Dan Le Batard welcomed Stephen A. Smith to his show on Wednesday. While Smith has been at the root of several of Le Batard’s bits over the years, the two have talked openly many times about how much they like and respect each other.
As is often the case when a current or former ESPN employee joins the show, Le Batard asked Smith about working for the Worldwide Leader. The two debated the merits of ESPN telling its hosts to stop talking about politics a few years ago.
While Le Batard has always valued the freedom to talk about whatever he wanted, Smith didn’t find the rule objectionable. He said as long as it was applied fairly, it was good for the viewers.
“The rules have to be for everybody if it is truly a rule,” he said. “But my biggest issue is this: When you’re tuning into a sports network, it is not beyond the pale for the consumer to say ‘I expect to hear about sports,’ okay?”
Dan Le Batard countered by saying that capitalism can make the idea of what topics are and are not third rail issues “blurry”. He pointed to the number of companies that broadcast entities do business with that are owned by the governments of China or Saudi Arabia.
Morality is not the measuring stick for ESPN according to Stephen A. Smith.
“The lines are unquestionably blurry, and you’re totally right about that,” he said. “But I think it’s important to understand Dan, it might be blurry for me and you but as a business, it may not be blurry for them. In other words, the line for them is ‘What’s gonna compromise our bottom line? If something is gonna compromise our bottom line, we have the right to take the position we take as a company.’ As an individual, we might disagree with that, but we also chose to work for them.”
CBS Sports’ Sean McManus Retiring in April 2024, David Berson Named Successor
“The timing just feels right to me.”
Sean McManus will be retiring as the chairman of CBS Sports early next year, and will be succeeded by David Berson in leading the entity. McManus has been leading the company since 1996 and helped reacquire rights to the National Football League in 1998, keeping a relationship with the league ever since. News of the decision was first reported by Andrew Marchand of the New York Post and later confirmed by CBS Sports.
“Leading CBS Sports has been an honor and I have been so fortunate to work with the most talented team in sports media, along with our incredible partners, for nearly three decades. It has been a fantastic run and the thrill of a lifetime,” McManus said in a statement. “I am pleased to leave CBS Sports in an even stronger place than when I arrived, knowing that all of our marquee properties are locked up through this decade and beyond.”
McManus negotiated media deals with the National Football League several times throughout his tenure with the company, including a recent 11-year multi-platform rights agreement that sheds conference affiliations. In the end, the agreement sees CBS Sports pay a reported $2.1 billion a year for rights to games and has top-tier commentators Jim Nantz, Ian Eagle and Kevin Harlan on the call. The NFL on CBS recently reported a record-setting September, with its best viewership in the month over the last 13 years with an average of 18.7 million households. McManus will remain in his position through Super Bowl LVIII and the 2024 Masters Tournament, the latter of which concludes on Sunday, April 14.
“Sean is a first-ballot, hall of fame executive who has masterfully managed all aspects of CBS Sports for 27 years and helped guide us through a transformative era in sports television,” George Cheeks, president and chief executive officer of CBS and chief content officer of news and sports at Paramount+, said in a statement. “His achievements here and the culture of excellence he established for CBS Sports – on screen and off – will benefit CBS and Paramount Global long into the future.”
The network is also in the midst of its first season with rights to the Big Ten Conference, televising a 3:30 p.m. national game for seven Saturdays throughout the season. This is the final season the network has rights to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) before The Walt Disney Company (ABC/ESPN) takes on the full package in 2024, worth a reported $710 million annually.
“The timing just feels right to me,” McManus said. “I’m proud of the fact that George [Cheeks] and Bob Bakish are in complete agreement that this timing is perfect, so I feel really good about it, and I have total and complete faith in David.”
David Berson is set to become the next leader of CBS Sports. (Michele Crowe/CBS)
David Berson will assume the role of “Chief Executive Officer” in addition to his title as President of CBS Sports in April 2024. The move will make him the seventh person to lead CBS Sports in the history of the business division.
“The future at CBS Sports is in the extremely capable hands of David Berson, who will seamlessly succeed me, as we planned,” McManus said. “He is an outstanding leader and strategist, with knowledge and experience across all facets of the business, and has established excellent relationships with our partners and across our team.”
Diamond Sports Group Prepares for Creditor Hearing, Comcast Negotiation
Diamond Sports Group has until this Saturday to negotiate a restructuring plan with its creditors that would result in the end to its Ch. 11 bankruptcy it claimed in March. The company has been rejecting media rights contracts throughout the Major League Baseball regular season, resulting in the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks to have their games produced and locally distributed by the league’s local media department. The company is also embroiled in litigation against its parent entity, Sinclair, Inc., which it is suing over a claim that it received more than $1.5 billion because of misconduct. In response, Sinclair, which had an 8% year-over-year (YoY) decline in revenue, believes the subsidiary will not emerge from bankruptcy.
