How does one define power in sports media? It isn’t the size of your Twitter following, the amount of money you make, the number of awards you’ve won or the ratings for your TV show. It isn’t a popularity contest nor a matter of journalistic heft. It’s not simply having opinions – it’s the ability to shape opinion while stimulating and driving discussion. We left network executives off this list, as other outlets regularly rank them.
25. Brian Windhorst, ESPN – LeBron James is, far and away, the most powerful American athlete of our times. Windhorst offers a unique, well-honed perspective, having covered him as a beat writer his entire career.
24. Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports. There are many writers turned television personalities. Verducci is the only one coming off a National Sportswriter of the Year Award and calling a World Series from a booth, having never played Major League Baseball.
23. Buster Olney, ESPN. Baseball has become so stat-heavy, the animated debates that take place over the NBA and NFL aren’t happening as often. But even the casual fan devours Olney’s must-read morning collection of links, which shapes opinion daily. And, yes, he’s obviously biased against your team.
22. Josh Pyatt, William Morris Agent. See how Erin Andrews got a crossover deal? In three years she went from sideline reporter to hosting Dancing with the Stars. Check out Michael Strahan’s move, too. Pyatt has that type of influence on networks.
21. Rachel Nichols, Turner Sports – After spending time at the Washington Post and about a decade at ESPN, Nichols landed at Turner. Her CNN show was short-lived due to a less-than-ideal time slot and budget cuts, but her incisive questioning – most notably with Floyd Mayweather – had ripple effect. She’s an essential presence at Roger Goodell press conferences from now until the end of time.
20. Mike Francesa, WFAN. Not just a New York radio presence anymore thanks to his FS1 deal. If you ask sports bloggers which radio host generates the most blog posts, it’s the longtime radio host with zero social media presence (save for a spot-on imitator). If Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo didn’t invent sports talk radio outright, they were the most prominent figures in making it what it is today.
19. Darren Rovell, ESPN. His prolific Twitter feed probably generates more sports blog posts – often about pithy things such as ballpark food – than anyone else’s in media. His tweets can sometimes lack tactful tone, and once got him suspended. Please reign in your anger; as the opening states, this isn’t a popularity contest.
18. Paul Finebaum, ESPN/SEC Network – He was profiled by the New Yorker, and that was before he became a multimedia presence on ESPN and the SEC Network. His radio show is a focal point for college football fans and media members. He can alter the sport’s national discussion with aninterview, a hot bit of gossip, an offhand comment or a tweet.
17. Jason Whitlock, ESPN. Former columnist and radio host is running an ESPN site on race, sports and culture. Polarizing is probably the word that fits him best. Truth is, that’s a good thing in the sports media if the goal is to maximize your exposure. The majority of folks on this list have a love/hate relationship with their audience.
16. Dan Patrick, NBC Sports. One of the few success stories of high-profile media members to leave ESPN and land on his feet. He hosts a daily radio show — of which interviews regularly become ensconced in the news cycle — as well as Sports Jeopardy, and has studio roles for the Olympics and Sunday Night Football.
15. Nick Khan, CAA Agent. The most powerful person in sports media you’ve never heard of. Tight with ESPN President John Skipper. His client list – Kirk Herbstreit, Rachel Nichols, Paul Finebaum, Hannah Storm, Keith Olbermann, Lindsay Czarniak, and Allie LaForce, to name a few – is a Who’s Who in sports media.
14. Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN. His voice is the most powerful of any media member on college football. His opinions angered those in Columbus so much that he had to move. Stars on ESPN’s most important pre-game show. Like Jon Gruden, he has a lot of leverage because he’s on the short list of former jocks, coaches, and/or executives who remains employable in the sport he covers.
13. Jay Glazer, Fox Sports. It’s tough for reporters to crack a list like this because they’re not offering opinion and fans aren’t hanging on their every word. But Glazer isn’t a robotic, strictly-news guy. Of any reporter in major sports, he may have the most direct line to actual athletes, as opposed to merely their constantly-spinning representatives.
12. Colin Cowherd, ESPN. Radio host has crossed over to TV in recent years and though he isn’t the most highly-paid or most listened-to, his opinion – love it or hate it – gets people fired up. Will he branch out beyond sports when his contract expires this year?
11. Dan LeBatard, ESPN. In the span of 10 years went from must-read columnist to must-listen radio host, and is becoming must-see TV. Like Bill Simmons, he can push the boundaries of what ESPN considers to be proper decorum. Short-term punishments have the net effect of increasing his brand.
10. Tony Kornheiser & Mike Wilbon, PTI. Even after stories have run through the ringer all day online and on ESPN studio shows, you’ll tune into PTI to see their takes on the matter because it will be different from the herd’s, and often from each others’. On occasion, this can be unflattering for them, but also there will be something profound that you have never thought of.
9. Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk. Created Ground Zero for NFL fans online. He built a publication from scratch, licensing it to legacy television network NBC, for whom PFT is far and away the most important digital sports property. He’s also a part of their Sunday Night Football telecast. Like Adrian Wojnarowski, Florio can rub some the wrong way sometimes, but he’s essential to follow if you’re in any way connected with the league.
8. Skip Bayless & Stephen A. Smith, First Take. Have built a strong brand based on embracing over-the-top debate about basketball and football. Whether you like it or not, when they speak, a lot of fans listen. The show has become staple programming on ESPN 2. Smith just got paid, and Bayless is up next.
7. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers. The only athlete to make the list – though we quibbled over where to put him – because in two of the biggest NBA stories in the last five years, he has co-opted ESPN and Sports Illustrated to break news. His tweets and Instagram “likes” regularly become their own stories. The line between what constitutes media is constantly blurring. We’ve seen bloggers move into more prominent roles, teams and leagues get into the media business, and athletes take things on themselves. While Derek Jeter’s “Player’s Tribune” hasn’t quite ascended to the top of the media landscape yet, one athlete did break the largest story of the last 12 months: LeBron, on his terms.
6. Jay Bilas, ESPN. Nobody’s opinion carries more weight in college sports coverage. He excels in the studio, on game broadcasts, and has substantial clout on social media. In a few years, everyone may thank him for getting college football and basketball players paid.
5. Jon Gruden, ESPN – The Worldwide Leader pays more than $100 million per game for Monday Night Football. This guy is the face of it. The mere whiff of a coaching rumor can send ESPN scrambling to come up with a contract extension. Only 51, those rumors remain plausible.
4. Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo Sports – Many newsbreakers in sports only offer news, but that won’t get you on a list like this. Woj has essentially created the modern column – relentless reporting combined with strong opinion. After Simmons, he’s going to be the 2nd most sought-after media free agent later this year. His persona rubs some NBA specialists the wrong way, but to ignore him would be impossible.
3. Peter King, The MMQB – While many have questioned his relationship with the league office, King has a profound ability to drive traffic, and follow-up, from his own writing and reporting. He has cultivated a great staff at his SI vertical, which consistently produces engaging content, and has a lot of storytelling influence for its size.
2. Charles Barkley, TNT – Outspoken NBA analyst with the ability to offer strong opinion on any topic. Without using social media himself, his thoughts are passed around ad nauseam. His chemistry with co-panelists on Inside the NBA is appointment television. Not surprisingly, Turnerlocked them all down with multi-year extensions.
1. Bill Simmons, ESPN (?) – Highly influential in nearly everything he does – podcast, columns, his bestselling book – though never quite gained a foothold on television, he’s on the short lists of columnists who can truly shape opinion. His every move will be scrutinized until, and after, he lands a blockbuster deal(s).
The next 5, no order:
Michelle Beadle, ESPN; Adam Schefter ESPN; Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports; Jim Rome, Showtime; Matthew Berry, ESPN.
Credit to the Big Lead who originally published this article
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at [email protected].
Channing Crowder: I Still Underestimate How Many People Listen to Radio
“We make fun of it like ‘Oh, AM radio’ and this, man, but here are people who when I went to the bathroom, and they’re walking up to me ‘Hey, love the show, man’.”
Even though he’s been in the sports radio game for more than a decade, 560 WQAM’s Channing Crowder admits he still doesn’t appreciate just how many people listen to his show.
While hosting Hochman and Crowder at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino ahead of sports betting going live in Florida, co-host Marc Hochman shared a story that one of the employees at the casino told him he often deals with giant celebrities.
However, despite his dealings with major music and movie stars, the employee was excited to meet Hochman and Greg Cote of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz.
That led Crowder to admit he often underinflates the size of his daily audience.
“It’s funny, because like, I underestimate, still –12-13 years into radio — how many people listen to radio,” Crowder said. “And it’s funny because we make fun of it like ‘Oh, AM radio’ and this, man, but here are people who when I went to the bathroom, and they’re walking up to me ‘Hey, love the show, man. You and Hochman are hilarious’.”
Crowder has hosted afternoons alongside Hochman on 560 WQAM since 2015 after previously hosting the early afternoon window on the Audacy station. In addition to his radio work, he hosts The Pivot podcast with Ryan Clark and Fred Taylor.
Kevin Burkhardt: Athletes Are Calling Me ‘Lil’ Baby Kay Kay’ After FOX Sports Commercial
“It’s kind of turned into a life of its own.”
Throughout its broadcasts during the National Football League season, FOX Sports has presented a variety of marketing spots meant to promote its NFL on FOX property. Featuring the lead broadcast team of play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt, analyst Greg Olsen, and reporters Erin Andrews and Tom Rinaldi, the commercials have captured the attention of football fans on gameday.
