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ESPN’s GameDay Plans Changes

Jason Barrett

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The goal of any executive who runs a sports studio show is to create compelling (and hopefully authentic) conversation, and that is what GameDay coordinating producer Lee Fitting is charged with every Saturday morning. He will not be afforded uninterrupted two-hour blocs, given that ESPN isn’t PBS, but as the coordinating producer of the network’s most successful studio production, Fitting has a lot of freedom and power on the direction of his show. He has a massively successful product — GameDay expanded to three hours last year (9:00 a.m.-noon ET on Saturdays) and averaged 1,830,000 viewers, a 10 percent increase over the same period on ESPN in 2012 — but plans to make some changes he believes will improve the editorial flow. The show opens its new season at Sundance Square Fort Worth on August 30 in advance of the Cowboys Classic between Florida State and Oklahoma State. The game will air that night on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Below, I examined some of the changes.

• GameDay will have limited commercials in its opening hour this year as viewers will get long stretches of conversation, with an aim toward hardcore football fans. “I think we need to have stronger opinions and more opinions, but do so organically,” Fowler said. “I think one of the reasons GameDay has had its long-term success is we don’t force things in merely for theater.

• Fitting says the show is looking to add a full-time DJ to keep the crowds (mostly of college students) entertained. The DJ will occasionally appear on air, and the hope is to hire a woman in the role. “One of the challenges we have run into with the show going three hours is we are asking the kids to be out there for 3-5 hours and they lose energy,” Fitting said. “So we thought: Why don’t we bring a DJ out that plays music off air during breaks? You keep the crowd energized and it becomes more of a party.” This person would then slowly become on-air talent for GameDay. Fitting said that since the show is “overloaded with middle-age males,” his preference was to get a female DJ.

• Fowler’s schedule is obviously a major story, since he has replaced Brent Musburger on the ABC Saturday Night Game. He said he is doing specific game prep earlier than he has done before and already knows what ABC’s second Saturday Night Football game will be — it has not been announced yet. The travel schedule he and Herbstreit will likely employ will involve arriving on Thursdays at one of the schools playing in the Saturday Night game, and then flying Friday to theGameDay site if the site is different from their game. “It’s not about Saturdays — Saturdays are just about having the stamina to do it,” Fowler said. “It’s how you make it work from Sunday to Thursday before you go on site.”

Added Fitting: “We are not blowing up how we operate during the week. I told my bosses that I could see our guys for the first time all week at 8 a.m. Saturday and we will be good. Chris will not let this fail in terms of doing both. The way in which he hosts GameDay will not be affected. He will restructure the way he organizes his week to make this work.”

• As for how long Fowler will do the GameDay-Saturday night double, ESPN executive vice president John Wildhack told SI.com in April that “ours and Chris’s focus is on the upcoming season. We always evaluate each and every season in detailed scrutiny.” Fowler agreed on that timeframe.

“There is no way I perceive it being a long-term thing,” Fowler said. “I view everything either year by year or even week by week. I’m pretty good at staying micro. Management’s job is to look longer term. An announcer’s job is to look at the next assignment and do it well. I want to see if I am enjoying GameDay and if it is not too busy.

• The dream celebrity pickers once again include President Barack Obama and golfer Tiger Woods. ESPN has been in contact with the White House — Fitting said Obama is interested – but there is no set date and it would obviously only work if the President’s schedule deemed it so. Fitting said he also spoke with Woods’ caddy, Joe LaCava, a month ago and Woods is interested in doing it. Again, the schedule has to work.

• As for a new dream celebrity picker: Fitting said Playboy founder Hugh Hefner is high on the list. “We have always wanted Hugh Hefner,” he said. “I don’t know or care if he has a connection to a school. He’d be fun.”

• Fitting said Fowler and Herbstreit’s game assignment will not dictate whereGameDay goes. Last year, GameDay went to eight ABC/ESPN games and seven non-ESPN/ABC games. “I can promise you we will not be going to sites just because Fowler and Herbstreit will be there,” Fitting said. “Our bosses have been great. They have always said, “Go where you need to go.”

• Corso, who turns 79 in August, is not going anywhere anytime soon. “This is a topic that I lose zero sleep over and spend little time thinking about,” Fitting said of Corso’s eventual replacement. “I don’t see him shutting it down anytime soon. He is in great health. At times his speech is slurred as he knows, we know and the viewer knows. To me, for what he brings to the show, the sport and the chemistry of the show, I can handle a handful of slurred words for everything else he brings.”

