As first reported by Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, Jemele Hill is leaving the 6pm ET SC6 edition of SportsCenter on ESPN. Hill will leave the show February 2nd to take on a role with The Undefeated, ESPN’s website dedicated to the intersection of sports, race and culture, and as an on-air commentator on programs such as SportsCenter, Outside the Lines, Around the Horn, Highly Questionable, Pardon the Interruption, E:60 and various radio programs and podcasts produced by ESPN Audio.
“There is an old adage that says, the heart wants what it wants,” said Hill. “I started at ESPN 11 years ago as a columnist and while I have worn many hats in the time since, my true love always has been writing, reporting and commentary. While I have grown in every way imaginable this last year on the 6 p.m. SportsCenter, deep down I knew it wasn’t my calling. I approached (ESPN Executive Vice President, Content) Connor Schell recently and asked if they would consider re-thinking my role. And as has been the case throughout my 11 years at this company, ESPN graciously worked with me to determine the best way for me to continue to do meaningful work.
“My first choice was to work with The Undefeated, a site that covers the intersection of race, African-American culture and sports in creative and compelling ways,” she added. “I admire, trust and have unconditional respect for (ESPN Senior Vice President & Editor-in-Chief) Kevin Merida and The Undefeated staff. I have no doubt we will create amazing content together. I’m also thankful to Connor for not only hearing my request, but being immensely supportive throughout this process. I have longed for some time to return to my roots, so to speak. I’m ecstatic to be in such a supportive environment to explore the next phase in my career.
“I’d also like to thank my co-host Michael Smith for his encouragement, generosity and support,” she said. “I will be cheering him on as the 6 p.m. SportsCenter evolves with him as lead anchor. The SC6 staff also has my utmost gratitude and affection. Thank you for your hard work and contributions.”
Although the narrative being pushed by ESPN suggests Hill requested the role change, others aren’t buying it. FOX Sports Radio host Clay Travis, who’s broken numerous stories on ESPN, has been saying on the air for weeks that Hill would be gone from SC6 after the Super Bowl because the show’s ratings were abysmal.
It’s well documented that Hill put a massive bullseye on ESPN’s reputation when she took President Trump to task on Twitter, labeling him a white supremacist. That was followed up by encouraging Dallas Cowboys fans to boycott sponsors of America’s team, an act which earned her a suspension.
Complicating matters even more was that Hill and Smith’s former program, His and Hers, was drastically different than SportsCenter. When the network attempted to mesh the two together and develop SC6, it left a bad taste in the mouth’s of many traditional viewers, leading them to reject the program. That approach also placed Smith and Hill in a box to deliver a stylistically different version of their show, rather than the one which they were most comfortable executing.
The decline of the program’s ratings, coupled with the dissatisfaction of the show from many involved, led to internal role changes for ESPN managers Rob King, Dave Roberts and Norby Williamson. The Big Lead pointed out that turmoil had existed behind the scenes for quite some time, but there was a possibility of Hill and Smith returning to the daytime lineup to reprise their His & Hers program. Once Smith parted ways though with the duo’s mutual agent, Evan Dick of CAA, it became clear that the pair would soon be heading in different directions.
While Hill may be pursuing a new challenge, the network is counting on Smith to become the lead anchor of the 6pm ET SportsCenter.
“The telecast continues to evolve as our primary mission is serving sports fans no matter the time of day,” Williamson said. “We have clearly learned that viewers expect the most comprehensive news coverage and compelling analysis during the 6 p.m. hour. Michael Smith is an experienced journalist and seasoned commentator and I’m confident that his talents can help us achieve our objectives as we move forward.”
What will be interesting to follow is how Hill adjusts to her new role and if it’s enough to satisfy her long term. It’s certainly possible she could become a permanent fixture on The Undefeated, but her passion for discussing topics beyond sports, and the growth of her profile are likely to earn her future attention from outlets such as CNN or MSNBC. Her current employer could also pursue utilizing her on ABC if they feel a fit makes sense.
Dan Orlovsky Staying At ESPN
“Sources told Marchand that FOX never considered Orlovsky a candidate to join Kevin Burkhardt in its top NFL booth. The network was offering him the chance to do some play-by-play and also be at the center of a weekday NFL show.”
FOX tried to lure Dan Orlovsky away, but the rising star analyst is staying in Bristol according to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post. In addition to appearing on First Take, NFL Live, and Get Up, Orlovsky also adds some NFL play-by-play duties as part of his new contract.
ESPN will have a secondary NFL booth for select games this season. While Troy Aikman and Joe Buck will be on the primary Monday Night Football broadcast, Orlovsky will join Steve Levy and Louis Riddick in the secondary booth. They will call doubleheaders as well as a handful of simulcasts.
Sources told Marchand that FOX never considered Orlovsky a candidate to join Kevin Burkhardt in its top NFL booth. The network was offering him the chance to do some play-by-play and also be at the center of a weekday NFL show.
Dan Orlovsky played for a decade in the NFL after spending his college years at UConn. He came to ESPN in 2018 and has covered both college and professional football for the network.
