Keith Olbermann as a guest on The Bill Simmons Podcast? Oh, that’s probably worth listening to, right?
The two high-profile former ESPN employees, both let go by the network during the past year, would surely have some scorching takes to share, along with a few boys’ room stories about behind-the-scenes stuff that maybe wasn’t previously publicized. Could our headphones or speakers handle what was to come?
Well, the conversation wasn’t that sizzling if you were looking for some dirt or any score-settling. Maybe Simmons has gotten most of that out of his system by now and Olbermann probably doesn’t want to burn any bridges he may need to walk on again, as he looks for his next stop.
Simmons and Olbermann largely covered three topics during their 72-minute conversation. Since we cover sports media here at Awful Announcing, let’s get to that part of the interview, which begins at the 54:00 mark. Simmons begins by asking Olbermann how he would fix the flagging franchise of SportsCenter. The big problem, in his view, is that ESPN has always believed that no matter what else happens (with live sports, rights fees, etc.), SportsCenter is the rock of the network and fans will always tune in.
“It can’t be the centerpiece of the operation,” said Olbermann. “But […] they don’t know that. All the attempts to modify it are predicated on the idea that it can be what it was two years ago, five years ago, 20 years ago when Dan and I did it.”
Another problem is that the interests and attention span of the sports fan have become increasingly focused. Fans who want to know about the Browns quarterback situation, for example, don’t want to hear about the Yankees game that night. So they’ll get the news they need when they want it, on their terms.
“It’s not solvable,” Olbermann said. “Ultimately, ESPNews would become the SportsCenter channel and it will be 24 hours a day, and it will serve a great purpose and people will enjoy it. And it’ll be the third- or fourth-level of interest within the ESPN family, and they’ll have to live with that.”
Olbermann also shared a conversation he had with Fox Sports Networks president Jamie Horowitz (whom he worked with at ESPN) which included his ideas for how the modern sports show could be reinvented, if there was any hope for such a program anymore. As Olbermann visualizes it, such a show would have to be “lightning-fast” and be willing to cover other sports coverage and networks, such as ESPN. Much as how he reacted to and criticized Fox News while he was at MSNBC, or how Deadspin once covered ESPN.
“It can have no sacred cows,” he said. “And you must approach the leagues and the owners and everybody else with utter cynicism.” Well, maybe except Rupert Murdoch and Fox, since he owns that particular operation.
You can listen to the entire podcast here:
Regarding the rest of the podcast, he first two-thirds of the conversation is devoted to politics, as Simmons takes advantage of having an outspoken political commentator on his podcast, while also lamenting that Olbermann doesn’t currently have an on-air outlet to express his views during what’s been a crazy presidential campaign. (Reports of MSNBC wanting to bring him back weren’t addressed.)
From there, the two turn to baseball and the increasing regionalization of the sport, especially from a television standpoint. Fans follow their local team closely or their favorite club through outlets like MLB.TV or MLB Extra Innings but the interest in baseball from a national standpoint just doesn’t seem to be there anymore. At least until the postseason begins. Simmons and Olbermann then attack the stodgy, grumpy component of the game which frowns upon displays of emotion and personality like bat flips.
That last part might apply to ESPN too, as far as Simmons and Olbermann are concerned. As Olbermann puts it, “This is the czar’s house and we have a set of rules, and it will be done this way.” No bat flips or fist pumps! Do not watch your home run go into the stands before running the bases.