SBD/Issue 163/Sports Media

ESPN Unveils Storm's Hiring, "SportsCenter" Rebranding At Upfront

ESPN Formally Announces Hiring
Of Storm During Upfront Presentation
ESPN yesterday at its upfront presentation in N.Y. announced a "major rebranding" of "SportsCenter," including the hiring of Hannah Storm to anchor the 9:00am-12:00pm ET editions of the show, which beginning August 11 will air as part of a "nine-hour block of live shows" from 6:00am-3:00pm ET Monday through Friday, according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. Storm will be the "only talent hired from outside ESPN." ESPN Exec VP/Content John Skipper said that the goal is to "reach over 1 million viewers each morning." Noting the new "SportsCenter" editions will air the same time as ESPN2's "Mike & Mike" simulcast and "First Take," Skipper said, "We are completely committed to competing with ourselves." The early-morning "SportsCenter" will "mostly be a recap of the previous night's games," followed by Storm's edition, which will "include previews of that day's games and take advantage of Storm's strength as an interviewer." The 12:00-3:00pm shift will "incorporate live press conferences and morning news." Meanwhile, ESPN on April 9, 2009 will launch a "late-night edition" of "SportsCenter" from its new L.A studio. Additionally, ESPN newcomer Rick Reilly will host "ESPN Homecoming," in which he will interview "sports people in their hometown." One ESPN exec dubbed the show, which debuts in October, "Inside The Athletes Studio" (SI.com, 5/13). MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Reynolds reported "Homecoming" will debut with an interview with TNT's Charles Barkley from Leeds, Alabama. Also in development for the net are "SportsNation," an afternoon show for ESPN in which hosts will "discuss topics selected" by viewers in polls, and "Time Line," a "late-night entry for ESPN2, during which the night's results and tomorrow's events will be examined." Meanwhile, actor Robert Redford will co-produce and play the part of former Dodgers GM Branch Rickey in ESPN Films' production about Baseball HOFer Jackie Robinson (MULTICHANNEL.com, 5/13).

STORM: In DC, Tim Lemke reports Storm after leaving CBS' "The Early Show" in December "did have discussions with CBS about staying on in some sort of anchor or reporting role," but Storm said that the "urge to return to sports ... was too strong." With Storm, ESPN has an "additional experienced anchor who can handle breaking hard news," to complement anchors Bob Ley and Trey Wingo, upon whom the net has "relied heavily" for big stories. ESPN Exec VP/Studio & Remote Production Norby Williamson said that ratings for the "recycled, hours-old versions of 'SportsCenter' were growing," but that it was "time to go live as viewers' appetite for up-to-the-second information increased" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 5/14). Williamson: "You innovate and drive from a position of leadership." Williamson added that the timing of the live launch is "perfect ... because the Beijing Olympics kick off the same day and excitement surrounding college and pro football surges" in August (CABLEFAX DAILY, 5/14).

NFL NET: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir reports NFL Network "looked into hiring" NBC's Al Michaels as the play-by-play announcer for the net's NFL broadcasts. NFL Network President & CEO Steve Bornstein: "NBC was open to it, but it didn't work out from Al's point of view. We never got to the specifics" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/14).

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