Bleacher Report yesterday announced the hiring of N.Y. Times reporter Howard Beck to be its national NBA writer, representing perhaps its most significant editorial hire to date. Joining Beck in covering basketball are Kevin Ding, formerly of the Orange County Register; Ethan Skolnick, formerly of the Palm Beach Post; and Jared Zwerling, formerly of ESPN.com. They will report to Bleacher Report Editor-in-Chief Joe Yanarella. The Turner Sports-owned Bleacher Report steadily over the past year has sought to attract more experienced writers to the site, and this past summer landed Mike Freeman from CBSSports.com. But the acquisition of the highly respected Beck quickly caused a social media stir regarding the once highly-ridiculed Bleacher Report. Company execs said Beck and the other new hires might show up on Turner's TV properties in addition to the digital work, but as of now nothing is set. Bleacher Report Head of Content & Product Dave Finocchio said, "We've been out trying to get good, veteran voices, and we're getting to a point where we really have a lot to offer people." He declined to say whether Beck's move to one of the more hotly debated destinations in digital sports represented a larger statement on the current state of media. Finocchio: "I'll let the pundits opine on that. But we have a bright future, and I think for a lot of these guys, it's fun to be part of something that's growing and building. ... There's more of these kinds of hires coming in the other sports and topics that matter to us." Finocchio added Bleacher Report is not entirely abdicating its original premise as an open-source sports destination, but added it continues to grow more selective about submissions. Finocchio: "We're now accepting about 5% of the submissions we get each week. The goal is to provide the best destination for sports fans anywhere." Ding, Skolnick and Zwerling have already started at Bleacher Report, while Beck will start on Monday (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer).
REAX TO MOVES: THE BIG LEAD's Jason McIntyre wrote Bleacher Report "has been a punching bag for a few years for a variety of reasons ... but a signing like Beck is sure to send shockwaves throughout the media" (THEBIGLEAD.com, 9/18). MEDIA BISTRO's Chris O'Shea wrote, "This is what you call one hell of a power move" (MEDIABISTRO.com, 9/18). DEADSPIN's Josh Koblin: "This is a big thing. ... I guess it's safe to assume that 'strict policy' against B/R writers breaking news is becoming a thing of the past" (DEADSPIN.com, 9/18).
Q: The idea of leaving the N.Y. Times for Bleacher Report -- I find that hard to grasp. How did you come to that decision? Beck: I understand your reaction to it and the reaction of a lot of people yesterday. I would have reacted the same way. It certainly took a lot of deliberation to decide to do it. I love newspapers. I love the N.Y. Times. I had every intention of being there for the rest of my career. I wasn't even looking to leave until this really compelling opportunity came along. What's intriguing about it is that this is something new. Your reaction sums it up. It strikes you as a radical change. I'm a pretty change-averse person in general, but this sounded like a lot of fun and a really great adventure -- to basically jump in just as these guys are making some major changes to the site. To be able to be part of the first team that's going in to steer the editorial direction under Turner and help build this up is just a fantastic opportunity.
Q: Describe the negotiations. Beck: They approached me back in the spring. (Senior Deputy Editor) Dylan MacNamera sent me an e-mail introducing himself and saying that they'd like to chat. I knew what Bleacher Report was. I was familiar with what they did. I thought, "OK, let's have a conversation." I didn't know where it was going to lead. He made an initial pitch about where they were heading and mentioning that they were purchased by Turner and were going to be building the site up and hiring veteran, professional journalists to staff the place. I thought, "This sounds intriguing, but let's see where this goes." As you might expect, there was some trepidation initially about making a move like that. I kept talking to Dylan and (Editor in Chief) Joe Yanarella and eventually Brian Grey, the CEO, over the course of several months. I was sold on where they're going with this.
Q: What are you most excited about? Beck: This is a chance to spread my wings a little bit. I've always considered myself a print guy -- a newspaper guy to the core, a proud ink-stained wretch. I'm a writer and reporter. That's what I do. I didn't think of myself as necessarily a TV guy or a digital guy, but there's going to be opportunities here to explore other areas. At this stage of my life and this stage of my career, this is a chance to expand my horizons a little bit and challenge myself in different ways. That was really attractive. But the fact that this is a completely new phase for Bleacher Report -- the editorial mission is obviously changing. They didn't go out and hire us to continue doing what the site has been doing. They hired us because we're experienced journalists who can add a new level of depth and quality to the site. Part of the allure is helping build that up. That site's been around for a while. But the Bleacher Report that people think they know is not the Bleacher Report that they're going to be seeing soon. To be in at the beginning to help shape that in some way is really exciting.
