Nick Saban ending up on ESPN’s “College GameDay” is a “no brainer,” according to a source with knowledge of ESPN’s thinking.
If the 72-year-old Saban wants to be on the show, it is hard to see it not happening. He is perhaps the greatest college football coach in history. Next season, the SEC will move exclusively to Disney’s networks, primarily on ESPN and ABC. This will include CBS’s old 3:30 p.m. “Game of the Week.” With ESPN fighting off Fox Sports’ “Big Noon Kickoff,” Saban would be an ideal fit for GameDay.
Lee Corso, 88, is still a part of the show, but will likely just do the prediction mascot head segment come next fall. This would allow Saban to sit in the middle of Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit and Pat McAfee.
Speaking of College GameDay’s formation… While this is a little TV nerdy, we would change the way ESPN sets up its GameDay desk. This past season, they had McAfee in the middle with Herbstreit on the outside. We would put Herbstreit, considered the voice of college football, in the center, with McAfee on the outside. It gives the show more gravitas, and McAfee is not shy, so he will chime in plenty. If Saban joins, he also could be placed in the middle of the action.
Jason Garrett was fine on the Peacock stream for Saturday night’s Chiefs-Dolphins game. While social media seems to hate Garrett, and I don’t find him to be the second coming of John Madden, his analysis — his words — are not bad. His delivery is a bit robotic, but on games that actually is de-emphasized because you don’t see him most of the time.
Garrett worked the game with Mike Tirico, who did double duty over the weekend, working on both Saturday and Sunday nights. Interesting note on the Chiefs-Dolphins stream: It was manned by the whole Amazon “Thursday Night Football” crew, including sideline reporter Kaylee Hartung. Only the booth of Al Michaels and Kirk Herbsreit were not involved. NBC passed on Michaels, while Herbstreit, who was granted the rights by ESPN to call games on Amazon, was not given the same accommodation for NBC or, in this case, Peacock. …. The combo of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge did a really nice job on Browns-Texans. Eagle does sound like his father, Ian, while Blackledge is a soundalike to Ian’s former partner, Dan Fouts. It gave the game an old school “The Bird & The Beard” CBS feel. NBC liked what it heard from the Noah Eagle-Blackledge combo all year on the Big Ten and has clearly made them NBC’s No. 2 team. Their emergence was one of the reasons it did not utilize Michaels. …. The NFL’s decision to put Saturday night’s game on Peacock for $110 million grew a lot of criticism, but you could see Peacock’s strategy in terms of trying to have people enter their door and then promoting that “Oppenheimer” will be on the service on Feb. 16. It also offered an introductory rate of a year of Peacock for $30. We would need to see the return on investment to say it worked, but the strategy is sound. At halftime Sunday, Tirico called the Peacock game, “a milestone moment in media and sports history.” Since everyone wants to cover sports media, Tirico reported that 23 million streamed the game, which he said is the most ever in the United States. The number was from Nielsen, an NBC spokesman said.
ESPN and NFL becoming real partners
On Friday night, I reported that the NFL and Disney/ESPN were in advanced talks for the league to take an equity stake in the network in exchange for NFL Media, which includes NFL Network, RedZone, NFL Films and the NFL+ app.
If talks are completed, it would appear to be a big win for ESPN. The future success for any streaming platform is the best content. The interface has to work well and be smooth, but most of the major players do a good job at that. That’s why content matters, and the NFL is by far the most important sports TV programming
As for how ESPN — which is dominated by football — would co-exist with NFL Network, one person briefed on the discussions said it would likely model after how ESPN operates the SEC Network. There is some crossover, but SECN has its own crews. This is not the guaranteed arrangement, but one option I’ve heard.
TV sports talk turns WWE
There are a lot of analogies you can use for what sports TV talk shows and independent media have become, but the most apt one is WWE. The hosts and shows have verbal feuds that get people talking, which is mindless fun for millions.
Let’s go through what has been going on and delve deeper into it:
1️⃣ The biggest star in sports TV today is Stephen A. Smith. He is the main character in his performances. If I were to list the five biggest topics that Stephen A. has right now, it would go something like this.
1. Stephen A.
4. Stephen A.
5. Everything else
Stephen A’s cultural relevance hit its zenith the other night during the National Championship when his employer, ESPN, showed him in a suite with Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter and Travis Scott. Smith has now made a habit of talking about sports and himself. One of his favorite topics is what he is paid and what he should be paid. He can sound like Ric Flair at times without the “Woooooh!”
2️⃣ In the WWE, everyone is coming after the champ. This week, Jason Whitlock, who had been on ESPN, Fox Sports and now is on the subscription internet outlet, The Blaze, questioned the veracity of Smith’s New York Times best-selling autobiography. The two have had beef for a long time, so Smith returned fire.
3️⃣ Smith first announced on social media that he was going after the “fat bastard” and he alerted everyone from his pastor to ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro of his plan to counterattack as if Smith were going to war. Smith was going to go after Whitlock on his own YouTube platform, for which Smith has built a $1 million studio.
Smith did not really address Whitlock’s allegations in full, but made headlines by calling Whitlock a series of names, including the b-word that refers to a female dog. He also said that in his ESPN contract, he had a clause put in that bans Whitlock from any show Smith is on.
Of course, Whitlock has kept going, questioning Smith’s masculinity, and labeling him “Stephen A. Myth.” It is a win for Whitlock as he has garnered more attention in the attention business. The independence of places like the Blaze and Smith having his own podcast allows them to say and do what they want on them. But it is just wrestling without the physical fighting.
4️⃣ That brings us to Pat McAfee, who actually is a skilled WWE announcer and an independent media entrepreneur. McAfee is the quintessential wrestling announcer host. His most endearing trait is his charisma. He also knows no bounds, so, like in wrestling skits, he called ESPN executive Norby Williamson a “rat” last week and has said he has no regrets about it.
McAfee then had Aaron Rodgers on for a talk about COVID vaccines, the Epstein list and Jimmy Kimmel, among other things. After a lot of criticism, McAfee said he would not have Aaron Rodgers on for the rest of the season. The next day, guess who was on? Rodgers. He only talked football, honoring the retiring Bill Belichick.
That McAfee could do all this without any corporate repercussions is because he owns his show. ESPN licenses it. This allows McAfee to do what he pleases for a contract in excess of $85 million total. Like wrestling, it is sort of a reality TV show.
5️⃣ From Skip Bayless to Shannon Sharpe and I could go on and on, the topics of these shows are often the hosts themselves. Smith is at the top, the sports talk champion, but they are all playing the wrestling game. It pays well.