Sage Steele has left ESPN. The SportsCenter host took to X Tuesday morning to announce that she had settled her lawsuit with the network and has decided to move on.
“I have decided to leave so I can exercise my first amendment rights more freely,” Steele wrote. “I am grateful for so many wonderful experiences over the past 16 years and am excited for my next chapter!”
Steele has been at ESPN since March of 2007. In addition to SportsCenter, she also anchored NBA Countdown for the network and contributed to coverage of The Masters and the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Working for Disney also gave her the opportunity to host programs for ABC including the Miss America pageant and several editions of The View.
An outspoken conservative, Steele had drawn the ire of the network and her colleagues for comments made about Covid-19 and President Obama’s heritage during a 2021 appearance on the podcast Uncut with Jay Cutler.
She was off the air shortly after that. While she was diagnosed with Covid-19, she and her lawyers filed suit against the network claiming that she was the victim of bullying and had prime assignments taken away from her in the wake of the backlash to her comments.
Sage Steele is now a free agent in the media space. She will certainly have options. Outkick founder Clay Travis has been outspoken in his belief that she should land at FOX News.
Rob Manfred: Bally Sports Has Itself To Blame For Business Struggles
The MLB Commissioner hasn’t been shy about sharing his displeasure with the regional sports networks.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred feels good about the position the league is in handling local media rights for teams impacted by the bankruptcy of Bally Sports owner Diamond Sports Group.
There was a lot of uncertainty coming into the season in the spring regarding the future of local broadcasts for teams that were affiliated with Bally Sports regional networks. But Manfred is confident that the league can make local rights a profitable venture.
“We are confident that we can produce revenue streams in those local markets that are not drastically different from what the teams have been used to enjoying,” Manfred said in an interview on The Marchand & Ourand Sports Media Podcast. “There may be a little downtick and then a build back up. We really do believe in the fundamental value of the content, and we think over time in this new model, we will be able to more than replicate the revenue streams that clubs have enjoyed.”
The league was prepared to take over broadcasting games locally for teams not just with Bally, but with regional sports networks Warner Bros. Discovery divested earlier this year.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are still figuring out the future of their local broadcasts, as are the Colorado Rockies. The Houston Astros partnered with the Houston Rockets to launch Space City Home Network.
The Seattle Mariners will continue to have games air on ROOT Sports, which took on a similar look and feel to broadcasts as games on AT&T SportsNet. That’s because WBD has a minority stake in that RSN. The divestiture of the networks in Pittsburgh, Denver, and Houston hasn’t affected ROOT operations.
“None of it impacts ROOT Sports Northwest or its teams,” AT&T SportsNet president Patrick Crumb told the Seattle Times back in February.
As for Diamond Sports and Bally Sports and their financial woes, Rob Manfred told Andrew Marchand and John Ourand that they brought it on themselves.
“The difficulties encountered by Sinclair have less to do with the value of our content than with business decisions that they consciously made,” he said. “Maybe it’s tough bargaining, but I don’t really think it’s good business to devalue your product in order to cover up some bad decisions that another entity made.”
Jordan Bondurant is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. He’s a multimedia journalist and communicator who works at the Virginia State Corporation Commission in Richmond. Jordan also contributes occasional coverage of the Washington Capitals for the blog NoVa Caps. His prior media experiences include working for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Danville Register & Bee, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, WRIC-TV 8News and Audacy Richmond. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @J__Bondurant.
NBC Considering Bid for Expanded College Football Playoffs
The Network admits it hasn’t had “serious” talks, but is likely to remain interested in securing some of the television rights.
The 12-team College Football Playoff is being shopped around to interested networks, and NBC is considering pursuing becoming the new home of the CFP in 2026.
Preliminary discussions for media rights of the expanded national championship tournament are underway. NBC was among five media companies that made presentations. It’s believed that the next media rights deal for the 12-team playoff will involve multiple networks.
ESPN will air the quarterfinals, semifinals, and national championship game of the expanded playoffs in 2024 and 2025. CFP officials are also currently hearing pitches for rights to the first round. Those initial four games will be played on campuses.
With NBC starting its run this year as one of the new homes of the soon-to-be expanded Big Ten, pursuing the CFP makes sense.
“I think the College College Football Playoffs are a very unique, exciting package,” NBC Sports president of acquisitions and partnerships Jon Miller told Front Office Sports recently. “The expansion obviously brings a lot more attention and focus to the sport in December and January.”
At this point, it appears that about 10 media entities are interested in bidding for the CFP.
