As evidenced by the calendar in my kitchen still showing June (of 2012) and a wedding Save The Date magnet on my fridge for a wedding in 2011 (they've already divorced), I'm one of those folks who is just a little bit behind on things. That said, hopefully I'm not too late to the 2014 party as I've finally compiled a list of ten sports media questions to ponder, monitor, and discuss going forward. Without further ado and in no particular order:
1) Where Will Michelle Beadle Land And Doing What?
You're more likely to see Putin kissing another man in Sochi than Beadle and NBC patching things up and having her participate in NBC's Olympic or sports coverage. In fact it's no secret that despite what the NBC folks may be saying, that relationship is beyond repair and hence it's likely we will see Beadle find a new home for a fresh start on the sports front.
Could that be ESPN where I was recently told by a production staffer that she was one of the easiest and personable people to work with, a sentiment that has been mirrored by others both high and low on the totem pole.
Beadle also certainly fits into that broadly defined "Fun" mandate that FS1 is looking to differentiate itself from ESPN and given their lack of original programming traction, perhaps FS1 might prove to be the best fit rather than having to return to ESPN. Perhaps an opportunity beyond the usual suspects and outside of the box presents itself as well.
Either way, I wouldn't expect her to sit on the sidelines for that much longer. She's too well known, well liked, and ambitious to be relegated to timeout status from NBC. Where, when and what will be an intriguing storyline to track going forward.
2) Who Wins And Loses In Conference Network Distribution Battles?
The Pac 12 Network is still not on DirecTV, Charter, and Verizon. The SEC Network will likely instruct their rabid fans to call their providers and just chant S-E-C until carriage agreements are reached. The Big Ten essentially added Maryland and Rutgers to the conference in hopes that the network could be added to the New Jersey, New York, Maryland, DC, and Virginia markets.
All of this is going to get REALLY interesting as never before have conference owned networks had to fight a two front war of trying to get distribution with carriers while also making the case that their network is more worthy of distribution than others. Essentially this may become an extension of the conference war games.
The SEC's fans will certainly be the most assertive when dealing with their cable and satellite providers and aligned with ESPN you would think they might have an easier path to national distribution. That said, ESPN didn't move the needle much at all for the Longhorn Network until year three.
The Pac 12 Network and DirecTV relationship is so toxic, I don't know what it would take to even get them at the table to negotiate, but sometimes these things just resolve out of nowhere.
A lot of folks are skeptical of BTN's push to the east but perhaps bundling negotiations with the Fox owned YES Network (Fox owns half of BTN) can get the ball rolling out there. Perhaps that is why Fox kicked the tires on buying MASN to bolster their chances of getting BTN into the Maryland/DC area.
Either way, there will be blood on the streets and a lot of noise and PR bullshit.
3) What Changes Will Come For FS1 Original Programming?
I have to give Fox credit thus far for staying the course with their original programming. For the most part, they've been supportive, drinking the Kool-Aid, and saying the right things to the media. But at a certain point the shows and the schedule will get a more thorough review and we've been told that may be happening sooner than later.
Maybe Crowd Goes Wild becomes a morning show? Perhaps FS Live decides not to take up 30%+ of my screen with graphics during highlights they show? Fox could look to add a new show to the lineup – a sports trivia game show would be amazing and……..FUN!
The good thing about FS1 is that there are a lot of hours to fill and a low ratings threshold to be considered a success. The bad news is that Fox is still not seeing a lot of momentum on the ratings front for original programming and resources aren't as abundant than at ESPN.
Fox certainly wants to start filling out a more potent roster of original shows and it will be interesting to see just how different the lineup looks at the end of this year.
4) How Does ESPN Manage An Aging Talent Roster On The College Football Front?
Many are saying that we may have just seen Brent Musburger's last game on ESPN. I certainly hope not. In fact, not even joking, I had a dream last night that he wanted me to negotiate on his behalf to get an extension done with ESPN. Maybe I need a vacation.
Meanwhile Lee Corso is going into his last year with GameDay and an aging Lou Holtz has been entertaining on GameDay Final although that may only be because he's usually antagonizing resident troll, Mark May.
ESPN has certainly nurtured a talented younger generation of talent, all of which must by secretly yearning for some upward mobility either from these possible departures or the possible domino effect it could cause.
ESPN's college football coverage is best in class and it will be extremely interesting to see if and how they retool the front line.
5) Does The ESPN Movie Go Into Production Or Get Lost In The Hollywood Development Wilderness?
