Media Circus: 10 Predictions Across the 2018 Sports Media Landscape


It’s February, which is always a good time to visit Las Vegas, especially if you live on the East Coast or in the Midwest. In honor of the home of the NHL’s Golden Knights, one of the great sports stories of the past 365 days, here are some 2018 sports media predictions as ranked by the percentage of them coming true. 

100 percent: The months of February and March often feature viewership drops for those in the sports bloviating business. The NFL season has ended, the NBA has a long way to go until its postseason, and the Olympics rarely move the needle on FS1 or ESPN. Thus, count on the show-runners and producers who enable this slop to go heavy on anti-LeBron and anti-Tom Brady, rhetoric, along with pushing oppositional talk as a philosophy to get attention.

90 percent: The NBA is going to finish significantly up in viewership for the 2017-18 regular season. Per Sports Media Watch: NBA games through Feb. 8 had averaged 2.0 million viewers across ESPN, ABC and TNT, a 12 percent increase over last year. Given the roster moves by the Cavaliers, which makes Cleveland much more interesting as a television play the next two months, plus the tightness of the Western Conference race (the fifth seed and the 10th seed are separated by less than four games), the late regular-season national viewership should be strong. The Warriors have 13 nationally televised games left including NBA TV broadcasts.

80 percent: Fox News commentators will continue to attack the NFL even with Fox Sports last month signing a five-year deal with the league for the rights to broadcast Thursday night games, starting with the 2018-2019 season.

70 percent: ESPN SportsCenter host Michael Smith will ask off the 6:00 p.m. ET SportsCenter for another role at ESPN. It’s clear given his recent interview with author James Miller for his “Origins” podcast on SportsCenter that Smith is ticked with how management changed course in less than a year on what it told Smith and former co-anchor Jemele Hill when it created the show—be yourself and we will support you. I’ve been writing for months—here’s a piece from last October—about the effort by ESPN management to change the show and bring in ESPN talent as guests with opinions counter to the hosts. This is the major reason why Hill ultimately left.

60 percent: The WWE re-ups its television rights deal with NBCUniversal, spurring other bidders.

50 percent: The upcoming Mike Greenberg-fronted morning show on ESPN, “Get Up,” which debuts on April 2, will average between 400,000-450,000 viewers for its first month, then drop come May and June. That drop will make it very challenging for ESPN heading forward given the outlay it has made on salary.

40 percent: Peyton Manning opts to give sports broadcasting a try and signs a deal to call Fox’s Thursday Night Football package.

30 percent: Traditional sports outlets will start hiring reporters to cover the sports gaming/gambling fulltime ahead of what looks like legal sports gambling nationwide in the next couple of years.

20 percent: Roger Federer will win SI’s Sportsperson of the Year honor, an award he should have won 10 years ago.

10 percent: ESPN gambles that Browns offensive lineman Joe Thomas can succeed as a first-year television analyst and hires him for Monday Night Football to work with Sean McDonough and Matt Hasselbeck.

0 percent: Sports journalists will stick only to sports on social media, opting to agree with those who contend there is no nexus between sports and politics, sports and gender, sports and race, and sports and economics.


1. The Search For Jackie Wallace

Episode 162 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Ted Jackson. In this podcast, Jackson discusses his story, The Search For Jackie Wallace, in which Jackson chronicles his four-decade relationship with Wallace, a former NFL player and two-time Super Bowl participant who has struggled with addiction and homelessness for years; how Jackson first met Wallace in 1990 when Jackson took a picture of a Wallace at a camp setup under the I-10 freeway; how a journalist straddles the line between telling a story and exploitation of a subject; the long and winding story of Wallace; what his interactions over the years were like with Wallace; the national response to the story, which now has more than 7 million page views; an update on Wallace, who has been missing since last July; what Jackson hopes readers take away from the story; and much more. 

1a. NBC’s Opening Ceremony coverage featured two of its commentators angering both the Dutch and South Koreans. On a more positive note, NBC said the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang Games drew a total audience of 28.3 million viewers. (For Winter Games comparison, the opening ceremony in Sochi drew 31.7 million and Vancouver's drew 32.7 milion. The last Opening Ceremony (Rio drew 26.5 million.) In an era of cord-cutting and the Olympics trying to find young viewers, NBC drawing 28 million-plus for an Olympic telecast is a quality number. PyeongChang will likely be down overall from Sochi but if the percentage down is low, it won’t be terrible for NBC. We’ll see in a couple of weeks. On Saturday night NBC/NBCSN/NBC Sports Digital averaged 24.2 million viewers, down just 4% from the 25.1 million who tuned in for the first Saturday night in Sochi.

