SBD/February 21, 2013/Media

ESPN's John Skipper Discusses Hiring of Ray Lewis, NHL Coverage, Rights To Catholic 7

Lewis' new role at ESPN will likely be formally announced in the next two weeks
ESPN President John Skipper on Tuesday confirmed former Ravens LB Ray Lewis will have "a significant role next fall" on the net, according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. Lewis will serve as an analyst on "Monday Night Countdown" and will also appear on "Sunday NFL Countdown" and "SportsCenter." A formal announcement is "expected to come sometime in the next two weeks because the contract is still not officially signed, and neither ESPN nor Lewis is pressing for an announcement." Skipper said, "We had an opportunity last fall to get Ray and we debated internally some of the history. Obviously, we decided we were comfortable with it. ... I will tell you we did remind ourselves of some of the issues. We sort of decided that the NFL welcomed him back into the fold and the fans welcomed him back into the fold. I think we are fine with second chances and we think he will make great television." Deitsch noted one of Lewis' "main requirements was flexibility in his schedule so he could attend" his son's football games at the Univ. of Miami. Lewis likely will "work a number of Sundays ... depending on his personal schedule." He is "not expected to appear regularly on ESPN's airwaves until the start of next season." Meanwhile, Skipper is "confident" that Jon Gruden will be back in the "MNF" booth, "despite rumblings that some NFL teams might still make coaching changes." Skipper: "There were seven coaching openings, so I was 14 percent more confident every time a team hired a coach. Jon has said he is committed, but every time there is an opening, I lose about an hour of sleep that night."

TAKING A SLAP SHOT: Deitsch noted ESPN is often criticized for "not covering hockey as prominently as it did when it owned the television contract." Skipper said that the "perception that ESPN has given hockey the short end of the stick is not accurate." He said, "Look, I don't think it's fair. I see 'SportsCenter' every day and we cover hockey every day. We do not have a significant differential between highlights of hockey now and when we had it. The only difference is we are not there (as a rights holder)."

FINAL DESTINATION: Asked what network will end up with rights to the Catholic 7, Skipper predicted the group of schools "will sign with Fox, but he's hoping ESPN can still have a presence." Skipper said, "I think it will be good basketball. We are not in a first-position here. It's clear that Fox has established a relationship. I can't tell you that they will get a deal done but I think they will, and then we will be interested in sub-licensing" (SI.com, 2/20).
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