2012 has been one of the most interesting years to ever cover the sports media world. There's been plenty to like in terms of new deals, innovations, and trends… and of course, plenty to not like. With a nod to the classic TV Guide staple, we've put together this list of the good (cheers!) and bad (jeers!) for this year. At the end of the day, I'm sure there's some stuff we've missed out on… if not, don't worry. There's still plenty of time for a couple year-end lists before the year ends. This really has been a landmark year in the world of sports media, and these were just some of the highlights and lowlights.
"Embrace debate." ESPN has done a great job at turning every panel-type discussion into a frenzied firestorm of people yelling at each other, overexaggerating points, and quite frankly (no pun intended, Stephen A Smith), choosing to emphasize the volume of your voice and quantity of your words over the quality of your argument. This has turned people like Smith, Skip Bayless, and Rob Parker into trolls of the highest degree on national television every day.
ESPN's editorial staff. Sarah Phillips. Lynn Hoppes. The Lukas Podolski interview. And then, there was John Walsh's response to this giant mess of editorial sloppiness/plagiarizing/whatever you want to call it. ESPN has numerous talented writers, yet the unabashed laziness of ESPN's editors in these three situations is something that could bring a lesser organization to its knees.
NBC's Olympics coverage. Yes, there was live online streaming of every event. Yes, there was daytime coverage of events on multiple networks under the NBC Universal umbrella, including channels dedicated to nothing but soccer and basketball. However, the lack of live television coverage of some events rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Due to the time difference between the states and London, NBC didn't air popular swimming, track, and gymnastics events live on television. This made people rely on an oftentimes buffer-heavy stream in the middle of the afternoon to watch Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, and Gabby Douglas before the results were spoiled everywhere online. Oh, and they didn't even air the opening and closing ceremonies live, instead showing a hacked up version in primetime.
The NFL Network and Time Warner agreeing to a carriage agreement. Finally, after many years of a lack of carriage and legal disputes, the NFL Network agreed to a deal with Time Warner Cable as well as Bright House Networks. The second and sixth largest cable companies in the United States were the last two major hurdles for the NFL Network to achieve (essentially) national carriage on all major providers in the country. Considering the smashing success of a full slate of Thursday Night Football this season, the next round of negotiations between providers and the NFL could get a little more dicey and lead to even more money for the league.
The launch of the Pac-12 Network. Following in the footsteps of the Big Ten, the Pac-12 created their own network that launched this summer. The network took a different path towards success in comparison to BTN, inking carriage agreements with many major cable providers (Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, Bright House) before launch, and getting Dish on board less than a month after the launch. However, the Pac-12 Network still doesn't have deals with DirecTV, Charter, AT&T, and Verizon yet. But compared to where BTN was, with carriage on just DirecTV, AT&T, and Dish for the first year, the Pac-12 Network is still ahead of where a lot of people thought they should be.
The return of 30 for 30. This is something that caused the staff at AA to dance in the streets. When the six new films in the 30 for 30 series were announced in the fall, everyone became ridiculously excited based on the first 30 documentaries being one of the best things ESPN has ever done. The new batch delivered in spades with You Don't Know Bo one of the best, in spite of the difficulties in trying to record it.
ESPN's sourcing issues. There has been a lot written this year about ESPN refusing to credit reporters from other outlets when they break news. We've seen it with Sports by Brooks, we've seen it with Chris Broussard, we've seen it with Jay Glazer… when is this madness going to end? It's not going to kill ESPN to cite "Ken Rosenthal of Fox" when talking about an MLB free agent signing or to mention "Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk" on Countdown when talking about a player's injury. This is something that a lot of casual fans seem to not even think about, but is becoming an issue at the worldwide leader as more and more competitors publicly and loudly air their grievances.
Fox's usage of Gus Johnson. Johnson is an internet darling, a man who has had so many memories tied to his announcing in the NCAA tournament over the years. Yet, Johnson was far from the national consciousness in 2012. Gus announced one college football game per week in the fall with Fox's new TV deal and the largely Pac 12/Big 12 schedule offered few memorable moments. He didn't start announcing NFL games for the network this year until the college season was done in December, and those games were low down the totum pole. As for Johnson's basketball work… well, it was largely tied up in regular season Big Ten action. Johnson called around 30 games on BTN last year, and will likely do the same again this year. Regardless, it still feels like we need more Gus in our lives. Thankfully, Fox did put together this video of some of Johnson's best calls of the 2012 college football season.
The potential death of the NHL. You know, the NHL delivered a pretty solid set of Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring, despite a disastrous ratings performance in the Finals between the Kings and Devils. There hasn't been an NHL game played in over six months. Additionally, NBC Sports Network hasn't filled the gaping NHL slot in their schedule with anything worth watching. Regardless of how you feel about hockey, it's sad that we're in yet another work stoppage after all of the work the league did to build itself up with after the lockout six years ago.
Twitter… and Twitter Wars! Social media has changed sports for the better in so many ways. From a community experience, to the speed of breaking news and increased interaction between all of us who follow sports. The best facet of Twitter in these parts though are the Twitter Wars that provide way too much entertainment than they should. Out of the 11 Twitter Wars we followed this year, Darren Rovell was involved in five of them (three with Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated). I do believe my favorite was comedian Norm MacDonald's savage burial of Rick Reilly, but really, can you pick just one? A brief selection:
Saying goodbye to "The Next Erin Andrews." For the longest time, the most famous woman in sports media was Erin Andrews. It seemed that nobody who took on a sideline reporting role could escape her significant shadow and every attractive female ESPN hired was immediately compared to EA. This year, that mold was finally broken. Andrews moved on from the sideline reporting role that had defined her career at ESPN. In her new role with Fox, she added more studio work to her resume hosting the Fox college football pregame show and a role on Fox's MLB and NFL coverage. Michelle Beadle, the SportsNation star rumored to have a "rivalry" with Andrews, left ESPN for NBC and became an even bigger household name. She not only took on a job at Access Hollywood, but anchored Olympic coverage and will soon have her own NBCSN show.
But ironically enough, the replacements for Andrews and Beadle at ESPN may have had even better years. Charissa Thompson blossomed as the new co-host of SportsNation and Samantha Steele brought a fresh personality to ESPN's college football coverage. They proved there was success in being themselves and not trying to fit some sort of preordained mold. It was an encouraging sign for the entire industry to move beyond "the next Erin Andrews" and appreciate the actual talent these individuals have. Getting more smart, entertaining women on camera is definitely a good development for the future.
ESPN and Fox handle tragedy with respect. The Jovan Belcher murder-suicide that left Kasandra Perkins dead, the Josh Brent DUI that killed Jerry Brown, and the horrific school shooting in Newtown. All three of these events happened in quick succession near the end of the year. And to their credit, ESPN and Fox handled all three very well. CBS did a terrible job handling the Belcher tragedy before rebounding with the way they covered the Brent incident. Bob Costas' essay on NBC about gun control after Belcher shot and killed Perkins and himself resulted in a firestorm of criticism towards him and NBC. ESPN and Fox covered all three tragedies with the sensitivity and perspective needed, and did a great job keeping their composure and drawing attention to the severity of the situations. In these terrible incidents, ESPN and Fox acted like responsible news outlets as opposed to the morning zoo type atmospwheres that tend to populate NFL pregame shows. Hats off to the producers and talent from both networks for their coverage.