SBD/November 22, 2011/Media

The More, The Merrier? SBJ/SBD Panel Examines ESPN's New NFL Studio Shows

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ESPN's new rights deal with the NFL allows it to show more highlights than ever before. At what point are all the added highlights too much? For six SBJ/SBD staffers, the network may be nearing its saturation point. The SBJ/SBD panel, which consisted of SBJ Copy Editor Betty Gomes, Assistant Managing Editor Rob Knapp, Research Associate Brandon McClung, and Media Reporter John Ourand and SBD Assistant Managing Editor/Ratings & Research Austin Karp and Television Editor Paul Sanford, watched one full week of two ESPN NFL studio shows from Nov. 7-11. On Nov. 14, we met to discuss them. Here's an edited transcript from that discussion, and also read Ourand’s column in this week’s SportsBusiness Journal.

Q: What did you think of the shows overall?
Sanford: These shows are so redundant. They have so much programming. There are three hours of "Countdown" now. "NFL Live." "Audibles." "NFL 32." How many times can they show the same thing?
Karp: That's on top of the stuff that they're already running on "SportsCenter." It seems completely unnecessary, especially for "NFL 32," to be an hour long.

ESPN's "NFL 32" is an hour-long show
covering multiple topics in the NFL

Q: Let's talk about "NFL 32" first. It is a new show that doesn't look like any of ESPN's other NFL shows. How did that work?
Knapp: I like the attempt to differentiate. That's what you have to do. All these different shows have, pretty much, the same subject matter. What's going to set them apart? "NFL 32" at least seems to be trying to make that attempt. It uses a different set. Obviously, some of the construct is the same as the other shows. But I can look at that one and tell what I was watching. I appreciated that part of it, more than "NFL Live," which looked like it was pulled out of "SportsCenter."
Gomes: "NFL 32" had a much more casual feel, with panelists sitting in chairs rather than on a bank set. I don't know if that is good or bad. They had some features that were different than some of the shows I've seen before. They have a former scout that comes out and talks. The name is stupid, "Caveman."
Knapp: Give him a chair! When he came on set, I thought he was taking the panelists' drink orders.
Gomes: Making him stand like that was awkward. Listening to what he had to say, I got something out of it. First time I saw him I thought, who is this? ESPN didn't identify him until after he was already speaking. Then ESPN had the name on screen. Since I was a first-time viewer, I didn't know who the heck he was. ESPN could have, maybe, introduced him better.

Q: What about the other talent on "NFL 32?"
Knapp: "NFL 32" is a conversation show. A conversation show is going to live and die by the quality of the conversation. If they're supposed to interact, then it's important who's on the set interacting. You never knew who was going to be on the set from one day to the next. If you're trying to differentiate, that's one way you can do it: with the personnel.
Karp: Chris Mortensen is fantastic when he's doing one of those insider interviews. All I really want out of "NFL 32" is that 10-minute segment he does on the "Mort Report." I view him more as an information guy, not a host.
Knapp: Mortensen did not seem very comfortable handling the host duties. If you're going to be a host on a conversation show, you've got to make the conversation go. One day, Kordell Stewart was sitting in. We barely heard from him. You've got to get people involved and get them on point. Mortensen was acting more as the guy answering the question than the guy who's trying to move the conversation along.
Karp: On Monday's show, when Adam Schefter and Mort hosted because Suzy Kolber was at "Monday Night Football," it was like the inmates were running the asylum there. Nobody was driving the conversation. It didn't seem natural at all. Not a lot of chemistry.
Knapp: I like Suzy Kolber as host. I thought she did a pretty good job. I thought she was the best host of the week.

