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Jimmy Pitaro Praises Experimentation & Bob Iger At Sports Video Group Summit

“We’re okay with failure here as long as we learn from it and get better. We’re going to continue to try new things here.”

Derek Futterman




Jimmy Pitaro has worked within the Walt Disney Company since 2010. He was hired by Bob Iger, who was the chief executive officer of the company at the time, to work within its Disney Interactive division. Iger was also the executive who named Pitaro the new president of ESPN and co-chair of Disney Media Networks in 2018, and was instrumental in his quest of innovation to effectively position the company to adapt to the next generation of digital media.

“Without Bob Iger, I’m not here at ESPN,” Pitaro said while attending the Sports Video Group Summit in New York, N.Y. “Bob’s a huge sports fan. To be effective, you need to be a fan; you can’t fake it.”

It was announced that Iger was returning as chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company last month, concluding what ended up being a short stint in retirement. He and Pitaro peak regularly whether it is over the phone, text or Zoom both about business and their fandom of the New York Yankees.

“I have a boss; I have a mentor who is a passionate sports fan and someone who I can learn a ton from,” Pitaro said. “Having Bob back is great for ESPN and I’m very pleased to have him back as my boss.”

Pitaro, now chairman of ESPN and sports content, stated that he has not yet spoken to Iger pertaining to specific aspects of future strategy, but figures to continue emphasizing alternate broadcasts. Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli, colloquially known as the Manningcast, derived from Peyton Manning seeing Kirk Herbstreit commentate a college football playoff game from his basement at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Manning then contacted Pitaro and asked him if there would be a way to have him do the same thing – and it has subsequently evolved into what it is today.

Alternate broadcasts and live sports as a whole keep people coming to ESPN, especially on its linear platforms. Pitaro noted that out of the top 100 live broadcasts in 2022 thus far, 98 of them have been live sporting events, part of why the business continues to thrive despite cord-cutting, social media distractions and other headwinds.

“It’s the power of live sports,” Pitaro said. “…People are spending much more time consuming live sports than anything else live. I think live news ratings are just dependent on the political cycles, but for sports, it seems to be pretty constant.”

ESPN has been producing and airing alternate broadcasts since the 1990s, but caught what Pitaro calls “lightning in a bottle” creating Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli. Since that broadcast began in the 2021-22 NFL season, the network has launched Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod and the NBA in Stephen A’s World.

“We’re going to continue to experiment,” Pitaro expressed. “There’s no real formula here. We’ve tried alternate broadcasts that haven’t worked…We’re okay with failure here as long as we learn from it and get better. We’re going to continue to try new things here.”

An aspect of the ratings that is out of the control of ESPN is in the quality of the games the network broadcasts and Pitaro stated the last few weeks have been weaker in terms of quality. One part of the media rights deal between Disney and the National Football League is the addition of flex scheduling starting next season, meaning the chance to air higher quality matchups can be ensured.

There is undoubtedly an expectation of stellar performance across the board regardless of the sport. Pitaro is tasked with overseeing the network’s parallel paths; those being its linear channels and its direct-to-consumer platform: ESPN+.

“We’ve got to get it right and we have to show up every single day,” Pitaro said. “There are no off days. Look, we’re not perfect. Let me be clear. Our production is not perfect; our executives do not execute perfectly, but we do have a pretty high standard at ESPN and The Walt Disney Company.”

As some networks look to prioritize cord-cutting, Pitaro views linear television as a primary part of its business model. While the conversation around media encompasses digital growth and cord-cutting, ESPN’s outright linear television ratings rose 10% during the past fiscal year and those in primetime experienced 16% growth. Surely, it has been profitable for the network for many years, but Pitaro is cognizant of the change taking place as more consumers transition to watching live sports on other platforms of dissemination.

“We are continuing to acquire rights and invest in the traditional platform,” Pitaro said. “At the same time, pretty much every deal we do and we’ve done over the last 4.5 years since we’ve launched ESPN+ has had a direct-to-consumer component.”

