Frank Thomas’ future at Fox Sports is in limbo with the arrival of Derek Jeter on the network’s biggest pre- and post-game Major League Baseball shows, The Post has learned.
What you need to know:
1️⃣ The 54-year-old Thomas has been with Fox Sports since 2016. He is generally liked, but when Jeter enjoyed his time on a guest pregame spot to promote a sponsor during the last World Series, Fox saw a unique opportunity to add an iconic player.
2️⃣ Fox could go with a very crowded set with host Kevin Burkhardt being joined by Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Jeter and Thomas. That seems unlikely, but not impossible. Fox Sports declined comment.
3️⃣ Thomas did more tonnage than Jeter will. While Fox does not value its FS1 production that much, Thomas regularly appeared on those pre- and post-games, so there may be a spot to find an arrangement going forward.
4️⃣ Jeter is only going to work the studio for the London MLB games, the All-Star Game and then in October. That leaves a potential steady regular-season role for Thomas, but he may have to swallow a little pride. How much money is left will probably be the ultimate question, since Jeter will take up millions for a lot less work.
5️⃣ Like Jeter, Thomas is a first ballot Hall of Famer, and he’s well-respected and liked at Fox Sports. While his absence during last year’s “Field of Dreams” game (He is an investor in the stadium there and was a part of those duties instead of being on the broadcast.) was probably not the best move. It also likely won’t be the reason if he does not return or if his role is reduced.
It’s a numbers game, which still may work out for Thomas, but the Jeter addition makes it more complicated.
Two NFLers who want in on the TV game are Joe Haden and Colt McCoy. Haden will work the Combine for NFL Network this week, while McCoy could make some noise in college. McCoy still has a year left on his contract with the Cardinals, so he could keep playing, but both have had talks with various networks. … If you build it, they will come. The environment at the University of Iowa was off the charts for ESPN’s “College GameDay” Sunday morning before the women’s basketball duel between the No. 6 Hawkeyes and No. 2 Indiana. It makes the whole sport feel bigger. There is a huge opportunity in women’s sports and the best way to get there is to treat it with respect. …
Apple TV+ began its 10-year, $2.5 billion MLS deal this past weekend. My initial reaction is that die-hard fans will like it. Does it close walls to new fans? Maybe in the immediate term, with so much other soccer to watch, but a decade is a long time. … I spoke to Charles Barkley the other day about a potential CNN show. While he said that he would only do a program with “CBS This Morning” anchor Gayle King, what stood out to me — and wasn’t surprising — was that it would only be a weekly show, if it happens. When the website Puck first broke the news about a potential Barkley show, there was a feeling CNN might be looking for him to do a nightly program. That did not seem like something Barkley would want, which he confirmed during our conversation. … In not sending its NHL booths on West Coast trips, MSG Network feels like the minor leagues … Sweeny Murti landed on his feet after leaving WFAN following three decades at the station. He will be a part of MLB’s social media team, developing podcasts and other projects. Murti and FAN weren’t a fit anymore because it wants the pre- and post-radio radio role to be able to regularly fill-in for 84-year-old John Sterling. As we reported last week, Justin Shackil is on the verge of getting the job.
NBA future paradox
The NBA’s media future is kind of weird. It is expected to do really well in its next TV rights deal, with ESPN a favorite to retain a package while Turner is likely to be challenged by Amazon, Apple, NBC and Fox for its half. The NBA will probably leave the process with more partners than the two it has now.
But game broadcasts are struggling. The All-Star Game was the least watched ever with a 2.2 rating and 4.59 million viewers. While the biggest issue was the lack of effort on the floor, this was not good for Turner.
Its Charles Barkley-led pregame show is the best ever, but the network has neglected its game broadcasts, failing to identify a No. 1 play-by-player and somehow having its third best game-caller on the action last Sunday in Brian Anderson as opposed to Ian Eagle or Kevin Harlan. Announcers matter in these circumstances, and while they do add to the atmosphere — and over time create a way a broadcast feels — they can’t be blamed for the ratings being down. Turner has gone by committee with its No. 1 play-by-play spot since Marv Albert retired and doesn’t consider anyone as having the top spot.
The larger issue is the antipathy from the teams and players toward the regular season. Too many games feel like exhibitions. Load management, the practice of resting star players, is telling fans these games are unimportant. Soon enough, fans will believe you.
So here are two not-fully developed ideas, but ones to work with: In road games, if any of a team’s top two players (designated as such by the league at the beginning of the year) don’t play, fans should have the right to exchange their tickets for another game. They do it with stars on Broadway for some shows, I’m told. If an understudy is appearing, you can get another ticket. How to enforce and potentially fine teams that rest those stars will be up to the NBA to figure out. (I can’t do everything for you, Adam Silver, Mike Bass and company.)
My other suggestion is about giving the regular season more importance. To its credit, the NBA is trying to figure out how to create in-season tournaments, as they do in international club soccer. But there needs to be an emphasis that every game matters. I would try to create some weight for the team with the best regular-season record. Maybe a financial bonus system for players and banners for the rafters.
I would also consider cutting the regular season into two halves with a couple of teams able to qualify for the in-season tournament and/or the playoffs in the first half. Or perhaps the previous season’s record gets you into these tournaments, as it does in international soccer. The idea is to bring some urgency to these games.
In the next CBA, after the TV contracts go up, everyone will be paid more. But eventually, there will be a tipping point regarding load management and effort. The All-Star Weekend exposed major issues that the NBA is aware of — and the ratings highlight — but the bottom line is players have to care about the result each night if you want fans and viewers to, as well.