One of the spots features Olsen trying to impersonate FOX NFL Sunday studio analyst Terry Bradshaw by donning a bald cap with white hair and trying out one of his catchphrases in the broadcast booth.
As Kevin Burkhardt appeared on Seattle Sports 710 on Thursday morning’s program featuring Brock Huard and Mike Salk, he was asked about what the filming session for these commercials was like. Salk in particular could not recall a similar instance taking place where the NFL on FOX utilized talent to film these types of commercials. Burkhardt began to explain how the marketing department at FOX Sports came up with the idea and everything was shot over a 13-hour day.
“We had a crew that had done a lot of funny commercials; a director and producer that were great,” Kevin Burkhardt said. “They were just like, ‘Okay, let’s do it this way. Let’s try it this way. KB, can you do it like this?’ So I actually had fun – it was kind of like an opportunity to act for the first time in my life, and it was a blast.”
Salk has enjoyed the promotional endeavor, and he was wondering whether or not there will be more commercials to be unveiled throughout the rest of the year. While Burkhardt revealed that all of the recorded spots have already aired, he did reference a story about one of the earlier commercials. When the NFL on FOX crew was gifted jackets with nicknames on the back, Burkhardt’s read, “Lil’ Baby Kay Kay,” and it is now an epithet that he is being referred to by athletes.
“A month ago, we’re doing a Cowboys game and we get on a Zoom with Dak Prescott and he’s like, ‘Lil’ Baby Kay Kay, what up man?,’” Burkhardt said. “I swear, and I rolled [with it]. It’s kind of turned into a life of its own. I’m glad you guys enjoy it.”
“It’s good,” Salk replied. “You worked really hard to get to the very top of your profession; all the respect that comes with it and now the athletes are calling you Lil’ Baby Kay Kay, so I think it’s good for you. Nice job.”
“It’s amazing,” Burkhardt said. “If you can’t laugh at yourself, what are we doing, right Mike?”
Burkhardt, Olsen, Andrews, and Rinaldi will return to the air this Sunday when the Seattle Seahawks face the San Francisco 49ers on FOX at 4:05 PM ET. The game will feature a quarterback matchup between Geno Smith and Brock Purdy as both teams look to continue making a postseason push.
Matt Vasgersian: Shohei Ohtani Free Agency ‘Should Be Pumped Up’ By Media
“There has to be some urgency here for these clubs to get it done.”
Shohei Ohtani is reportedly close to making a decision about where he will play next season after a free agency process that has been largely hidden from public view. Reports from earlier in the offseason indicated that if teams leak information about negotiations, it would be something to be held against them. This is something that has complicated manners for Matt Vasgersian and other broadcasters to effectively cover the sport, especially this week.
During the Winter Meetings earlier in the week, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts revealed that the team indeed met with Ohtani. In the process, it helped revived an event that was filled with minor transactions and uncertainty regarding the two-way superstar, considered by many baseball fans to be one of the most talented players to ever step foot onto the field.
MLB Network was among several broadcast networks on-site to cover the event, featuring signature programming such as Hot Stove and MLB Tonight. Matt Vasgersian, who has previously served as a TV play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Angels, appeared on AM 570 LA Sports on Thursday afternoon with Petros Papadakis and Matt “Money” Smith where he recalled how the event went.
Papadakis specifically asked Vasgersian whether or not he felt Ohtani was holding the broadcast coverage hostage because of the stoppage that his free agency has put on other sectors of the overall marketplace.
“What it did for me is it kind of furthered the need for at least more conversation about like [what] the NBA has [in] just [having] a signing period,” Vasgersian said. “Like, ‘Look, Major League Baseball teams, if you don’t get your business done by the end of business hours on the final day of the Winter Meetings, you either get hit with a tax or we’re going to freeze you out for two-and-a-half months.’ There has to be some urgency here for these clubs to get it done.”
While Ohtani was among the most intriguing topics at the Winter Meetings, the conversation with him between team executives and reporters was quite minimal. On numerous occasions, officials stopped short of mentioning him by name and instead spoke in vague terms about everything going on.
“The Ohtani thing should be pumped up,” Matt Vasgersian said. “I’m not saying Jim Gray-LeBron [James] ‘Decision’-style, but there’s got to be a little sizzle around the biggest international star in our sport – maybe any sport – and we’re allowing the agent to completely hamstring the process and dictate who and when we get conversations with him.”
Vasgersian is grateful for what Roberts did at the Winter Meetings, choosing to be honest about what was going on rather than concealing details about the negotiations. These comments proved valuable in Winter Meetings coverage, as it led to further discussion and conversation on broadcast networks and conjecture from print reporters about his whereabouts. The lack of a conversation, however, is something that some people feel is just the opposite of what baseball needs as it tries to appeal to a younger demographic.
“I felt your pain,” Smith said. “I felt the pain of baseball not being able to celebrate the most exciting player that it’s seen in 50 years.”
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