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Little League World Series female P Mo'Ne Davis appears on this week's national SI cover, the "first Little Leaguer" to do so, according to Matt Breen of the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. SI "dispatched a reporter" to the LLWS on Saturday and a photographer followed Davis' Pennsylvania team "for the two previous days." SI Managing Editor Chris Stone in a statement said Davis has "owned the sports conversation" over the past week. Stone: "How often do you get to say this about a 13-year-old girl?" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 8/20). MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski said of Davis appearing on the cover, "This is great." MSNBC's Willie Geist said, "How cool is that?" ("Morning Joe," MSNBC, 8/20). NBC's Katy Tur called Davis a "national superstar" and noted the Little League World Series "has never been more inspiring" ("Today," NBC, 8/20). ESPN's Jason Whitlock said Davis is a "great kid" with a "great story," but he was not comfortable with a 13-year-old on the cover of SI. Whitlock: "That's too young. I start thinking about being a Hollywood child star, and we're doing this to athletes now. ... No one's the bad guy here, not Sports Illustrated. But it just reminds me of Hollywood. These kids can't handle this kind of attention." ESPN's Michael Wilbon noted in the past he has gone off about how ESPN airs too many Little League and high school games. He said, "I find it loathsome most of the time. But I think she's the exception, and what convinced me was seeing her do an interview, a conversation on this network. She is so composed, she is self-aware without being self-absorbed, she's smart, she handles the language, she has an awareness." But Whitlock said, "The problem is the next kid they put on the cover and the next kid after that" ("PTI," ESPN, 8/19).
TOO MUCH, TOO SOON? In N.Y., Jeré Longman notes attention from the public and the news media "has been enormous and ceaseless." Davis is "driving the ratings for ABC and ESPN during the series and, as of Tuesday, had been featured atop the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer for five consecutive days." But Davis’ coaches have "begun to try to ease pressure and expectation, striking a balance between making her available to tell her engaging story and protecting her so that she can enjoy herself." Davis' coach Steve Bandura said the media requests were "wearing her out." But yesterday she "joined teammates for interviews with ESPN and BET." Asked if she was enjoying herself, Davis said, "Yes I am. Sometimes it gets annoying, but I am enjoying it" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/20). ESPNW's Melissa Isaacson wrote under the header, "How Much Is Too Much Attention At The Little League World Series?" Davis has been "quite open in expressing that all the attention is not fun." She is "seemingly as cool as any professional athlete," but even "most professional athletes are not on every 'SportsCenter' countdown and promo for a week solid." Davis' mother, Lakeisha McLean, said, "I feel bad that Mo'Ne can't really enjoy it the way she wants to and is used to because of the media and everything. They are kids and just want to have fun." Little League parent Mike Adams said, "I don't think you can possibly realize until you're here the amount of pressure there is. It's so big now with TV and social media, it gets out of your control" (ESPNW.com, 8/19). ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said, "I hate the attention she’s getting. ... I don't believe anybody 13 years of age should be put in this kind of spotlight. I don't like it." He admitted that may sound "a bit awry considering the fact that I work for the 'Worldwide Leader.'" Smith added, "I'm not talking about the attention as it pertains to her exploits on the field. I’m talking about the interviews, I’m talking about the questions. I don’t like that" ("First Take," ESPN2, 8/20).
THIS IS HER MOMENT: SI's Albert Chen as part of this week's cover story notes Davis has "received tweets" from Michelle Obama, Tennis HOFer Billie Jean King, Thunder F Kevin Durant, Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen and rappper Lil Wayne, while also receiving TV talk show invites from Jimmy Fallon, Ellen DeGeneres and Queen Latifah (SI, 8/25 issue).
