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Chris Russo On Debating Stephen A. Smith Weekly: ‘I’ll See If I Can Hang In With Him’

“It’s Stephen’s show and he invited me on. I may not come out guns a-blazin’ right away, I have to get my feet wet, but I will get into it as I go along.”

Ricky Keeler

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Chris Russo First Take

Starting Wednesday, Feb. 16, there should be plenty of eventful debates on First Take when Chris “Mad Dog” Russo joins Stephen A. Smith during the show each Wednesday.

On Friday’s edition of The Michael Kay Show, Russo joined Kay, Don LaGreca, and Peter Rosenberg on the program and Kay asked him about the process of agreeing to do some appearances on First Take after he was a guest on ESPN last month.

“I went down to do the Bonds and Clemens and the Hall of Fame stuff. He [Stephen A.] texted me a day or so prior asking if I wanted to come in,” Russo explained. “I came in two Wednesdays ago. I did the two segments. I think we did one on Rodgers and Brady and the Hall of Fame prior. I ran to do the High Heat… went home to do radio. The next day, Stephen A. called me and said are you interested? I said, you want to put something together, I’m all for it.

“ESPN gave me a deal to do these Wednesday shows. Steve picked the day. I will do 40 for the year. Got to be excited by that. Stephen A. is a great guy and he knows how to get his points across. I’ll see if I can hang in with him.”

La Greca asked Russo what he thinks makes a good debater, to which he brought up three characteristics. But besides being a good debater, Russo said he has to be cognizant of the fact that First Take is Smith’s show and not to take away the focus from there.

“You got to be a good salesman. You’ve got to be able to sell your point even if it’s out there in left field, you still got to be able to sell it,” said Russo.

“If you can sell your point with confidence and with some personality, that goes a long way. The second thing is you have to be loud… I learned this because at times I was too noisy and too much of a bully. I think to be fair about it, you have to give the other guy a chance to talk. I have to keep that in mind when I do this. It’s his show. Stephen’s show and he invited me on. I may not come out guns a-blazin’ right away, I have to get my feet wet, but I will get into it as I go along.”

As Russo prepares to debate Smith on a weekly basis, he told Rosenberg that the NBA and a big boxing match are two sports that he will have to dive into a little bit more to put up a good debate:

NBA regular season. I follow the NBA regular season and I know what’s going on… I have a good feel of it, but I’m not sitting there watching necessarily in January and February non-stop NBA regular season games,” Russo said.

“I think that’s one thing I’m going to have to be a little more adept at. I think the second thing probably is when we get a big boxing event, I’m going to have to be into that because I know Stephen A. loves boxing. Those two would be the things I will have to be on top of.”

These debates between Russo and Smith should be must-see TV on a weekly basis and provide a lot of noise, energy, and information to the debate desk. 

Sports TV News

Al Michaels: Condensed Prep Time For Thursday Night Football ‘A Downside’

“It’s not that they don’t want to be with us, but they’re condensed too, so there’s less time to give to us.”

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There were bound to be unexpected hiccups and unintended consequences as Al Michaels moved to Thursday Night Football with Amazon Prime Video.

He told The Boston Globe Thursday that one of the downsides of the week’s schedule is less prep time with the teams playing in the game.

“When we go to see the teams, it’s not that they don’t want to be with us, but they’re condensed too, so there’s less time to give to us,” Michaels said. “And all the time I’ve been doing this, I’ve built some great relationships with coaches and players and GMs and owners and you name it, and I don’t get that much time to spend with them anymore. That’s a downside part of it for me. Some of the best stories you get come from those relationships.”

Michaels has raised eyebrows this season while not being shy about his disdain for some poor matchups early in the schedule. However, he now understands that there are quality games as the season approaches its close.

“The schedule was a little leaky with the Carolina-Atlanta game and a couple of other games that we’ve had, but now we’re positioned for a nice run down the stretch,” said Michaels.

The 78-year-old was also asked how he remains energetic and passionate for the job he’s held for so long.

The games are exciting. I love sports. You don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s no script. And unscripted television is the greatest.”

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Sports TV News

Jimmy Pitaro: Reaching Younger Audience A Priority for ESPN

“The thing that keeps me up at night is how do we reach the younger audience. As an industry in general, we need to figure out how to be more relevant to younger people.”

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Many in the media industry have voice concern that millennials and Gen Z aren’t consuming traditional media outlets like previous generations. ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro said it’s a priority for the network.

“The thing that keeps me up at night is how do we reach the younger audience,” Pitaro said, quoted by Morning Consult sports business reporter Mark J. Burns. “As an industry in general, we need to figure out how to be more relevant to younger people.”

Pitaro made the comments at Sports Business Journal’s Media Innovators conference Wednesday. It is a continuation of comments he has made in recent years.

In 2018, Pitaro said at ESPN’s upfront “I think we are doing a fantastic job serving the sports fanatic,” said Pitaro. “What about the casual sports customer? Are we doing all we can to serve him or her?”.

In 2019, Pitaro said it was “all hands on deck” to reach a younger audience and women. “We have to be open and go to where our customers are,” he said in regards to reaching younger viewers on social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.

Earlier this year, Pitaro added that ESPN won’t be leaving linear television anytime soon.

“What I will tell you is that as I sit here right now, that business is still incredible,” Pitaro said. “We serve the sports fan anyway and at any time. I know there are a lot of people that still want ESPN in that traditional ecosystem.”

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Sports TV News

Don Mattingly Joining Blue Jays Staff After YES Network Courtship

The former Dodgers and Marlins manager had been mentioned as a someone YES Network was interested in potentially hiring to be an analyst.

Jordan Bondurant

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YES Network

The New York Yankees regional sports network can take Don Mattingly off its talent wish list. Mattingly was announced Wednesday as a bench coach for the Toronto Blue Jays starting in 2023.

The former Dodgers and Marlins manager had been mentioned as a someone YES Network was interested in potentially hiring to be an analyst.

But Mattingly told Andrew Marchand of The New York Post this week that he had another opportunity in the works but wouldn’t elaborate.

YES also has been considering luring Yankees legend and Hall of Famer Derek Jeter into broadcasting. But no formal talks have taken place.

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