• ESPN said the first week of GameDay will be the 240th headgear selection for Corso. His first-week record picking games is 9-6 all-time.

• Fitting said GameDay will talk more gambling this year in an organic way. “We will weave in naturally more gambling references and tips and information,” Fitting said. “But it won’t scream gambling. I think gamblers will pick up on it, but non-gamblers will not be turned away. I like gambling information when it appeals to the non-gamblers.

• Week Two is already locked up as a venue but the show will not announce it until that week. An educated guess is Eugene, Ore., as Michigan State at Oregon will be a tasty option.

• If Georgia and South Carolina are undefeated for Week Three, it is a near-lockGameDay will be in Columbia, SC for that game.

• SEC Network contributor Paul Finebaum will be on GameDay again even with his new job. Fitting said Finebaum will appear either via satellite in the first hour of the show or as part of a segment when he is not appearing on the SEC Network’s SEC Nation pregame show. Viewers should also expect SEC Network staffers Tebow and Marcus Spears to show up on GameDay occasionally. The reverse will also occur, as Pollack will appear on SEC Nation. The cross-promotion will exist, Fitting said, when the editorial dictates it.

• Fitting said GameDay staffers loved going to Fargo, N.D., last year and he would consider going again.

• Fowler is more than just the host of the show: Think of him as GameDay’s co-CEO with Fitting. Fowler said the toughest part of his dual role this year will be juggling the early part of the college football season when it intersects with the U.S. Open tennis tournament. “I don’t want to give up the U.S. Open; it’s important to me,” Fowler said.

• The national semifinal games will have dueling studio sets in Pasadena, Calif., and New Orleans, and the studio hosting will be split up between Rece Davis, John Saunders, Joe Tessitore, Scott Van Pelt, Chris Cotter, Sam Ponder and perhaps even Fowler. “How they are involved we have not figured that out yet,” Fitting said.

For the rest of the article visit Sports Illustrated where it was originally published

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WFAN to Broadcast ‘Evan & Tiki’ Live from Citi Field for Subway Series, Full Show Simulcast on SNY

“That’s right – we will be broadcasting live at Citi Field at the magnificent Cadillac Club.”

Barrett Sports Media

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Evan & Tiki
Courtesy: Audacy

The first half of the 2024 edition of the Subway Series is forthcoming with a matchup between the New York Mets and New York Yankees from Citi Field in Queens, N.Y. Baseball fans can look forward to stars including Francisco Lindor, Aaron Judge, Pete Alonso and Juan Soto facing off on the field as the teams try to claim bragging rights within the Big Apple. Preceding the two-game series, consumers will be able to listen to Evan & Tiki on WFAN and watch the program on SportsNet New York (SNY).

The afternoon drive show, however, will not be in the studio, but rather on location from the ballpark in the Cadillac Club at Payson’s, a premium membership space in right field. Co-host Evan Roberts made the show announcement on Wednesday evening where he provided details about the two-day broadcasting setup from the ballpark.

“It’s the Subway Series, and for the first time in a very long time – I honestly can’t tell you the last time this happened – but for the first time in many years, we are bringing the show to Citi Field,” Roberts said. “That’s right – we will be broadcasting live at Citi Field at the magnificent Cadillac Club.”

Roberts recalled that a listener generously gave him tickets to a Mets game in the Cadillac Club and described the space as a “badass speakeasy that’s inside right field.” The WFAN show will broadcast live from the space while also being simulcast on SNY. The regional sports network does not generally simulcast the full four hours of the program, but it will be doing so as part of the two days of broadcasts taking place from Citi Field.

“Thank you very much to Cadillac, thank you very much to Citi Field, thank you very much to SNY,” Roberts said. “It’ll be very cool to be on for a full four hours on both days – June 25 and June 26 – so it’s a big Subway Series show live from Citi Field for the first time in, like, forever. I don’t remember the last time we’ve broadcasted as a station inside of Citi Field, so that’s very, very cool.”

WFAN recently presented a Kickoff to Summer event from D’Jais in Belmar, N.J. featuring programming across its weekday lineup. The Boomer & Gio morning show was live in Las Vegas, Nev. for Super Bowl LVIII and has had additional special live shows from various venues in the New York metropolitan area, frequently selling out the crowd and including special guests. Brandon Tierney and Sal Licata also broadcast their midday show live from MLB Network’s Studio 42 in late-March concurrent with Opening Week of the Major League Baseball season.

