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25 Most Powerful In Sports Media

Jason Barrett

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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

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Sean McDonough: Lack of Energy Criticism ‘Bothered Me’

“I hope people who’ve heard me over the years know that’s not the way I usually sound, and maybe I shouldn’t have tried to power through it.”

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Sean McDonough
Courtesy: Joe Faraoni, ESPN Images

The Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers have faced off in an intense, hard-fought Stanley Cup Final series. Broadcast by ESPN on ABC and streaming on ESPN+, the games have featured the NHL on ESPN commentary team of play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough, analyst Ray Ferraro, reporter Emily Kaplan and rules analyst Dave Jackson.

During the broadcast of the Stanley Cup Final last Thursday, viewers felt that McDonough sounded under the weather, an observation that ESPN confirmed to be the case the next day. Nonetheless, McDonough was able to call the Panthers’ 4-3 victory in Game 3 and went behind the microphone two days later for the fourth game of the series. In a recent interview on Schein on Sports on SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio, McDonough explained how he was feeling and being able to execute his role.

“I’m still a little under the weather, but we’re powering through it,” McDonough said. “It’s the playoffs – everybody’s playing hurt, certainly all the players are. It’s a grind – [the] playoffs started two months ago. We’re on the charter coming back from Edmonton here to Fort Lauderdale yesterday, and I would say as you walked up and down the aisle on that plane, half the people were coughing or clearing their throat or sneezing, so a lot of stuff going around.”

McDonough expressed his gratitude for Oilers head athletic therapist T.D. Forss and their doctor with how they helped to have him ready to call Game 4. By the time the game started, he felt a lot better and ended up calling an 8-1 Oilers victory to extend the series to a fifth game. Schein remarked that McDonough sounded incredible, which led the ESPN play-by-play announcer to mention a criticism he has been receiving from fans on social media.

“Well you know what, it just kind of bothered me – not that you should pay attention [to it] – but people [said], ‘Well, you’ve got a lack of energy,’” McDonough conveyed. “Yeah, I’m really not excited to call a Stanley Cup Final game. I’ve been doing this for, I don’t know, 30-something years now. I hope people who’ve heard me over the years know that’s not the way I usually sound, and maybe I shouldn’t have tried to power through it.”

McDonough divulged that it was a collaborative decision to have him try to call Game 3 of the series and is glad that it is behind him at this point. Schein was incredulous towards the criticism, remarking how McDonough has excelled in big spots on monumental events in the past such as the World Series, Michigan-Michigan State game and Monday Night Football. McDonough remarked that he read an article instructing consumers how to call a goal in the Stanley Cup Final, leading him to question if the author watched Game 2 of the series. He tries not to let it bother him and felt that by discussing the narrative, they were giving it more life.

“We do this to do the biggest games at the biggest moments, and the fun part, one of the many fun parts of the job, is when the big moments come, either you nail them or you don’t, and that’s what I love about it,” McDonough said, “and I’ve been lucky to be in the right place at the right time for a lot of really exciting games over the years.”

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Tom Ackerman Recalls Working at KMOX with Jack Buck

“I had to tell my mom, ‘I have to go, I’m sharing a pizza with Jack Buck and he’s coming back in the room.'”

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Graphic of the Jack Buck statue outside Busch Stadium and a photo of KMOX Sports Director Tom Ackerman

Today marks 22 years since Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck passed away at the age of 77. Buck grew up in Massachusetts and Ohio, but St. Louis became his home when he joined the St. Louis Cardinals broadcasting team in 1954 and he remained with the team through the 2001 season.

Buck received the Ford C. Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award from the Pro Football Hall of fame in 1996. He was also named Missouri Sportscaster of the Year 22 times, inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995 and the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2005.

Buck started with the Cardinals in the minor leagues before getting moved up to the major league team. He would work the first season on KXOK before the team moved its games to KMOX, where he would spend the next 47 years.

Buck held the position of Sports Director at KMOX, a title now held by Tom Ackerman who also co-hosts Total Information AM in morning drive in addition to overseeing the sports department. Ackerman told BSM about the first time he remembers meeting Buck after starting as a part-time producer with the station in 1997.

“Very early on at KMOX, he was in the sports office by himself, and I came in there. I hadn’t been on the job very long as a part-time producer working behind the scenes. I thought ‘this is my chance,’ so I walked in and introduced myself and told him what a big fan I was and that I had read his book multiple times.

