Seven ESPN personalities sat down with The Big Lead for a face-to-face roundtable discussion with topics ranging from their careers, their futures, their challenges, the business, advice, and more:
- Adam Schefter – NFL Insider; Host of Adam Schefter Podcast.
- Michele Steele – Anchor and reporter
- Field Yates – NFL Insider; Co-host of the Fantasy Focus Football podcast
- Will Cain – Host of The Will Cain Show; First Take contributor
- Victoria Arlen – Host and reporter
- Jason Fitz – Host of Spain and Fitz
- John Buccigross – SportsCenter anchor
What is the most substantial obstacle in your field that you must overcome going forward?
Schefter – ESPN: “Everyone is fighting to retain viewership at a time there is cord cutting. I think people forget ESPN owns a share of Hulu. Maybe some of the people that consume ESPN are doing it in other places and venues. But our job, my job is to come up with good enough content where it compels people to pay attention, and to watch, and to notice whether it is on ESPN, Hulu, or wherever it is. There is so much content out there that I am proud of our company for the great features, timely information, content, and news. That is why I think ESPN has been built up to be ESPN over the years. I think that everybody is being challenged in a time where viewers are pretty smart. The company has a big challenge to retain its viewership and build upon that. I think reporters have the same challenge.”
Steele – SportsCenter: “I think that the biggest challenge for SportsCenter is always going to be balancing personality and balancing a sense of fun with a sense of bringing people up to date with what they need to know. A lot of people are going to say the biggest challenge is technology or distribution – and of course, we need to be everywhere whether it be Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. But I think the challenge with SportsCenter always is being good and being interesting. My contention is if you are good and interesting everything else will fall in place. If you can be the back page as it were, in other words, if you can be the sports show of record, which I still consider SportsCenter to be, people will find you.
Yates – NFL coverage: “I think the amount of interest in the NFL is clear and well established. One of the challenges we face collectively is finding ways to stand out and be different, but not standout just for the sake of standing out. How do you provide exceptional coverage? There are so many people covering the NFL. You go to certain teams’ practices and see 20 different outlets meaning 50, 60, maybe 75 people covering the same practice. You might have a day where there are 15 storylines, but when Saquon Barkley tweaks his hamstring on an otherwise innocuous play, do you find a way to cover that angle differently or do you just attend to the most notable storyline of the day? With there being an interest in all 32 teams there is going to continue to be more and more outlets. The question is can you be someone that viewers, listeners, and readers consider appointment viewing that they find unique as opposed to being at an outlet they just stumble upon you.”
Cain – media landscape: “The biggest challenge for any media business right now is there is so much competition. The entire media landscape, the entire entertainment landscape is fractured. I talked about this on my show the other day, it is going to be so hard, the NBA has no idea what is coming for it when LeBron James retires. Who steps up? I give you Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship. The ratings were up 70% because Tiger was in contention. Stars are still important but we don’t have stars anymore like we did say in the 90s. Movie stars, music stars, sports stars, the level of superstardom they commanded in the 90s is much much greater than what anyone we call a star today truly is. LeBron and Tiger are in the tail end of that. The reason for that is there is so much competition. You can put it on a Netflix series whenever you want, you can put it on Amazon Prime, you can listen to a podcast, you have thousands of channels to watch on cable. The challenge for this industry, this business is how do you make yourself relevant on an ongoing basis when there is so much competition.”
Arlen – the business of sports media: “I don’t know that I have the seniority to answer that, but I will say everyone wants to get better. Everybody has their own challenges. I know for me, I have been here for three years now, I just want to improve and make my team proud.”
Fitz – national sports radio: “I think there are constant obstacles in sports in general. On a national level, you are trying to serve everybody as opposed to a local level you are serving one particular fan base. I will say coming from Nashville my job every day was not to talk about Colin Kaepernick, Zeke, or any of those controversies in the NFL. My job was to take those controversies and relate them to the Titans. What would happen if a Titan decided to protest? You always had to spin things to a local level. It also allows you to be super hyper-focused. Nationally, you cannot be that hyper-focused. I feel that way all the time covering college football. A number of college football fans want to yell at you for not knowing the third linebacker for Florida. Well, that is not my job. My job is to know as much about as many things as humanly possible. National always faces a challenge with content. That being said, the other piece of it, and I don’t consider it really a challenge but let’s face it, part of the reason I have a job is I can be on radio five days a week but also on Snapchat doing SportsCenter. Which is reaching close two million people a day. My college football work largely now comes on Twitter. This fall we will start a Twitter college football show at 7 pm recapping the games and setting up the night. Our challenge is to make sure we are not sitting on our laurels and doing just one thing. Those days are gone.
Buccigross – On keeping SportsCenter interesting vs. digital: “My argument is the best place to still see highlights is on your big, beautiful television. I am surprised how little TV networks, cable companies have fought back to the narrative that people watch everything on their little phones. They should fight back more. I think we pay too much attention to that. I think we should do it a lot like we used to. Show the highlights of the day.”
*Next page: “What has been the biggest challenge of your career to this point?”