The Mid-American Conference and ESPN yesterday announced "a 13-year television and digital media contract," with sources saying that it is worth more than $100M and "will pay each of the 12 member universities about $670,000 per school year" through '26-27, according to Mark Znidar of the COLUMBUS DISPATCH. MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher and ESPN Senior VP/Programming Acquisitions Burke Magnus said that 10 years "have been added to the remaining three years of the contract," which gives ESPN "exclusive rights to all MAC sporting events." The previous contract was worth $1.4M a year. The new contract "will be worth about" $8M a year. ESPN3 streaming capability will "be embedded on MACsports.com, and every member school’s website." Steinbrecher said that he "expects a three- to four-year process for member schools to purchase and install streaming equipment." ESPN will "aid the schools in the startup, but the universities will pay for the majority of the equipment." When every university is up and running with digital streaming equipment, Magnus said that a "minimum of 420 MAC sporting events per year will be seen" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 8/20). In Akron, George Thomas notes ESPN will "continue to air games Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and broadcast Tuesday and Wednesday prime-time games, which have become a staple for the network as the MACtion brand expanded." But more importantly, the "additional revenue -- around nine figures over the course of the 13-year pact -- will enable the MAC to deal with issues that are revealing themselves in the wake of the top five conferences voting for autonomy" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 8/20). In Cleveland, Elton Alexander noted it is "understood, as the deal plays out, the ability to get regional providers to broadcast games will play a big part in that exposure" (CLEVELAND.com, 8/19).
The Syracuse athletic department yesterday “signed a new contract with IMG that covers both broadcasting and multimedia rights,” according to Chris Carlson of the Syracuse POST-STANDARD. The school in a release said that IMG “will sell corporate sponsorships and market other assets of the athletic department including certain digital entities, Carrier Dome signage and in-game promotions.” IMG also will “continue to manage radio broadcasts and coaches’ shows.” Terms and length of the deal with IMG were not released, but Syracuse’s deal “would likely be valued somewhere close” to Rutgers ($5.9M) and UConn ($8.0M), as both of those schools are in the Northeast, with “one claiming a share of the New York media market and the other owning a marquee basketball program like the Orange.” Rutgers “was making just more than half that number” ($3.07M) under its previous deal, which was signed in ’02. IMG has handled Syracuse’s multimedia and broadcast rights since ’99 (Syracuse POST-STANDARD, 8/20).
THE NEXT STEP: SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Michael Smith conducted a Q&A with IMG College President & Chair Ben Sutton, where he discussed the Syracuse negotiations, as well as "developing ... new lines of business," working with "his new direct report, WME co-chair Patrick Whitesell" and the recent loss of Kentucky’s multimedia rights (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 8/18 issue).
The debate over the use of the Redskins name continues to gain steam after CBS' Phil Simms and NBC's Tony Dungy recently said they would not refer to the nickname, but count ESPN's Mike Ditka as a supporter of the moniker. The Pro Football HOFer said the debate is "so stupid it's appalling" in a recent interview posted on RedskinsHistorian.com, a blog run by author Mike Freeman. Ditka added he hopes Redskins Owner Daniel Snyder "keeps fighting for it and never changes it, because the Redskins are part of an American football history, and it should never be anything but the Washington Redskins." Ditka: "It's so much horseshit it's incredible" (REDSKINSHISTORIAN.com, 8/14). CNBC's Joe Kernen said Ditka "isn't Native-American, so he doesn’t know whether it's offensive or not" ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 8/20). Meanwhile, former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said, "The whole 15 years I was there, I never once heard anything negative at all about the Redskin name. When we got a song, ‘Hail To The Redskins,’ it was about courage and pride and bravery. ... That's kind of where I am on it and I can't see me really changing my mind” (“America’s Pregame,” FS1, 8/19).
MICHAELS SAYS IT'S NOT HIS PLACE: NBC's Al Michaels also weighed in on the topic yesterday during an appearance on ESPN Radio's "The Herd." He said, "What are we supposed to do at a certain point, when, let’s say 90,000 people, after a touchdown are singing ‘Hail to the Redskins’? Are we supposed to bleep that out? ... In my role, as a play-by-play announcer -- and I’m not begging the issue here -- but my role is to report. People don’t want me to advocate. There’s nothing that can flip the audience off more than a play-by-play guy, in the middle of a game that they’ve tuned into watch and want to enjoy, advocating or getting up on a soapbox. Maybe you can do that on a pregame show; you can certainly do it on your show. But when I’m doing the game, people have tuned in to watch the game, and that’s what I want to give them. I can take a stand in other places, but during the game itself, this is what people want to watch" ("The Herd with Colin Cowherd," ESPN Radio, 8/19). Meanwhile, NBC's "Nightly News" aired a report on the controversy last night, and Washington Post columnist Mike Wise said of Simms and Dungy, "These are household names during the fall in our living rooms, and if they're not using the name and other people start not using the name, you do become irrelevant at some point as a brand" ("Nightly News," NBC, 8/19).