SBD/June 27, 2012/People and Pop Culture

Catching Up With Broadcasting Veteran Bob Costas

Costas, a baseball enthusiast, supports expanded replay in the postseason.
Sports can be an unpredictable business but the one constant for many years at signature sporting events has been NBC's BOB COSTAS. One month from today, Costas will return to his prominent role as the longest-tenured sports host for the Olympic Games. Costas took some time to reflect on his career, the change in the industry and NBC's merger with Comcast, as well as share his thoughts on social media. 

Q: How has the sports broadcasting landscape changed since you first entered the industry?
Costas: I think the most obvious thing is the proliferation of outlets -- radio, television, online -- just the proliferation of places where sports is covered and the sheer tonnage of it. The number of hours, the number of events; all-sports radio didn’t exist when I broke into the business. Now there’s coverage coming from every direction. Some of it is good. But almost by definition, when you have that much, a good deal of it is mediocre or worse. I think that while these added avenues have given opportunities to a lot of talented people, they’ve also given a voice to a lot of people who have no particular insight and have no particular fidelity to facts or fairness and that hasn’t been a good thing. So it’s pulled in both directions.

Q: What has been social media’s affect on reporting?
Costas: Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but an opinion is not the same things as reporting. And not everyone’s opinion carries the same level of credibility, nor should it.

Q: What has been the biggest change for you since Comcast took over ownership of NBC?
Costas: The emergence of the NBC Sports Network, which used to be Versus, and now has been relabeled. In my case, that gives me a chance to replicate some of what I did at HBO with the kind of programming -- long-form interviews and commentary and whatnot -- the kind of programming that network television is generally not well suited to do but which cable television can do. So that’s been the biggest change for me. It’s actually gratifying to me that on the broadcast side, there haven’t been any major disruptions. MARK LAZARUS, who succeeded DICK EBERSOL, is a very personable guy. I’m sure over time he’s going to be putting his own stamp on it, but he’s also been smart enough and secure enough to recognize that when certain things are running extremely well, there is no need to tinker with them.

Q: What has the transition in leadership been like from Dick Ebersol to Mark Lazarus as your boss?
Costas: Nothing could ever replace the relationship I have with Dick because it spans so much of my career. He had a personal and professional impact on me that’s singular, that will never be duplicated. I’ve been very, very happy with the transition to Mark. Mark’s been very supportive, very helpful. I like his demeanor. I think that one of the biggest parts of his legacy, if that’s the word, will be what happens down the road in terms of rights acquisitions. What properties do we retain? Right out of the box, we were in the process of making the pitch when Dick resigned, but we went to Lausanne and NBC came away with several Olympic Games so that reaffirmed their commitment to sports. Then they extended the “Sunday Night Football” packages as well and added a Thanksgiving night game and added a playoff game. We expanded our coverage of the NHL. ... So that’s always part of how you evaluate someone in Mark’s position or Dick’s position. Not just the quality of what goes on the air, which is important, but also what do you acquire and retain to put on the air.

Q: What’s the best advice you give to people who are interested in entering your field?
Costas: I’ve always said -- and I think it’s still true -- get as well-rounded an education as you can. Don’t confine yourself only to sports. Be honest with yourself: you can be intelligent, dedicated, hard-working and yet there’s a knack to this and you have to find out whether you have that knack. And if you have it, it still takes time to develop it and polish it. From there my advice would be that even as the way people receive information and entertainment changes because of technology and the speed with which they receive it may change, there still ought to be -- unfortunately it isn’t always the case -- certain values that are timeless. A commitment to what’s fair and accurate ought to be part of that. It ought to be possible to cover the drama, the excitement and the fun of sports, but still have a journalistic aspect to your coverage. ... There’s a difference between being irreverent and being mean-spirited and I think sometimes that’s lost in today’s media world.

Q: If you were MLB Commissioner for a day, what would be your first order of business?
Costas: I’d expand replay in the postseason. I’d do it judiciously, but I would expand it so that baseball can avoid in a postseason situation obviously blown calls that influence the outcome of games of that importance.

Q: What’s one sports business story you’re watching?
Costas: As a baseball fan, I’ve got my eye on the sale of the Dodgers and what that does to other franchise values and local cable revenues, which have burgeoned in some places but which probably don’t have as high an upside in other places. The Kansas City Royals can’t duplicate what the Texas Rangers just did. Will that create widening imbalances in the game, which baseball has worked hard to narrow? Baseball has had some success in narrowing those revenue gaps in recent years, is there another widening of the gap around the corner or can they manage this?
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