“He sticks his hand out, shakes my hand, looks me in the eye and says, ‘What kind of pizza do you like, kid?’ I’ll buy it if you go downstairs and get it.” Ackerman said Buck called for delivery and he and Buck shared a pepperoni pizza and talked. “He took an interest in me and was talking to me, and he did that with a lot of people. Not longer after that I was around him a lot covering the Cardinals,” Ackerman said.

“I remembered my mom called me and asked me how my day was going,” he said. “I had to tell my mom, ‘I have to go, I’m sharing a pizza with Jack Buck and he’s coming back in the room.'”

Ackerman said early in his career he was hosting a Cardinals post-game show on KMOX. An outfielder who had been filling in for JD Drew hit a couple of home runs in the game. When Ackerman started the post-game show he said, “JD Who?” and talked about what a job the replacement did.

He said the next day, Buck invited him to lunch. At one point, Buck said to Ackerman, “So, I heard your post-game show last night and I heard you say, ‘JD Who?” If I were JD Drew’s parents, I wouldn’t like that very much…Be honest in your reporting but understand the people that you’re covering.”

“My mind was blown that Jack Buck listened to me first of all,” Ackerman said. “But then he was correcting me and praising me at the same time. It was incredible. It was his way of getting his message across but also lifting me up and encouraging me.”

Buck was well known nationally. He called 18 Super Bowls and 11 World Series. He did NFL games for CBS and NBC and did many years with Hank Stram on CBS Radio for Monday Night Football, and he also called AFL games for CBS. He did baseball nationally for ABC and CBS in addition to his duties locally with KMOX and the Cardinals. He also had called NHL and NBA games in St. Louis and had experience doing wrestling, boxing and bowling.

Many remember his famous call when Kirk Gibson hit his legendary walk-off home run during Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, “I don’t believe what I just saw,” and his memorable call of Kirby Puckett’s game-winning home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, “Annnnnd we’ll see you tomorrow night.”

In St. Louis, where there is a statue of Buck outside of Busch Stadium, he is remembered for his “Go Crazy Folks, Go Crazy” call of Ozzie Smith’s walk-off home run in the 1985 National League Championship Series or simply his “That’s a winner,” which he would say following every Cardinals victory. He also had a great sense of humor. In 1998 when the statue was dedicated, Buck said, “I’ve given the Cardinals some of the best years of my life. Now I’m going to give them some of the worst.”

Buck was much more than a broadcaster to those in the St. Louis area. He was involved in the community and one of its strongest supporters. He also hosted and took part in more charitable endeavors than could be counted.

“I followed him to a lot of events when I could,” Ackerman said. “I spent time with him a lot at the Missouri Athletic Club Sports Personality of the Year dinners. To think that I now host it is amazing. I think about him every single time I am up there. I used to sit there and help engineer it and watch him and dream of what that would be like.

“He would go out of his way to emcee events, be part of the community, help people, take pictures and sign autographs, help kids, visit kids in the hospital. He was amazing. He was everything I hoped that he would be and then some. He was a fixture in the community…I think he just really liked people. He was genuinely interested in what people were about, what they did and who they were. I think that made him better at what he did. He was very approachable, and he knew his listeners very well. It felt like he was your companion.”

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ESPN Beaver Dam to Carry University of Wisconsin Women’s Volleyball

“By adding UW Women’s Volleyball to our lineup of premier brands and teams, we ensure that fans across the state can experience every thrilling moment.”

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Logo for ESPN Beaver Dam and a photo of Wisconsin women's volleyball players
Photo Courtesy: University of Wisconsin Athletics

Good Karma Brands has announced that ESPN Beaver Dam will join 100.5 ESPN Madison and 620 WTMJ in Milwaukee as a broadcaster for all University of Wisconsin women’s volleyball games starting in the 2024-2025 season. This expansion will guarantee that fans all over Wisconsin get live broadcasts of one of the strongest volleyball teams in the country.

“We are excited to join the group of GKB stations to deliver all the action and excitement of UW Women’s Volleyball games to fans,” said Sheri Sackett, market manager for ESPN Beaver Dam in a release. “By adding UW Women’s Volleyball to our lineup of premier brands and teams, we ensure that fans across the state can experience every thrilling moment.”

The UW Women’s Volleyball team finished the 2023 season at No. 3 in the AVCA Poll after a strong performance in the NCAA Tournament that led them to the semifinals. The addition of ESPN Beaver Dam will greatly increase the team’s exposure and audience reach.

In addition to UW Women’s Volleyball, ESPN Beaver Dam is the home for the Milwaukee Brewers, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Green Bay Packers, the Wisconsin Badgers, and the Beaver Dam High School Golden Beavers.

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