Next Stephen A.; Podcast vs. Cable News; NBA Collapse: Media Mailbag

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Another great week of questions for the Outkick Media Mailbag. Thanks to all the readers who sent in.

Here we go:

“You’ve said a few times that sports media on TV is moving in the wrong direction. Does that mean Stephen A. will be the last sports media TV star?

I would say yes.

It’s unclear if you are referring to daily opinionated sports TV stars or anyone in the sports industry on TV. The difference is key.

Daily sports content is shifting digitally. Looking at ratings, there are only a few talents in sports media who are TV draws. Stephen A. Smith leads that list.

Furthermore, most personality-driven shows fare worse than a traditional SportsCenter would with a random host. Such lackluster shows include High Noon at both noon and 4 p.m., Jalen & Jacoby, Highly Questionable, and SC6.

It is partly due to the fact that audiences have little interest in the personalities promoted by the network. Another aspect is that nearly all young personalities with drawing power are online.

Live sports coverage is different. I don’t see marquee games going exclusively digital in the next 5-10 years. Thus, there is room for studio hosts and analysts to emerge as “TV stars.” Technically, Tony Romo is on TV.

As far as someone elevating the way Stephen A. has — I don’t see it.

First, it’d have to come from a new successful daily TV show, which is highly unlikely to happen. Look at the sports networks, is there anyone who doesn’t have a show who viewers are changing their schedules for? Unfortunately, I don’t see one

There’s not going to be another PTI on TV. I’ve often said that if there is a new Wilbon and Kornheiser, it’s Big Cat and PFT.

By the way, the change is already underway. Two years ago, Stephen A. Smith was the clear no. 1 sports media talent. He’s still up there, though not definitively at the top. 

The best industry jobs now include ownership and full autonomy. Stephen A. is an employee.

Dave Portnoy goes viral, runs a media disruptor, and just cashed in for $100 million. I’d have him at no. 1.

Moving forward, the size of the audience won’t determine industry status. TV measures success by viewers, notoriety, reputation, and value above potential replacements. In 2020, it’s about monetization, a business plan, audience engagement, and influence.

“I saw you writing about the cable news ratings for the year. Can news podcasts like Ben Shaprio, Megyn Kelly, and The Daily ever overtake primetime cable news?”

News media is much healthier than sports media. The interest is far greater. Tuesday, Tucker Carlson Tonight drew 5.3 million. First Take hit 400,000.

News media can succeed on TV and digitally. There’s more space for both.

“Can news podcasts…overtake primetime cable news?” This goes back to the previous question. In influence, yes.

It’s hard to see a news podcast topping Sean Hannity’s viewership. The good news is that it doesn’t need to.

TV networks have the benefit of background noise. Most households have the TV on, whether they are watching it or not. Not all Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC viewers are engaged and following every word. They do, however, seek out podcasts, and they can listen to them whenever they want.

Ben Shapiro’s show doesn’t come on at a certain time. Listeners go to Apple Podcasts, search his name, click, and listen.

You bring up the Daily and Megyn Kelly, who recently launched a podcast. The Daily is a routine listen. It is how many Americans get their news of the day. According to Podtrac, it was again the top consumed podcast in September.

To no surprise, Kelly’s podcast is off to a strong start. I said the day the news came out:

Kelly’s voice, reach, style and worldview fit the marketplace’s lucrative opening.

Shapiro, the Daily, Megyn Kelly, Dan Bongino, and the top NPR podcasts will grow in influence and popularity. 

At the same time, at least for the next few years, they won’t hurt primetime cable news.

“How far would the NBA need to fall to be comparable to Boxing’s decline?”

Good question.

All week, I’ve been trying to find a comparison to the NBA’s historic collapse. It’s truly unheard of.

With LeBron James and the Lakers, the Finals are down massively from last year, which featured a Canadian team. Game 3 fell 58% year-over-year. Each game sets a new all-time record low. That is inexcusable.

The death of the fight game was self-inflicted. Promoters got greedy, and backstage politics took charge. The NBA, too, is responsible for its own demise.

Professional basketball pivoted to a political campaign catering to a small, radical group of fans. The NBA is now toxic and damaged.

The difference between the two sports is relevance. Mainstream media stopped covering boxing when it failed to create new stars. Since Floyd Mayweather’s retirement, boxing has been absent from the discussion. Even when he was fighting, Mayweather was the only boxer who drew headlines.

The media is so immersed in the NBA, even a historic decline won’t derail the alliance.

Despite Americans tuning out in record numbers, talk shows are pushing the NBA as aggressively as ever. There’s also Twitter. Even if the NBA sinks further, it still has Twitter, and media execs foolishly placate it.

No matter how political the NBA gets, how many viewers it loses, and how far it falls, its place in the discussion will remain.

That said, the NBA’s value as a TV product is diminished.

Follow Bobby Burack on Twitter @burackbobby_.


Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack is a writer for OutKick where he reports and analyzes the latest topics in media, culture, sports, and politics..

Burack has become a prominent voice in media and has been featured on several shows across OutKick and industry related podcasts and radio stations.


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  1. ESPN’s marriage with the NBA will prop them up for the foreseeable. If the day comes that ESPN realizes they made a bad investment, which is not something they like to admit, it could really be curtains for the NBA. I could see them having Turner as their only interested network when the time comes to renegotiate.

  2. Does the fact that last year’s NBA finals featured a Canadian team actually matter that much? It was a Canadian team with Kawhi Leonard on the roster. Given his story with coming back from injury and the weird departure from the Spurs, as well as his dominant play, I’d think a lot of fans would want to see that. I guess you could make the same argument about smaller market American teams.

    I dunno, I just find this obsession with L.A. annoying. The Lakers get so much “showtime” hype it’s always disappointing to watch the actual product. It was clownish when Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman made ridiculous arguments that Kawhi MUST go to L.A. for the sake of his legacy – so that he could win a championship and be finals MVP with 3 different teams. Huh?!? Who actually cares about that as opposed to number of championships? The whole obsession with L.A. and New York because of ratings is just a self-perpetuating circle jerk that has no connection to quality basketball.

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