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Jimmy Pitaro Praises Experimentation & Bob Iger At Sports Video Group Summit

“We’re okay with failure here as long as we learn from it and get better. We’re going to continue to try new things here.”

Derek Futterman




Jimmy Pitaro has worked within the Walt Disney Company since 2010. He was hired by Bob Iger, who was the chief executive officer of the company at the time, to work within its Disney Interactive division. Iger was also the executive who named Pitaro the new president of ESPN and co-chair of Disney Media Networks in 2018, and was instrumental in his quest of innovation to effectively position the company to adapt to the next generation of digital media.

“Without Bob Iger, I’m not here at ESPN,” Pitaro said while attending the Sports Video Group Summit in New York, N.Y. “Bob’s a huge sports fan. To be effective, you need to be a fan; you can’t fake it.”

It was announced that Iger was returning as chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company last month, concluding what ended up being a short stint in retirement. He and Pitaro peak regularly whether it is over the phone, text or Zoom both about business and their fandom of the New York Yankees.

“I have a boss; I have a mentor who is a passionate sports fan and someone who I can learn a ton from,” Pitaro said. “Having Bob back is great for ESPN and I’m very pleased to have him back as my boss.”

Pitaro, now chairman of ESPN and sports content, stated that he has not yet spoken to Iger pertaining to specific aspects of future strategy, but figures to continue emphasizing alternate broadcasts. Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli, colloquially known as the Manningcast, derived from Peyton Manning seeing Kirk Herbstreit commentate a college football playoff game from his basement at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Manning then contacted Pitaro and asked him if there would be a way to have him do the same thing – and it has subsequently evolved into what it is today.

Alternate broadcasts and live sports as a whole keep people coming to ESPN, especially on its linear platforms. Pitaro noted that out of the top 100 live broadcasts in 2022 thus far, 98 of them have been live sporting events, part of why the business continues to thrive despite cord-cutting, social media distractions and other headwinds.

“It’s the power of live sports,” Pitaro said. “…People are spending much more time consuming live sports than anything else live. I think live news ratings are just dependent on the political cycles, but for sports, it seems to be pretty constant.”

ESPN has been producing and airing alternate broadcasts since the 1990s, but caught what Pitaro calls “lightning in a bottle” creating Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli. Since that broadcast began in the 2021-22 NFL season, the network has launched Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod and the NBA in Stephen A’s World.

“We’re going to continue to experiment,” Pitaro expressed. “There’s no real formula here. We’ve tried alternate broadcasts that haven’t worked…We’re okay with failure here as long as we learn from it and get better. We’re going to continue to try new things here.”

An aspect of the ratings that is out of the control of ESPN is in the quality of the games the network broadcasts and Pitaro stated the last few weeks have been weaker in terms of quality. One part of the media rights deal between Disney and the National Football League is the addition of flex scheduling starting next season, meaning the chance to air higher quality matchups can be ensured.

There is undoubtedly an expectation of stellar performance across the board regardless of the sport. Pitaro is tasked with overseeing the network’s parallel paths; those being its linear channels and its direct-to-consumer platform: ESPN+.

“We’ve got to get it right and we have to show up every single day,” Pitaro said. “There are no off days. Look, we’re not perfect. Let me be clear. Our production is not perfect; our executives do not execute perfectly, but we do have a pretty high standard at ESPN and The Walt Disney Company.”

As some networks look to prioritize cord-cutting, Pitaro views linear television as a primary part of its business model. While the conversation around media encompasses digital growth and cord-cutting, ESPN’s outright linear television ratings rose 10% during the past fiscal year and those in primetime experienced 16% growth. Surely, it has been profitable for the network for many years, but Pitaro is cognizant of the change taking place as more consumers transition to watching live sports on other platforms of dissemination.

“We are continuing to acquire rights and invest in the traditional platform,” Pitaro said. “At the same time, pretty much every deal we do and we’ve done over the last 4.5 years since we’ve launched ESPN+ has had a direct-to-consumer component.”

NFL Sunday Ticket will transition into a streaming service, according to a statement made by National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell in an interview with CNBC, and DirecTV has had its rights for nearly three decades. Yet it has been reported that many companies have been involved in the bidding process, including Apple, Amazon and ESPN.

“We let the league know that we very much value that product,” Pitaro said. “It’d be interesting to see how this plays out. We typically don’t comment on league negotiations or discussions but I will tell you – and I’ve been consistent on this from day one- that we value that product.”

The proliferation of sports betting has led to its legalization in certain areas of the United States, resulting in the expansion of sports books and concomitant betting content. ESPN partnered with Caesars Sportsbook to create branded studios in Las Vegas and airs plenty of sports betting content.

It is representative of an area of future growth for ESPN and Pitaro spoke about ideas the network has in ways to implement it into its presentation. Some of these possibilities include potentially creating a watch-and-bet experience or a watch-and-buy experience in which consumers can directly interact and immerse themselves in the game experience.

“Our research shows us that our fans are good here,” Pitaro said. “They expect this from us – they’re not just okay with it – but they expect us to be doing more. What does that mean? It means creating a more seamless experience….They want to be able to place a bet without a lot of friction.”

As an executive within the Walt Disney Company, Pitaro has to think about the immersion of sports betting not just in terms of how it impacts ESPN, but how it impacts the venture as a whole.

“The way it’s come back is that our Disney fans are okay with this as well,” he said. “We’re still in the exploratory phase, but we certainly believe we can be doing more there.”

The advantage to ESPN+ is its unlimited real estate in terms of producing and distributing content. In the past, the network had to turn down certain content ideas because there was simply a lack of space to program them on the linear side. Now with the advent of technologies enabling nonlinear broadcast transmission, ESPN is able to create more programming and offer it in a multitude of different locations.

The growth of women’s sports is a priority for ESPN and drives aggregate viewership levels. Pitaro expressed how he received a call from his father last year pertaining to his watching more WNBA games because of the on-court product. Despite the network’s 10-year media rights deal with the WNBA expiring “relatively soon,” Pitaro delineated that the network will continue to invest in the space, in addition to NCAA women’s sports

“It’s becoming more and more in the zeitgeist,” Pitaro said of the WNBA, “and I think that’s kind of chicken and egg, but from our perspective – if we build it, they will come. If we give these games; these leagues; these sports more exposure, people are going to show up.”

Pitaro is excited to once again work with Iger in developing ESPN and having a voice in guiding the direction of the Walt Disney Company. In fact, Pitaro has currently been tasked by Iger to work with some of his colleagues at the company “to look at the structure of the entire enterprise.”

“A lot of the games that we’re airing right now we acquired through deals that Bob was at the table for,” Pitaro said. “We need a little bit more time. Bob and I need to sit down and talk through what’s transpired over the last few years.”

As ESPN aims to continue living up to its slogan as the “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” it has signature live studio programming and what may seem like an interminable number of media rights deals with sporting leagues around the world. Whatever the future holds, Pitaro is prepared and energized to continue to conceive new ideas that push the boundary in sports media.

“Our product needs to continue to advance,” he said. “ESPN; the ESPN App; ESPN+ – [they are] very good products right now. Personalized; contemporary; modern; they’re easy to navigate. We’re constantly focused on improving them…We don’t want to be a solution looking for a problem here, but that’s something that’s on the table, but in general, sports betting; gamification; free-to-play gaming could be an element as well – all that is being looked at as well.”

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos




One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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Barrett Media Writers

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