ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown is returning to the air ahead of Week 1’s Monday Night Football matchup between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. Much of the show’s cast will remain the same, including host Sam Ponder, senior NFL insider Adam Schefter and analysts Rex Ryan, Tedy Bruschi and Randy Moss. The program, which is approaching its 40th year on the air, will be adding three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Alex Smith to the lineup, the latest step in his growing sports media career. Earlier in the week, Smith joined SiriusXM to make a weekly guest appearance on The SiriusXM Blitz, and he has been appearing across ESPN programming since being hired by the “Worldwide Leader” in 2021.
Smith inked a contract extension with ESPN in November 2022 and appeared during select weeks of Monday Night Countdown over the last two seasons. The former No. 1 overall draft pick will continue to appear on a slate of Monday Night Countdown episodes, including the Week 1 edition from MetLife Stadium, and will balance his new role with the network and philanthropy efforts with The Alex Smith Foundation.
The established Sunday morning pregame show will air every week through Super Bowl Sunday, and there will be special editions of the program throughout the playoffs. This venerated property achieved several viewership records last year, recording its best numbers since 2019 and up 7% overall from the last regular season. An average of 1.24 million viewers watched the show last year, with 13% growth among adults 18-24 and a concurrent 8% increase among females.
This season’s premiere will include several exclusive features, including an interview with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Reporters including Jeff Darlington, Kimberley A. Martin and the newly-promoted Lindsey Thiry will be part of the show, reporting from around the country and bringing inside information and insights to the air.
Drew Carter Joining Boston Celtics Broadcast Team
“Drew is talented, energetic and well prepared for the opportunity.”
NBC Sports Boston has announced its commentary team for its broadcasts of the 2023-24 Boston Celtics, a franchise with championship expectations after being defeated two seasons ago in the NBA Finals. The young core of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will pair with veteran guard Jrue Holiday and center Kristaps Porziņġis with aspirations of making a deep postseason run, and the regional sports network will be on hand to document all of the action. Play-by-play announcer Mike Gorman will be on the call for his 43rd season in the role, which he has announced will be his last, bringing fans all of the action during regular-season home games.
Gorman will be honored throughout the regular season by NBC Sports Boston, the team and its fans through special content, in-arena vignettes and a special “Mike Gorman Night” at TD Garden in April. Additionally, the network will have special promotions, social media content and specials leading up to games. These will honor his career and thankthanking him for his work on the telecasts over the last four decades-plus.
“Mike truly has made an incredible impact as the voice of the Boston Celtics during his amazing 43-year broadcast career covering the team,” Chris Wayland, president and general manager of the Boston Owned Properties and Regional Sports Networks of NBCUniversal, said in a statement. “We look forward to a season of celebrating and honoring Mike and making his ‘farewell’ as memorable as his career has been. He will certainly be missed but he will always be a part of the NBC Sports Boston and Celtics Family.”
Drew Carter, who just called the Toy Story Funday Football broadcast with ESPN, is joining the NBC Sports Boston broadcast team this year and will be added on a full-time basis starting in the 2024-25 season. For this season, he will be on the call for all Celtics preseason and regular-season road games before officially taking Gorman’s position in one year.
“Mike has been such an important part of what makes the Celtics so special to our fans,” Rich Gotham, team president of the Boston Celtics, said in a statement. “Drew is talented, energetic and well prepared for the opportunity. We very much look forward to seeing him connect with Celtics fans over the course of the season.”
“Drew is one of the industry’s rising play-by-play voices and has had the opportunity to call numerous sports across multiple platforms,” added Kevin Miller, vice president of content for NBC Sports Boston. “He has a great understanding of the role he’s stepping into and we’re excited for Celtics fans to get to know him.
Gorman is a former recipient of the Curt Gowdy Award, which is given by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to outstanding contributions to the sport through media outlets. He now enters his final season on the call energized to provide a stellar and informative account of all the action, which experts believe could result in a postseason appearance and potential championship run.
“Mike’s contributions over 43 Hall-of-Fame seasons will be unmatched,” Miller said, “and we are excited to give fans multiple opportunities to see some of the best moments from his storied career.”
Aside from the addition of Carter and impending departure of Gorman, the rest of the Celtics’ broadcast team will remain the same. Analyst Brian Scalabrine enters his ninth season in the role and is joined by sideline reporter Abby Chin, who will be present for every game. Amina Smith, Eddie House and Chris Forsberg form the team on Celtics Pregame Live and Celtics Postgame Live on game nights, bringing fans news, analysis and opinion about each matchup and the season at large.
Jimmy Pitaro Receives Prestigious Stanton Award
“I am proud to represent the people of ESPN in receiving this recognition.”
ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro was honored in a ceremony last night in New York City by the Center for Communication, a nonprofit organization that seeks to educate and inspire the next generation of media professionals. Pitaro was on hand to accept the Frank Stanton Award for Excellence in Communication, which recognized his achievements in media and demonstrated the changing state of the industry.
The gathering was emceed by First Take commentator Stephen A. Smith and host Molly Qerim, who recognized the outstanding ongoing career of the chairman.
Pitaro has been an innovator throughout his time with ESPN, helping catalyze media rights agreements with various professional sports leagues, new programming, and cutting-edge technologies. The Worldwide Leader has transformed the way it produces and disseminates content over the last several years and looks to remain a beacon for other companies to follow in the years to come.
“Jimmy is a forward-thinking leader and is always focused on innovation, which has kept ESPN at the top of its game,” David J. Barrett, Center for Communication chairman emeritus, said in a statement. “He is also deeply committed to creating an ESPN where everyone feels they belong, making diversity, equity, and inclusion a core business priority. We are thrilled to honor Jimmy for his success and his shared passion for opening doors for the next generation of media leaders.”
The Center for Communication appointed Rita Ferro, president of advertising sales for Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, as its new chair. Because of this, Barrett is now considered a co-chair of the organization. Additionally, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Google Vice President Sean Downey, and Endeavor President Mark Shapiro are among the list of co-chairs.
“The Center for Communication plays an important role in creating the future of our industry,” Jimmy Pitaro said. “I am proud to represent the people of ESPN in receiving this recognition.”
Diamond Sports Group Requests Extension in Ch. 11 Reorganization
“Navigating these choppy waters requires discussions with, and cooperation from, many parties….”
Diamond Sports Group is in the midst of waiting to discover whether or not its request for an extension to file a restructuring plan under Chapter 11 bankruptcy will be approved by a U.S. bankruptcy court, a decision that could prove pivotal in the survival of the Sinclair subsidiary. The entity previously declared bankruptcy in March 2023 after it threatened the proposition to Major League Baseball as it implored the league to grant it expanded direct-to-consumer (DTC) broadcast rights. MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. refused to acquiesce to Diamond’s demands and instituted a local media department, headed by Billy Chambers, set to take over regional broadcast responsibilities if Diamond decided to selectively reject existing rights contracts.
Diamond previously received an extension to file a restructuring plan on Sept. 30 and enlisted the help of a mediator leading up to that time. The company now hopes to be able to file that plan on Nov. 29, which would give the entity an additional two months to compile and receive feedback on a potential resolution. At the moment, creditors are deliberating the best path forward to reorganize itself amid over $8 billion in debt, largely due to its acquisition of regional sports networks from The Walt Disney Company in an antitrust-related divestiture outlined by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2019.
“The debtors’ Chapter 11 cases are tremendously complex and are occurring while the cable industry is rapidly changing due to subscribers’ persistent ‘cord cutting’ as they move away from traditional cable and satellite multichannel video distributors,” the company said in a court filing. “Navigating these choppy waters requires discussions with, and cooperation from, many parties, including multiple creditor groups, sports leagues, teams and MVPDs.”
As the MLB season continued, Diamond terminated its agreements with the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks, leading MLB to assume control over those media rights. With seasons for both the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association quickly approaching, both leagues are reportedly in discussions with the outlet. While there were reports about the leagues agreeing to a deal that would result in less remuneration doled out to its teams, no such compromise has been reached. John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reports that if Diamond is able to emerge from its bankruptcy, both leagues would expect those rights fees to be slashed on a team-by-team basis.
Diamond recently came to terms on a one-year rights renewal with DIRECTV, ensuring that the Bally Sports-branded regional sports networks stay on the air for the next 12 months. DIRECTV had a provision in its existing contract that would have allowed it to renegotiate the RSN deal, but it decided to neglect the use of that so it would not have to renegotiate Sinclair local broadcast channels as well.
The subsidiary’s deal with Charter Communications expires on Feb. 29, which could end up being a monumental negotiation based on how the next several months go for the company. Diamond is reportedly in active negotiations with Comcast to renew that carriage agreement, which comes shortly after a public strife between Charter and The Walt Disney Company that resulted in somewhat of a stalemate.
Through it all, Diamond is suing Sinclair, its parent company, alleging that it received more than $1.5 billion due to misconduct. Some of the claims brought forth by Diamond relate to the fraudulent transfer of assets, breach of contract and unjust enrichment, practices that it believes have harmed its creditors. In response, Sinclair denied these allegations and stated that it believes that Diamond will not emerge from its ongoing bankruptcy.