Can't believe Scott Van Pelt re-upped with ESPN to play second fiddle to Chris Berman at the US Open.— RoneFace (@RoneFace) June 14, 2012
No contractual agreement exists between ESPN & the Masters preventing Chris Berman from announcing there. There is an "understanding."— James Andrew Miller (@ESPNBook) June 15, 2012
Yesterday, Matt put together a great piece exploring people's agony over Chris Berman headlining ESPN's US Open coverage. While I'd like to say the outcry was mild in passion and size and the selected tweets were just some vocal detractors, the truth is that Berman is deserving of such harsh rhetoric.
This isn't your run of the mill 60/40 type argument (presumably 60% wanting Berman replaced by Scott Van Pelt). I don't even think it's the dreaded 70/30 split among sports fans, which is a terrible 40% discrepancy. It's more like 90/10 against Berman, although I honestly think it could be worse than that.
I'm not even the biggest Berman hater as I think of myself as quite tolerant. NFL highlights, the Home Run Derby, and Monday Night Football, that's all fine with me. You can have that Berman.... I'll bite my tongue. The derby and highlights are perfect for his shtick although his style does not seem to go over well with my demographic (snarky 18-34 Chinese Jews).
But events like the US Open and early rounds of the NFL Draft is where myself and sports fans really lose out. Not only does his exuberant style stick out like Christian Laettner on the Dream Team, but the public KNOWS there is someone SIGNIFICANTLY better who is not being utilized. Is NFL Network really doing that much different to be making dents into ESPN's draft ratings market share other than not having Chris Berman hosting the draft?
Meanwhile the likes of guys like SVP and Trey Wingo bide their time waiting for a change that if left up to sports fans, would have been made years ago. Both Wingo and SVP are known entities, have paid their dues, presumably follow sports more closely, are well liked, have way less of a canned and stale act, and are by far more eloquent and informative than Berman.
Direct TV Channel 703 following Tiger Phil Bubba group. And Berman-free.— SPORTSbyBROOKS (@SPORTSbyBROOKS) June 15, 2012
So why does ESPN and other media companies trot out an inferior broadcasting lineup knowing there is more talent on the bench? Simply put it's bullshit politics and egos.
Peyton Manning can be released, Wayne Gretkzy can be traded, Dan Rather can be fired, but god forbid a sports media titan pass the crown to a younger more deserving person every once in awhile.
Would Earth stop spinning if CBS took Jim Nantz aside and said, "Hey, we want to give Gus Johnson a Final Four game every once in awhile."
Does Joe Buck really need to do every single big game for Fox's MLB and NFL coverage?
Max Kellerman isn't the greatest thing to happen to boxing, but he's pretty much buried in an avalanche of AARP members covering boxing for HBO.
Did Brent Musburger really need to wait behind Keith Jackson until 2006 to assume the top spot in college football?
It's not that some of the people I've mentioned are bad or even not good, it's just that sometimes others are worthy of a shot at the big event. That's where politics, contracts, ego, agents, and legacies come into play.
It's better to let a contract expire and nudge someone towards a "graceful exit" rather than having a tough conversation that could blow up in your face. Nobody wants to risk the potential backlash of broaching the subject with an established legend and letting them that know they're slipping. Maybe Mike Shanahan would make a good sports media executive hire?
Over time, premier sports media talent have become the most protected people in all of sports. Their relationships with the networks often span more decades than their marriages. The idea of being a team player, nurturing younger talent, giving people a shot, and not hogging the limelight is totally non-existent. Instead, it's all about preserving and extending iconic status and going out on your own terms.
Years of fighting to acquire and retain top talent has led to a generation of sports media talent that isn't humble enough to be all Donovan McNabb and say the right things and move on. Instead, you dig in for a war and let shit hit the fan.
The end result is a week of 5 minute segments featuring Rick Reilly on every SportsCenter because nobody has the balls to say, "Hey Rick, do you think we could limit how often you suck?"
It's not even just the top guys. Gus Johnson left CBS because of the logjam of announcing talent there and still can't find meaningful NFL work with Fox. Although Johnson has a divisive style and can be a bit over the top, Fox refuses to let Johnson leapfrog any of the regular 7 NFL announcing teams, almost all of which are inferior to ESPN's poker broadcasting team.
Across the spectrum of media companies, there is almost always a guy or two waiting patiently in the wings while an established guy is holding on with no desire to share the limelight in the twilight of their careers.
I'm sure the many sports media insiders who read this are clamoring to tell my why it's this way and why it will never change. I do get that a lot of the folks in their 50's and 60's are legends that can't be thrown away and need to be handled with care AND RESPECT.
That said, the byproduct of this concept of untouchables is a definitively inferior viewing experience for audiences that often numbers in the millions. What other industry allows for an inferior product to be consumed by millions just because you want to be cognizant of "protecting" someone?
In some instances, I understand giving a guy a final year out of respect or even longer when maybe the next man (or woman) up is not significantly better. But when it comes to Berman and many others, it's just totally detrimental to the viewing experience and the perception of the brand to trot out a personality that is rightfully ridiculed by the masses.
I grew up on Chris Berman in the 90's and I was a fan. My dad and I used to watch Sunday Night Countdown together every week in the fall. By the same token, I also used to love Joe Montana growing up and while I could have been sentimental about his departure, the reason he was gone wasn't lost on me even at a young age. There was a better man for the job and it was time to make a change. If the starting job of two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time is fair game, than why should announcers get a free pass until their retirement?