As fans enjoy one of the biggest single weeks of top sports events ever, ESPN SportsCenter is coast-to-coast, including doing live shows all week from Las Vegas prior to Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, live shows from the NFL Draft in Chicago and reporting from multiple other events in one of its most logistically-challenging weeks. Full details HERE.
SportsCenter anchors Lindsay Czarniak and Steve Levy and ESPN Senior Vice President, SportsCenter and News Rob King, discussed SportsCenter’s big week in a media conference call today. A transcript of the call follows:
ROB KING: Thanks everybody for joining the call. I was just thinking this morning that a year ago this time we were furiously preparing to go into the new studio.
And at that time all we really thought about was ways in which to get inside those four walls and do incredible stuff for sports fans. And now we look at where we are this week, it’s kind of amazing to think not only are we filling those studios in Bristol and Los Angeles with really cool content but the sports world has exploded this week and SportsCenter is working really hard to be wherever sports news is happening.
So this week has just represented itself as amazing opportunity for SportsCenter to connect fans and a real pleasure to have Lindsay and Steve and the other anchors and the talented people behind the scene out there working their tails off to tell all the stories that we’re going to need to tell this week.
Q — Lindsay, you started your week in Las Vegas and then you’re going to Chicago for the draft and then back to Vegas. What’s this week been like for you so far?
LINDSAY CZARNIAK: It has been energetic, and it’s funny because Rob says this time last year I was on maternity leave and I was actually getting ready to come back to work in a few weeks at the Indy 500. And it’s funny as I look at that and think about how life has changed professionally in terms of us being on the road and having the ability to do this, it’s awesome.
So it’s been wild but a fun sense of wild for me, and I guess we’ve kind of gotten used to the travel aspect of it, which is good. So so far it’s been a lot of fun out here.
You can sort of feel the energy ramping up each day. Pacquiao’s arrival has been awesome here. The hotel where we are it’s just been completely buzzing. So for us it’s really, really cool.
Q — Steve Levy, you’re doing some stuff in Bristol and heading to Chicago and then to Las Vegas to finish out your week. What’s this week going to be like for you?
STEVE LEVY: Well, a year ago also I was like Lindsay, just getting back from maternity leave myself.
And then I’ve had a successful run as well since then. I’ve bounced back nicely. You’ll see my body has gotten back in shape.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK: You’ve lost weight.
STEVE LEVY: It’s a great week. You feel so lucky to be in the industry and then on top of that to be at ESPN and then the people who make these kinds of decisions think highly enough to send you to the places that you want to be, and that’s, of course, at all the big sporting events.
So I’ll anchor 11:00 tonight from our beautiful new billion‑dollar studios, and then head for Chicago tomorrow night. Do post draft immediately after the first round of the draft with John Anderson from Chicago.
I’m told and it gives you an idea how big the idea the event is, the draft, it will probably be the second highest rated SportsCenter of the year. And think about that. That’s three and a half hours after the first couple of picks are already made. But that’s the appetite of the NFL fan.
They’re so glued. They want more. Want more. And at ESPN, specifically SportsCenter, we’re there to give it to them. Nobody has ever had to twist my arm to go to Las Vegas. So I’m looking forward to that on Friday and being involved in the post‑fight coverage on Saturday.
And I’ll add this as well, the cherry on top for me is sort of a sporting event that won’t get as much attention but maybe should, a week from tonight, in New York, will be the sports television Emmy Awards.
And I predict Stuart Scott will win, as he should, in the category of anchor/host. And I predict good things for, a big Stuart Scott night, and also our former boss George Bodenheimer being on that night as well.
When I say the week for me it’s Tuesday to Tuesday. It’s going to be spectacular.
Q Rob, just logistically trying to put this all together, is it something you anticipate months ahead of time and you tell people, okay, you’re not taking vacation the week of ‑‑ the last week of April, first week of May, or is it something that sprung upon you once the Mayweather fight came into existence?
ROB KING: Great question. We were already aware that this was going to be a busy week, because when the NFL moved the draft to this point in the year and to Chicago, we knew that was going to be a signature event.