After a couple of years of little to no news on the possible adaptation of 'Those Guys Have All The Fun', we got a pretty solid development that Derek Cianfrance was tied to the project. Cianfrance is a pretty hot director in Hollywood right now so that bodes well for the project and I think the movie would perform well at the box office. That said, these things have a way of fizzling out when momentum stalls. We're really hoping that Hollywood fast tracks the project and given the recent push with the Cianfrance announcement, 2014 looks to be a big year for the project's viability.
6) Does The NFL Make Any Surprise Moves?
The NFL's extension with DirecTV for the Sunday Ticket is still not finalized. Perhaps something unexpected could happen on that front, but that seems rather unlikely.
A lot of folks think the NFL will split their Thursday Night schedule in halves and put one of the packages up for bidding where it would be aggressively fought after. That move could be delayed as the NFL Network looks to continue renewing carriage deals at higher rates while the larger package of games is on the network before going that route.
Also, there seems to be more pressure than ever to revisit the blackout rule. Maybe we see some movement there.
Other possibilities include an in season Hard Knocks, more tweaks or even the cancelation of the Pro Bowl, and potentially changing the league's playoff format.
Although there isn't any low hanging fruit for an intriguing question for the NFL in 2014, I'd imagine they do something unexpected given how hellbent the league is increasing revenues.
7) What Shakes Out On The NBA And B1G Ten Television Contract Front?
Almost all of the major leagues and conferences television rights contracts are locked up until 2020 or after. The NBA is likely in the thick of negotiations right now and the B1G Ten is believed to start looking at a new deal at some point in 2014 although that process and outcome might not occur until 2015.
ESPN and Turner would prefer to box out FS1 for the NBA rights but it's possible and some believe probable that FS1 will carve out some type of package to extend the NBA's reach onto a 4th network counting the league owned NBA TV. Such a development would be a MAJOR development for FS1, who has struggled to attract eyeballs early on.
On deck would be the B1G Ten who currently outside of their network which is co-owned by Fox, is only aligned with ESPN/ABC. FS1 would also be a strong option there and it's possible NBC/NBCSN would get in the mix as well. While leaving ESPN is unlikely, potentially splitting a package with another network looks to be a possible option as almost all other conferences have gone that route. Perhaps the conference gets the itch to broaden its media partners given ESPN fully owns the SEC Network and will continue to have a larger interest in promoting the conference.
8) Does Keith Olbermann's Role At ESPN Change At All?
I've really enjoyed Keith Olbermann being back on ESPN. It's been a great way to diversify programming in a new direction and there's been no friction between the historically high maintenance Olbermann and the network he once "napalmed" the bridge back to.
But many have wondered if he can continue doing 1 hour a day, five times a week without burning out. Does he really need to be on Friday Nights? Jon Stewart doesn't do Fridays, only does half an hour, and has the help of a lengthier interview block as well as a big bench of on air talent to do terrific segments which further reduces the workload.
Perhaps Olbermann becomes more involved in ESPN's baseball coverage or gets the itch to pinch hit on SportsCenter every now and again. I recently saw him in a 30 for 30 short in which he was quite entertaining.
Olbermann (the show) is quite good. Olbermann as a personality on various shows and platforms is also quite good. As he settles in a bit more, it will be interesting to see how that relationship changes and yes… if things continue to stay quiet on the working relationship front.
9) Does FS1 Make Any Splashy Hires?
Over the years, ESPN personalties have earned a certain amount of trust/recognizability. Whether it's one of your favorite SportsCenter anchors, an analyst like Tim Kurkjian or Adam Schefter, or a divisive personality like Colin Cowherd or Skip Bayless, these are faces most sports fans know and recognize. One of the issues for FS1 is that it's like moving into a college dorm – you don't know who you will like and dislike among all the fresh faces.
Sure there is a growing stable of former athletes and familiar faces from Fox's network coverage, but still it's a bit of a leap of blind faith as FS1 hasn't poached that many prominent personalities from ESPN and the major broadcast networks.
Will that change in 2014? We mentioned Michelle Beadle earlier but who else might be potentially wooed over to Team Fun?
10) Does The Documentary Space Stay Hot?
Not long ago, sports documentaries were HBO's domain. ESPN's 30 for 30 got the ball rolling and now almost every network is dabbling in the space to some degree and as a fan, it's awesome.
But while this content genre usually wins praise and garners positive attention, it's pricey to produce and the space has got quite crowded.
Part of me thinks we're only at the beginning here as PBS even capitalized on the trend with League of Denial and it's probable CNN and others could soon join the fold. That said, HBO seems to be throttling down a bit and we've had more or less the same amount of 30 for 30's from ESPN the last few years after a higher frequency early on.
Ideally I'd like to say there is still more room for growth, but that said we may be getting to a place where the sports documentary field is reaching its saturation point.
Thoughts? Predictions? Things you're curious about? Chime in the comments with what you're curious about in 2014.