Q: "NFL 32" is set up as more interactive than other shows. It collects tweets and uses video questions from Facebook. Did those work?
McClung: The tweets that are running at the bottom and the ticker are way too much for me to follow. It gets in the way of the conversation.
Gomes: I agree.
Knapp: But it was differentiation. It set it apart from the other show that we watched.
Karp: I'm not a big fan of the Twitter stuff. But I like that they took a video question from Facebook from a fan. That was interesting. Something new.
Sanford: With social media, sometimes I think these companies think it's cool and they force feed you Twitter and Facebook. I think you can tone that down and still interact a little more. The constant tweets is too much, but they think they have to do it because everyone is on Twitter.
Karp: The Twitter stuff annoyed me. I'm on Twitter. I use it. But it took away from the serious conversation that they wanted to have. The tweets weren't providing information. If I want that sort of thing, I'll watch "SportsNation," where there's more fan interaction, or a talk show with Dan Le Batard or Jim Rome. That's where you want to see the talk show interaction, which is what Twitter was being used for.

Particpants found NFL Live to be repetitive 

Q: What about "NFL Live?" We've all seen that show before. How did it work last week as an hour-long show?
Knapp: "NFL Live" did not seem different from anything else ESPN does. It was hard for me to see it as a separate entity.
Ourand: I felt "NFL Live" to be tired. I get a headache listening to analysts talk about double gap zone blitzes from the A side. I have no clue what they are talking about sometimes.
Knapp: Mark Schlereth is going to have his B-gap. You can't take that away from him. I thought "NFL 32" had more upside. As a standalone premise, it had more opportunity to get better. I don't see how "NFL Live" is going to be anything more than an hour holed out of "Countdown" or "SportsCenter" with different guys.

Q: Let's not differentiate between the shows. How did you enjoy watching these two hours of NFL programming?
Gomes: I didn't like the crossover of content. If you're watching both shows, you saw Jon Gruden's segment on Cam Newton and Andy Dalton twice. You saw a segment about Penn State twice. Are the shows going for two different audiences, so they don't think people are going to see them twice? Because I was watching both shows, I got impatient with that. I've already seen it.
Knapp: These shows seem to be designed for the hardcore NFL fan. And the hardcore NFL fan is going to watch "SportsCenter." And if they're going to watch these shows, they're going to see this stuff over and over again.

Q: How can these shows improve?
Karp: I want to see who scored on my fantasy team. Did somebody get injured? Do I need to look to pick up somebody? I'd like to see a fantasy focused show on a Monday.
Knapp: I was surprised by how little talk about fantasy there was over all of the episodes. There was one short segment, and it was who to take in the coming week.
Karp: I love John Clayton, Adam Schefter and Mort when they're giving me the inside stuff. If you brought Mort on with some serious journalists, that might be something I'd watch. I'm more interested in an "NFL Reporters" show.
Ourand: My pet peeve is with the amount of ex-athletes. "NFL Live" had one discussion between Schlereth and Marcellus Wiley talking about fines for hits to the head. Both of them came out and said the fines were ridiculous. That's a very ex-football player thing to say. Wingo, as the host, didn't take the other side. I grew tired of the jock-ocracy.
Knapp: When people would disagree, somebody would say their part, then somebody would say their part. They didn't really challenge each other. You especially have to have that in "NFL 32." People need to challenge each other. With the revolving door of people sitting down in there, that might change from one day to the next. But if people disagree, you need to take that one step further. That's what's going to drive interesting conversation on that show.

Q: What did you like about the shows?
Gomes: I wasn't able to watch much NFL at all on Sunday. Watching those shows on Monday afternoon, gave me everything I wanted. It's not going to be like that for all the viewers. But I enjoyed watching it that day.
Knapp: I really liked the Jets-Patriots rap on "NFL Live" on Friday. They probably spent more time putting that together than pretty much anything else on the show.
Gomes: For me, the best part is the newsy parts of "NFL 32" with the "Mort Report." Whenever that part came on, I listened a little bit closer because I was going to hear something I haven't heard yet. I guess that's why I liked "NFL Live" better. It was a set that I was familiar with and I knew what I was going to get.
McClung: With "NFL Live," I liked the highlights and the technical breakdowns and analysis. I think both shows would benefit from a half-hour format. The second half-hour to both shows just seem to drag on.

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