Sports TV News
Ariel Helwani Agrees to Join ESPN
Mixed martial arts journalist, Ariel Helwani, is joining ESPN covering the sport across all platforms including a new weekly show on ESPN+, Ariel & The Bad Guy, with co-host Chael Sonnen.
Helwani has covered MMA since 2006, spending the last two years with SBNation, following a tenure at Fox Sports. The seven-time winner of “MMA Journalist of the Year” has had a number of quarrels with the UFC, even receiving a lifetime ban on access to credentials earlier in 2016.
After reporting Brock Lesnar would return for UFC 200, prior to the UFC being able to announce it, Helwani was escorted out of UFC 199 and told by president Dana While he would no longer be credentialed by the UFC “as long as I’m here.” The ban was revisited and revoked just two days later.
The restriction came a few months after Helwani departed from Fox Sports. Following the ban, Helwani admitted his paychecks, while working for Fox Sports, were signed by Zuffa, UFC’s parent company. For a journalist, this is unusual and even unethical in terms of maintaining an ability to provide unbiased coverage of a sport while being paid by that said sport. Helwani went on to state he believed he was fired by Fox Sports under the influence of the UFC, which was denied by Fox.
Helwani’s most recent employment stop, SB Nation, had no affiliation with the UFC, but ESPN does after recently announcing an agreement to bring exclusive content, including 15 fights to their newly launched direct-to-consumer subscription platform, ESPN+. Even with the partnership, it should be safe to assume Helwani’s ESPN checks will be signed by Disney and not the UFC’s current owner, Endeavor.
“Ariel is a dynamic and talented insider, whose insights and acumen will expand and enhance our multimedia coverage of the mixed martial arts world. Pairing Ariel and Chael, the insider and the fighter, on ESPN+ is going to make for an energetic and engaging show that will be must-see for any MMA fan,” said Rob King, ESPN’s Senior Vice President of Original Content, Newsgathering & Digital Media.
Helwani’s new show with co-host Chael Sonnen, Ariel & The Bad Guy, will debut on ESPN+ June 20th. New episodes will be available each Wednesday, as well as specials before and after major MMA events.
Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.
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 JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Sports TV News
Stephen A. Would Welcome Shannon Sharpe to First Take
“If that included him wanting to come on First Take, the bosses at ESPN know that is something I would support. Not every day, but one of those days every week.”
Following a report of Shannon Sharpe leaving FOX Sports 1’s Undisputed at the conclusion of the NBA Finals, there may be a new landing spot for him in the future at ESPN on First Take. On Friday’s edition of The Stephen A. Smith Show, a digital podcast live streaming on YouTube, show host and executive producer Stephen A. Smith extended an open invitation to Sharpe to join him at ESPN.
“I don’t know what his plans are. I don’t know what he’s trying to pursue. I don’t know what he’s after, but if Shannon Sharpe needs me, I’m happy to be here for him. And if that included him wanting to come on First Take, the bosses at ESPN know that is something I would support. Not every day, but one of those days every week.”
The decision to publicly voice his support for Sharpe comes a day after incoming ESPN midday host Pat McAfee stated that he hopes Sharpe joins the network, as he feels he has a voice that can contribute to coverage. Sharpe has been working with Skip Bayless on Undisputed since 2016, but reports of tension between the two co-hosts presumably led to his purported exit. Front Office Sports reported that Bayless will have the final say on who replaces Sharpe and sits opposite him each morning.
“I’ve gotten to know Shannon Sharpe a little bit over the last few years,” Smith said. “I genuinely like him and respect him. He is a three-time Super Bowl champion; he is a Hall of Famer; he is one of the greatest tight ends in the history of the National Football League, and I personally think he’s done a hell of a job on television and with his podcast Club Shay Shay.”
Smith implored those listening that he will not speak against Skip Bayless, despite having contrary points of view on most topics. The duo previously worked together at ESPN on First Take for four years and elevated the morning show to new heights, attaining record ratings in sports television. When it was disseminated by the New York Post that Sharpe is leaving FS1, Smith recognized how big of a loss it would be for the network, but is content with the show’s current setup of having different panelists on the show throughout the week. Smith and co-host Molly Qerim are the only constants on the program at the moment on a day-to-day basis.
“I get to handpick who’s on First Take once they’re in-house for ESPN,” Smith said. “I don’t get to bring them from the outside in without the bosses’ okay. We have to be honest – I’m not the boss. That’s Dave Roberts; that’s Jimmy Pitaro; that’s Burke Magnus; that’s those dudes. I answer to them – it’s not the other way around when it comes to all matters pertaining to ESPN, but they know where I stand.”
Sports TV News
Judge Rules Diamond Sports Must Pay MLB Teams in Full
“As with the Padres, MLB will stand ready to make games available to fans if Diamond fails to meet its obligations.”
A judge has made his ruling has been reached in the caustic bankruptcy trial between Major League Baseball and Diamond Sports Group. Diamond Sports Group must pay the full value of the contracts with the four teams that are involved in the legal proceedings. These teams include the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Guardians, Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers.