Adam Lefkoe: ‘It’s My Job To Start Arguments On TNT’
“As long as the talent that I’m with is enjoying the experience, that’s what I think a host role is.”
In 2019, Adam Lefkoe became the host of TNT’s Tuesday night NBA studio show with Dwyane Wade, Candace Parker, and Shaquille O’Neal. While Lefkoe is still with Bleacher Report, a place he was at since 2013, he has cut down on the amount of shows he does for B/R to put a lot of focus into hosting the Tuesday show.
Lefkoe was a guest on The Press Box podcast with Bryan Curtis and David Shoemaker and he said that he always thought Inside The NBA was the “pinnacle of sports television,” but he thought his first true moment with Turner Sports was when he hosted the pregame show for The Match: Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson in 2018.
Before he started hosting the Tuesday night show, Lefkoe told Curtis and Shoemaker that he heard from Dan Patrick, who gave him some advice that has stuck with him.
“He said ‘Lefkoe, be John Stockton. We don’t need 20 out of you, but if you can get us 15 assists, that’s really what it is all about.’ There’s nothing sweeter than throwing an alley-oop when you are hosting a show like that.
“I know Ernie Johnson has told me that he is, on purpose, the worst traffic controller. He is trying to create accidents. I think that is something that I learned from him. When I am in the back, in the green room, which I think is the greatest place to watch basketball in the world, when I hear an argument, it is my duty to start that argument again when I get on set and to not let them know I’m doing it.”
When he hosts the show, Lefkoe knows the crew he works with and knows when to go to them for specific reasons throughout the broadcast and how to make them succeed:
“I think Wade tells great stories. I might be texting with him and hanging out with him that week and go over for dinner and I know he’s got a really great personal story about Russell Westbrook or Donovan Mitchell, I’m getting him to that story eventually.”
“With Candace, if I see her in the back and she kind of puts her hands up or sighs, I note what it is. I’m not going to tell her, but I’m getting her there when the show starts. With Shaq, it’s ‘Shaq wants to go viral’. How can I get Shaq to go viral this week because that’s what he needs.”
Lefkoe knows the importance of being a good researcher in addition to hosting. He told Curtis and Shoemaker that when he talked with Jayson Stark (who is a family friend) years ago, he remembered Stark had a journal for every MLB team that when he heard a stat about that team that was interesting, he put in that journal. That’s when Lefkoe knew what he needed to do to succeed in this business.
“When I made the transition from a lot of NFL to mainly all-NBA, I read an article and a column from every team every day over a four-month period. The stuff I knew about the Portland Trail Blazers’ salary cap constrictions in that one year was nuts…If you don’t enjoy studying and reading and you think you can just go on TV and go ‘Pistons…remember Grant Hill’. If you think you are going to pull that off, you are going to get eviscerated.”
So, when you watch Lefkoe host NBA coverage on TNT, he knows how to make his team succeed and he is going to put in the work to make sure your team is well-represented. However, he cares more about the feedback from the talent he works with than anything else.
“As long as the talent that I’m with is enjoying the experience, that’s what I think a host role is. You can’t control the answers and stories, but did it feel different than all the other interviewers that they had. I would find my feedback in the talent that I work with.”
John Ourand Expects Apple To ‘Run The Table’ On Upcoming TV Rights Deals
“He said Apple’s willingness to experiment and the availability of properties like MLS and Major League Baseball line up perfectly.”
On the most recent episode of the Marchand and Ourand podcast, Andrew Marchand of The New York Post said he would be shocked if Apple TV+ did not have some portion of Major League Soccer’s next media rights deal. It may not be an exclusive deal. He suggested it was possible Apple could win the streaming rights while broadcast rights stayed with ESPN and ABC.
His podcast partner, Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand took it a step further. He said he doesn’t see Apple being excluded from much of anything that hits the market in the coming years.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple sort of runs the table on the next couple of rights that come up including the NFL. We’ve talked about this before, the Sunday Ticket rights,” Ourand said.
Apple recently got into the sports business, adding an exclusive package of Major League Baseball games on Friday nights. Ourand is confident that deal is less about Major League Baseball and more about the company finding out what it can offer leagues across all sports. The MLS could fit the same description.
“It’s kind of a test. They want to see if this works, and MLS? It’s not the NBA. It’s a relatively low-cost test to see if they can do live video, if they can do things differently, and if they can have a sort of ‘Apple way’ of doing things.”
He cited a new book about the Apple company in the modern age. Tripp Mickle’s After Steve looks at how Apple became a trillion-dollar company.
Ourand, who is friends with the author and has read the book, says that it gives great insight into CEO Tim Cook’s philosophy of releasing products. He said Apple’s willingness to experiment and the availability of properties like MLS and Major League Baseball line up perfectly.
“Early Apple would only release an iPhone or an iPod when it was fully formed and ready to go and there were no problems with it. Apple under Tim Cook? They’re happy to release different things that have bugs or don’t work very well, because they’re gonna improve on it, so if you look at where baseball is right now, it’s not gonna be where baseball is in three years.”