ESPN and the ATP World Tour have finalized a long-term deal for expanded coverage of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Sony Open in Miami and the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. The agreement will result in more than 44 hours of televised coverage, including the first time both the men's and women's championships will air from the South Florida event (ESPN). In California, Leighton Ginn reports the new ESPN/ABC deal with the BNP Paribas Open "will run through the end of the 2020 tournament." Tournament Dir Steve Simon said, "It’s the longest one we’ve had, and to have ESPN and ABC make that kind of commitment reflects how the tournament has grown and [its] stature in the game." Ginn notes the BNP Paribas Open "had a three-year agreement with ESPN and ABC that ended at the completion of this year’s tournament." With the new agreement, the tournament’s "final weekend will be televised on ABC starting in 2015." Simon said that there are "current agreements that keep the tournament off ABC this year and next." Ginn notes in addition to televised matches, ESPN3 will provide "additional live multi-screen coverage, via WatchESPN." Meanwhile, Simon said that there "will be an announcement in the coming weeks" regarding Tennis Channel's coverage of the event (Palm Springs DESERT SUN, 9/19).
RATINGS TRENDS: ESPN Senior Dir of Programming & Acquisitions Jason Bernstein said of the net's tennis ratings during what many consider to be the Golden Age of the sport, "In general, yes, tennis has done well over the last decade. But it’s still such an individual sport that it depends on the player. Andre Agassi was as big a ratings star as any player today. The proven ratings winners for us now are the Williams sisters and Roger (Federer), and now Rafa [Nadal] has shown that he can bring people in. But we haven’t seen that with matches between Novak (Djokovic) and Andy (Murray) yet. Tennis can still be a challenge without a name-brand star." He added of any fear that ratings will fall as Federer's career winds down, "Tennis always tends to have a big star who is doing well. Roger has faded a little lately, but Rafa and Serena have performed extremely well. What hurts us more is when we show tournaments in the U.S. where the top European players don’t play, and where people withdraw at the last minute. We'd like to see more players come to the U.S. summer series" (TENNIS.com, 9/17).
Saturday night's Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Canelo Alvarez boxing match "generated the highest rating in Mexican television history," according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com. The fight aired on broadcast network Televisa, and Golden Boy Promotions noted that the main event drew a 41.5 national rating and 22.1 million viewers. The full telecast, including undercards, earned a 30.1 rating and or 16.2 million viewers. Alvarez "has never garnered fewer than 7.5 million viewers for his eight appearances on Televisa" (ESPN.com, 9/18). Meanwhile, Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer yesterday said that the numbers for Saturday’s fight are "tracking in such a way that the buys will surpass two million, ‘no question about it.’” He added, “It’s definitely the highest-grossing pay per view of all time. There’s a possibility that it could be the highest numbers of buys as well, but we’re still collecting data. I don’t want to make the statement that it’s going to surpass the buys (2.5 million) as well, unless I’m absolutely sure.” Schaefer: “It is looking very strong, but I hope that I’ll have more concrete information by the end of this week” (RINGTV.com, 9/18).
In Boston, Gayle Fee reports WEEI-FM brass met with ESPN MLB analyst Curt Schilling "and are reportedly contemplating bringing" him in as a regular host "to shore up the station's struggling afternoon drive show." But Entercom Boston VP, GM & Market Manager Jeff Brown, whose company owns WEEI, in an e-mail "insisted that his current afternoon-drive team of Mike Salk and Michael Holley isn't going anywhere." However, sources said that Brown and new WEEI Program Dir Kevin Graham "want to team up Schilling with Salk." It is "unclear where that would leave Holley," or whether Schilling "even wants the gig." Sources said that Schilling "really wants" to replace Fox MLB analyst Tim McCarver when he retires at the end of the season (BOSTON HERALD, 9/19).
REDUCED ROLE: In Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley reported Bucks TV analyst Jon McGlocklin, entering his 38th season in the role, "will split game analyst duties this season and beyond" with former NBAer Sidney Moncrief. McGlocklin plans to "work about 36 games in total this season, most of them at home." Moncrief will "work about 36 as well, most of them on the road," as FS Wisconsin "will televise 72 of the Bucks' 82 regular-season games." Jim Paschke, in his 28th season with the team, "remains the TV play-by-play voice." McGlocklin at age 70 "wanted a reduction in the number of games he called because he has wearied of the travel" (JSONLINE.com, 9/17).
HE'S BACK: T.J. Simers today pens his first column for the ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, giving readers an idea of what they can expect. Simers writes, “I try to make people laugh in most columns but this seems to anger people. I notice there is a lot of anger out there. I’d hate to think if I wrote about something that really matters." He also alluded to the incident that may have led to his departure from the L.A. Times, writing, "I think the basketball daughter could beat Blake Griffin in a free throw-shooting contest for charity. There might be a video there, or sitcom pitch. She’s already taken Dwight Howard for 5,000 charity bucks” (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 9/19).