2014 has been a fascinating year in the sports media industry. Increased competition thanks to the first full year of Fox Sports 1 and the continued growth of NBCSN has certainly made things more interesting across the landscape. CBS Sports Network has recently made history with the first all-female sports show and many important conversations have taken place this year regarding inclusiveness and more diverse views. This year also brought us a Winter Olympics and a World Cup as well as a fall where the most powerful sports and entertainment brand in America, the NFL, has been going through a major crisis of public confidence.
With the rise in 24/7 sports coverage and the appetite for sports in this country that knows no boundaries, there are more opportunities for people working in sports than ever before. And this year, several individuals have taken hold of those opportunities with excellent work that has seen their notoriety grow.
The following is our list of the Rising Stars of 2014 in sports. You can view our first rendition of the Rising Stars from 2013 here. And like last year, the definition of rising star is open to interpretation, but the persons listed below are the ones who have made the biggest career jumps in 2014 and should continue to see them trend upward.
Roger Bennett & Michael Davies – NBC Suboptimal Soccer Analysts
Perhaps no duo summarizes what’s possible in this industry in 2014 than the Men in Blazers. How in the world a pair of middle-aged English soccer fans became a cult hit in America will surely be studied by sociologists for decades to come. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen in my lifetime to the Beatles, except with less hair and more cupcakes.
What started as the popular MIB Podcast at Grantland grew into a television role for Bennett and Davies at the World Cup in Brazil for ESPN. That supporting role in Brazil then grew into their own weekly television show at NBCSN covering the Premier League. MIB have seen a remarkable success this year through their unique brand of humor and discovering the secret to producing great television – filming in tiny broom closets.
Allie LaForce – CBS Sideline Reporter
At the other end of the spectrum, Allie LaForce is one of the youngest individuals on our list who has seen her career take off in 2014. A year ago at this time, Allie LaForce was hosting a late night talk show on CBS Sports Network with Doug Gottlieb. Now, she’s hosting another show on CBS Sports Network with a lot more meaning behind it – the all-female We Need To Talk. In addition, the former Ohio University Bobcat earned rave reviews for her work as a sideline reporter with Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery during the NCAA Tournament. That led to a promotion as the lead sideline reporter for the SEC On CBS.
Molly McGrath – Fox Sports Anchor/Reporter
Fox Sports 1 has seen its fair share of breakout stars in its first full season. Perhaps none has seen the immediate rise that Molly McGrath has. After coming over from the Boston Celtics, McGrath started at the FS1 update desk. In a year’s time, she not only became a news anchor for FS1’s America’s Pregame. She was also named the top sideline reporter for the network’s college football coverage. Her future is, and will continue to be, very bright at the network.
Katie Nolan – Fox Sports Commentator
A year ago at this time, Katie Nolan was the social media correspondent for FS1’s Crowd Goes Wild. Regis Philbin would call her “the girl who’s blowing up the internet” without probably knowing what “blowing up the internet” really meant. Ironically, this year Nolan really has been blowing up the internet with her video commentaries, many of which have gone viral. Nolan has shown the true extent of her talent, whether it be reading crazy lawsuits for laughs or honestly opening up about women in sports media or owning Rick Reilly. Now it’s up to Fox Sports 1 to give her a larger platform beyond David Spade’s fantasy football show.
Randy Moss – Fox Sports 1 NFL Analyst
It’s always fun to guess which current athletes are going to make the best analysts when their playing days are done. When he was a star receiver in the NFL, nobody in their right mind would have ever thought Randy Moss would make for a compelling television personality. And yet, out of their initial round of hires to fill out the NFL ranks at Fox Sports 1, Moss has shown the most potential and staying power. Fox would be wise to move him up to Fox NFL Sunday soon to add a fresh jolt of energy.
Sage Steele – ESPN NBA Studio Host
Steele has been an established presence at ESPN for a decent amount of time, but 2014 was an important year for her as she became the face of ESPN NBA Countdown. She stepped into a difficult role that wasn’t easy to fill. Here was a show that didn’t have a host and was wandering aimlessly into the television wilderness. Steele steadied the ship, even when it meant dealing with an increasingly frustrated Bill Simmons.
Tim Tebow – SEC Network Analyst, Good Morning America Contributor
The name that will certainly cause the most debate on our list is the man whose life and career has been debated for years. When it was announced Tim Tebow would be joining ESPN, expectations weren’t very high for his television career. Because of Tebow’s infectious positivity and excitement for everything, there was a question just how effective and critical he could be on television. Ever since his debut at the BCS National Championship Game, Tebow has been a pleasant surprise and he has well exceeded those early expectations. His new role on Good Morning America with “Motivate Me Mondays” seems to be a segment he was born to do. Although he’ll always talk about his desire to return to the NFL, it looks like Tebow has a solid future in front of the cameras.
Amy Trask – CBS Sports Network NFL Analyst
The former Raiders executive became the first full-time female NFL analyst when she was hired by CBS Sports Network for That Other Pregame Show, a program that has become a pleasant surprise in the crowded Sunday morning lineup. But it’s time to stop talking about Trask as a top analyst in those terms and start talking about her as a top analyst regardless of gender. Her presence on camera has certainly grown in the past year and she’s become a refreshing change of pace from the usual yakfest that fills the NFL airwaves on Sunday mornings.
Johnny Weir & Tara Lipinski – NBC Figure Skating Analysts
Nobody saw a sports television rise this year quite like the darlings of Sochi. Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski were a revelation during NBC’s live Winter Olympics figure skating coverage, something that had never been tried before. Not only did the pair entertain, they taught viewers about the sport in a way that hadn’t been seen before. They were recently promoted to the #1 announce team at the network and have even crossed over into pop culture beyond figure skating with appearances on Access Hollywood and the Kentucky Derby.
Adam Zucker – CBS Studio Host
Adam Zucker may not be the most well-known name on this list, but he’s a perfect example of someone taking advantage of an opportunity given to them. Believe it or not, Zucker has been with CBS Sports Network and its predecessors for over 10 years, dating back to when the network was CSTV. Yet he paid his dues and patiently waited for an opportunity. After parting ways with Tim Brando, Zucker stepped in as the lead studio host for CBS’s college football coverage this season and the highly-watched television package hasn’t missed a beat.
Honorable Mention: Greg Howard, Brock Huard, Jade McCarthy, Greg McElroy, Bart Scott, Casey Stern, Julie Stewart-Binks, Kathryn Tappen
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