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John Skipper: There’s No Evidence Broadcasters Are Worth $18 Million Per Year

“I never saw a scintilla of evidence that the people in the booth change the ratings even by a smidgen. The race to hire people is mostly about internal pride.”

Ricky Keeler

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With NFL broadcasting free agency in full swing, there are some who wonder if Troy Aikman getting reportedly around $90 million for five years from ESPN to leave FOX is too much money. Plus, some wonder if it makes a big difference who is calling the big games of the week from a TV ratings standpoint.

On the latest episode of the South Beach Sessions podcast, Dan Le Batard had John Skipper (former president at ESPN and now CEO of Meadowlark Media) and David Samson (former president of the Miami Marlins) on to talk about the big salaries given to broadcasters among other topics.

At the beginning of the podcast, Le Batard asked Skipper if he believed that a color commentator is worth $17-18 million per year regardless of how talented they are. Skipper said there isn’t really much evidence that proves that a commentator is worth that much money necessarily.

“I never saw a scintilla of evidence that the people in the booth change the ratings even by a smidgen,” said Skipper. “The race to hire people is mostly about internal pride. We want to present a good game.

“We want the media to suggest we have a great booth and the people who can do this very well are very rare. May make a little difference around the advertising margins if people are saying your show is great. Can you justify it by looking at a P&L? If I hire Troy Aikman for $18 million rather than Jill Smith for $3 million, will I see $15 million? I think the answer is no.”

“Everybody in the sports industry shows up at the Sports Emmys and they are very proud when it is announced that their version of NASCAR or their version of MLB is the best,” Skipper continued. “It is probably good for your brand. I wasn’t suggesting that it’s a foolish decision, just that it’s not about math.”  

While Skipper was at ESPN and forming the Monday Night Football booth, he wanted to do something different from the conventional way broadcasts are done and he mentioned he regretted that he didn’t push harder for Tony Kornheiser to stay in the broadcast booth longer than he was (from 2006 through 2008).

“It was my feeling and still is that the networks still are doing the radio play-by-play on television,” Skipper said. “If you watch the ‘ManningCast,’ which I have and I find highly entertaining, it feels to me that it makes it clear that you don’t need somebody to tell you everything that you can see. It is interesting to have some commentary on it, have some expertise.

“I thought with Tony, it would be interesting to add some humor on it and that we didn’t need play-by-play. Of course I was in charge so nobody would say no, you can’t do that, but there is such a thing as a pocket veto… It was not particularly embraced. I’ve always regretted that I didn’t insist in a more firm manner that Tony Kornheiser be made an integral part of the booth and that we get away from radio play-by-play.”  

Skipper does find the “ManningCast” very entertaining and he said if we were still in charge at ESPN, he would be trying to make them the main booth, but he understands why nobody does that:

“The ManningCast is entertaining,” he said. “It’s fun and I did not miss at all some human being saying gee, the quarterback turns, hands the ball off, it goes for 3. It will be 2nd and 7. I can see that. Tell me something I can’t see.”

“I would be trying very hard to convince the Manning brothers that they should be doing the main broadcast and that we don’t have to do what everybody’s always done. You can make the other the alternate broadcast if anyone wants conventional play-by-play, they could turn into a different channel.

“Note that nobody does this. Everyone loves the Mannings, it’s a great success. What percentage watch the ‘ManningCast’ instead of the main broadcast? It’s de minimis because of habit. People know the game is on one place, they turn it on… 95% of people still watch it in the conventional way, so I may be completely wrong.” 

Samson did suggest that when Skipper had Kornheiser in the booth, he might have been ahead of his time in changing how a broadcast can be done.

What you were doing was the ‘ManningCast’ before it was the ‘ManningCast,’ except you made it the primary cast,” said Samson. “I’m not sure that ESPN or any network would have the Manning brothers sitting there just riffing during the course of a game without having an alternate booth that was giving you sort of the straight play-by-play.” 

