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March-01-2008,
Leaving ESPN: The Sean Salisbury Cause Celebre, and Evaluating ESPN's Online Information-Providers -- From A Speculative Perspective...By Nelson Lardner

The barons of Bristol, CT, ESPN, delivered a belated holiday gift to serious sports followers late Tuesday, when management upgraded the quality of their football-information dissemination capabilities by declining to renew the contract of ex-NFL quarterback Sean Salisbury.

Most-notorious for his unpleasant staged "debates" with John Clayton, the network's ranking football analyst by miles, Salisbury never attained great heights of popularity among those folks who have little use for talking heads who don't regularly provide fresh, relevant information regarding/affecting why a particular conglomeration of sporting talent is going to perform above or below expectations in an upcoming contest.

Neither Clayton or Salisbury have ever been pointedly presented as NFL handicappers at ESPN (though Salisbury has been used by Vegas' Caesars Palace as a private contractor to address sportsbook crowds during the season regarding his opinions about upcoming pro games while not bringing the pointspread into the discussion - the rationale for which is difficult for me to grasp). Thoroughbred/football analyst Hank Goldberg presents the most formal plus/minus session on Sunday mornings, and generalist Chris Berman has his fun when adapting his 'Swami' persona.

On the heels of the curtailment of his ESPN career, Salisbury was quoted to the effect that: "I have grown as much as I can at ESPN and decided to expand my horizons. I have created a brand and it's time to expand into other opportunities in TV, radio, Internet, publishing, movies and public speaking, among others. My resume speaks for itself as a football analyst, and I believe I can talk all sports with the best of them."

He followed up in a Los Angeles Times story, to wit: "I'd grown tired of being punished for not being an NFL superstar. Analysts who don't work as hard as me, don't prepare as hard as me, and don't have my resume were making more than me just because of their ability to throw or catch a football."

Believe ESPN's audience will somehow find a way to carry on. Salisbury's announced departure followed on the heels of ESPN's announcing the hiring of ex-Viking Cris Carter, who found himself at loose ends when HBO announced they weren't renewing their excellent "Inside The NFL", and has now landed on his feet in nimble fashion. Carter fit in well with the ensemble on what was an excellent pay-cable product, and he was never to be confused with a league toady, continuing to press the Patriot "Spygate" issue to the limit.

Given this smart pickup, ESPN's subsequent rationale is clear enough, to us. After a dozen years, it'd be our guess Salisbury's know-it-all persona had plateaued (much as Trev Alberts' did), his browbeating of the network's ranking analyst (Clayton) had turned many viewers off, and his master-of-the-obvious pronouncements were consistently less than groundbreaking.

As for Salisbury's clams of broad future opportunities beckoning, we're willing to be shown. Based on informed projections and our knowledge of the marketplace, we'd guesstimate his ESPN gross as somewhere in the $7,500/week range. But those who have been exposed to the motion picture "The Benchwarmers", in which Salisbury played a bit part, will understand our skepticism regarding the possibility of his breaking the bank in major media in the immediate future - not to mention at least one other notorious stunt which earned him a suspension; we won't even dignify it by reprising it here.

Enough depression! Let's highlight some seasonal ESPN good guys who have the contacts and insight to enlighten folks like us in enriching ways. The enormous cast of characters the Worldwide Leader is able to deploy/afford is to our eventual benefit. We include the NFL, because in reality it never ends . . . and we sidestep the NHL because we're most-reluctant to put forth our knowledge base re the modern game as "expert":

NFL:

(1) JOHN CLAYTON: A workhorse who grinds out a prodigious amount of wholly-relevant online copy during each NFL season - and doesn't slack off much February-July, as the ceaseless demand for information regarding league activities continues to grow. His "Top Ten" rundowns of each week's ten most significant league games are an absolute must-read, as they regularly connect-the-dots of interwoven, relevant events in a way you might overlook if you're insufficiently backgrounded - or simply rushed . . .

(2) CHRIS MORTENSEN/LEN PASQUARELLI: A potent fact-gathering duo, though Mort's had better years than '07 . . . with Eli Manning NOT being incapacitated for the year (to say the least!), after Week One, and the eventual resolution of Michael Vick's legal fate (an especial embarrassment) were not shining hours for Mort, but our judgment's based on a body of work spanning more than a decade and a half. "Mort"'s got the better face for television, and doubt even Len would debate that point. Both are worthy of your attention.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL:

(1) PAT FORDE: Long a favorite from his work during his lengthy reign as columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal, Forde is a collegiate specialist, and his lengthy seasoning in the hotbed of college roundball that is Kentucky has battle-tested him. Does excellent cause-effect analysis, and unlike many, isn't afraid to pull punches. His merciless lines of logic regarding general standards of conduct in the wake of the Kelvin Sampson fiasco at Indiana followed a road too many are afraid to travel.

(2) ANDY KATZ: Listed here because he's a great reporter, one who works his sources relentlessly. Frequent typos in his online stuff grate (hire an extra editor, or two? Affordable - and necessary!). Not so much a connect-the-facts guy, but provides the nuts and bolts on a steady basis.

(3) PETER TIERNAN: Plenty to appreciate in his NCAA statistical views.

NBA:

(1) JOHN HOLLINGER: Producer of the network's NBA Player Efficiency Ratings, and does a most-respectable job of projecting cause-effect based on his statistical presentations. Suspect that increased exposure to Hollinger's mindset would increase one's ability to employ his work constructively.

(2) MARK STEIN: ESPN.com's senior NBA analyst regularly provides constructive food for thought in a sport in which spread handicapping is so highly-dependant on team chemistry and scheduling/logistical quirks.

Further comment at MajorWager welcomed. This has the potential to evolve into a lively, constructive discussion - and we expect to return to this topic when real baseball returns.

02-28-08
NelsonLardner
MajorWager.com
lardner@majorwager.com

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