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Stick to Sports Era ‘Appears To Be Over’ At ESPN

“ESPN personalities like Maria Taylor, Elle Duncan, and Booger McFarland have been free to talk about their experiences with racism and share their opinions on current situations.”

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Richard Deitsch reached to miltiple current and former ESPN air talents for his “Media Matters” column this week for The Athletic. He asked what they have heard from management about the transparency and conviction they are allowed to speak with about the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests.

“The stick to sports on the field era appears to be over,” Deitsch quotes one unnamed but “well-known ESPN talent” as saying.

Jimmy Pitaro, who was appointed president of the network in March 2018, has often been saddled with accusations of bringing a “stick to sports” mantra to Bristol. While the network has covered President Trump’s tweets and comments when they relate directly to sports, for the most part the network rarely delves into social issues.

That hasn’t been the case in the last two weeks though. Coverage of protests around the country have not been limited to Stephen Jackson’s friendship with George Floyd, pointing out which athletes are at marches, or reaction to Drew Brees’s comments about players kneeling during the national anthem.

“What you’ve seen, heard and read across ESPN outlets over the past week is a meaningful reflection of the profoundly intense and personal array of emotions sweeping through the collective consciousness of our audience,” senior vice president and editor-at-large of ESPN Content, Rob King said.

ESPN personalities like Maria Taylor, Elle Duncan, and Booger McFarland have been free to talk about their experiences with racism and share their opinions on current situations.

“You know, I think that ESPN realizes that we are in a seminal moment in history and everyone is going to look back and wonder what side of history are you going to fall on?” Taylor told Deitsch. “I think that everyone’s realizing it, from the NFL and Commissioner (Roger) Goodell down to every major company and ESPN is included. If we are silent now or if we silence our employees now, then that will be the wrong move. The only acceptable way to deal with this moment is to accept wrongs and allow us to have open conversations and be a part of the solution that moves this country forward, because right now it’s really hurting.”

The position is very different from 2017, when then-SC6 Jemele Hill was suspended for two weeks after ESPN said she violated the network’s social media policy. After Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that he would bench any player that knelt during the national anthem, Hill tweeted about a possible boycott of the team’s sponsors.

Hill told Deitsch that ESPN’s reaction to this moment isn’t causing feelings of jealousy or frustration. In fact, she says that she feels relief in seeing her former employer and other sports outlets embrace the conversation.

“The reaction of black athletes to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd certainly didn’t give them any choice, but I’m pleasantly surprised that these outlets didn’t rush to get past it. They devoted some thoughtful, honest conversation to a difficult issue,” Hill said. What I hope these outlets learned is that not only can it lead to good television and reporting and be valuable information for readers and viewers, but that asking their black employees to remain distanced from these kinds of conversations is unrealistic.”

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FOX Sports and The Basketball Tournament Announce Multi-Year Agreement

“With a growing number of players I’ve crossed paths within the league committed to play, this summer will be both competitive and entertaining for TBT.”

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Picture of the trophy for The Basketball Tournament
Courtesy: FOX Sports

The Basketball Tournament (TBT), the $1 million winner-take-all summer event announced a multi-year media rights agreement with FOX Sports to carry games on FOX, FS1, and FS2. As part of the agreement, the network will carry 27 TBT games live on linear television, including three on FOX.

“We are thrilled to make FOX Sports the new home of TBT,” said TBT co-owner and Golden State Warriors guard Chris Paul. “The event has experienced tremendous growth these past few years and this agreement will take it to new heights. With a growing number of players I’ve crossed paths within the league committed to play, this summer will be both competitive and entertaining for TBT.”

“We are excited to kick off our second decade of TBT with FOX Sports,” said TBT founder and CEO Jon Mugar. “Across FOX, FS1, and FS2, we will reach more basketball fans than ever before, further cementing TBT as a mainstay on the basketball calendar. This summer will make for our most electrifying tournament yet.”

TBT is a 64-team, single-elimination tournament hosted across eight regionals. All regional events are hosted by an alumni team representing a powerhouse college basketball program.

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Diamond Sports Group Approved to Hold Creditor Vote on Reorganization

“We are focused on reaching long-term agreements with our partners to enable us to continue serving fans across the U.S. and delivering meaningful value to distributors, teams and leagues.”

