SBJ/January 16-22, 2012/Opinion

Our look at the work, pay of sports broadcasters

Like many ideas, both good and bad, this one started over drinks, and it came while watching football and sports talk shows.

The question never struck me as surprising, but what did strike me was how often I was asked it. “How much do those guys make?” my buddies would ask me. They would be pointing to Dan Marino on CBS, Steve Young or Trent Dilfer on ESPN, or Howie Long on Fox. I always had the same response: “You know, I don’t know.” And it bothered me. “Aren’t you supposed to know those things? I thought that’s what you did?” was the consistent, quizzical follow-up from my support group. “Yes, I should,” I’d say, and then I’d instantly go back to the bottle of wine.

So we made an effort over time to look into the state of sports broadcasting in regard to the ex-athletes and former coaches. They are ubiquitous, but little is really known about them. What is their pay scale, their schedule, their hours, their workload? Time and again we’d go down the path of trying to tell this story but would run into obstructions or empty promises from those who failed to deliver the goods they said they could.

It’s OK; that frequently happens. But we kept trying, and this week, Liz Mullen presents an extensive look at the culture after talking to a number of people directly related to the business. She’ll be the first to tell you that it was a difficult story to report, with specifics and sources hard to come by. And while exact figures are not available, we have presented a range of financials and a scope of hours and day-to-day responsibilities. It’s a good read.

You can tell that these are not easy jobs, and we’ve all seen those who have debuted to less-than-stellar reviews but have gradually improved. Bill Parcells comes to mind for me. His early days at NBC were not nearly as compelling as he is now while talking on ESPN’s “NFL Countdown.” He’s more pointed, more comfortable on air, and certainly more colorful and willing to give frank perspective.

I enjoy learning from people who have played and coached the game, and we’ve tried to have a little fun in forecasting some players and coaches who could be the next stars on the set or in the booth. So I’m glad we’re finally telling this story, and while I won’t be able to offer a specific salary the next time I’m asked the question, no doubt around this week’s AFC and NFC championship games, I’ll at least be armed with some data. Surely that will placate my friends … until their next question that I don’t have the answer to frustrates them.

■ ■ ■

You may have seen some changes at ESPN2’s “First Take,” where the show will be revamped and focused more around Skip Bayless. Do we really need more of this? Frankly, I am baffled at how Bayless is a ratings draw, but apparently he is. I know that at age 43 I’m out of ESPN’s demo focus, but the constant bloviating by Bayless on that show showcases much of what I feel is so entirely wrong with that “yell my opinion because I know it all” and “play up the dramatics for the camera” type of programming. I’m both surprised and discouraged that the style sticks.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.
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