There was an additional caveat to the final ruling. The judge urged both sides to talk to one another, perhaps realizing the level of contemptuousness evident throughout testimony from both sides in the trial.
“Maybe market forces change terms of deals, but market risk is always there [and] inherent in every contract,” U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Lopez said in his ruling. “Knowing that I think the contract rate is the reasonable and the right rate, the way that teams are locked in [and] the evidence that’s presented before me, I’m going to find that the fees are the actual necessary cost of preserving the state. The teams can keep the 75% I believe they’ve already received and they should get the [other] 25%.”
Diamond Sports Group now has a decision to make regarding if it will oblige by the ruling and pay the four teams as directed. If not, they will be forced to relinquish the broadcast rights for those teams, just as the entity did for the San Diego Padres earlier this week.
Sources close to the situation have indicated that this represented somewhat of a breaking point between the two sides, and that the hostility will be too much to overcome for future deals. Diamond Sports Group is tasked with renewing rights for 28 teams across the NBA and NHL at the conclusion of next season, in addition to five Major League Baseball teams.
“MLB appreciates the ruling from the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Houston requiring Diamond to pay the full contractual rate to Clubs,” the league said in a statement. “As always, we hope Diamond will continue to broadcast games and meet its contractual obligations to Clubs. As with the Padres, MLB will stand ready to make games available to fans if Diamond fails to meet its obligations.”
Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. described a meeting he had with Diamond Sports Group’s management where the company threatened bankruptcy – despite having money in liquidity to pay the rights fees – in order to restructure itself and selectively reject contracts. He also divulged that the league will cover at least 80% of the payments the afflicted teams were supposed to receive from Diamond Sports Group, which operates as a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group. Major League Baseball says it is ready to take over production and dissemination of local broadcasts and prepared for this move in advance by strengthening its media division, including the hire of Billy Chambers as executive vice president of local media.
While Diamond Sports Group is technically a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group, the role of the latter has been diminished because of the former’s declaration of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Creditors agreed to trade the debt they owe for equity in Sinclair Broadcast Group, rendering the management structure somewhat ambiguous. The company’s decision to engage in bankruptcy protection will aid in eliminating $8 billion of outstanding debt after Sinclair Broadcast Group acquired the regional sports networks from The Walt Disney Company in 2019 for $10.6 billion. Major League Baseball, in partnership with Liberty Media, bid nearly $9.6 billion for the networks ($3.5 billion in leverage), but ended up falling short. Diamond Sports Group has local broadcast rights for 28 teams across the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, with all of those deals – along with five among Major League Baseball teams – set to expire at the conclusion of next season.
Sports TV News
Ernie Johnson: Death of Kobe Bryant Solidified Inside the NBA Crew’s Bond
“I’m in the fortunate position [of] getting us from point A to point B to point C with three guys who have been in every conceivable situation in a basketball game.”
As the Eastern Conference Finals concluded, Inside the NBA signed off for the final time of the 2022-23 season, officially closing the 33rd year of broadcasts led by Ernie Johnson. Kenny “The Jet” Smith joined the show on a full time basis in 1998, and Charles Barkley joined him two years later, creating a trio for the next 20 years.
They were joined by different fourth analysts over the years, including Reggie Miller, Magic Johnson and Chris Webber, but the company made a permanent hire in 2011 by adding Shaquille O’Neal. From that moment on, the four gradually blended into a family and now share a unique chemistry not often seen in television.
“Nobody tries to make themselves the show,” Ernie Johnson told Dan Le Batard on South Week Sessions. “They’ve never tried to make the show about themselves. I’m in the fortunate position getting us from point A to point B to point C with three guys who have been in every conceivable situation in a basketball game.”
Johnson undoubtedly knows his role on the show is to facilitate discussion and position the analysts in the best position possible to share their basketball knowledge gained through their playing years. He is a veteran studio host and broadcaster, contributing to TBS’s Major League Baseball coverage during the offseason, and is able to seamlessly transition between different sports over the course of the year.
“If you try to stray outside your lane and be something you aren’t, then it doesn’t work,” Johnson said. “The fact that we don’t rehearse and the fact that we just let it rip – there you go.”
The feeling is mutual between Johnson and his co-workers that they view each other as family and hold one another in extremely high regard. Le Batard acknowledged how he has heard Barkley talk about Johnson in such a venerated manner, and that he and the others give the impression that they would do anything for Johnson.
Johnson simply replied, “And I would do the same for them. We all would.”
Johnson vividly remembers when Kobe Bryant passed away and the Inside the NBA crew was doing a show from Los Angeles reflecting on his life and legacy. At one point on the broadcast, O’Neal addressed his colleagues and told them that he loves them, realizing that he does not say it enough. It was a heartwarming moment for Johnson, and one that brought their bond to light.
“I think one thing that whole moment of time taught all of us was that you don’t know how long you have,” Johnson said. “It behooves us to make sure that everything’s cool between us – not just between the four of us on the show, but between everybody in your life… If the unthinkable happens, do you want to leave that with, ‘Man I wish I had said this. I wish that silly feud; I could have stepped up and defused it.’… I think it was a pretty brutal reminder of that.”