And we always know that the NHL and NBA playoffs are going to be in the mix, but we didn’t have any idea, for example, that Saturday, if games go a certain way it could be the beginning of a Cavs‑Bulls series. We knew the Red Sox would play the Yankees that weekend. The Kentucky Derby first Saturday in May also happens to be my birthday, so I was acutely aware.
So we’ve been planning for this month since about the time we left the Super Bowl. The announcement of the fight changed the dynamic incredibly, because even next week we’re going to be at the Players Championship on Wednesday. And we have plans to get on the road.
But when you have an event like this and a venue like this, it really does up the ante. So I would say we’ve spent pretty much since 48‑hour window after the announcement of the fight thinking about how the fight plays into this week, and it has been a massive logistical challenge.
Q Steve, considering being out in Vegas for this fight, how does that location, with all the craziness and the clubs and obviously the thousands of people there affect how you do your job?
STEVE LEVY: You know, boxing and Las Vegas, they just seem to go hand in hand. The craziness of boxing, the not knowing what will happen, that coincides with the Vegas vibe, too.
And I’ve been lucky enough to go to a couple of big fights in Las Vegas. But this sort of has off‑the‑charts marquee value, I think. I give credit to Colin Cowherd. I think he said this may be the last fight that we all ever care about.
You think about that, that might be more of a statement on the sport of boxing but it also speaks to the drawing power and the magnitude of Pacquiao and Mayweather. Look, it is the glitz. It is the glamour.
You think about how short the actual main event might be even if it goes the distance. And yet all the hype surrounding it. You know, it’s nowhere near a Super Bowl in terms of the length of game, and yet we’re giving it complete Super Bowl treatment and then some.
And instead of 53‑man rosters like at the Super Bowl, there are two main guys. I guess you could throw in the trainer and promoter if you wanted to, but there are two major stories here.
So this is an off‑the‑charts individual sporting event. I just hope it lives up to the hype and that’s got to be near impossible considering the amount of hype and I can’t imagine it being any other place. I don’t know another city that could do this sporting event justice the way Las Vegas can and will.
So I can’t wait to get out there. I love the city even when there is no fight or no sporting event myself.
Q Do you think the fact that it is like as you said maybe the last fight people really care about. Is that going to affect your coverage and kind of the historical aspect of it?
STEVE LEVY: I think again you can see by the amount of people, the amount of production people behind the scenes, I think we have four sets ‑‑ we don’t even have four sets at the Super Bowl, I don’t think. So that gives you an idea of where we stand.
I think we won’t know about the history until the fight is over and we see what happens and where it goes from there. But in terms of buildup, in terms of the ramping up of the week, I can’t think of another event like this, other than the Super Bowl.
And, again, the story lines are so much smaller because again you’re dealing with really two individuals. But the city has a lot to do with it. I think Las Vegas does have a lot to do with it and is really the only city in the U.S. and maybe the world that could do a sporting event of this nature, do it justice.
Q Lindsay, since you’ve been in Las Vegas already for a couple of days, do you want to add to that?
LINDSAY CZARNIAK: I think Levy just hit it out of the park. It’s all that and, yeah, it’s what I’ve seen, it’s sort of what I talked about. The fans have descended already here. First of all, you notice everywhere you’re walking, just the items they’ve got for sale and the crowds. But the fans that are draping the lobbies as we walk in waiting for a sight of Manny Pacquiao, that’s evident. And it’s been extremely exciting.
I talked about the buzz. And I do think what is Vegas, to Steve’s point, just completely adds to it, because people aren’t sleeping. It’s just a bunch of hype and it just seems like everyone’s really having a blast. And I don’t mean our colleagues aren’t sleeping, I mean the fans aren’t sleeping. I speak for myself.
Q Primarily for Rob, but Lindsay and Steve if you want to weigh in as well. Regarding the network’s coverage of the fight and Floyd Mayweather’s history of domestic violence, there seems to be some cognitive dissonance on ESPN with some personalities telling the audience to boycott the match and some being much more promotional and almost mouthpieces for the fight. So my question is what would you say to the victims of domestic violence and other people who feel that ESPN has hyped up the fight on balance more than they’ve paid attention to Floyd may weather’s history of domestic violence?