1b. The top-rated markets for Saturday live primetime Winter Olympics coverage on NBC/NBCSN:

1. Salt Lake City

2. Denver

3. Seattle

4. San Diego

5. Kansas City

6. Sacramento

7. Portland

8. Milwaukee

9. Tulsa

10. Los Angeles

The Olympics traditionally rates higher in cities west of the Mississippi.

2. This is a great piece by Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch regarding the NFL’s ratings decline. Lewis cites that in overall households (8.6), adults 18-34 (3.7), adults 18-49 (4.6) and adults 25-54 (5.5), the 2017 NFL regular season was the lowest rated since at least 2000. In viewership, the 2017 season was the least-watched NFL season since 2008 (14.6M). But Lewis’s research showed that the NFL had declined for the sixth straight year in adults 18-34 and the seventh straight year in adults 18-49. That’s where its underlying problems are for television. Check the piece out. It’s excellent.

2a. NBC said measuring out-of-home viewership for its Super Bowl LII telecast increased viewership by more than 12 million viewers. The Out of Home viewing metric (from Nielsen) is new and something sports network have wanted for a long time given the number of people who watch sports at bars, hotels and restaurants. With the out-of-home viewership, NBC said Super Bowl LII registered a Total Audience Delivery of 118.2 million viewers, across all NBC platforms including streaming.

3. Former Yankee manager Joe Girardi was hired last week by the MLB Network as an analyst. The network says he'll appear across the network. On a conference call, MLB Network president Rob McGlarry reiterated multiple times the attractiveness of hiring someone immediately off the field. I asked him about the real possibility of Girardi leaving the network in a short amount of time. How does McGarry weigh the attractiveness of a broadcasting candidate versus the possibility of that candidate leaving?

“When you hire someone like Joe with the success he has had in the past, there is a very real possibility he might go back on the field,” McGarry said. “We are fine with that. It is a real part of the business."

Girardi, to his credit, said on the call that he wants back in as a manager, so this will clearly be a short-term rental. Girardi said he had conversations with other sports networks but said MLB Network” is baseball-only and that is a good fit for me.”

4. Non sports pieces of note:

•Remarkable work from Reuters: How Myanmar forces burned, looted and killed in a remote village

•From David Grann of the New Yorker: A solitary journey across Antarctica

•Via Taffy Brodesser-Akner: Jimmy Buffett Does Not Live the Jimmy Buffett Lifestyle

•From Eleanor Cummins of Popular Science: No one told Babe Ruth he had cancer, but his death changed the way we fight it

•Via Suki Kim: “Here's my take on how women are being used for propaganda in the Olympics, by both North Korea and South Korea

•Via New York Times Magazine: When You’re a ‘Digital Nomad,’ the World Is Your Office: 

•If interested in Brazil, read this from Stephanie Nolen and Aaron Vincent Elkaim of the Globe and Mail (Canada).

•Michael Lewis traveled to Washington in search of Donald Trump and wound up watching the State of the Union with Steve Bannon.

Sports pieces of note:

Sportsnet’s Stephen Brunt on the Olympic mystique amid drugs and politics.

•Amazing work from SI’s Greg Bishop and Ben Baskin from the Super Bowl

•ESPN’s Sam Borden, on ping-pong diplomacy

•Deadspin’s David Bixenspan examined 2006 groping allegations against Vince McMahon

•From SI’s Tim Layden: Twenty years ago Hermann Maier flew off the mountain in the Olympic downhill. A look back at the fall, and the famous photo, including a chat with there erstwhile Herminator.


•Via ESPN’s Elizabeth Merrill: The Family Steve McNair left behind

•From Esquire’s Nick Pachelli: Eight months after the shocking death of his mentor—and America’s greatest bobsled driver—Justin Olson has his sights set on the podium

5. ESPN spokesperson Ben Cafardo said that the ESPN NBA show “The Jump” had its most-watched episode ever last week with a three-hour NBA Trade Deadline edition. The show averaged 603,000 viewers.

5a. Front pages in Philadelphia after the Eagles parade.

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