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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

Sports Radio News

16.9% of All Sports Radio Listeners Are Streaming

The news comes as Nielsen reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.

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Streaming Radio

According to Nielsen, sports radio stations are the third-most streamed spoken word format, just behind Talk/Personality and News/Talk/Info. The trend is continuing to show that streaming is on the uptick.

The survey found that in May 2022, 16.9% of sports talk radio’s audience tunes in via the station’s online stream. That news comes as Nielson reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.

Nielsen notes that in the 45 PPM markets they are grabbing data from and the 4,800+ stations that stream in those markets, just 30% of them are encoded. That encoding allows for Nielsen to accurately measure the streams. They used the listener data from 1,500 stations across the U.S., in their latest report, AM/FM Radio Streaming Growth in PPM Markets

The survey also showed that streaming levels differ widely by radio format. Spoken word formats display strong streaming listenership (Talk/Personality: 31.2%, News/Talk/Info: 19.1%, All Sports: 16.9%). In fact, Nielsen found that 1/3 of all AM/FM streaming in PPM markets is to spoken word formats.

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Sports Radio News

New Study Finds Listeners to MLB on Radio Are Willing to Spend

More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team… 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.

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MLB Radio

When it comes to advertiser’s attempting to reach an affluent and engaged audience, sports talk radio might have a whale on their hands. Major League Baseball play-by-play features an audience that has money and has no problems spending it.

In a recent MRI-Simmons study, data shows that consumers who listen to MLB broadcasts on the radio are the perfect audience for sports marketers. According to the analysis, done by Katz Radio Group, nearly two thirds (62%) of those surveyed consider themselves “super fans” of baseball. That number is 58% higher than the average.

Radio Listeners to MLB

Those “super fans” are willing to spend to support their team, as well. More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team. Those fans are also far more willing to make the trip to see their team. The study found that 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.

The news continues getting better for advertisers. Continued analysis reveals that 66% of listeners are currently employed and have a median household income greater than $106,000.

Listeners to MLB games on the radio are also 34% more likely to place a sports bet and 106% more likely to be a participant in fantasy baseball.

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Sports Radio News

Jeff Dean Signs Off At ESPN Tucson for The Final Time

Dean said on Facebook: “…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”

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Jeff Dean Show

Fans will no longer be able to tune into ESPN Tucson and hear Jeff Dean hosting his show. Friday morning was his last show, according to his Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Jeff Dean Show had been airing from 7-9a MT weekday mornings. Dean took to social media to relay the news and the reason behind him stepping away from the microphone. Dean said on Facebook:

“This morning I signed off from my radio show on ESPN Tucson for the final time. I have been devoting too much of my life and my time to working multiple jobs…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”

Jeff Dean Facebook

Dean went on to emphasize that he isn’t stepping away from ESPN Tucson, he’s just taking himself off the air. He also added that “gladly, I will be continuing my position as PA announcer of University of Arizona Football and Men’s basketball.”

Dean would also go onto Twitter to add even further context for his self-removal from the ESPN Tucson airwaves. He added, “It’s not a decision I arrived at hastily, as it’s been a 6 month mental grind to make the ultimate decision that had to be made, and I’m not particularly happy about it, but I have to put my health first, we all do, and make sure we’re around long enough to enjoy life”.

Dean had been ESPN Tucson’s morning host since November 2019.

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