SBD/August 19, 2013/Media

ESPN Plans On Continuing With "SportsCenter" As Usual In Response To "Fox Sports Live"

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Van Pelt said he is proud to viewers that "SportsCenter" is what they know
On Saturday night at 7:24pm ET, ESPN "SportsCenter" anchor Steve Levy sent out a tweet saying, "its me and [Scott Van Pelt] on SportsCenter after little league world series on espn #notour1stshow." The message behind the hashtag Levy used was obvious. "Fox Sports Live," the newest competitor to "SportsCenter," was three-and-a-half hours from debuting and already picking up a lot of media attention. But ESPN execs feel they have the experience and personalities to hold off any challenges. In separate phone conversations yesterday, THE DAILY spoke with Van Pelt and "SportsCenter" Senior Coordinating Producer Michael Shiffman about some of the decisions behind what ESPN put into Saturday's show.

On choosing Levy and Van Pelt to anchor "SportsCenter" Saturday night:
Shiffman: We wanted to put our best foot forward. We knew it was their first night, and we want to have our strongest anchor teams out there as well.
Van Pelt: We've worked together for many years. He just celebrated his 20th year at ESPN, and I've been there more than 10. This is a show you know, and these are people that you know. I don't think it was entirely coincidental that we were asked to do this. We have a sense of pride in our place. We are proud to be asked to be the ones to sit out there, and if there is some kind of a taste test going on, remind people that this is what you know.

On changes to "SportsCenter" on FS1's launch night:
Shiffman: Our overall theme was to attack the show like we do every single night, which is to do the best highlights possible, the best storytelling possible and be really smart. That's not different from what we did other nights before they launched.
Van Pelt: During our production meeting, I told an anecdote of a basketball coach friend I had spoken to that day. I explained to him that there was this new network that's launching, and he says, "Oh, what is it?" I said, "Fox Sports 1." He said, "What channel is that?" He hadn't heard and had no clue. It's a good reminder that when you live in our small little world, you could convince yourself that this is a big deal, that they're ready to join the fight, and it's crickets outside the walls of our little fraternity. With that thought in mind, my philosophy is that we do exactly what we do and have done for 30-some odd years.

What was the best part of Saturday night's "SportsCenter?"
Shiffman: We try to maximize our resources. Last night, we had reporters at two of the NFL games. We have Mark Schwarz at Jaguars-Jets and Pedro Gomez at Cowboys-Cardinals. We had the My Wish feature. Those things have always been staples of the show and, as far as I can tell, will continue to be staples of the show.
Van Pelt: I can't think of a stand-alone moment that I'm most proud of. It wasn't like we said, "Let's do one highlight where we really show Fox what we can do." It wasn't like that. It wasn't anything that differentiated itself from any particular day.

On the idea that Fox Sports 1 is bringing fun back into sports:
Van Pelt: The easiest thing in the world to do is to talk a bunch of junk on Twitter. They're really good at that --­ poking the bear with a stick. I would swing up, too, if I were them. That's what they're doing. The idea that they co-opted fun in sports and that ESPN and "SportsCenter" is some kind of a trip to the dentist is laughable. I have fun every single time I do "SportsCenter." If they want to be fun, great. Go have fun. I encourage you to do so because we do it every day. That's the one thing I found to be a head-scratcher, that they planted their flag on this fun hill, as if they discovered it. Like they're the Christopher Columbus of fun in sports and they're putting their flag down on that hill. Really? We've been living here since 1979. Welcome to the fun of sports.

On FS1's launch:
Van Pelt: If you reference [co-President] Eric Shanks or ["Fox Sports Live" Executive Producer] Michael Hughes, these are guys that I like whose talent I respect and who I sincerely wish well. The PR folks wanted to make it a jousting war verbally. Sincerely, I like those guys. This is a big, giant buffet table and there's room for everybody to belly up to the table. Sincerely, you just wish them the best because I like those folks. But I work for ESPN and I'm proud to do so. We'll do our part to keep our seat at the table.
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