Parker Hillis Listened to All the Right People
“We have to be more about the headlines, we have to give a connection that allows someone to want to invest in us as much as we invest in this town and market.”
His thumb hovered over the send button as he re-read his text for the last time. He was strategically sending the message via an app called Cyber Dust, because he knew the two people he was trying to reach were most likely to respond via this platform. As Parker Hillis hit send to both Ben Rogers and Jeff Wade of Ben and Skin, then-at 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, he waited for the moment that would change his professional world.
Hillis’s upbringing as a kid that would later make a career in sports radio is an all-too-familiar one. He was a huge sports fan in the Dallas Metroplex and would often listen to both The Ticket and The Fan while in the car with his father. However, his actual journey into sports radio was the complete opposite of all-too-familiar.
Hillis initially thought his career choice would be in aerospace engineering. That’s why he left DFW for Auburn University after graduating high school. However, even while in Alabama, he was constantly listening to The Fan to keep up with his favorite teams in the metroplex.
After two years, he returned home and enrolled at The University of Texas at Arlington to continue his aerospace engineering pursuit. But a year later he found himself burnt out and in need of a change. Hillis wanted to enjoy his next venture and when he thought about what that would be he came to an easy conclusion.
“That was when my love for sports and connection to sports radio began,” said Hillis.
That’s when Hillis decided to reach out to Ben and Skin via Cyber Dust, now known as Dust. After listening to The Fan relentlessly, he knew the two hosts were tight with Mark Cuban and pushing the new app. He figured his best chance to reach the two would be there.
“The app was like a precursor to Snapchat,” said Hillis. “It’s one of those where you send a message and it disappears after 10 seconds. As I’m listening to those guys, I know they’re invested in this app, and on a whim, I sent both of them a Cyber Dust message, that said, ‘Hey, I’m curious about what you guys do. I don’t have any idea where to start or how somebody would get into your industry. You probably won’t even read this, but I’d love to know if there’s anyway I can come introduce myself, see what you guys do at the station, go behind the scenes and take a look.’”
His intuition was dead on. Quickly after sending both messages, Ben and Skin both responded and got Hillis in touch with their producer.
Soon after, Parker Hillis was changing his major in college to broadcast journalism and was interning at The Fan. His foot was officially in the door.
“The timing of it was perfect,” said Hillis. “I did an internship and finished school. Gavin Spittle and Tim Collins were the ones that hired me on.”
Little did Hillis know at the time, but he was working for his first influential programmer that would help shape his career. Hillis didn’t realize it because his initial pursuit in the business was on the talent side. But after a short time as a producer for shows such as K&C Masterpiece, who was very critical in his quick ascension in the industry, he soon realized how hard it was going to be to get his own show in a major market like Dallas. So once again, he pondered his next move.
“I sat back and asked what I enjoy the most about what I’m doing,” said Hillis. “At that time I was doing a lot of training and working with multiple shows, producing content, producing segments, producing shows and working with our young talent. That’s what I enjoyed doing.”
Hillis decided to lean into the programming side of things and it was the best decision he could have made. That’s where the benefit of having Spittle in the same building really helped. Hillis noted how exceptional Spittle was at developing content, managing relationships with the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers and managing his talent amongst several other things.
“Parker was a Swiss army knife for us,” Spittle said. “We put him in so many positions, and he thrived and embraced all of them both on and off the air. His passion for his teammates and our product was noticeable.”
“The way he develops content is something I really leaned in to,” Hillis said. “The way he would meet with shows and talk through specifically how to build segments. How to be conversational and relational as opposed to just providing information and telling you X and O’s as to what’s going on in the headlines. How he managed both of our partnerships with the Cowboys and Rangers. He actually gave me a ton of insight into those relationships when I was there. I started out just cutting highlights and worked my way up eventually to EP’ing the Rangers and assistant EP’ing the Cowboys and it was really crucial in my growth in explaining, hey, here’s how we handle these situations.”
Parker Hillis is grateful for his experience with Spittle and is quick to say how critical he was in his growth as a programmer. If that wasn’t enough of a blessing, the next step in his career was going to be alongside another well-known programmer.
A connection with Armen Williams is what got Hillis to 104.3 The Fan in Denver. Williams was leaving The Fan for SportsRadio 610 in Houston, so APD Raj Sharan was being promoted to PD. Upon leaving Denver, Williams left Sharan a list of names that would fit for the APD position at The Fan.
“I had built a relationship with Armen, initially,” said Hillis. “When he was in Denver he was looking for a producer of his afternoon show, which at the time was Big Al and D Mac. He reached out to me because we had some mutual connections, he came from The Fan, so he knew Gavin. Kevin Turner had worked with Armen in the past and sent my info along to him. So he reached out to me and we got pretty deep in the process of me going out there to produce that show.”
