Which people in the sports media world had the best years in 2018? It’s a wholly objective question, because not everyone likes the same thing in broadcasters and not everyone judges “value” the same way (which you see every year when MVP debates kick up in the major sports leagues).
Our staff weighed in on the impossible question – who was the sports media MVP of 2018? Here are their answers.
Andrew Bucholtz: I’m going to go with ESPN’s Dan Le Batard. Between his radio show and Highly Questionable, he’s putting a ton of content out there (and that’s before you get to this new podcast network or one-off things like NBA Finals’ second-screen show Full Court Press), and yet he still manages to hit great, ridiculous heights. From calling staffer footraces to mocking John Fox and “feuding” with Dan Patrick to trying to send a Marlins’ player hitting .161 to the All-Star Game, Le Batard and his team often dive into silly realms, but they do so in an entertaining way.
And when there’s a serious interview to be done, Le Batard shines there as well, as clips with David Samson and Rob Manfred show (the Manfred one was last December, but it shows what Le Batard’s capable of when it comes to serious topics); he also is more willing to discuss issues with the ESPN-manufactured take cycle than just about anyone else who works there. ESPN was smart to sign him to an extension this year, and he’ll hopefully be making us laugh and making us think for a while to come.
Philip Bupp: I may be going a bit out of the box with my pick, but my broadcasting MVP is Bob Ley. While he’s currently on a well deserved hiatus, Bob won his first Sports Emmy this year and remains a very important figure to the sports industry, media, and journalism as he nears his 40th year with ESPN. With shows like Outside the Lines losing favor to debate shows and the insistence by ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro to “stick to sports,” I’m worried that ESPN, as one of the best investigative sports news outlets with the ability to reach so many people, will someday choose not to pursue hard hitting and longform journalistic stories.
I’m not saying ESPN would ever let Bob Ley go, because he’s such an institution that hopefully he has a job there as long as he wants. I am afraid of what happens the day after Bob retires from ESPN, and can see the network completely pivoting away from investigative journalism once and for all. That’s why we need people like Bob Ley now more than ever.
Ken Fang: I’m going with Mike Tirico. Host of the 2018 Olympics, Sunday Night Football, The Open Championship, Notre Dame play-by-play and host of his own podcast, Tirico has had a good year.
His hosting of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics was a smooth transition from Bob Costas and he showed he was up to the task. Now the main host of Sunday Night Football, Tirico has again taken what was once the property of Costas and made it his own. And he shows his versatility in calling and hosting The Open, one of his favorite events going back to his ESPN days.
Plus, you have his work calling Notre Dame football, making him one of the better college football play-by-play men. While Fox took Thursday Night Football away from NBC, you know Tirico is biding his time, ready to take over the play-by-play position from Al Michaels whenever that day comes.
Overall, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tirico wins the Emmy for Outstanding Studio Host for his work this year.
Ben Koo: I’m going to go with Scott Van Pelt. He’s versatile, knowledgeable, likable, funny, and brings a level of sanity and light-heartedness to what has become an increasingly more turbulent world. I don’t watch that much SportsCenter anymore, as I’ve drifted more into scripted dramas, documentaries, and movies, but SVP’s SC is really the only studio show on ESPN I’ll go out of my way to watch if I’m not doing anything.
I think I’m like many people my age who are drifting away from sports because life responsibilities and more substantive topics are beginning to eat into our mental bandwidth. It’s nice to have a trusted voice to keep you tethered to something that has become a reduced part of your life. I only wish there was a Twitter account for his one big thing installments, as I’d check those out daily despite not always catching them on TV and they’re really not easy to find online (hint, hint).
Joe Lucia: Jim Nantz had another fantastic year as the top dog as CBS Sports, calling a handful of AFC playoff games, the NCAA Tournament, The Masters, and regular season NFL coverage with Tony Romo. Nantz really seemed more energized this year, working his second year with a new NFL partner in Romo and his fourth year in the NCAA Tournament with Bill Raftery and Grant Hill. Each of those teams graded out quite well in our NFL and March Madness broadcaster rankings, and Nantz has shown no signs of slowing down while calling the crown jewel events on CBS. It’s tough to get that sort of consistency at a network, and Nantz managing to deliver that consistency is why I gave him the nod.
I’ll also give an honorable mention to Brian Anderson, who was a workhorse this year for Fox Sports Milwaukee and Turner Sports, working an entire Milwaukee Brewers regular season, the MLB Postseason, and March Madness, and doing quite well in the process.
Jay Rigdon: Kevin Harlan didn’t necessarily do anything spectacular in 2018, although this Russell Westbrook dunk call was a perfect example of Harlan’s trademark rise in volume to befit an exciting moment. But what he did do was remain one of the most dependable voices in sports broadcasting. That Harlan does it across multiple sports (and multiple networks), calling NBA and NCAA basketball games for Turner and CBS, NFL games for CBS, and doing radio work for Westwood One’s Monday Night Football and Super Bowl coverage.
It’s tough to do any one of those things well, much less all of them, much less all of them very well. But if a game comes on and Kevin Harlan is on the call, you know you’re in excellent hands.