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Volume 23 No. 28
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Legacy of ESPN’s Scott reaches far beyond the highlights

T he sports world was united in its grief of Stuart Scott’s untimely death last week at the age of 49.

Current and former colleagues described Scott as a prince of a man, someone who influenced their careers. Executives and athletes spoke of Scott’s influence on the sports scene. Sports leagues and college conferences held moments of silence at NFL, NBA and college basketball games.

I was caught off guard by this level of attention. Scott was a popular sportscaster, who died way too young, of course. But I was not expecting his death to affect so many people outside the sports bubble, to the point where Comedy Central host Jon Stewart paid tribute to him during his show.

At Madison Square Garden and the University of North Carolina, his alma mater, fans mourned the death of sportscaster Stuart Scott.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
For a reality check, I called two high school classmates to see how much Scott’s legacy expanded beyond the sports business. I attended Washington, D.C.’s Gonzaga College High School in the mid-1980s with Reggie Taylor and John Coffey, two African-American sports fans who do not work in sports.

We are a few years younger than Scott and remember his early days with ESPN. After talking with both, it’s clear that I underestimated Scott’s role as a transformational personality.

Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

Scott’s catchphrases are what made him popular, of course. But Taylor says Scott’s influence moves way beyond popularizing “booyah” and “cooler than the other side of the pillow.”

Taylor remembers the way Scott talked, the way Scott dressed, and the way Scott styled his hair, which he described as a “mid-1990s version of Kid ’n Play.”

Scott did not always wear a suit and tie and didn’t sound like other announcers.

For young, black men just getting started in the business world, it was liberating having someone like Scott in a high-profile position.

“Many African-Americans who go into corporate America are encouraged and expected to behave and speak a certain way,” Taylor said. “Stuart Scott helped make some of that cross-cultural progress happen to where the hip-hop generation became mainstream. He helped soften a lot of rough edges.”

Coffey agreed.

“African-Americans didn’t have anyone on a national level that we could relate to,” Coffey said. “With Stuart Scott on TV delivering sports the way he did, it made African-Americans feel like they had a seat at the table.”

Scott wasn’t the first African-American on ESPN. Greg Gumbel hosted “SportsCenter,” Tom Jackson was a staple on the company’s NFL coverage and Joe Morgan did baseball.

Other African-Americans were well-known media members, like Michael Wilbon, Bryan Burwell and Ralph Wiley. But Scott offered a younger, hipper personality that registered with a large number of viewers.

“Stuart was the first person I saw on a daily basis who had his own unique voice,” Taylor said. “He looked like me. He was my age. I’m sure he had some of the same experiences I had.”

Coffey said he believes Scott’s legacy is defined by the number of kids of all colors who still use his catchphrases.

“He helped bridge the racial divide between blacks and whites,” Coffey said. “Everyone would use his catchphrases.”

> SPEEDING TO THE SECOND SCREEN: I rarely watch sports anymore unless I have Twitter or Facebook available on my iPhone or laptop. These social networks give me much more information about the game I’m watching than a traditional TV telecast — quicker injury reports, more in-depth reporting.

This is hardly unique. For the past several years, sports networks have been trying to figure out how to develop second-screen applications to complement TV.

But as Fox Sports heads into 2015, it is taking more of a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” philosophy with the second screen. Fox Sports executives view established social media sites like Facebook and Twitter as the place where its viewers can have a second-screen experience. During this year’s NASCAR coverage, for example, Fox Sports plans to program highlights, commentary, photographs and behind-the-scenes information on its NASCAR Facebook pages.

“You go where the people are,” Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said at an industry conference last month. “It’s naïve to think that you can wave a magic wand and that there’s going to appear a second screen that’s more powerful than Facebook.”

Shanks spent a lot of time trying to develop second-screen applications several years ago, when he was one of DirecTV’s top executives. He ran into problems trying to figure out where to focus the second screen.

As an example, Shanks pointed to Hot Pass, a DirecTV NASCAR service that allowed viewers to watch a race from the perspective of a specific driver, using in-car cameras and microphones.

“It let you dive deeper into a particular driver until that driver crashed,” Shanks said. “That was the downfall of Hot Pass. You’re not guaranteed that whatever you’re paying for is something where you’re going to get your money’s worth.”

Sports networks are making some second-screen inroads with the launch of streaming services. NBC Sports Group executives, for example, have found that putting content around the live streams for “Sunday Night Football” helps keep online viewers watching the game longer.

Both NBC and Fox plan to stream every NASCAR race this season and will program second-screen applications around those services.

“We’ll play around as much as we are allowed to around our streaming product and make that not only a first-screen but a second-screen experience,” NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus said last month.

Both Lazarus and Shanks believe the streaming services will help Fox and NBC attract younger viewers to their NASCAR programming. Lazarus also said that NBC’s marketing plan, which will include NBC’s entertainment and news assets, also should help attract younger viewers.

“We’re going to be new to the marketing mix of NASCAR,” he said. “We are going to hopefully add a lot through our broad NBCUniversal marketing channels to expose people who, maybe, haven’t seen it through our channels.”

> ANOTHER SHOT ON GOAL: The last time the Washington Capitals were in the Winter Classic in 2011, Joe Beninati sat rinkside and called the game for a 3-D telecast that Versus produced.

BENINATI
At the time, the play-by-play announcer seemed to have a bright future on the national stage, slotted behind Mike Emrick on the cable channel’s roster of announcers.

Beninati, though, fell out of favor soon after NBC Sports took over the channel and he hasn’t called a national game since 2011. He is now the lead announcer for Capitals games on Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, a position he’s had since 1994.

I caught up with Beninati in the Nationals Park press box at the Winter Classic earlier this month and asked if he wanted to announce national games again.

“I obviously want to be back at the national level in this sport,” he said. “It was a personal disappointment. Hockey is one of the great loves of my life. To have had the opportunity for six years there to do it at the national level, to be slotted right behind Mike Emrick, I was tremendously proud of that and I only wanted to get better with it. That opportunity wasn’t given to me, and I will try my darndest to get back into the mix, but we’ll see how that turns out. I’m grateful for the time that I had and I sure hope that I get [another opportunity].”

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.