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How Far Will ESPN Go to Heal NFL Relationship?

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Last week, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro told The Washington Post that the network had informed the NFL that it would not be showing the playing of the national anthem before games as a courtesy to the league. He said it was part of a larger effort to show the NFL just how much ESPN values their partnership.

In his mailbag column this week, The Athletic‘s Richard Deitsch was asked what that larger effort might entail. Specifically, the email wanted to know if the NFL could demand an end to any investigative reporting done on the league, its teams, or its players. Deitsch didn’t go so far as to say it would put an end to investigative reporting, but Pitaro’s comments do put the network’s reporters in an interesting situation.

I think the journalists who do investigative work would be wise to be concerned. ESPN is undoubtedly going to continue to cover the NFL daily and will break plenty of compelling stories that involve players etc … But will we see deep investigative pieces on the issues that really chafe at the NFL brass (concussions, ownership scandals, the nexus between social justice and the national anthem policy)? That’s the large question because the reality is fellow NFL media rightsholders are not doing those stories on the league. (And if you think the NFL hasn’t punished ESPN for being a reporting pain in the behind, I have a monorail to sell you in North Haverbrook — just look at ESPN’s Monday Night Football schedule prior to this year.)

Deitsch added that the network itself is in a curious spot. It makes sense that ESPN values its relationship with the NFL, but it has to value its reporters too, as that is what makes ESPN’s NFL coverage different from the coverage provided by any of the league’s other TV partners.

The reality is that what is best for ESPN’s business is to avoid covering stories that tick NFL owners off. But I’d argue ESPN’s journalism is also something that separates it from every other sports media entity in partnership with professional leagues.

The outlet that Deitsch worries would be most affected by any editorial mandates from the corporate level is Outside the Lines. The show has already lost its Monday time slot during the NFL season, and with its long time leader Bob Ley taking a 6 month sabbatical, Deitsch worries that OTL will lose some of its strength.

For its part though, ESPN has already told Deitsch that it is still committed to OTL. It is hard though to read Pitaro’s comments and not see the network taking OTL off the air the same night it is airing NFL games as a way to distance the show from the league.

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Ian Rapoport: I Have Never Thought It is Me vs Adam Schefter

“I don’t even think that, it’s just I report what I know, and he reports what he knows.”

Jordan Bondurant

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In terms of NFL insiders, Ian Rapoport and Adam Schefter are the two biggest names out there. And sometimes it can be a race between the two to get the biggest scoops first. Especially now with the NFL coaching carousel in full swing.

This week two teams hired new head coaches – the Broncos traded two first round picks to the Saints to acquire the rights to Sean Payton and the Texans signed DeMeco Ryans.

Rapoport tweeted that Denver had pursued Ryans up until the day they announced the trade for Payton.

Not even 15 minutes later, Schefter appeared to clarify the information out there with the two teams.

On The Pat McAfee Show on Thursday, Pat McAfee referred to the conflicting information as a “source off.”

Ian said he stood behind what he put out there.

“I know it’s fun to call it a source off or whatever, but for me I reported what I had based on the best information I can get – based on talking to many, many people throughout the course of the last month,” Rapoport said from the Senior Bowl. “And then whatever happens as a result of this I don’t really mind.”

In terms of any sort of rivalry between him and Schefter, Rapoport doesn’t view it as a head-to-head matchup.

“I don’t even think that, it’s just I report what I know, and he reports what he knows,” he said. “And everyone can sort of judge for themselves whichever way to go.”

McAfee gave kudos to Rapoport for his reporting on the Ryans situation. He also said it’s a good thing Rapoport doesn’t worry himself too much about what other insiders are doing.

“I think you should feel good about it, but I do like a good source off,” McAfee said. “And I appreciate the fact that you don’t view it as you versus Schefter. But you two are at the top of the game. So that’s a compliment more so than anything.”

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AEW Considers Launching Streaming Service

“It’s possible an AEW streaming service could be independent, but many are hopeful AEW’s offerings would be available on HBO Max or Discovery+ akin to how WWE Network is now available on Peacock.”

Jordan Bondurant

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All Elite Wrestling is looking into launching its own streaming service.

According to reporting from Bloomberg, a source “familiar with management’s thinking” said AEW is looking to strike a deal with broadcast partner Warner Bros. Discovery.

Since launching in 2019, AEW now puts on two weekly shows on Warner channels TBS and TNT and airs two shows on YouTube.

Last year AEW acquired Ring of Honor from Sinclair Broadcast Group. As part of that deal, AEW took ownership of RoH’s extensive content library Honor Club. So much like WWE did with WWE Network when it launched in 2014, AEW could launch its streaming service and have all of Ring of Honor’s content in a one-stop shop.

It’s possible an AEW streaming service could be independent, but many are hopeful AEW’s offerings would be available on HBO Max or Discovery+ akin to how WWE Network is now available on Peacock.

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NBC Officially Unveils Noah Eagle, Todd Blackledge as New Big Ten Booth

“With their collective college football experience and great enthusiasm for the game, Todd, Noah and Kathryn join a production team that can’t wait to kick off the Big Ten season.”

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It’s officially official: Noah Eagle, Todd Blackledge, and Kathryn Tappen will join the Big Ten on NBC booth when the network begins airing the conference’s football package in 2023.

NBC made the announcement Thursday, after weeks of speculation about the moves.

“We are excited to showcase Big Ten Saturday Night on the NBC Sports’ primetime marquee,” said NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood. “When you hear Todd’s voice, you know it’s a big college football game. It has been that way for decades.

“Noah is one of the industry’s rising young play-by-play commentators, who has excelled calling numerous sports across multiple platforms for a wide range of audiences. We are thrilled to pair him in the booth with Todd.

“Kathryn has told the stories of so many memorable Notre Dame Football moments over the last decade in her on-field reporting and interviews,” Flood continued. “With their collective college football experience and great enthusiasm for the game, Todd, Noah and Kathryn join a production team that can’t wait to kick off the Big Ten season.”

Blackledge joins NBC after working as a college football analyst for the network for the past 17 seasons. Previously, he was the an analyst for CBS and ABC, making 2023 his 30th consecutive season covering college football as an analyst.

Eagle is the son of broadcasting legend Ian Eagle, and currently serves as the radio voice of the Los Angeles Clippers. He comes to NBC after calling college football games for FOX Sports in 2022.

Tappen has spent the past nine seasons working NBC’s college football coverage with Notre Dame. Eight of those nine seasons were spent as the network’s sideline reporter before anchoring the studio coverage from South Bend in 2022.

2023 will mark the beginning of a seven-year contract for NBC to air Big Ten football games in primetime. The move is one of the biggest notable expansions in the college football arena for the network since its partnership with Notre Dame began in 1991.

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