ESPN’s college sports coverage has added two prominent names, and one of their well-known enterprise and investigative reporters will be sticking around as well. The company announced Friday that they’ve hired Joel Anderson from BuzzFeed News to cover college football and basketball, plus brought Phil Steele on full-time to cover college football and sports betting, and extended Seth Wickersham’s contract as well.
That’s a solid group of talent, and it’s interesting that they mention all three “will contribute across ESPN linear, digital and radio platforms.” Here’s a quote from ESPN’s Chad Millman in the release:
“Seth has long been one of our most talented journalists whose stories on the inner-workings of the NFL have elevated our coverage and delighted fans,” said Chad Millman, ESPN vice president, editorial director, domestic digital content. “Re-signing him as well as adding Joel and Phil increases what’s possible for our editorial team and elevates our ability to serve fans.”
Anderson has been at BuzzFeed for the past four years, and has covered news and sports, often with a focus on race and justice. He was one of the key reporters who wrote about Michael Sam coming out in 2014. Anderson’s piece on Sam and his father, “The Two Michael Sams,” was included in the 2015 Best American Sportswriting anthology. (Interestingly enough, he spoke earlier this year about how that piece came out of getting scooped on Sam’s decision to come out.) And those who follow Anderson on Twitter know he’s very plugged into college sports, so this position seems like a good fit for him.
Steele is a well-known and respected college football voice, who’s done the famed Phil Steele College Football Preview for the last 23 years. He had previously contributed to ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Insider, so this isn’t an entirely new role for him. Bringing him on full-time is a notable move, though, and it sounds like they’ll incorporate him into TV and radio NCAA football coverage as well.
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And while it’s unlikely they’re doing this primarily because of any specific competitor, it should be noted that the national college sports space is a crowded one, which will become even more so with The Athletic launching national college football (featuring Olson and others) and college basketball (featuring O’Neil and others) sites. ESPN’s going to have to provide some solid content to keep their reputation as a NCAA destination, and while that’s going to be much harder following their April cuts, adding Anderson and Steele is a step in the right direction.
Bringing back Wickersham is notable as well. He’s a long-time ESPN vet, working for the company since 2000, and he’s written plenty of big stories over the years, including on the Deflategate scandal, the Raiders’ move to Vegas, horse euthanasia and Kenyan runners in Alaska. As per ESPN’s release, he’s been included in the Best American Sportswriting (or cited as an honorable mention) a total of seven times over the years. Wickersham has produced a lot of stories for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com, and he’s also regularly appeared on Outside The Lines, E:60, SportsCenter and more. Keeping him around seems like a good move.