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Eric Hasseltine and Chris Vernon Remember Jerry West’s Days as General Manager of the Memphis Grizzlies

“The first time you meet him, you’re in awe.”

Barrett Sports Media

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Graphic with a picture of Jerry West and the dates of his birth and death
Graphic Courtesy: Los Angeles Lakers

Jerry West, aka “Mr. Clutch,” aka “The Logo,” passed away this morning at the age of 86. West is a 3-time Hall of Fame selection, inducted as a player in 1980, as a member of the 1960 US Olympic Team in 2010 and he will be enshrined again later this year as a contributor. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said West was “one of the greatest executives in sports history.”

West played for, coached, scouted for and was the General Manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, however in 2002, the first team he worked for other than the Lakers became the Memphis Grizzlies.

At the time West arrived, both Chris Vernon and Eric Hasseltine were a part of Sports 56 WHBQ in Memphis. Hasseltine was the pre-game, halftime and post-game host for the Grizzlies Radio Network and did a daily show. Vernon hosted middays and was also around the team quite a bit, covering games, practices and any other media availability with the team.

These days, Vernon hosts the Chris Vernon Show on Grizzlies-owned Grind City Media and also works as an analyst on the Memphis Grizzlies television pre- and post-game shows. Hasseltine has been the radio play-by-play voice of the team since 2005 and also serves as the team’s Radio Operations Manager.

BSM asked Hasseltine about his first impressions of West when he joined the organization. “The first time you meet him, you’re in awe. He was such a fiery competitor. He was everything you heard about him, he hated to lose.”

Hasseltine said West was very good to him as a member of the radio team and also said, “He was as excited as anybody when the team won, and as angry as anybody when they lost.”

Hasseltine said he remembers vividly when the team started to turn the corner after West had arrived. He said ‘The Logo’ would often ask he and his broadcasting partner at the time, Sean Tuohy, “How much fun are you guys having?”

“Jerry West always wanted to be competing,” Hasseltine added. “He loved basketball, and he loved putting together teams and seeing things in players others didn’t see.” Hasseltine said just his presence made a difference and that if West walked into a practice, “The players played harder, they wanted to prove to him they deserved to be there.”

On the Chris Vernon Show today, Vernon said, “[Jerry West] gave us instant credibility and he ran the show.” He talked about West going out on a limb hiring Hubie Brown and how he was the one ultimately responsible for getting people interested in the team and attendance rising.

Vernon, who actually does his show today from what used to be West’s office, added, “He was always cool to me.”

Vernon shared stories about people seeing West around town, often finding him at a bar with a glass of wine after a Grizzlies game. He said, if the outcome wasn’t good, people would hear West “bitching about the Grizzlies.”

West retired in 2007, although he would later also work for the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers.

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ESPN Radio is Documenting the NBA Finals Every Step of the Way

“It’s the best basketball of the year, it’s the highlight of the basketball season.”

Derek Futterman

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NBA Finals on ESPN Radio
(Illustration) | ESPN Radio Logo – Courtesy: ESPN | NBA Finals Logo – Courtesy: National Basketball Association

The Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks are currently competing in a seven-game series to determine who will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy as NBA champions. No matter who wins the 2024 NBA Finals, either franchise would be capturing its first championship in more than a decade and overcoming levels of adversity faced in recent years. Stars on both teams such as Jayson Tatum, Luka Dončić, Jaylen Brown and Kyrie Irving have been at the center of discussion, but there has also been additional coverage surrounding key contributors, coaching decisions and more.

ESPN is presenting coverage of the NBA Finals across a variety of platforms under its existing media rights agreement with the NBA with experienced broadcasters delivering information and analysis in real time. ESPN Radio, the national audio network for the company, has been broadcasting NBA Finals games for the last 28 years and is continuing that tradition to conclude the basketball season.

Play-by-play announcer Marc Kestecher, analyst P.J. Carlesimo and reporter Jorge Sedano are on the call for the best-of-seven series, which continues on Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m. EST. Preparing for a series that oftentimes has sudden twists and turns off which to react, some of which can alter play entirely, requires an indefatigable work ethic and steadfast commitment to the daily grind. The trio has called games throughout the NBA Playoffs, including select matchups during the first two rounds and the entire Eastern Conference Finals. Nonetheless, calling games in the NBA Finals is very much an assignment they do not take for granted.

“[Calling the NBA Finals] is always an honor,” Kestecher said. “It’s the highlight of my year, and we root for close games and great finishes, and we got a few of those, this crew, in the Eastern Conference Finals, so I hope that we get some more of those here in the next couple of [weeks].”