With the way alternate broadcasts of sporting events have continued to grow in recent years, who knows if someone who thinks along the same lines as Skipper might try this one day. 

Sports Online

Dan Le Batard: It Enrages Me That There’s a Craig Carton Show on TV

“The man defrauded the people and got right back into sports entertainment television!”

Jordan Bondurant

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The news of Tom Brady announcing his retirement on Wednesday came as Dan Le Batard and company were on the air, and in the midst of the initial reaction to Brady’s announcement, Le Batard offered a quick shot at WFAN and FS1 host Craig Carton.

Carton has been hosting a morning show on FS1 since last September. Craig added the TV show to co-hosting his successful afternoon drive program on WFAN alongside Evan Roberts.

But as Le Batard and the rest of the show were looking at the TV trying to figure out what was going on with the Brady story, Dan said he thought it was crazy Carton was on television.

“It enrages me that there’s a Carton show,” Le Batard said. “The man went to jail. The man defrauded the people and got right back into sports entertainment television!”

Carton went to prison for a year after facing a charge of securities and wire fraud. In the fall of 2020, after being released from jail earlier in the year, Carton made his return to WFAN.

It’s possible that Le Batard, who is busy running his own independent media operation, wasn’t aware Carton had a TV show. So it’s likely seeing Craig’s face probably was a bit of a shock. But it was clear Dan wasn’t expecting to learn the news from Carton’s show.

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Sports Online

ESPN Hands Out 6 New Contracts To Investigative Journalists

Jordan Bondurant

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ESPN is solidifying its lineup of investigative journalists. The network announced on Wednesday the hiring of two newcomers as well as contract extensions for four others.

Xuan Thai and Sara Coello are the two newcomers to The Worldwide Leader, starting their jobs in January.

Thai previously worked at NBC News and MSNBC. Most recently, she was the deputy bureau chief of the south region at NBC.

Coello has made her way to ESPN after stops at The Charlotte Observer, The Dallas Morning News and The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.

Alyssa Roenigk, Tisha Thompson, Sam Borden and Tom Junod are the four others who received contract extensions.

Roenigk is the most senior of the group, with 2023 being her 21st year at ESPN. She’s been an editor, sideline reporter, studio host and writer in that stretch of two decades.

Thompson and Borden both started at ESPN in 2017. Thompson has covered stories including the ongoing government investigation of Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder and investigated sexual assault allegations within the U.S. Snowboard team.

Borden has appeared regularly on various ESPN platforms like the ESPN Daily podcast and Outside the Lines. He’s a 2021 Edward R. Murrow Award winner for an NFL Countdown piece called “This Big Mo Show.”

Junod has been at ESPN since 2019. His previous stops include GQ, Esquire, Life and Sports Illustrated.

Additionally, a contract extension for veteran feature producer Scott Harves was announced by the network.

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Sports Online

Sports Media Reacts To Tom Brady Retiring

“Plenty of the biggest names in the business rushed to Twitter to pay tribute to Brady’s career on the football field.”

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Things seem a little more final this time. Tom Brady says he will not return to the field. The GOAT announced his retirement Wednesday morning in a video posted to social media.

While it is still unclear what happens next, plenty of people in the sports media had opinions to share. Plenty of the biggest names in the business rushed to Twitter to pay tribute to Brady’s career on the football field.

There were other reactions as well. It is well-known that Tom Brady has a ten-year contract worth $375 million waiting for him at FOX. That means plenty of people in the sports media have questions about what today’s announcement means for Greg Olsen.

Olsen has won plenty of acclaim as the analyst in the network’s top NFL booth. Brady’s deal includes him taking over that spot, so several personalities and writers used the day to publicly question the logic in that decision.

There was a third reaction too. Twitter was made for two things: reacting to breaking news and making jokes. Tom Brady announcing his retirement gave some members of the sports media the chance to do both.

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