“But I just got married and promoted at The Fan to basically be working every night with K&C. So it just didn’t work out. But Armen and I stayed in contact after that. So when he left Denver and Raj stepped into his position, he left my name as a reference.”
Sharan essentially cold called Hillis, seeing as the two had no relationship with one another. However, after the application and interview process, the situation clicked for both sides. The kid that had spent the vast majority of his life in DFW was about to leave for the Rocky Mountains.
Hillis soon realized just how different his new market was from Dallas. He was at a place where the Broncos were far and away story number one in town, no matter the time or season. As he listened to The Fan to prepare for his move, he noted he heard one segment in 12 hours of content that wasn’t Broncos centric. Sure, the Cowboys were king in Dallas, but he was also used to mixing in segments involving the Mavericks and Rangers.
“That rocked my world,” Hillis admitted.
But just like he leaned into learning from Spittle, he leaned into learning from Sharan on his new surroundings.
“Raj really forced me to stretch my thoughts on what the industry is and adapt my content and development to meet what the market calls for. A lot of that is building a perception of what you are as a brand. The biggest thing he taught me was brand recognition and development. How do I make myself sound like the biggest thing in town and make myself sound like we’re talking about every single sport, every single segment every day, when in reality we’re catering to the needs of our listeners and creating this perception of how big we can possibly be.”
Those were far from the only things Sharan taught him. Hillis still marvels at Sharan’s creative side and his ability to be proactive and ahead of the curve.
“Raj’s creative side, I don’t know if I’ve met a programmer in the industry that thinks the way that he does,” Hillis said. “He’s so proactive and ahead of the curve. For me, the biggest growth while I was there was working with Raj on dealing with certain situations, creating content, creating imagery in a market that called for something very different than what I was comfortable with.”
It was the perfect relationship to form for what was about to come next. After a series of big breaks, the biggest was about to happen with an opportunity to return to Texas and be the PD at SportsRadio 610 in Houston. It was an incredible offer for someone at such a young age, but with the influence he had picked up and how talented he was, there was no question he was ready.
“Parker had a very clearly defined philosophy and belief in what he wanted his station to sound like,” said Sharan. “He had a very set philosophy and belief on what he wanted. As well as a vision. That’s why I was confident he was going to be successful.”
“You hate to lose a person like Parker, but our clubhouse continues to cheer him on and we are so excited that he rejoined Audacy and a station that is so close to my heart in SportsRadio 610 and their great team,” Spittle added.
Nobody could blame Hillis if he had nerves upon getting to Houston. He was arriving as the new guy at the most established sports radio station in the city. Hiliis knew the success of SportsRadio 610 and realized he wasn’t hired to engineer a complete overhaul. So he approached his first few weeks in a role of hearing out his new hosts.
“It was a lot of listening,” he said. “Even before I set a guideline as to my philosophy on air, my goal was to get to know the hosts, where not only could we talk about content, but we could talk shop. I had to figure out who each of my hosts were before I could give them a directive of what I wanted us to sound like. I made it really clear when I was coming in that I was looking for ways to make sure they were at their best.
“I knew I was the new guy and my baby voice obviously would show in a market like this with guys that have a ton of experience. Seeing a new face probably wasn’t going to be easy, so I made sure I did a ton of listening.”
It was a professional and mature way to handle the first few weeks of his new PD gig. And the hosts at his new station appreciated the opportunity to share their input.
“I thought it was awesome,” said Sean Pendergast, of Payne and Pendergast on SportsRadio 610. “It’s logical, particularly with our show, because Seth and I have had a really good run since Armen put us together back in July of 2019. We’ve been No. 1 in mornings virtually the entire time we were put together. I like that he sat back and listened. There were and are things we want to add and do better, our digital presence is still something that’s being worked on. I was really excited to hear that he skewed younger because I think he’s in tune with the audience that we are trying to attract at the younger end of our target demo. I loved his approach.”
Many will point out sports radio needs more young programmers and ones that are forward-thinking to help push the industry. Parker Hillis fits exactly into that. He’s a young programmer is doing big things in this business. Though he could be one of the faces that helps push sports radio forward for the next several years, in the meantime, his philosophy in Houston is one that has won out consistently.
“The philosophy that I pass along to all of my guys, and the core of what I think makes for good sports talk radio, comes from the connection to the audience,” said Hillis. ”I handle my business on a day-to-day basis with my guys by trying to connect with them as best as I can and I feel like that’s exactly how we should handle our business as we put out to listeners. We have to be more about the headlines, we have to give a connection that allows someone to want to invest in us as much as we invest in this town and market.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.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 email@example.com.
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.