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Bally Sports
Courtesy: Diamond Sports Group

Diamond Sports Group has been within bankruptcy proceedings for over a year as it looks to restructure its debt, but received news on Wednesday that could potentially point in a positive direction. Judge Christopher M. Lopez has approved a disclosure statement that will help guide Diamond out of the bankruptcy, which includes $450 million of debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing, $350 million of which will pay its first-lien debt holders. The plan Diamond outlined within its DIP approval was that the remainder of the funding would be transferred to the company’s balance sheet concurrent with broadcasts of National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball games.

The Sinclair subsidiary, which was created upon the acquisition of the then-FOX Sports-branded regional sports networks as part of a $10.6 billion deal with The Walt Disney Company so it could complete its acquisition of 21st Century Fox, currently serves as the broadcast home for 38 professional sports teams. Junior creditors are expected to assume operations of the subsidiary should it be able to successfully emerge from bankruptcy and enact its restructuring support agreement (RSA).

“Approval of the disclosure statement is another important step forward in our restructuring and we are working toward confirming our plan and emerging as a sustainable, go-forward business,” a Diamond Sports Group spokesperson said in a statement. “We are focused on reaching long-term agreements with our partners to enable us to continue serving fans across the U.S. and delivering meaningful value to distributors, teams and leagues.”

A hearing to determine the confirmation of the plan will take place on Tuesday, June 18 at 10 am. CST, and objections to which must be filed by Wednesday, May 22 at 4 p.m. CST. Lopez will also take the results of a forthcoming creditor vote regarding the plan into account in his decision. The company recently reached a multi-year distribution deal with Charter that would come to fruition if it is able to emerge from bankruptcy. Diamond has yet to come to agreements with Comcast or DIRECTV on new deals, creating ambiguity surrounding revenue that comes from retransmission and advertising fees. John Ourand of Puck News reports that Diamond is closer to reaching a deal with DIRECTV than Comcast.

The NBA will reportedly not consider a long-term renewal with Diamond until its national media rights deals are in place, according to Anthony Crupi of Sportico. The expiration of its exclusive negotiating window with The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. Discovery closes on Monday, April 22, which will then allow other interested parties to bid for media rights associated with the league.

Earlier in the week, the NBA and NHL communicated concerns about the ongoing process because of the ambiguity it has engendered for planning its broadcast scheme after the year. Ahead of the hearing on Wednesday, Lopez had approved an extension that delayed the deadline to solicit acceptance of the company’s reorganization plan through and including Thursday, Nov. 14.

As part of the restructuring, Amazon will invest a reported $100 million in Diamond Sports Group that will have Prime Video become the primary streaming partner of the regional sports networks. Diamond owns digital rights to the NBA and NHL teams it carries; however, it does not have all of those rights for teams in MLB. Nine months after the restructuring plan is complete, Amazon will reportedly have the option to invest an additional $50 million into Diamond Sports Group.

Diamond claims that approximately 81% of its revenue is attributable to its deals with national multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) Charter, Comcast and DIRECTV. Furthermore, it stated that its subscribers have dropped by 35% from 2019 until the petition date in late-February of this year.

The company has been broadcasting Major League Baseball games as scheduled throughout the year following a season in which it terminated agreements with the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks. Recent court filings revealed that Diamond Sports Group and the San Diego Padres agreed to a settlement worth approximately $79 million. It remains unknown if Diamond discussed and/or reached a deal with the Diamondbacks or if the organization is in active litigation with the regional sports network operator.

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Woody Paige Inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame

“They must have run out of qualified people after the first four honorable and most worthy inductees were chosen for the 2024 class of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.”

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Photo of Woody Paige on ESPN's Around the Horn

Longtime sports columnist and ESPN Around the Horn panelist Woody Paige was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame last night. Paige graduated from the University of Tennessee and wrote for the Knoxville Journal, The Commerical Appeal in Memphis and then the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. In 1981 he started at The Denver Post and stayed until 2016. He is still writing two columns per week for The Gazette.

In 2002, Paige became one of the original panelists on ESPN’s Around the Horn and he has appeared on the show almost 3,000 of the over 4,000 shows recorded. To date, he is the only panelist with more than 600 wins.

Paige was inducted along with four others, including longtime NFL player and Hall of Famer Tony Boselli who starred at Fairview High in Boulder. When the announcement was made back in October, Paige said, “They must have run out of qualified people after the first four honorable and most worthy inductees were chosen for the 2024 class of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.”

Paige has written nine books and estimates he has written about nearly 10,000 sporting events.

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