ROB KING: I think survivors of domestic violence deserve their story to be told. I think that survivors of domestic violence routinely see the breadth of the world kind of walking past their experience. And I think ‑‑ I know that we have taken very seriously, for quite some time, the responsibility to tell these stories in depth.
I think that the first part of your question about the divergence between some of our commentary voices regarding how people should respond to the fight actually reflects, I think, the realistic diversity of the way in which the sporting world and the world of popular culture and the rest of the world views what’s coming up this week.
It’s multi faceted. I do think that we as a network, as a company, pledge to serve sports fans, should continue to cover sporting events as such. I am proud of the efforts that a number of our voices, a number of our shows have undertaken in making sure that even in the midst of serving sports fans we are citizens of the world. Proud of that work.
I think it’s easy for me here sitting here, taking the question, to reflect, knowing everything that we’ve done. And I do think we will continue to be in this space. I mean, even today we have some folks wondering whether a baseball game will be played and other folks wondering what’s happening in the city of Baltimore, Maryland. And that intersection of sports and popular culture, intersection of sports and politics or economics will continue to be something that we have to balance.
What we actually encourage our commentary voices to do is to be authentically themselves and that means they are not going to speak with the same voice. We know that there will be debate. And as I said I view that as reflective of our broader society. But I want to emphasize that survivors of domestic abuse, survivors of sexual abuse, whose stories will be part of the narrative of a lot of the events we cover over the next week are foremost in our minds and we spend a lot of time and effort making sure that when we tell those stories, we tell them as fully as possible.
Q I have two, actually. One is a business question for Rob and the other is editorial for Lindsay and Steve. Rob, what teams are likely to move the needle for you guys the most, year in and year out, consistently when it comes to the NFL Draft? And does it ever amaze you or astound you that NFL season has become year‑round or at least NFL talking season is as huge as it is now?
ROB KING: So prior to my job here with SportsCenter, I was in digital and print media. We spent a lot of time looking at this. So a couple of quick stories. The first is when LeBron James joined the Miami Heat we had an editor who had the brilliant idea to just create a web destination called Heat Index covering nothing but the Miami Heat. And at the end of that first season the Miami Heat accounted for half of all the page views on our NBA coverage, which got us to thinking maybe we probably really need to dig down and figure out which teams really move the needle.
And ultimately what we found was more than 80 percent of all the traffic coming to ESPN digital media was coming either through six sports or 100 teams.
And of those 100 teams, 31 were NFL teams. So 31 of the 32 NFL teams were in the top 100 teams of all the traffic consumed on ESPN.com. We covered the Jacksonville Jaguars anyway. My point is since we got to see the NFL be so wholly present in top 100 teams, it came as no surprise to us that the NFL and its story lines are of interest to fans year‑round.
And so we don’t really view that as being much of an offseason, because the interest is consistently there.
Q I wanted to get your thoughts and opinions on all the new aspects of this draft and what challenges might go into that. You’ve got a new city for the first time and half century hosting it. Day three is going to be outdoors. I’m not sure if that’s ever happened before, or if it hasn’t happened in a while. And you’ve got this massive fan fest only been done for the Super Bowl and not the draft. Want to get your thoughts on that?
LINDSAY CZARNIAK: We’re doing the show actually from an outdoor location that is going to be, to my knowledge, kind of hunkered in there at fan fest. So that will be interesting for us.
I think our shows, in terms of Steve’s and mine, will have different feel. His is right after the action has started. Mine is leading up to it. So that’s going to be, I think, for me it’s going to be fun because it will add energy, certainly. It will be interesting to see how many people they have turn out.
It will be a lot more interaction. It will allow us to have our best in terms of analysts and specifically NFL analysts joining me from different locations which will be great.
I think the size of it, I’m very interested to see that, and I find it intriguing that this will be the first time since ’92 that the top pick and the second potential number two pick will not be there in person live, if they do in fact go one and two.
So to me it just kind of changes the way that we view it, but certainly still provides an opportunity to have memorable moments as you see them with their friends and family there in the locations where they’ve chose to remain for the draft.
