Our year-end retrospective rolls on as we invite our staffers to remember the Best & Worst in Sports Media in 2015. It was one of the most volatile years in sports media in memory with ESPN suffering from declining ratings, layoffs, and pressure from their Disney corporate overlords. Also, several high-profile people switched places with the likes of Simmons, Olbermann, and Cowherd moving on.
Elsewhere, Fox made their debuts at the World Cup and with major championship golf. FS1 and NBCSN continued to try to gain a foothold in the sports world as both networks picked up important rights this year. There’s simply a lot of ground to cover and we’ll try to do our best to recap it here with the Best & Worst of 2015…
Best: Fox Sports Women’s World Cup Coverage
Look, it wasn’t perfect, and the first few days of coverage in the wake of Hope Solo’s controversy aren’t going on anyone’s highlight reel, but Fox Sports proved it was going to take the women’s World Cup seriously and treat it like a major event, and from the first game through the final goal, they did that. Rob Stone and his studio crew were internationally balanced, making sure it wasn’t a USA homerfest. Again, it wasn’t perfect, and the after hours show left viewers wishing for the main daily coverage, but that coverage, and much of the game calls, were worth remembering this year.
– Dan Levy
Best: Mike Tirico
Sports broadcasting has its still-active legends and icons — think of Al Michaels, Vin Scully, Doc Emrick, and a few others. We don’t think of Mike Tirico in that same way, so it is with that thought in mind that the ESPN veteran should be honored as the best of sports media in 2015. Tirico is a representative example of a complete professional, someone who can step into any role and not only look good himself, but make his colleagues look good while also creating a generally enjoyable broadcast which enhances the viewer’s experience, for the diehard and the casual fan alike. Perhaps this was always true, but if you asked people in the tennis community about Tirico’s work at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, you’ll get rave reviews to an extent (and with a level of enthusiasm) not seen in previous years. Tirico is a legitimately capital-G “Great Broadcaster” who is in his prime… and finding ways to get even better.
– Matt Zemek
Worst: ESPN Programming
Excluding live events, there’s absolutely no reason to flip over to ESPN. The network used to be the destination for sports highlights and now you’re lucky to see even the most abbreviated of highlights while talking heads continue to debate the most nonsensical, uninteresting topics. Viewers are finally showing their displeasure where it counts – their remote.
– David Rogers
Worst: The Continued Devolution of Fox Sports 1
Worst: It makes me sad how far this network has fallen over the last year or so. Once billed as a legitimate alternative to ESPN, it’s now…well, ESPN lite. FS1 still has a solid library of live events, but aside from those live events, is there any reason to watch the network anymore? There aren’t any can’t miss, DVR-able shows on the entire network. Instead of being something different, FS1 has become what it was trying to avoid. And really, that’s a damn shame, because we didn’t need another network like that.
– Joe Lucia
Best: Teams Focusing on Digital Content
Teams across sports have been putting out digital content for quite some time, but 2015 has seen teams raise the bar in terms of quality. Usually seen through social media, it’s amazing what teams are now able to produce on a regular basis. A couple of hockey examples come to mind. The Columbus Blue Jackets have an incredibly talented graphic designer making some of the best game day images you’ll ever see. The Minnesota Wild created an awesome Star Wars tribute. It’s exciting to see that teams are upping the ante in terms of entertaining digital content.
– David Rogers
Worst: The Bill Simmons-ESPN Divorce
ESPN is such that any coming or going is news, but unlike the Colin Cowherd departure, which was a logisitcal change for ESPN’s radio coverage and a sensible acquisition for Fox Sports, or the Jason Whitlock situation, a necessary move for both ESPN and Fox, it seems, the Simmons divorce from ESPN just… hurt.
Simmons was part of the fabric of ESPN’s online presence, and Grantland was a place where ESPN could get away with selling a $25 bison burger alongside its usual fast food fare. But his departure was just awful, mostly for the people who lost their jobs in the wake of ESPN’s decision not to retain Simmons (for, what was reported to be, an insanely hefty sum). So that was the worst thing. The rest of it (including the VERY public separation) was just embarassing, for all involved.
– Dan Levy
Best: The Golden Age of Sports Documentaries Continues
After a strong 2014 for sports documentaries, I was a bit concerned that we’d see fewer great films in 2015. That wasn’t the case. ESPN and NFL Network continued their strong run of producing original films, while MLB Network and NBCSN both expanded their MLB Network Presents and Premier League Download series. Adding in the news that HBO plans on expanding *their* original documentary series in 2016 with Bill Simmons now in the fold, I think this trend will be continuing for awhile.
– Joe Lucia