Ahead of the start of regular seasons for both the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League – and the local broadcasts of 27 teams – the company is working to catalyze its efforts to reach a resolution. The original deadline was set for this Saturday, Sept. 30, but did not prevent the company from paying two teams that were due rights payments on Sept. 1 – the Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans. Additionally, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been paid and will begin the season on Bally Sports Ohio, although that could change depending on ensuing circumstances. If the mediation were to fall through, however, the company could request teams return the payments.
Diamond Sports Group originally pushed for a Nov. 9 deadline with its creditors to finalize a restructuring plan but was coerced by a bankruptcy court to meet its demands. Earlier in August, the NHL expressed to a bankruptcy court that it may look for emergency relief in order to exit the contracts if a plan is not completed. The league also viewed it as being “critical” that it knew the direction of the company by the start of its preseason.
Before the start of play, the Los Angeles Kings and Diamond Sports Group came to terms on a new, multiyear broadcast agreement; however, it is unknown as to how that could be affected should an outcome fail to be reached. The team enters the 2023-24 regular season with longtime play-by-play announcer Nick Nickson after Alex Faust was let go when the team opted to combine its radio and television broadcasts.
“This partnership furthers our commitment to the Bally Sports West distribution markets and to providing LA Kings fans with in-depth coverage of their favorite team on multiple platforms,” Diamond Sports Chief Executive Officer David Preschlack said in a statement. “Additionally, we are encouraged by the progress we are making in our restructuring process and are hopeful that this agreement can serve as a model for future discussions with our team and league partners.”
The NBA stands ready to produce regional broadcasts itself that would be available to stream through the NBA app, and the league would negotiate linear distribution and sell advertising. Teams receive significant amounts of funding through local and national media rights contracts, the latter of which expires with The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. Discovery after the 2024-25 season. Other regional sports networks, such as Monumental Sports Network and MSG Networks, have recently released new direct-to-consumer streaming services to pair with their linear television products, giving viewers new ways to watch their favorite teams.
The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury terminated its agreement with Diamond Sports Group during the offseason, opting to televise their games on traditional, over-the-air television through Arizona’s Family networks. The team recently gave away free antennas to fans to ensure they would be able to watch the games this season. Owner Mat Ishbia called the local television deal a “no-brainer” and divulged that over 2.8 million households in the state will have access to watch the teams for free. Bally Sports Arizona continues to hold the rights for the Arizona Coyotes; however, that has the potential to be upended depending on the resolution of hearings in bankruptcy court.
Diamond Sports Group is also in the midst of negotiating a carriage extension with Comcast ahead of the expiration of the contract at the end of the week. For those involved, these negotiating sessions represent a perception of the viability of the business and could have an impact on payments for the NBA broadcast deals. If no deal is reached, there is a chance that creditors would opt not to authorize upcoming payments that could halt payments for 15 NBA teams.
Mina Kimes Begins Maternity Leave, Receives Video Montage
This video was filled with messages of encouragement and inspiration for Kimes.
Mina Kimes, who recently agreed to a new contract with ESPN, begins her maternity leave on Tuesday as she prepares to welcome a newborn into the world. The beloved National Football League commentator received a sendoff on Monday’s edition of NFL Live in the form of a montage featuring her colleagues Laura Rutledge, Dan Orlovsky, Marcus Spears, Field Yates and Ryan Clark. This video was filled with messages of encouragement and inspiration for Kimes, who began to visibly tear up at the end as she prepares for her new journey.
Kimes shared a recording of the montage on X, formerly known as Twitter, with a caption conveying the love she has for her television family. She looks forward to seeing them soon when she returns from her maternity leave. Rutledge went on maternity leave herself earlier this year and was surprised with a farewell message prior to her exit.
The news of Kimes’ pregnancy was formally shared through social media where she revealed that she brought a “date” with her to the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, Calif. Those on social media noticed a baby bump, eliciting congratulatory comments filled with excitement and euphoria.
Kimes first joined ESPN in 2014 to contribute to its magazine after time as a business writer and investigative reporter. The Yale University graduate became more involved with television and digital efforts through her years at the company and was officially named as an NFL analyst in 2020. She regularly appears on Get Up, First Take, Around the Horn and SportsCenter in addition to her regular slot on NFL Live. Kimes also has experience on audio platforms as the former co-host of The Morning Roast national weekend show on ESPN Radio. Kimes also contributes to Meadowlark Media by appearing on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz once per week.