Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 23 No. 29
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

The Bristol brass show up in numbers for Boomer’s big week

It’s clear that ESPN’s top executives still view studio host Chris Berman as an important part of the network.

Berman’s ESPN contract ends in May 2017, and there has been a lot of speculation about whether his time with the network is nearing an end. Berman is an ESPN lifer — part of the fabric in Bristol. He started soon after ESPN’s 1979 launch and has been one of the network’s most prominent on-air faces ever since.

Last week, Berman picked up two industry awards — one Monday night in Salisbury, N.C., and the other Tuesday night in Washington, D.C. More striking than the honors was the amount of public support that came from the top levels of ESPN. It certainly did not feel like Berman was on his way out.

Chris Berman’s ESPN contract ends next year, and it’s not yet clear whether he’ll return.
Photo by: ESPN IMAGES
Former President George Bodenheimer; John Wildhack, executive vice president of programming; and Seth Markman, production and coordinating producer, attended both events. Current President John Skipper was in Salisbury, and former executive editor John Walsh was in D.C. Publicly and privately, they all were effusive in their praise of the longtime broadcaster.

I attended Tuesday’s Newseum event in Washington, D.C., where Berman was given the 2016 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in Media. In accepting the honor, Berman referenced his contract negotiations and news reports that he would be stepping down as host of the popular “NFL Sunday Countdown” show after this season.

“I was underpaid for 20 years, and I was overpaid for 20 years,” he said. “This May, we’re going to have to figure out what we’re going to do next. If this is to be the last year, I promise to do it the way I did the year I came in. That would be with passion. That would be with genuine excitement. And that would be trying to get it right.”

Around the sport media world:
Bulls-Jazz producer proud to hold ratings mark

Speaking to a crowd that included high school journalism students, Berman’s speech focused on a theme of getting facts straight before moving forward with a story. In that vein, he told several stories about his career that demonstrated how he tried to live that rule.

“Journalism is about trust. It’s such a huge part of sports. I like to think that’s part of this honor tonight. At Super Bowl XXIV, there was a bogus story that came out about Joe Montana. He was really hurt by it. He shut down all interviews, except for one. He agreed to do one with me. I asked him all the necessary questions. After that was done, I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Joe, take a breath. Relax. Now we’ll talk about football.’ And we talked for about 10 or 15 more minutes, and I could see in his eye that he was going to be fine. San Francisco 55, Denver 10.”

“At the 1991 draft, inside information was scarce. We didn’t have cellphones, and not a lot of stuff got out. I was close to Bills GM Bill Polian, and the Bills were on the clock. First we went to commercial. Then we went to a reporter. I see the Bills’ card with the pick go up, and I start cursing under my breath. ‘Really? I’ve had this pick. And now we’re not even getting to me [on camera].’ Then I see the card go back. So I got on, and I said something like, ‘You know, I’m going to guess that it’s Illinois defensive back Henry Jones.’ As soon as I said it, the card went up, and the Bills took Henry Jones. Bill Polian wanted to make me look good. That’s pretty cool. That’s trust that I’m talking about.

President Clinton was in the broadcast booth [for Cal Ripken’s record-setting game in 1995]. I looked up in the left field lights, and there was a sharp shooter. I looked up in the right field lights, and there was another sharp shooter. I figured it would be pretty smart — don’t try a nickname he doesn’t like or there’s going to be real trouble.”

“I’d like to mention Bob Ley. Another 1979 original like me, he more than anyone else of all of us over four decades represents getting it right. We were together at Candlestick Park for the earthquake in the World Series in 1989. What our crew did that evening was as amazing a moment as we’ve ever had on our air. … Bob was unbelievable. I certainly share that award with him tonight.”

“I hope all the young folks in here can do what they love, or at least give it a shot. You’ll never forgive yourself later in life if you don’t go for it. You don’t want to say later in life, ‘Boy, if only I could have held on for a couple more years, maybe it would have worked out.’ You want to know that you gave it your best shot — whether it works or whether it doesn’t. That’s some advice from an older guy to some younger guys. Hang in there. If you’re good at it, I think it’s going to happen. Be true to yourself.”

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