has taken too long. I think you feel this way sometimes with almost any accomplishment by a woman in our field or sometimes another field, like it’s like it’s the first woman to do ‘X’ and then you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s so cool’. And then you also think, ‘Wow, how is that the first one? Why are we here it has taken this long’ and especially again, because she is so good at her job like it’s not as if you know, she’s being handed something. She’s more than earned this and so there’s this it’s a double-edged sword where you feel really excited and inspired and glad for Doris because she’s earned this and and then you also feel a sense of frustration wondering; how much better does a woman have to be at her job to get than a man to get an opportunity like this?”
Frustrations about the industry aside, there was an overwhelming sense of respect and admiration that shined through in the women I talked to about Doris Burke. Hers is a path that is brand new, but will serve as a map for so many women that come after her in the broadcast industry.
Spain sums it up best. The most important thing any of us can say to Doris Burke right now is simply “thank you.”
“This is incredibly well-earned and deserved. Also, thank you from all the other women in the industry when there are top-notch incredibly insightful, knowledgeable, professional, badass women like her who are doing their jobs so well, it serves to open up doors for other women. And every woman out there who absolutely crushes it, like Doris has, is paving a path for the ones coming behind and so being able to just say thank you to her for continuing to be so good at her job as to shut up and shout down those who believe that women don’t belong.”
Lauren Brownlow echoes that sentiment.
“I really appreciate how thoughtful she is and every single thing that she shares in her broadcast and in her interviews as well. I think for me, too, she’s somebody that has inspired very much my generation of, you know, female sports media members, and I don’t know a single one of them that doesn’t have respect and reverence for her. I met her at the NSMA Awards this past year, and it was the first time I’d ever had the guts to really introduce myself and frankly, she was introduced to me because I was too nervous to just like, go right up to her and she was very sweet.
“She’s very inspirational just by being who she is. So she doesn’t need to take on any extra burden or anything else because just by being exactly who she is and existing how she is right now, being the analyst that she is and the woman that she is, she has inspired so many of us. There’s so many women that could even thank her enough for helping really to validate a lot of us and that’s not a burden she should have to carry around certainly, to represent every single woman out there. But it is something that has opened doors for people and made the powers that be realize that women can be good at this and know what they’re talking about. And Doris has helped and been instrumental in that, I think in a lot of ways. She’s inspirational and I’m really psyched that this is happening.”
Chrissy Paradis is a BNM columnist and veteran sports radio producer. She’s worked in Las Vegas, Washington DC, Raleigh and Hartford helping personalities such as Rob Dibble, Tim Brando, Steve Cofield, Adam Gold and Joe Ovies. You can contact her on Twitter @ChrissyParadis or by email at Chrissy.Paradis@gmail.com.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
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?
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.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ESPN Deal Used to Mean Stability for ACC, Now It Means Anything But
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.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.