Top Sports Media News Items of 2011

It’s tradition that news organizations look at the top stories of the year as December winds down.  Why should we be any different?  Here are what we consider the top sports media news stories for 2011:

Despite Lockout, NFL Thrives: The National Football League spent the first half of 2011 mired in a labor dispute which resulted in the owners locking out the players.  The impassed ended in July and the 2011 season was salvaged.  The work stoppage did nothing to quell the support for the NFL.  NFL games continue to be some of the highest rated programs each week, and the league re-newed television broadcast agreements with ESPN, NBC, CBS, and Fox which will bring in nearly $5 billion annual until 2022.  The only television deal yet to be finalized is one which may extend a Thursday night match-up each week of the season.

NBC Retains Rights to the Olympics Through 2020:  NBC will continue its run as the U.S. network of the Olympic Games after having secured the broadcast rights to the Summer and Winter Games through 2020.  NBC, ESPN, and Fox all put in bids to telecast the games, but the International Olympic Committee decided that its relationship with NBC, along with its $4.38 billion dollar bid, was worthy of the retention.

ESPN Loses the Rights to the World Cup to Fox: Despite losing the Olympics to NBC, it was widely assumed that ESPN would be able to retain its U.S. broadcast rights to the World Cup.  But when the rights to the men’s and women’s torunaments came up for bid this summer, ESPN was outbid by Fox, which will pay $400 for all evets beginning in 2015.  Telemundo was awarded the Spanish-language rights, at a cost of $600 million.  ESPN still has the rights to the men’s World Cup in 2014.

Changes at the Top of Network Sports Divisions: Some big news was made off-the-air as NBC and ESPN announced changes at the top of their sports organizational structures.  Long time NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol resigned in May after 22 years at the helm.  He has been replaced by NBC Sports Group President Mark Lazarus.  Late last month it was announced that ESPN President George Bodenheimer was being promoted to ESPN Executive Chairman while Vice President of Content John Skipper will be promoted to President of ESPN.  That moves take place January 1st.

NBC Sports Extends its Reach in Competition with ESPN: After its merger with Comcast was complete, NBC Sports began making moves toward compteting with ESPN.  Along with its deals with the NFL and the Olympics, NBC extended its deal to air the NHL on its networks.  It also announced in August that Versus will be re-branded as the NBC Sports Network effective January 2nd.

Sports Networks Handle Sexual Abuse Scandals at Penn State and Syracuse: When accusations of sexual abuse of minors arose against former Penn State Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky and former Syracuse Assistant Basketball Coach Bernie Fine, sports media outlets became news journalists.  Sports networks break news all the time, but it seemed that it was uncomfortable at times for these outlets to tackle these sensitive issues.  ESPN was also called to task for not reporting what it knew about Fine back in 2002.  These stories will definitley evolve in 2012.

ESPN Continues Its Dominance In Coverage of the NCAA:  2011 was another seminal year for ESPN in terms of its coverage of college athletics.  In August the network launched the Longhorn Network, the first network devoted to the sports of one educational institution.  Later in the fall ESPN also renewed its deal to televise 24 NCAA Championships through 2024.  Event though Fox Sports has made inroads in securing rights deals, especially with the Pac 12, ESPN remains the dominant force in telecasting college atheltics.

The Latest Book on the History of ESPN is Released Amid Much Talk: It was the most anticipated sports book release of the year, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales.  Excerpts of the book leaked out up until its release in May, giving readers a look at some of the seedier moments behind-the-scenes in the history of the network.  In the end some were disappointed that there was not more sleeze, while those interested in television history in general, and ESPN in particular, found much to like in the book.  You can hear our two interviews with co-author Miller on the Sports Media Weekly Podcast here and here.

Those are what we feel were to top sports media stories of 2011.  There were plenty of others, including the controversies at ESPN over the firing of Ron Franklin and the “suspension” of Bruce Feldman, Gus Johnson leaving CBS for Fox, The launch of Bill Simmons’ Grantland, Bob Costas and Al Michaels sharing the mic for a Major League Baseball game, and the NCAA tournament games being shared by CBS and Turner Sports.

Needless to say the sports media beat is now a 24/7 endeaver and we’ll continue to do our best, within our resources, to bring you what’s making news within the industry.  Please let me know what you think of SMJ and how we can improve.  Thank you for your continued support and we wish you all the best for 2012!


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