LaVar Ball’s appearance on FS1’s The Herd Wednesday sparked plenty of controversy thanks to his clash with Kristine Leahy and his comments about Jason Whitlock, and it led to some very interesting comments from Leahy on The Herd Thursday. Leahy said “I hope that yesterday showed who he is and that we stop putting him on all of these networks just to get controversial statements out of him because that is potentially what could happen,” she said. “And I think there’s no place for that in TV, no matter what kind of ratings you’re going to get.”
Well, if there’s no place for that in TV, it’s interesting that FS1 has done so much more to promote Ball than anyone else to date. They’ve given him eight TV appearances and five podcast/Periscope appearances in just over two months and tweeting about him at least 105 times (from the official FS1 account and the official accounts of three of their shows). By contrast, ESPN appears to have had him on TV three times, on radio once, and mentioned him a combined 37 times between @FirstTake, @ESPN and @SportsNation.
It’s not just those networks promoting Ball, of course, as all the digital coverage of him (including both ESPN and Fox, but plenty of other sites as well, including ours) and his TV appearances is a big part of this too. Still, there’s a strong argument that FS1 has done much more to sell Ball and his brand than anyone else, with ESPN a close second. Here are the totals of Ball’s appearances I came up with (using Twitter’s search of tweets from a specific user, so “LaVar Ball from:undisputed,” for example). Click here for a bigger version with clickable links for an individual appearance:
Hey, we’ve found one area where FS1 really is beating ESPN! And they didn’t even need to have six MLB playoff games in a week to do it! So, yeah, if there’s a discussion to be had about “putting Ball on all these networks just to get controversial statements out of him,” ESPN will be a part of it, but Fox is definitely blazing that trail. In fact, as discussed yesterday, something like Ball’s The Herd appearance is absolutely perfect for Fox; it sparks so much conversation, both on FS1 platforms (they talked about it through Speak For Yourself Wednesday and then during most of their shows Thursday) and more importantly, with the bigger numbers of people outside (Twitter and digital media outlets had much more discussion of The Herd Wednesday than we’ve ever seen).
Does that mean Ball’s actions Wednesday weren’t over the line? Of course not. The way he talked to Leahy in particular was problematic, although it should be noted that this was after a lot of personal stuff she said about him manipulating his family:
If I saw Leahy say these things about me and my kid on television I’d be pretty dismissive of her too. Or any man. https://t.co/9sUEX19Z1h
— Andrew Ungvari (@DrewUnga) May 17, 2017
But Fox has continually given LaVar Ball a platform, precisely because he is controversial. It’s not for his insight; his claims that his son’s better than Steph Curry or that he could beat Michael Jordan are ludicrous. But they get attention, and Fox needs that attention, so they keep going back to LaVar. Everyone does, but they do it more than anyone else. So it seems a bit much to be shocked, shocked when Ball, who keeps getting invites to these shows precisely because he is controversial and boosts ratings, says something actually controversial.
FS1 can have Ball back or not; that’s their call. Maybe he’s hit max ratings, and they’ll figure that any further exposure won’t be worth it, or maybe they’ll decide to bring him back anyway and see what happens. But if we’re listing who’s enabled Ball, pushed him to be controversial, and created what happened Wednesday, FS1 is right at the top. He’s the living personification of embrace debate, and it doesn’t matter that he’s not correct, he’s entertaining (at least for some). Heck, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get his own FS1 show. No place for that in TV? There’s certainly been a place for Ball at FS1 so far.