Stephen A. Smith has found time to take on another job for ESPN.
The “First Take” analyst and “NBA Countdown” analyst will handle alternate broadcasts for some of ESPN’s NBA games, the latest effort by the sports media giant to generate new audiences for its games. Thanks to expensive rights deals with major sports leagues.
When Smith presents the first of four scheduled “NBA in Stephen A’s World” shows on Oct. 26, he intends to give NBA fans a look at how he watches sports. Viewers will see a “very relaxed format”. Difference In the interview, he focuses on “how I look at a game, what I pay attention to, what I say when I talk to my family and friends.” It brings high-profile guests from the worlds of sports, entertainment and media.
The new show, scheduled to air on ESPN2 and ESPN+, is the latest series of “alterna-casts” ESPN has developed to stand alongside “Monday Night Football”; Major League Baseball games; college-football games; golf And the UFC matches, those efforts, are produced by Peyton Manning’s Omaha productions, specifically “Manning City” Peyton and his brother Eli, who spoke about Monday night’s football in a very loose and talkative manner.
Finding ways to keep live audiences engaged in sports is a high-profile mission for leagues and television networks that pay billions to broadcast their games. As more traditional television viewers migrate to video streaming, the National Football League, Major League Baseball and other sports entities are encouraging sports networks to try sidecasts that target important audiences. The idea is that the new formats will help attract viewers who might not normally watch a variety of sports. Amazon’s success with “Thursday Night Football” this season — and the NFL’s decision to create a new Friday-night game after thanks to the streamer — is a clear indication that young audiences are looking for new ways to engage with their favorite sports.
Will the NBA version of Smith be more dynamic, emotional and raw than those programs?
“All of the above,” he replies. “I don’t think anyone who watches these shows should think they’re going to see me do anything remotely like how I look at a game.
“The NBA in Stephenie’s World” is produced by Smith’s own SSS Productions and Omaha, executive produced with ESPN, Smith and Peyton Manning, the show comes as a surprise. In February, the Manning brothers and ESPN agreed to extend their current deal for “Manningcast” through the 2024 NFL season. Omaha enlisted Joe Buck for golf, Pat McPhee for college football and Rob Gronkowski and his family for UFC competition.
But nobody talked about basketball. ESPN approached Smith and Omaha about adapting the “alterna-cast” format to an NBA game, people familiar with the matter said. Smith said he jumped at the chance, as his previous efforts to expand his conversations beyond sports, “Stephen A World,” an interview show made for ESPN+, had to be scaled back to accommodate Smith’s “NBA Countdown” duties. He hosts a podcast called “Know Mercy” that allows him to comment on topics outside of the sports world.
However, Smith and guests can’t go off topic. “You see people who are fans of the relatively popular sport come to talk about the sport. That will be it.”
There is some room for wonder. The Oct. 26 premiere episode will include live coverage from Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” premiere, showing that larger endeavors tied to corporate parent Disney still have some potential.
Smith will host three more editions of the event in 2022: on November 2, December 2 and Christmas Day. The program originates from ESPN’s television studios in New York or Los Angeles, with a set designed to resemble a “man cave” viewing room at Smith’s home, complete with multiple TV sets and video feeds.
Will there be more in 2023? Smith said he, ESPN and Omaha will have to review the NBN schedule early next year to determine what Omaha can do.
ESPN’s launch of Smith’s new show marks the latest sign that the NBA’s two biggest media rights holders are hoping to stay ahead with the league, especially in renewal talks. The NBA’s current rights deals with Warner Bros. Discovery and Disney are set to expire after the 2024-2025 season. Earlier this week, Warner Bros. Discovery announced the signing of new deals with other members of the company’s signature “Inside the NBA” program, including Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal.