Joe Buck and Troy Aikman

2022 was a busy year in sports media. Some stories that did not make the top spot could have easily been the Story of the Year in other eras. As we go further into this decade, a few things are clear: streaming is not going anywhere, the NFL remains the 800 lb. gorilla of sports media, and networks continue to look for sports content that will separate themselves from the competition.

The way we consume sports will continue to evolve as we go beyond television and use our mobile devices to remain connected. With that, let’s take a look at the Top Ten Sports Media Stories of 2022. These are in backwards order.

Let’s not wait any longer:

10. Paramount Global Keeps the Rights to the UEFA Champions League

A CBS UEFA Champions League graphic.

There was a time when CBS Sports stayed out of the soccer business and allowed ESPN, Fox and NBC handle the beautiful game. However, CBS dove in head-first by obtaining the rights to the UEFA Champions League in 2019 and it’s led to the network obtaining other soccer leagues like the Scottish Premiership and NWSL. In August, CBS’ parent company, Paramount Global, signed a new six-year contract  keeping the European club competition through the 2029-30 season. The Champions League will remain on CBS through the end of this decade. Under this contract, CBS will air some matches on broadcast television while Paramount+ will stream the bulk of the games.

Paramount was able to stave off a strong bid from Amazon which was the other finalist for the UEFA Champions League. Fans will be able to continue to watch the event on TV for years to come.

This was one of CBS/Paramount’s big sports property acquisitions in 2022.

9. Sinclair RSN Woes

Sinclair’s Bally Sports regional sports networks are hemorrhaging money. Ever since Sinclair purchased the Fox Sports Nets, it has found that the RSN model is no longer a cash cow. Pay cable does not have the reach that it once had. Sinclair is trying out a direct-to-consumer app that will allow viewers to watch their local RSN without cable. And as Sinclair tries to raise revenue, MLB, the NBA and the NHL are not in any hurry to bail the company out of its financial troubles. If Sinclair decides to sell its networks, it will find that it will not get as much money that it paid for the RSNs.

8. Warner Bros Discovery Takes Over Turner Sports

After the huge merger between Warner Bros Media and Discovery, observers wondered what direction the company would go in bidding for live sports. While TBS/TNT has a very good inventory with MLB, the NCAA Tournament, NBA, NHL, The Match and in 2023, US Men’s and Women’s Soccer matches, you would think that Warner Bros/Discovery would be in good shape for the long haul. However, company CEO David Zaslav fired a warning shot over the bow in November by stating that WBD doesn’t have to have the NBA for long-term survival. While it sounded more like a negotiating ploy, the statement did raise some eyebrows. WBD owns Eurosport which has Olympic media rights across Europe and this company could be a player in the US sports media market for a long time to come, yet, as WBD keeps removing inventory off HBO Max and cutting movies in cost cutting moves, one wonders if one of the above-mentioned properties will be dropped.

One move that that WBD Sports made this year was to sign Inside the NBA analyst Charles Barkley to a long-term contract. As the NBA enters a new negotiating era within the next couple of years, it will be interesting to see what WBD does.

7. Bob Iger returns as Disney CEO

In a surprise move in November, Bob Iger re-entered the hallowed halls of the Walt Disney Company replacing his own hand-picked successor Robert Chapek. While the move was certainly shocking, it didn’t affect the sports division, ESPN, at the outset. However, when the NBA is ready to re-open media negotiations with incumbents Disney and the aforementioned Warner Bros Discovery, it’s likely that Iger will do all he can to retain those rights and keep ESPN in the NBA business.

Iger installed Jimmy Pitaro as President of ESPN in 2018 and over the past few years, he was able to retain two important properties to the network, MLB and the NFL. With Iger back in charge of Disney, expect ESPN to continue to be aggressive in bidding for sports properties and the NBA is part of that strategy.

