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Hollywood Reporter Sheds Light on ESPN Divide Over SC6

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A new story in the Hollywood Reporter written by Marissa Guthrie sheds some light on the behind the scenes drama that surrounded ESPN’s attempt to report the 6pm SportsCenter with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith. It’s something, she writes, that still has Bristol divided.

Internal discord over the 6 p.m. SportsCenterexperiment co-hosted by Jemele Hill and Michael Smith — and yanked after less than a year despite four-year deals worth $10 million each — still lingers.

The whole piece focuses on ESPN’s obsession with reversing the whole “MSESPN” image that Fox Sports Radio’s Clay Travis helped cement last year in his numerous media appearances and written pieces complaining of the network’s liberal bias. Travis is also the one who dubbed Hill and Smith’s take on SportsCenter as “WokeCenter,” which apparently was a real problem for some ESPN executives, who saw Hill’s exit as a good thing for the brand.

When Hill, who became a lightning rod with critics dubbing the show “WokeCenter,” left in February, Norby Williamson, ESPN’s executive vp and executive editor of studio production, quipped in front of a room full of people: “One down, one to go.” Four ESPN employees tell THR that Dave Roberts, ESPN’s vp content, was heard characterizing the show as “too black.” (Through a spokesperson, Roberts, who is African-American, vehemently denies saying this.)

Still, not everyone shared this opinion of Hill or Smith or their take on SportsCenter.

“It’s not that they were too woke, or too black, the problem was they were too new,” says a veteran senior executive. “They were too unfamiliar to the 6 p.m. audience. From the second they started they were up against internal crap, the traditionalists shitting on them, and they faced harsh criticism externally. It was panic from moment one. And the network didn’t do a good job of defending and supporting them.”

ESPN has attempted to remove any potential controversy from the SportsCenter brand by putting Sage Steele (who may step in some PR hot water from time to time, but those times are never on air) and Kevin Negandhi in the anchor chairs at 6pm. Guthrie also notes that in other areas, ESPN is adding conservative voices, particularly on First Take.

Among its biggest stars is First Take‘s Stephen A. Smith, who has professed support for Donald Trump, though not on every issue. Meanwhile, Will Cain, a conservative who has had stints at The Blaze and CNN and has been an ESPN contributor since 2015, got his own ESPN Radio program in January and is now part of the ESPN TV firmament. And Roberts, say three sources, has suggested replacing First Take moderator Molly Qerim with Cain.

Guthrie’s piece focuses on the factions within ESPN. She posits that there are people who believe a return to the opinion-less highlights-driven content the network was built on is the only way to survive. Others say that ESPN has to experiment to find its groove in a world that is full of more choices for sports fans. That is why Hill and Smith were allowed to try something new with SportsCenter. The same is true of Scott Van Pelt’s midnight show and the company’s investment in digital products like the Snapchat edition of SportsCenter or ESPN+.

“Norby is pushing antiquated SportsCenter stuff wherever he can,” says an on-air personality. “There are good creative people there. I don’t think it’s an accident that if you did a happiness quotient, the farther way from Bristol people are, the happier and the more productive they are.” Or as one source puts it: “It’s a battle for the soul of ESPN.”

You can read the full article here.

 

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BetMGM Launches In New York On Monday

“Mobile wagering officially became legal in the Empire State over the weekend.”

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BetMGM is the next man up in the New York Gaming Commision’s “rolling” plan to introduce new mobile sportsbooks in the state. The company announced via Twitter that it would begin taking bets on January 17.

Mobile wagering officially became legal in the Empire State over the weekend. Four books launched their New York operations on Saturday and saw massive returns. The state generating more tax revenue off one day of mobile wagering than it has in more than 30 months of retail betting.

Will BetMGM experience the same boom on day 1 that BetRivers, Caesars, DraftKings, and FanDuel all did upon their launch?

Probably not. Those four were the first mobile players in the market. Also, by launching on Monday, BetMGM will miss all but one game on the NFL Playoffs’ Super Wild Card Weekend.

But this is a long play. The population of New York State is large enough and BetMGM is well-enough-established to generate profit quickly. Besides, with the Knicks, Nets, Rangers, Islanders, and Sabers all in season, there will be no shortage of opportunities in the coming months for New Yorkers to fire up the BetMGM app and lay their money down.