So all those things are what I’m looking for, and I think it’s all ‑‑ for me it’s more the hype leading up to it, and I’m sure Levy can add to that.
STEVE LEVY: I’ll tell you what, as a native New Yorker, what I’ll miss about having the draft in New York would be the moans and groans of the Jet fans, good and bad, not just the Jets’ pick, everybody else’s pick.
Giants fans don’t seem to make as much noise. But Jet fans do. So I think that’s an interesting aspect that will be lost, to see how the Chicago public plays ‑‑ Chicago is an unbelievable sports town. We always talk about in the different cities, if all the teams are good, what team is number one.
And Chicago’s a really tough town to tell, because if all the teams are good, you could make the argument that all those teams would be right at the top.
If the Cubs ever got good, that town would go gaga. The Cubs might be on their way. The Bears obviously need a big bounce back. I think Jay Cutler is supposed to speak today. It will be interesting to hear what he has to say. And of course his body language is always interesting to witness.
So the Chicago fan, that aspect will be interesting to see to me. A new general manager in there for the Bears this year to see how and what they do with their pick.
I think it is a breath of fresh air, too, taking it out of New York. The NFL in terms of marketing and money making, they don’t make too many mistakes. And I see this being bit on in various cities going forward, much like the Super Bowl is, is years out.
So I’m intrigued by that. The newness of it, the breath of fresh air of being in a new city, of being in a great city, great sports town like Chicago.
I’ve got to be honest, like Lindsay mentioned, with Mariota not being there and by the way, our Shelley Smith will be at Mariota’s camp in Hawaii. Nice road trip. Nice perk for Shelley.
I’m disappointed. I get it. These players, Jameis Winston, Amari Cooper also, probably a top 10 guy, not expected to be there. These guys are entitled. They’ve earned the right to be where they want to be on their special draft day.
And if they want to be surrounded by 100 friends and family, and maybe that’s a space issue and the NFL doesn’t provide for that many tickets or seats or something along those lines, I get it.
But it does take away from the visual how the NFL draft has evolved. I don’t know what it was, was it five years ago when the guys started hugging Roger Goodell. And the fancy attire and the way they wear the hats and graduating to the selfie picture with the commissioner on the stage there.
So that will all sort of be lost at the top of the draft and poor Roger will be up there by himself maybe for half hour, which would be an odd sight as well. So all these things are new elements.
I feel like this is the most interesting draft, but I have to be honest, I might have thought that leading up to last year’s draft and the year before that as well. So it’s a fascinating sporting event.
I think it is a sporting event, and I would say no sporting event has come further than the NFL Draft now, with all the glitz and glamour and red carpet, the way I understand it started in a conference room in a bad hotel with just general managers in the room and that was it and you read about it the next day in the newspaper. So the event has certainly come a long way.
Q I’ve got one more question about the fight. So I’d like to throw that to Lindsay if I could. Lindsay, I’m old enough to have watched the Ali‑Frazier fights and those obviously took place in a different world than we live in now. But I was wondering, what do you think the Mayweather‑Pacquiao fight, how much can that move boxing back into the forefront of sports conversations in the U.S.? Do you think it can have a lasting impact?
LINDSAY CZARNIAK: I think ‑‑ that’s interesting. I was just having this conversation with one of my colleagues Stephen A. Smith, I think, yes, it has the potential to create more buzz.
I do think it’s very interesting, though, because to Steve’s point about what Colin Cowherd said earlier, you know about this may be the last great fight that we see; it just makes you wonder what this does for this generation.
Stephen A. this morning was talking about how obviously boxing to this fan, to our fans, to our demographic, it’s lost its edge. It’s lost the gravitas that you talked about.
But I do think that that’s why certainly we are putting so much effort into our coverage. I think that’s why this fight came together in the first place, it is to sort of resurrect the sport.
I do think it has the potential to impact a heck of a lot of people to bring this sport back into popularity. But I think that it will be ‑‑ I’m curious to see how it moves then after Saturday, what happens, what does boxing as a sport do to try to keep that momentum going.
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