“It’s the best basketball of the year, it’s the highlight of the basketball season,” Carlesimo added. “I’ve done Olympic gold medal games, I’ve done NCAA championships, and there’s nothing like an NBA [Finals].”

Kestecher and Carlesimo have called the NBA Finals together since the 2020 season and encompass the lead broadcast team for ESPN Radio’s coverage of the league during the regular season. Sedano, however, is taking part in his first NBA Finals assignment this year and vividly recollects when Pete Ciccone, ESPN Radio program director of network play-by-play, called to inform him that he had been selected. Throughout the year, Sedano works as a reporter across the NBA on ESPN property, contributing to both radio and television broadcasts while also hosting Sedano and Kap in afternoon drive on ESPN LA 710.

“To get this opportunity for me, it’s just incredible,” Sedano said. “Again, an honor, a pleasure, and I get to work with two of my favorite people in Marc Kestecher and P.J. Carlesimo, two guys who have been so incredible and so kind with me over the years that it’s, again, a dream come true for a guy like me for sure.”

During the NBA Finals, Sedano is situated courtside and makes observations throughout the game, some of which he communicates to live event producer Jon Madani by means of a talkback system. Additionally, he provides reports that do not interfere with the action to grant the listening audience insight into the discussions and real-time adjustments being enacted.

“He’s not going to want to regurgitate pablum – he is going to want to convey to the listener something that they don’t know,” Ciccone said. “He understands the importance of that – he understands the responsibility he has in being the guy to secure that information for the listening audience, and again, he just knows the sport inside and out.”

Kestecher is calling the NBA Finals on ESPN Radio for the eighth time in his career, through which he has experienced a deluge of contests that are determined by the final possessions. Despite the heightened levels of urgency and intensity, Kestecher tries not to get ahead of himself over the course of the game and stays grounded in the moment while accurately depicting the game and its accompanying setting.

“I try not to realize it’s the Finals,” Kestecher said. “You’re always in tune with what game it is – what’s at stake has always been a big thing in our career to make sure you’re pointing that out time and again, and then leaning on P.J. and his wealth of experience, and Jorge has been around for so long, and I’ve got Jon Madani in my ear as well, an extra set of eyes with all the experience he has.”

Carlesimo has comprehensive basketball knowledge and experience that he is able to apply on the broadcast. Calling games on radio rather than television though, Kestecher needs time to call the action and ensure that the listener remains aware of the situation. The arrangement can ostensibly be viewed as a challenge for some analysts, but it is a venture towards which Carlesimo exhibits avidity and takes a conscientious approach.

“That’s the fun of radio,” Carlesimo said. “I always said, ‘If I ever owned a network or was a network chief, I’d make all the TV analysts do radio’ because it teaches you to be silent and get in and get out.”

Those involved with the broadcast need to make decisions in order to safeguard against falling behind on the action, which oftentimes moves at an expeditious pace in these intense matchups. Part of this responsibility falls on Madani, who informs Carlesimo if he needs to stop explaining something or Sedano if they need to omit a report. Everyone within the broadcast evaluates the aggregate performance and tries to make improvements to benefit the consumer. At the same time though, there are added logistical facets within the environment of the NBA Finals that indicate the exigency of these contests.

“The demands from everybody – it’s not just us showing up and calling a game,” Madani explained. “You’ve got all of our ancillary resources. We’ve got talk shows from our network; we’ve got talk shows from other networks who all want to get the perspective of these three intelligent individuals who are going to have the benefit of calling what’s potentially history. Sports has always been the best reality TV – that’s never going to change – so you never know what you’re going to see.”

The ESPN Radio broadcast team consists of professionals with vast experience calling momentous games, and they aspire to accurately portray the action to the listening audience. Whether the series ends in a four-game sweep or results in a pivotal Game 7, they will be there to document the action with comprehensive analysis and reporting pertaining to the competition. Despite their busy schedules and time on the road, the personnel within the NBA Finals broadcast on ESPN Radio remain energized and focused on granting fans a means to connect with the players, coaches and organizations vying to garner an enduring achievement of prestige and excellence.

“Again, we’d like to think that we treat every broadcast as a big game, even a Sunday afternoon in February,” Ciccone said. “‘Why are we here on the network? Because it’s a big deal. This game between these two teams, the star players, it’s a big deal.’ It’s the same approach, and just like the players, they’re coached to stay true to their same approach, that’s what we’re doing on the broadcast side.”

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