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FOX Sports Launches Podcast Network

“The Fox Sports Podcast Network will be the new home to premium podcasts from Fox Sports’ prominent voices and storytellers.”

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Fox Sports officially launched its podcast network on Thursday, led by FS1 host Skip Bayless, and the network announced additional shows set to debut in the coming months.

The Fox Sports Podcast Network will be the new home to premium podcasts from Fox Sports’ prominent voices and storytellers.

“Fox Sports is the leading destination for top quality original digital content from the biggest personalities in sports,” said Fox Sports EVP and Head of Content Charlie Dixon said in a press release. “The creation of this new podcast network allows us to deliver fans exclusive commentary and enthralling stories providing hours of entertainment through this important medium.”

The Skip Bayless Show debuted Thursday and features Bayless breaking down the top sports stories combined with his own stories surrounding the biggest moments in athletics history. The weekly podcast, which will also feature interviews and unscripted responses to fan questions, rolled out alongside a number of pods that have already brought in millions of listeners.

Club Shay Shay is a podcast featuring Bayless’s Undisputed co-host Shannon Sharpe that has joined the network. Flippin’ Bats, hosted by Ben Verlander, and The No. 1 Ranked Show, presented by college football analyst RJ Young, are also among the offerings on the network.

Fox also announced debut dates for two highly-anticipated podcasts. What’s Wright with Nick Wright will feature a video series alongside the podcast offering and will premiere on March 1. Wright will be doing a lot of ranking on a variety of topics each week. The show will have new episodes every Tuesday.

Then in April, Tom Rinaldi will begin presenting what the network calls a serialized audio documentary about former Major League Baseball player Lyman Wesley Bostock Jr. The podcast is entitled Wesley. Bostock was one of baseball’s top players in the late 1970s before he was murdered in 1978. The podcast will be a deep dive into the events surrounding and including Bostock’s killing.

You can listen to Fox Sports Podcast Network shows on Apple and Spotify and on Fox digital platforms.

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Lolo Jones Launches ‘Gold Medal Loser’ Podcast Through Blue Wire

“Jones is in a very small group of people who have competed in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.”

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Podcasting company Blue Wire is continuing to expand.  Summer and Winter Olympian Lolo Jones will be hosting the company’s latest podcast Gold Medal Loser. The podcast consists of interviews Jones recorded this summer while training for the 2022 Beijing Olympics, including Olympic skater Adam Rippon, Peleton instructor Jess Sims and former NBA player/current ESPN analyst Richard Jefferson walking Jones through the ups and downs of their careers.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of podcasts and have been interested in creating my own,” Lolo Jones told Awful Announcing via email. “As an athlete, I’m usually the interviewee and wanted to have some fun on the other side of the table. We thought it would be cool to interview folks from different walks of life—including a big focus on Olympians and Paralympians. I’m always fascinated about the different personal journeys all these talented people have taken to get to the top.”

Jones said Blue Wire proved to be a great fit for her to launch this podcast.

“They let me really control the creative direction and shape the show how I envisioned it—but I’m still new at this platform so I leaned on them for insight on how to make this a success.”

This isn’t Jones’ first rodeo when it comes to sports media either.  She co-hosted a female-athlete-focused show with MJ Acosta and Lindsay Czarniak for Peacock called On Her Turf during the Tokyo Olympics.  She also plans to work in media more frequently once her career ends.  Roles like this while she’s still training offer more experience for her.

She said that can be tough to fit in while still competing though, especially in two different sports.

“I’ve tried to capitalize on any breaks I’ve had to get media experience…whether it be due to injury, competition seasons canceled from COVID, or any other extended windows where my training schedule is a little light.”

Jones is in a very small group of people who have competed in both the Summer and Winter Olympics. The list sits at 170 all-time. Elevn of them have represented the U.S. 

Gold Medal Loser continues the long list of podcasts Blue Wire has done with professional athletes.  It also continues the company’s approach of monetizing podcasts through cross-platform presenting sponsorships; this will be the fifth one they’ve done that way, and the second with Discover.  Lolo Jones said she’s excited for people to get to listen to it and hopes it will be relevant to a wide range of listeners.

“Nobody has an easy or straight path to get to the top of our fields. Hopefully hearing about these life experiences will help the listener in some way. If you know me (or follow me on social), you know I’m always trying to do one of two things: inspire you or make you laugh. Hopefully this does both!”

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