As you'll recall from my piece that ran on this site on Monday, last week I spent my Sunday at the CBS broadcast center in New York City to observe CBS Sports Network's That Other Pregame Show. While there, I was able to get a few minutes with CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus to talk about the pregame show, and pick his brain on a couple of other subjects.
Steve Lepore: How do you think TOPS has turned out, and what do you think it has added to your NFL coverage?
Sean McManus: I think it's off to a really good start. There's dozens of hours of pregame shows on, starting with… Sunday afternoons after the games are over. There's nothing but pregame hours, so we're trying to do something that's a little lighter, that has different perspectives. I think having Amy Trask, the first woman to be in this kind of role, has made a big difference. Bart Scott has developed, and I think Adam [Schein] and Brandon [Tierney] are good as well.
I think the fact that our main pregame show is right across the hallway is helpful also, because Dan [Marino] and Shannon [Sharpe] and Boomer [Esiason] and Coach [Bill] Cowher and James Brown can show up as well. They can stop by in a more informal way. I think it's a good alternative to the other pregame shows that are on the air. I think it's evolving and it's developing, but for a show that's only been on the air for a couple months, it's made good progress.
SL: You mentioned Amy and Bart, and you used them on The NFL Today a few weeks ago. Obviously, you must be happy with how they've developed?
SM: I am happy. I think Bart, he's only recently retired, so he brings a perspective of just being out of the locker room so in something like the Jonathan Martin situation, I think he's a contemporary voice. For a guy who's only been doing it for a couple of months, he's really, really good and gives that recently retired from football perspective.
Amy has seen a different side of NFL football than anyone else in our studio, behind the scenes. Being CEO of the Raiders, which obviously, working for Al Davis must have been an interesting experience. She's lent a different perspective, and the fact that she's not afraid to speak her mind and offer an opinion is important.
I think the casting is good, and the show will be much better two months from now than it is today, but it's progressing faster than I thought it would.
SL: One thing I didn't know about the show was Nate [Zegura] doing all the fantasy football, and obviously the last hour of the show. Is that where a lot of football on television is going?
SM: I think it's an important element, I don't think it's ever going to replace the regular analysis we do. Fantasy football definitely gives fans a lot of reason to root for games that normally they wouldn't care about. If you've got Joe Flacco in your fantasy team, you're going to keep an eye on the Baltimore Ravens' score, whether you're a Ravens fan or not.
We're trying to find the right mix to serve the fantasy player, but knowing there's also a lot of people watching on Sunday morning who aren't fantasy players. So we don't want to overdo it. That's why the hour program from Noon to 1 p.m. ET is primarily fantasy. If you want to watch The NFL Today, you can get the broad spectrum if you can. If you want to have a specific fantasy show, you can watch it on CBS Sports Network. I think that's the right mix. We don't want to overdo fantasy, because there's nothing more annoying than not being a fantasy player and hearing someone analyzing the fantasy prospects of the day, so we want to find the right mix.
SL: Lastly, obviously with a news background like you have [McManus was chairman of CBS News from 2005-2011], how do you guys balance covering the NFL's concussion issue from a news perspective and a sports perspective?
SM: We try to do it in a responsible way, and it's a delicate balance, obviously. I think all the networks did a good job of covering the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin story. I think we did two major segments on it.
The concussion issue, we try to do it when there's a newsworthy event. Just to report something that's already been reported, probably doesn't make a lot of sense. I know whenever we ask our analysts to give their opinion, they're not shy about entrusting their opinion. We try to do that as much as that makes sense for the pregame audience who is, mostly, tuning into see analysis of the football game. We try to balance that with being responsible as reporters, and I think we do a good job of doing it.