Henrik Lundqvist ‘Felt the Energy’ During Stanley Cup with NHL on TNT
“We’re not playing, but you can definitely feel that energy in the building.”
The NHL on TNT is entering its third season on the air since inking a seven-year media rights contract with the National Hockey League, bringing fans all of the action from a sport burgeoning in popularity. Warner Bros. Discovery is coming off its first broadcast of the Stanley Cup Final, the first that was exclusive to cable television in 29 years. It will now look to pair its game offerings with the Bleacher Report-branded sports tier on the Max streaming service in an effort to expand its audience and make the contests more accessible to fans.
The network will showcase a preseason doubleheader on Thursday, Oct. 5 before the start of the regular season, marking the return of the acclaimed studio team. Wayne Gretzky, Anson Carter, Paul Bissonnette and Henrik Lundqvist, all of whom recently signed multi-year contract extensions with Warner Bros. Discovery Sports, will join host Liam McHugh for pregame, intermission and postgame coverage for featured games. Following a year where the cast culminated the program from Las Vegas, Nev. for the Stanley Cup Final between the Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers, they aim to utilize the energy evinced from the experience to propel the show to new heights this year.
“For me, first time doing it in-arena – I’ve been doing that for two years during regular season and a few games in the playoffs from the studio,” Lundqvist said. “To get an opportunity to do the show from the arena and get the atmosphere, that was awesome. We’re not playing, but you can definitely feel that energy in the building, and that’s something I’ll remember going forward.”
Lundqvist joined the NHL on TNT throughout last season on a more regular basis, balancing the role with duties at Madison Square Garden both in a business operations role and as a studio analyst with MSG Networks. Bringing the perspective of a goaltender to the air is an invaluable facet of the panel that is very much a deficiency on other regional sports networks around the league. Furthermore, it allows host Liam McHugh to better utilize the studio analysts, accentuating their strengths to set them up for success.
“I think that’s kind of what makes this group special,” McHugh said. “We all want to hear what each other has to say. We’re interested in the stories, and if someone says something stupid, everyone else on this panel lets them know about it.”
While the panel was in Las Vegas for the Stanley Cup, Lundqvist revealed that it had production meetings on a daily basis to devise a plan to combat the high noise level within T-Mobile Arena. With amplitudes potentially at risk of peaking, it was essential that the entire team ensure that they would be able to produce a broadcast that was easily understood and discernible to the viewing audience. Throughout the night, there is always constant communication between employees in the production niche and the on-air talent in front of the camera.
“[It is] trying to explain and make hockey entertaining for an American audience,” Bissonnette said. “Oftentimes we’ll be behind there in the back of the set and if something happens, we’re saying, ‘Hey should we demo this?’…. I think you guys can see how it comes to light with not only the help of the other guys on the panel, but the people behind the scenes as well.”
Being within the championship atmosphere, McHugh found value in being able to call on players who have experience competing for hockey’s ultimate prize. Even if it involved consistent battles against the noise, conversations with these analysts were heard loud and clear.
“It’s so great to have Gretzy and Hank in an atmosphere where the Stanley Cup is on the line and you have guys with experience who have been in that situation,” McHugh said. “I think what we’ve all learned is [to] lean on the guys who have been there.”
In addition to his role with the NHL on TNT, Bissonnette is the host of the extolled Spittin’ Chiclets podcast and frequently contributes to the game of hockey through a variety of other mediums. There is a contrast in his style between both platforms, underscored by neglecting to pester New York Rangers fans while representing TNT as he does on the podcast, but he is still evolving and considers himself fortunate to be among versatile, adept personalities.
“I think from year one to year two, we continued to continue bringing the things we felt we were strong in and added a lot of new components as well,” Bissonnette expressed. “It’s been a blast; it’s been a great learning experience.”
The studio broadcast drew inspiration from Inside the NBA, the heralded National Basketball Association program with Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny “The Jet” Smith and Charles Barkley that has become a fixture among NBA fans. Viewers have observed a strong, palpable chemistry among this group, who look forward to an exciting 2023-24 season and preparing for another Stanley Cup broadcast in the year afterwards. Through their camaraderie and congeniality that complements the traditional live game broadcast coverage, the studio team is poised to continue their improvement over the life of the broadcast deal and continue disseminating their insight and expertise to a national audience.
“I’m just having a blast with this crew, and to me, that’s what it comes down to,” Lundqvist said. “I love being connected to the game, but in the end, it’s about the crew and having fun every time we see each other.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.