The ESPN Book doesn’t hit bookstores until Tuesday, but it’s already gotten so much publicity that it has risen to No. 7 at Amazon. The media-types who received an advance copy are devouring the 700-page book and early reviews are positive. Author James Andrew Miller has already been interviewed by a plethora of outlets, and here’s a short Q&A we did with him Thursday. Expect to see even more of him this week. Everyone’s looking forward to his Mike & Mike appearance Tuesday morning. Finally, a reason to watch/listen to that show!
Q: It seemed like ESPN came down hard on Tony Kornheiser last year for something he said on his radio show about Hannah Storm, but nobody really reacted to his comments until this blog picked up the item. Were you surprised by ESPN’s reaction?
A: I wasn’t surprised they were upset by it. I don’t know whether or not a 2-week suspension was appropriate or not, that’s not really for me to say. I think they decided to use the opportunity to remind Tony and everyone at ESPN you shouldn’t talk that way about a colleague.
Q: Bill Simmons had some pretty harsh comments about Mike Tirico in your book. Tony Kornheiser had some critical comments about Tirico, too. Will we see a suspension for either of them?
A: Oh, I um … that’s an interesting question. I have no idea what they’re thinking … I’m probably not qualified to even guess whether or not they’ll do something. I don’t really know.
Q: Do you feel like they’re the same thing? Saying something on the radio vs. saying something in a book?
A: They’re both public, so I guess that’s the same.
Q: On the SI podcast, you mentioned ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi wouldn’t talk to you for the book. Was there anyone else? I didn’t see Jay Mariotti in the index …
A: I don’t think I reached out to Jay. I don’t remember anybody but Rinaldi. Luckily, I got pretty good reaction from everyone.
Q: Going back to Tirico for a moment – he was hammered in Mike Freeman’s ESPN book a decade ago. The book revealed Tirico was suspended three months for sexual harassment. Now two big names at ESPN hammer him in your book. Do you think ESPN will continue to value Tirico in the future?
A: I think they value him very highly. He’s on their No. 1 property (MNF), he does the NBA Finals, he does [golf] … he’s certainly one of their top [talents]. I’m not going to guess at their reaction. I think they’re aware it’s a big place and people have different opinions. I don’t really know what they would say, but I know they have a lot of faith in Tirico.
Q: What would you say was the most challenging part of the book? Getting people to talk to you, or leaving great stuff out of the book?
A: I think you’re right – part of it is trying to get everything in the book. It’s frustrating sometimes when there are things you’d really like to include, but you can’t because it’s just so long. I think that’s probably the biggest frustration.
Q: When you were speaking to Michelle Beadle and Erin Andrews, did you get a sense there was some tension there?
A: I didn’t ask them about each other. I just asked Michelle about the incident involving Erin, but I didn’t ask her for her personal feelings about Erin.
Q: Was there one ESPN moment that spurred you to do this book? What was the driving force behind the idea for an ESPN book?
A: I’ve been watching it for a long, long time, and I think there have been some books written, but the last one was 10 years ago. That’s a long time in ESPN history. A lot has happened since then. I thought there were some very interesting [storylines] that could be explored. I love that the Saturday Night Live book – I don’t mean to brag – was called one of the smartest 75 business books ever written by Fortune Magazine. I didn’t want that to be just a comedy book; I didn’t want this to be just a sports book. The financial success of ESPN, behind-the-scenes stuff, personality, journalism, culture – there were a lot of compelling things for me to write about.
Q: When I asked readers if they had a question for you, the biggest one was: Why do people care so much about ESPN?
A: First of all, it’s all over the place. This is one of the most recognizable brands. You have personalities that come into your living room and we spend a lot of time with them. We start to feel comfortable with them and we start to feel curious about them. We start to pay attention when they’re good and bad. You have these colorful characters … people get really intrigued about how the place works, why is so-and-so doing this, I can’t believe he said this or they did this … there are lots of things going on. It’s kind of a watercooler network.
Q: Ten years from now, who will be running ESPN?
A: I have no idea.
Q: Who would be your guess?
A: No idea. The one thing you can say is they like to promote from within. But George [Bodenheimer] and Skipper are both relatively young guys. I don’t know if there’s anything out there as interesting to them as ESPN. [Note: Bodenheimer is President of ESPN; Skipper is Executive Vice President of Content for ESPN.]
Q: A different look at Bill Simmons’ comments about Mike Tirico: Depending when you spoke with him, he was either going to re-sign with ESPN, or he had already re-signed with ESPN. And maybe he already had his new website plan in place. One could surmise there was really no way they were going to do anything to him regardless of what was said. Do you feel he’s untouchable there?
A: People might have said that about Tony Kornheiser [before he was suspended]. PTI is one of the most successful shows at ESPN. I’m not sure …
Q: How much of a threat is the MLB Network to ESPN?
A: I think ESPN is definitely keeping their eye on them. I think one of the things [ESPN] did this year is put one of the top producers from their entire network on [Baseball]. I think that shows a real commitment to the sport. They obviously are committed to it, and they spent a lot of money on it. They are definitely in a very competitive situation because of what the MLB Network is doing.
Q: But considering how ratings have dwindled for baseball in recent years, while ratings are rising for the NBA and NFL, are you surprised ESPN is investing so much into baseball?
A: I think at the end of the day, they refuse to believe that or acknowledge that, or they want to fight that trend. The truth is, there was a time when NBA ratings were down … look at those ratings now. ESPN is not going to give up on baseball, they are committed to it. They believe it is one of their base franchises. All they want to make sure of is that they are delivering the best coverage.
Q: Can you see Chris Berman at another network? Can you envision him leaving?
A: No. I can see him retiring before he goes to another network. I think if he was going to go someplace, I think he would have done it by now.