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Bob Iger Thought ESPN Got Too Political

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Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger recently participated in a conversation with Matthew Belloni of The Hollywood Reporter. Belloni asked Iger about everything from the future plans for the Star Wars franchise to the #MeToo movement’s effect on Pixar to the company’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets.

When the conversation turned to a shakeup at ESPN, Iger noted that he and Jimmy Pitaro, who assumed the role of President of ESPN in March, had his full support. He said they were in agreement over what needed to change at the network.

I have nothing but praise for the job Jimmy Pitaro has done at ESPN. There’s been a big debate about whether ESPN should be focused more on what happens on the field of sport than what happens in terms of where sports is societally or politically. And Jimmy felt that the pendulum may have swung a little bit too far away from the field. And I happen to believe he was right. And it’s something, by the way, that I think John Skipper had come to recognize as well. But Jimmy coming in fresh has had the ability to address it, I think, far more aggressively and effectively. He has brought back some balance.

Andrew Bucholtz of Awful Announcing writes that on its face, Iger’s response seems like an overreaction. Jemele Hill’s tweets about President Trump, which was ESPN’s most high profile instance of not sticking to sports, didn’t even happen on ESPN’s airwaves. It happened on a host’s personal Twitter account. That can hardly be deemed an ESPN problem. He goes on to write that the idea of balance is more important than rolling back any host’s freedom.

But Iger’s pendulum analogy here isn’t a bad one. There is a balance of how much societal or political content should be worked in to straight-up sports talk, some did feel it was too much (even if at its peak, it was still a small fraction of everything ESPN was doing), and they appear to be doing less on that front now without completely eliminating it. Maybe it’s swinging the society/politics balance from five percent down to three percent (we don’t have actual numbers, obviously, but it would be interesting to calculate the total tonnage of comments on anything “away from the field” on ESPN and how that fits in with the massive numbers of comments on things on the field), and maybe Iger and Pitaro’s quest for “some balance” isn’t the wrong approach. And maybe that will help avoid some of the self-inflicted politics disasters, such as the comments ahead of “Get Up” that led to people completely misunderstanding the show, and couldn’t be corrected despite all the efforts to do so.

It should also be noted that Iger remained kind of vague about what ESPN’s policy regarding political and social commentary is now. “He has brought some balance” doesn’t mean that Pitaro has cracked down on anyone that offers an opinion on something that isn’t happening on a football or baseball field. The quote seems only to be an acknowledgement that Iger didn’t like some of the reasons that ESPN found itself in the news last year.

Sports TV News

XFL Signs Exclusive Deal With ESPN

“Games will return in 2023. The season opening slate will be played February 18.”

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All 43 games in the 2023 XFL season will air on Disney’s sports networks. The entire schedule will be seen on ABC, ESPN, and FX. Dwayne Johnson and Dani Garcia made the announcement at the 2022 Disney Upfront presentation.

This will be the third iteration of the XFL. The first attempt in 2001 ended after a single season. The 2020 revival was shut down due to Covid. Johnson and Garcia and their partners purchased the brand two years ago for $15 million.

“The XFL will tap into sports fans’ deep love of football by emphasizing competitive action while dedicating itself to innovation and entertainment,” Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman of ESPN and Sports Content said in a press release. “You can see a great path to success when you combine the reach and influence of ESPN and Disney with the collective vision of XFL leadership led by Dany, Dwayne and Gerry.”

Games will return in 2023. The season opening slate will be played February 18.

“The XFL is going to be a league of passion, a league of pride, and a league of culture,” Johnson said at the event, promising that those three principles will drive every decision for the league.

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NBA Playoff Ratings Hit 8-Year Highs

“At 3.71 million, the average audience for games this postseason is up 14% from last year. It is up 4% from 2019, the last time the playoffs started on time.”

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More people are watching the NBA Playoffs than have done so in a long time. Through the first two rounds in 2022, the league is enjoying its best postseason ratings in eight years.

The average audience across TNT, ESPN, ABC and NBA TV is 3.71 million people per game. If you take the less widely available NBA TV out of the mix, the NBA is averaging 4.08 million viewers per game.

At 3.71 million, the average audience for games this postseason is up 14% from last year. It is up 4% from 2019, the last time the playoffs started on time.

The Boston Celtics have been one of the most reliable performers this postseason. They have been involved in two of the three most-watched games. Sunday’s Game 7 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks is one of two games this postseason that now rank as the most-watched early round games in a decade. The other was Game 1 between the Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Golden State has also been a hot draw. The Warriors have been involved in four of the seven most-watched playoff games.

With both teams still alive and plenty of star power left in the playoffs, the NBA is poised to deliver one of its most-watched postseasons in years.

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Domonique Foxworth: Tom Brady Contract Is About Impressing NFL

“I think that’s why the booths look the way they look. It’s because the league wants their games to feel big, and it’s worth it to them.”

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The shake-up of NFL TV broadcast booths has been one of the top storylines in the league this offseason.

Part of the reasoning is because of the massive sums of money involved. Whether it’s Joe Buck and Troy Aikman or Tom Brady, NFL broadcasters have been getting paid. And it doesn’t seem like the spending is going to slow down anytime soon.

Speaking to Bomani Jones on The Right Time, Domonique Foxworth said the NFL just wants to continue to get bigger and bigger even with its broadcast crews.

“These TV partners want to be in good with the league. And I think that’s what this Tom Brady contract comes down to,” Foxworth said. “I think that’s why the booths look the way they look. It’s because the league wants their games to feel big, and it’s worth it to them.”

Even with some feeling like Brady is uninteresting and likely won’t move the needle as an analyst, it’s the name recognition factor that will set the table for Brady in the booth.

“I do believe that if you turn on an NFL game, and Tom Brady’s talking about it, it feels bigger no matter what he’s saying,” Foxworth said.

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