6. LIV Golf

Greg Norman
Sep 3, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Greg Norman CEO of LIV Golf before the second round of the LIV Golf tournament at The International. Mandatory Credit: Richard Cashin-USA TODAY Sports

This year, a new golf league arrived on the horizon to challenge the PGA Tour. LIV Golf led by Greg Norman burst onto the scene and signed many of the PGA’s top stars like Bryson Dechambeau, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson, Kevin Na, Louis Oosthuizen, Ian Poulter, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood and others. It also lured popular commentator David Feherty away from NBC.

Promising more prize money, easier schedules and team play, LIV Golf was hoping that by signing many of the PGA Tour’s stars, TV networks would come running. The exact opposite happened. With CBS, NBC/Golf Channel and ESPN firmly entrenched with the PGA, LIV had to stream its events on YouTube where viewership numbers were very low compared to the PGA Tour’s. Norman boasted that LIV had interest from four networks, but at the end of the year, there were reports that it had bought time on FS1, but the loss of its Chief Operating Officer was a huge blow.

The Masters did announce that those on LIV Golf would be invited to its tournament in April, but that might be the league’s biggest exposure in 2023.

5. Big Ten Signs Huge Media Rights Deal Without ESPN

If this happened in another year, this would have been the biggest sports media story. The Big Ten signed a megabucks media rights deal in August with CBS, Fox, and NBC. ESPN was left on the outside looking in. Starting in 2023, the Big Ten gets coverage of its games similar to NFL windows with Fox taking early Saturday afternoons, late afternoons with CBS (which needed inventory after it loses the SEC next year), and in primetime with NBC. Through it all, as UCLA and USC enter the conference, this new deal provides all day exposure to a conference which now spans coast-to-coast. And the Big Ten achieved this without having to depend on ESPN which is a huge player in college sports.

It’s been reported that NBC will have Football Night in America host Maria Taylor lead its Big Ten pregame giving its primetime window a big event feel. And it’s likely that the Big Ten is not done with expansion.

4. Tom Brady Signs With Fox

Tom Brady

In what can only be described as a very strange move, Fox Sports signed current Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady to a reported $375 million contract which will take effect when he retires, whether that’s after this season or next season or perhaps in 2089. While Fox is hoping that Brady will join its “A” team, current top analyst Greg Olsen has been doing all he can to ensure that he stays in the booth with play-by-play partner Kevin Burkhardt. He’s already playfully told Brady that TV is difficult and there are skeptics who feel that Brady won’t even step foot in the broadcast booth when he decides to stop playing. Some of those skeptics include those at Fox Sports.

Fox is looking forward to having Brady as part of its Super Bowl LVII coverage in February, but down the road, can he their Tony Romo? Right now, Olsen has very good chemistry with Burkhardt and they’ll be calling said Super Bowl. Will Brady upset that apple cart or will he decide that television is not for him? We will find out when he retires, whenever that happens.

3. Apple Signs Deals with MLB and MLS

Apple jumped into sports in a big way in 2022 by signing a deal with Major League Baseball for a Friday Night doubleheader. Announced in March, Apple elected to take a different approach with the games by hiring former ESPN’er Katie Nolan, Baltimore Orioles announcer Melanie Newman and Yahoo Sports writer Hannah Keyser. The non-traditional production drew its share of critics, but Apple was looking to draw casual viewers rather than hardcore fans to its schedule. We did not get any viewership numbers, but Apple has considered its first year of streaming baseball a success.

In June, Apple shocked the soccer world by its all-encompassing media rights deal with Major League Soccer. This deal involved global rights and exclusivity for MLS Season Pass, its full-season pay per view package. The deal meant that linear TV would no longer have exclusive access to the games as Apple TV would simulcast them. It would lead to ESPN and Univision leaving MLS and Fox signing a deal continuing its relationship with the league.

