This has been another dream year in a fantasy-like career for ESPN sportscaster Chris Fowler. He has called national and international championships in his two favorite sports, college football and tennis, and now is on an assignment for the ages—being behind the mic at the U.S. Open starting today to cover Serena Williams’ quest for tennis’ first singles Grand Slam in 27 years.
“In terms of documenting an achievement, it would be the most amazing thing I’ve seen,” says Fowler, who has spent nearly three decades covering a wide world of sports from high school games to World Cup matches. “Any Grand Slam event is a piece of tennis history. When you add on to it what Serena could achieve and put it in New York in the biggest tennis stadium in the world, it’s hard to imagine anything more. There will be a wild scene—it will be electric.”
Fowler has a chance to help lay down the soundtrack for potential sports history because ESPN is beginning an 11-year deal for start-to-finish coverage of the Open, ending CBS’ 47- year run at the Flushing, N.Y., fortnight. Fowler, who covered early-round Open matches for ESPN the past six years, will be in the booth three additional days (for a total of 10) and call three more matches (18 total) than last year.
But he will break away this weekend for his other big gig, as play-by-play guy on ESPN’s Saturday primetime, college football games on ABC, heading to Arlington, Texas, to cover Alabama vs. Wisconsin.
Fowler then will fly back East to call the Ohio State-Virginia Tech game on ESPN Labor Day evening before returning to New York for the last six days of the Open, including the women’s championship Saturday afternoon, Sept. 12, and the men’s final Sunday afternoon, Sept. 13.
Fowler will skip the Sept. 12 Oregon- Michigan State grid game to be at the Open. “It’s very important for me to call the finals,” he says. “For years I’ve eyeballed that booth, so finally it is kind of a dream to be able to do it.”
Fowler has called two of Williams’ three major tournament wins this year, the Australian Open and Wimbledon. A title in New York, along with her French Open trophy, would make Williams the first singles player to win all four majors in a calendar year—the Grand Slam—since Steffi Graf in 1988.
Fowler built his success as a host but has gradually gravitated back to his first love, play-by-play, which he fell hard for growing up in Rockford, Ill., listening to fabled Chicago sportscasters Lloyd Pettit and Jack Brick-house.
“Calling games always has been my passion, never reading scores or highlights,” he says.
About 95% of his tennis workload now is play-by-play, and although he would like to mix in some hosting at the Open, he’s hesitant to because of the unpredictable length of matches.
Fowler knows all about that. He and analyst Patrick McEnroe called the longest Grand Slam final in history, 5 hours and 53 minutes, between winner Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the 2012 Australian Open.
“I’m a little bit claustrophobic,” Fowler says, “so sometimes a tennis booth is not a comfortable place to be unless the action out the window is really fun and exciting. Then you forget about what a small space you’re in.”
Longtime ESPN executive John A. Walsh and other key talent evaluators considered Fowler a keeper early in his career and gave him his big break in 1990, tapping him to host weekly college football pregame show College GameDay.
“It soon became obvious to everyone that he was made for hosting, he was made for college sports, that he understood it all,” says Walsh, who retired this year as ESPN executive editor and senior VP. “Chris is very smart, very contemporary. He’s a student of everything that he does and is in a perpetual state of learning.”
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Sunday Night Baseball Viewership Up On ESPN
“Telecasts are averaging 1.73 million viewers.”
The first month of the 2022 MLB regular season has concluded and ESPN is celebrating an uptick in viewership for Sunday Night Baseball.
The network announced on Tuesday that viewership for Sunday Night Baseball is up 4% compared to this time last year. In addition to that, compared to the 2020 full season average, ratings are up 40%.
Telecasts are averaging 1.73 million viewers. The Dodgers/Cubs game on May 8 averaged 1.781 million and peaked at over 2.1 million viewers during the 8-8:15 p.m. window.
Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez and David Cone comprise the Sunday Night Baseball broadcast booth, with Buster Olney contributing reports.
Nickelodeon Gets Christmas Day NFL Game
“This will be the network’s first regular season game.”
The NFL’s Christmas triple header will include a little slime this year. The afternoon game between the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos will be simulcast on CBS and Nickelodeon.
Nickelodeon has ramped up its NFL presence each year since 2020. The network has aired a kid-friendly broadcast of a Wild Card Round playoff game each of the last two seasons. Last year’s tile between the 49ers and Cowboys drew an audience of 41 million.
Before the start of last season, the studio show NFL Slimetime debuted. This will be the network’s first regular season game.
Kickoff is set for 4:30 pm Eastern on Christmas Day. No details of what Nickelodeon’s coverage may include are available yet. Nate Burleson, Noah Eagle and Nickelodeon star Gabrielle Nevaeh Green have been on the call of the network’s previous NFL broadcasts.
Kentucky Derby Rebounds With 16 Million Viewers
“The Derby saw its best numbers since 2019 on Saturday. The audience peaked at 19 million.”
The Kentucky Derby has now eclipsed 15 million viewers in each of the last eight years that the event was not effected by the Covid-19 Pandemic. An average audience of 16 million tuned in Saturday to see longshot Rich Strike win the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.
The Derby saw its best numbers since 2019 on Saturday. The audience peaked at 19 million.
During the weekend, the event kept finding new life on social media. According to an NBC Sports press release, the overhead shot of the final call drew big audiences across a number of the network’s digital platforms, having been viewed in total more than 36 million times.
Peacock also cashed in on the event’s success. The streaming platform posted an average minute audience of over 247,000 viewers during the Kentucky Derby.