Speaking of the Legend of BDSSP, let’s move onto the panel. The show has featured a rotating cast of ex-jocks looking to burn your faces off with the hottest of takes in the past year, but the week I mentioned featured the likes of Petros Papadakis, Clay Travis, Gabe Kapler (probably the show’s greatest discovery and an obvious broadcasting talent; FS1 has done nothing if not unearth good baseball analysts), and a random blogger each night as part of a theme week. This was the night of Brazil’s humiliating loss to Germany in the World Cup semifinals. The headline was this:
Germany routs Brazil in World Cup Semifinals
Is this the worst loss in sports history?
Boy oh boy. The panel for Fox Sports Live‘s discussion of the topic? Warren Barton (a former Premier League player who rarely has anything interesting to say, even about soccer), Travis, Deadspin’s Drew Magary and Papadakis. Papadakis — a former college football player at USC who has turned it into a local and now national broadcasting platform — dominated the conversation, all week, on every topic like this. It didn’t matter if it was Barton, or Kapler, or even the untouchable Adrian Wojnarowski… if Petros had a take on Brazil’s soccer team, or the Boston Red Sox, or LeBron James, he got to have the loudest voice.
Look, that could be the role Papadakis is asked to play on the show. But… is that the conversation the Fox Sports Live wants us to be dropping in on? The one where the intelligent, rational person with inside knowledge of his subject gets shouted down because the charismatic football man has a point he’d like to yell? You really looked at ESPN and thought “they’re doing okay, but really what they need is a running back from a terrible USC team telling them why they’re all wrong”? Honestly, how many people really want to watch a combination of Clay Travis, Drew Magary, and Petros Papadakis break down LeBron James’ free agency?
I’ve been posited with this question – by both viewers and in my own introspection when thinking about this piece: why does it matter if Andy Roddick or Petros Papadakis or Donovan McNabb are talking sports together? Do they really have less of a right to their opinion than, say, Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser? Or Mike & Mike? What makes their show worth tuning into, worth taking the value of their opinions, and worth writing about more than any of those former athletes, who’ve accrued success over many years actually playing sports?
The secret is this: if an athlete from one sport is discussing his sport with an athlete from another sport, the whole thing is rendered pointless when only of them is an obvious expert on the matter. Why do I care what Andy Roddick thinks about the Lakers when Basketball Hall of Famer Gary Payton is right there to tell me? Why on earth would I have any interest in what Petros Papadakis has to say about baseball against Gabe Kapler? Sports debate is fine, and can be a fun, even informative diversion… but bringing it to athletes debating athletes — and especially athletes who, for the most part, have less than five years time outside of their own sport — just doesn’t work because it’s not a level playing field.
This is a lot of words about the panel on Fox Sports Live. It’s for good reason: it derails the show, and it takes away from the talent of the three people forced to present it. Lately, Fox’s plan has been to, essentially, give anchors Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole the 11 p.m. ET hour to themselves. The Canadians will then disappear for the midnight ET hour to let the panel “count down” the top 10 stories of the day (again, why is this not labeled as an entirely different show?) before returning to Onrait and O’Toole for the final edition of the show (with small samples of the panel mixed in) at 1 a.m. ET. No wonder Fox Sports Live has such an identity crisis. If you asked the casual sports fan what Fox Sports Live was, they would have no idea what to tell you. And rightfully so.
The format does little to nothing for Onrait, O’Toole and Thompson, three professional broadcasters who deserve a lot better for the hard work they are clearly trying to put in to keep the show from coming (even more) unglued. Onrait and O’Toole specifically often seem bewildered by the whole production. No matter, the three go about their jobs as if this is a cohesive show with nothing going wrong.
Fox Sports Live, in year one, has been an unequivocal failure. There are enough flaws in the show’s DNA — and a complete lack of ratings — to back it up. Fox Sports Live averaged 49,000 viewers according to last week’s Ratings Buzz (published every Friday at AA). A year into the show, and FS1 can’t even crack 50,000 viewers on average for its flagship program. If I were one of those network executives, I’d clean off the dry erase board and start fresh.
Because there’s a show here. You might need x-ray specs to see it, but there is.
Onrait and O’Toole have been very good. Their humor translates easily to American audiences if given the chance to tune into the show. Here’s what Onrait told me the first time we spoke upon his arrival in America last summer:
When Fox approached us, we said, “We want to keep doing what we’re doing.” And to Fox’s credit, they said, “We basically want to pick up your show and move it to Los Angeles exactly as it is.”
I don’t think any single person involved with Fox Sports Live — not producers, not executives in charge of the show, not Onrait or O’Toole — would argue that that promise has been kept, at least on a consistent basis.
I say “on a consistent basis” because the show feels unshackled by its scatterbrained format whenever the panel isn’t there. Onrait and O’Toole’s weekend shows are often completely credible, funny and informative. They are the legitimate alternative to SportsCenter that they could and should be. Then the weekdays come around and everything goes downhill.
Why not go to that format seven days a week, every hour of the show? Sure, Donovan McNabb and Gabe Kapler and even Petros can stay, but they’re to be used to inform, not to debate one another. If you have a panel, make sure its either of civilians, or of all athletes talking about a sport in which they have experience. The attempt to break that mold has lasted a year and it didn’t work.
Similarly, something must be done with Charissa Thompson. The network should have the good sense to give her a program of her own. She can be a star for the network in some way, shape or form. For the time being, why not send her around the sports world building up credibility, doing long form interviews with sports’ biggest stars for Fox Sports Live. I’ll gladly change the momentum of the show if it means getting something new about an athlete that I am interested in.
The show can find its way toward respectable journalism. Fox has hired some excellent college football writers. FoxSports.com has its own new baseball website, similar to SI’s MMQB. Use these assets, promote them and then use the digital assets to circle back to Fox Sports Live. Highlight interesting pieces from FoxSports.com by having writers come in to discuss them, like Erik Malinowski’s great work on the first-ever Home Run Derby. Have Malinowski and Kapler discuss the article, promote back to both of their headquarters on Fox Sports’ website, and whenever they have new pieces come out, promote on the digital side that they’re going to be on Fox Sports Live to discuss it further. Voila!
Do we want an alternative to SportsCenter? Some might not care enough to say yes to this question. Not everyone either A. cares that much about sports television, or B. thinks SportsCenter is doing a bad enough job to switch the channel. The problem is that there isn’t a show out there worth switching the channel for, worth giving us the discussion of whether or not we need an alternative.
Fox Sports Live can still be that alternative, but they need to rethink what “alternative” means. For a network that accused ESPN of being the intellectuals of sports, Fox Sports Live spent most of the year like the nerdy kid who tries to be cool by acting like something he isn’t. The show needs to trust in what it has (uniquely talented anchors, intelligent insiders and analysts) and try to find a coherent identity around that.
For now, though, it’s just a mess, and one that even the sports media experts are caring less and less about every day, and that won’t change unless Fox Sports Live changes. For the better, hopefully.