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Whitlock Out As Head of ESPN Website

Jason Barrett

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Jason Whitlock was replaced Friday as the head of The Undefeated, ESPN’s website about the intersection of race and sports, just weeks before its planned kickoff.

He will be replaced on an interim basis by Leon Carter, the site’s editorial director.

The site was built largely around Whitlock, who has written for years about race, sometimes provocatively, sometimes angrily. He had been fired from a previous stint at ESPN in 2006.

But John Skipper, the president of ESPN, rehired him in 2013 to fulfill the company’s hope for a site that would be a hub to discuss race and sports. In late March, Skipper praised Whitlock for “being unafraid to take unpopular stands, to challenge the perceived wisdom of any community.” As for bringing Whitlock back, Skipper said, “Talent and intellect can overrule past problems.”

But it was not to be. Whitlock had no management experience but returned to ESPN as part of the hierarchy that had a role in hiring and strategy. He was also editing articles and writing columns.

In a statement, ESPN did not cite any recent incidents that prompted the change but implied that he did not have the management skills to run the site.

The company “decided to make some structural adjustments that will maximize the skill sets and strengths of our team,” ESPN said. The statement also said Whitlock “will now be entirely focused on what he does best: creating distinctive and compelling content, which will live across various ESPN platforms.” ESPN praised his work building the site’s editorial team.

Asked in March how he felt he was evolving as a manager, Whitlock replied, “I think it’s going well because I’m taking it seriously.” He added, “You’ve got to have enough self-awareness to know that you’re going to make mistakes. You can’t let your ego tell you, ‘I’m smarter than everyone, so I don’t make mistakes.’ I’m not smarter than anyone. I’m still the guy with a 2.3 G.P.A.”

A lengthy story in April about The Undefeated on Deadspin — which drew on internal documents, including emails — painted Whitlock as a “catastrophe” as a manager and said, “Before it’s even launched, this site is already doomed.”

The site’s staff, based in Los Angeles, was given the news about Whitlock in a telephone call with Marie Donoghue, the ESPN executive who oversees The Undefeated.

Despite the announcement, the home page of The Undefeated still read: “Presented by ESPN & Jason Whitlock. Coming Summer 2015.”

The turmoil caused by Whitlock’s departure — and the search for his permanent successor — will most likely require a further delay of the site’s debut.

Whitlock declined to comment on the matter, as did Skipper.

Whitlock’s ouster means that a second major site created by ESPN needs a new leader. Last month, Skipper decided he would not renew the contract of Bill Simmons, the editor in chief of Grantland, the sports and culture site that was home to his columns and podcasts. Explaining the decision, Skipper said: “It’s about what he wants to do, what value that creates, what we want to do together and deciding whether there was going to be a match. We decided ultimately there wouldn’t be.”

An agreement was soon reached for Simmons to be paid through the end of September, when his contract is to end, but he will no longer run Grantland.

Chris Connelly subsequently took over as the site’s interim editor in chief.

Nate Silver, around whom the FiveThirtyEight site is built, remains atop its masthead as editor in chief.

So far, only five articles have been published by The Undefeated — including one about Charles Barkley’s Alabama’s roots — all with links on its home page.

Credit to the NY Times who originally published this article

Sports TV News

Chris Fallica Leaving ESPN for FOX

Neither FOX or ESPN would comment on the situation, but in the Awful Announcing report it’s believed that there will be a send-off of some sort for Fallica on Saturday.

Jordan Bondurant

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A prominent sports betting voice featured on ESPN’s College GameDay will be heading to rival FOX and their Big Noon Kickoff show starting in 2023. According to Awful Announcing, Chris Fallica, affectionately known as “The Bear”, will make his last appearance on GameDay will be this weekend.

Fallica has been with ESPN since 1995. Since 2013, Fallica had been featured on GameDay making betting picks with his patented “Bear’s Board”.

Neither FOX or ESPN would comment on the situation, but in the Awful Announcing report it’s believed that there will be a send-off of some sort for Fallica on Saturday.

Fallica joins Tom Rinaldi as the second former GameDay voice to jump over to FOX and be featured on Big Noon Kickoff.

Both shows have experienced incredible viewership growth this season. For GameDay, there have been several weeks this season that have seen some of the largest audiences in the show’s history.

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Sports TV News

Tim Brando Believes Executives Look For Familiarity, Not Great Voices For Announcers

“Executives are going more for people they think they audience knows from having been in the studio. As opposed to man that’s a great voice, that guy really gets it, and his judgement is fantastic.”

Jordan Bondurant

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Tim Brando has seen the broadcasting industry has evolved in a lot of ways through the years, but one thing that’s remained constant is how infrequently some of the announcing gigs with major networks open up to younger voices.

That’s mainly because you have veteran talent already occupying those positions with no plans for the immediate future to step aside.

On a recent edition of The Sports Talkers Podcast, FOX Sports broadcaster and host Tim Brando spoke to Stephen Strom about the reality that many broadcasters face.

“Yeah there are a lot more jobs, but there are fewer great jobs,” Brando said. “A lot of guys are getting jobs, but it’s like a dead end.”

But in terms of hiring younger talent for network jobs, he thinks it’s become more about adding faces to broadcast booths rather than voices.

“There’s a tendency I think now in our business to hire more visible and perhaps more popular talent because they’ve been in the studio,” he said. “But they’re not ready to be in the booth. Not everybody can do both well.”

Tim added that there’s a nuance to calling play-by-play versus working studio coverage. Brando said that perhaps it has a lot more to do with young broadcasters bypassing getting their start in radio and going right into TV.

“It seems to me that in some circles anyway in our business, executives are going more for people they think they audience knows from having been in the studio,” he said. “As opposed to man that’s a great voice, that guy really gets it, and his judgement is fantastic.”

Brando did mention some of the younger voices at FOX who have risen to the bigger opportunities in the booth, and how they ultimately worked their way up. He said he’s had the chance to offer advice to a few of them and act as a mentor in a way, because that’s how it was for him breaking into the industry.

“I believe in pouring into the young broadcasters out there, I really do,” he said. “Because Curt Gowdy poured into me. I think there’s a responsibility and a level of accountability for the generation before to help those that are coming up that you really respect.”

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Sports TV News

MLB Network Airing 38 Hours of Winter Meetings Coverage

Coverage will begin on Sunday at 7 p.m. with MLB Tonight leading into the announcement of the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee’s election results for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Jordan Bondurant

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The annual winter meetings for MLB are set to take place in-person for the first time since 2019 next week, and MLB Network is ready to bring viewers all the coverage possible from San Diego.

The network is devoting 38 hours of live programming on-site, with shows like MLB Tonight, Hot Stove, High Heat, MLB Now and Intentional Talk emanating from the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Coverage will begin on Sunday at 7 p.m. with MLB Tonight leading into the announcement of the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee’s election results for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Fans tuning in to MLB Network can expect to see Greg Amsinger, Fran Charles, Brian Kenny, Stephen Nelson, Alanna Rizzo, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Lauren Shehadi and Matt Vasgersian hosting their respective shows throughout the week. Sean Casey, Mark DeRosa, Al Leiter, Cameron Maybin, Kevin Millar, Dan O’Dowd, Steve Phillips and Harold Reynolds will contribute coverage as analysts.

MLB Network will also carry coverage of the inaugural draft lottery from the winter meetings on Tuesday, December 6 at 8:30 p.m.

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