NFL Sunday Ticket will transition into a streaming service, according to a statement made by National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell in an interview with CNBC, and DirecTV has had its rights for nearly three decades. Yet it has been reported that many companies have been involved in the bidding process, including Apple, Amazon and ESPN.

“We let the league know that we very much value that product,” Pitaro said. “It’d be interesting to see how this plays out. We typically don’t comment on league negotiations or discussions but I will tell you – and I’ve been consistent on this from day one- that we value that product.”

The proliferation of sports betting has led to its legalization in certain areas of the United States, resulting in the expansion of sports books and concomitant betting content. ESPN partnered with Caesars Sportsbook to create branded studios in Las Vegas and airs plenty of sports betting content.

It is representative of an area of future growth for ESPN and Pitaro spoke about ideas the network has in ways to implement it into its presentation. Some of these possibilities include potentially creating a watch-and-bet experience or a watch-and-buy experience in which consumers can directly interact and immerse themselves in the game experience.

“Our research shows us that our fans are good here,” Pitaro said. “They expect this from us – they’re not just okay with it – but they expect us to be doing more. What does that mean? It means creating a more seamless experience….They want to be able to place a bet without a lot of friction.”

As an executive within the Walt Disney Company, Pitaro has to think about the immersion of sports betting not just in terms of how it impacts ESPN, but how it impacts the venture as a whole.

“The way it’s come back is that our Disney fans are okay with this as well,” he said. “We’re still in the exploratory phase, but we certainly believe we can be doing more there.”

The advantage to ESPN+ is its unlimited real estate in terms of producing and distributing content. In the past, the network had to turn down certain content ideas because there was simply a lack of space to program them on the linear side. Now with the advent of technologies enabling nonlinear broadcast transmission, ESPN is able to create more programming and offer it in a multitude of different locations.

The growth of women’s sports is a priority for ESPN and drives aggregate viewership levels. Pitaro expressed how he received a call from his father last year pertaining to his watching more WNBA games because of the on-court product. Despite the network’s 10-year media rights deal with the WNBA expiring “relatively soon,” Pitaro delineated that the network will continue to invest in the space, in addition to NCAA women’s sports

“It’s becoming more and more in the zeitgeist,” Pitaro said of the WNBA, “and I think that’s kind of chicken and egg, but from our perspective – if we build it, they will come. If we give these games; these leagues; these sports more exposure, people are going to show up.”

Pitaro is excited to once again work with Iger in developing ESPN and having a voice in guiding the direction of the Walt Disney Company. In fact, Pitaro has currently been tasked by Iger to work with some of his colleagues at the company “to look at the structure of the entire enterprise.”

“A lot of the games that we’re airing right now we acquired through deals that Bob was at the table for,” Pitaro said. “We need a little bit more time. Bob and I need to sit down and talk through what’s transpired over the last few years.”

As ESPN aims to continue living up to its slogan as the “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” it has signature live studio programming and what may seem like an interminable number of media rights deals with sporting leagues around the world. Whatever the future holds, Pitaro is prepared and energized to continue to conceive new ideas that push the boundary in sports media.

“Our product needs to continue to advance,” he said. “ESPN; the ESPN App; ESPN+ – [they are] very good products right now. Personalized; contemporary; modern; they’re easy to navigate. We’re constantly focused on improving them…We don’t want to be a solution looking for a problem here, but that’s something that’s on the table, but in general, sports betting; gamification; free-to-play gaming could be an element as well – all that is being looked at as well.”

BSM Writers

Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?

“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”

Demetri Ravanos




Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career. 

Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff. 

Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.

Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.

Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country. 

Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.

Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.

Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance. 

Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!

A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.

FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan.  MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team.  I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”

JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions. 

“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).

“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”

MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”

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BSM Writers

Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?

The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.

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As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.

Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.

But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.

The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.

As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.

Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.


The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.

Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!

But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)

That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?

We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!

The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.

Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.

If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.

Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)

Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.

We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.

When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?

If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.

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BSM Writers

There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle

“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”

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Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.

The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.

Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark. 

It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.

Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.

Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.

One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.

It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.

It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.

One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.

Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”

There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.

We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.

The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.

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