However, these contracts appeared to be just the beginning to a much bigger prize. There were reports in April that had Apple already signing a contract for NFL Sunday Ticket, but as the season began and progressed further, it appeared there were snags. Eventually Apple pulled out after it did not see the logic in not charging a premium price for Sunday Ticket, but it will still partner with the NFL as its came to an agreement to sponsor the Super Bowl Halftime Show replacing long-time partner Pepsi.

With Apple committing further to its Apple TV+ streaming service, it’s likely that the tech company is not done with bringing more sports into its fold.

Disclaimer: The author is employed by Apple Retail and this entry does not in any way reflect the opinion of the company.

2. NFL Sunday Ticket goes to Google

Google Sunday Ticket

So Apple’s loss was Google’s gain. Right before the Christmas holiday, Google further enhanced its standing with the NFL by agreeing to a seven-year deal to have the out-of-market game package on YouTube and YouTube TV. Fans can access the package either through YouTube’s Primetime channels or via YouTube TV. Google, which has partnered with the NFL through a YouTube channel, now expands its offering and can bring more customers to Sunday Ticket than its current partner, DirecTV. The NFL had been seeking to put Sunday Ticket on a streaming service and it now has its wish granted by bringing in one of the world’s largest companies to join its existing media partners.

The reported $2 billion a year deal can go even higher if Google brings in more customers to Sunday Ticket.

1. The Great NFL Announcer Shuffle of 2022

Al Michaels

This year was quite the whirlwind for announcers. Before 2022, being the NFL “A” team play-by-play announcer and analyst was like being a Supreme Court justice, it was like a lifetime appointment. But as new NFL media rights deals were made in 2021, announcer contracts began to expire and it led to a bevy of deals and wholesale changes at the networks.

Here’s the timeline:

First, Al Michaels’ contract with NBC expired after Super Bowl LVI. There had been speculation the previous year that he was headed to Amazon to call Thursday Night Football as his 16 year tenure with NBC came to a close.

Troy Aikman surprised everyone by moving from Fox to ESPN. Aikman stated that he was disappointed with Fox’s offer to remain as its top analyst.

That led to Fox letting Joe Buck out of his contract in exchange for a Big Ten game pick and he went to ESPN to join Aikman to call Monday Night Football, giving the Worldwide Leader some much needed stability in its booth and an experienced team to call its Super Bowls in 2027 and 2031.

Fox quickly replaced Buck with Kevin Burkhardt as its lead NFL announcer, but after Fox announced that it had signed Tom Brady (see number 4 above), it tapped Greg Olsen to join Burkhardt to call the upcoming Super Bowl LVII, but wouldn’t commit to him being the permanent “A” team analyst until Brady’s status is resolved.

Michaels’ contract with Amazon to call Thursday Night Football became official in late March, but not before New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft made a call to Fox in an attempt to get Al on board as Buck’s replacement.

Joining Michaels on TNF would be ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit. After Aikman spurned Amazon’s offer to join Michaels on Thursday Night Football, Herbstreit became the top choice and his other employer, ESPN, rewarded him with a contract extension. Herbstreit wants to make the TNF team “the best booth in television.”

In between Fox announcing Burkhardt and Olsen as its top NFL team, NBC finally made public its worst-kept secret that Mike Tirico would replace Michaels on Sunday Night Football.

The only announcers who didn’t move were Jim Nantz and Tony Romo of CBS. They now have the longest tenure at one network, although Buck and Aikman have been together longer.

And in a non-related move, Nantz announced that he would not call the NCAA Tournament after 2023 which made room for Ian Eagle who will step into the top role for CBS/Warner Bros Discovery Sports in 2024.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Big 12 stays with ESPN/Fox
  • Grant Wahl’s untimely passing
  • NBCUniversal draws lowest Olympic viewership
  • Expanded College Football Playoffs lead to more postseason games on TV
  • Fox and Telemundo’s record World Cup Viewership

This past year was a very busy year in sports media and 2023 looks to be just as busy.

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the four Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.