Attention Northwestern University community: do you want Big Ten Network to assign Lisa Byington and Jennifer Hale to call the Akron at Northwestern college football game on September 15, 2018?

By Oliver Tse
workingnow88@workingnow88.com
Twitter: @workingnow88

Published on March 8, 2018. Updated on March 9, 12, and 15, 2018.

From left to right: Lisa Byington (Courtesy lisabyington.com), Jennifer Hale (Courtesy foxsports.com)

EVANSTON, Illinois – Ever since ESPN assigned 52-year-old English-language television play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins to call play-by-play of one NFL Monday Night Football game in September 2017, the floodgates have opened for dozens of qualified women to land television play-by-play or game analysis roles in multiple men’s professional and college sports, in both English and Spanish, in both the United States and Mexico.

Indeed, the Spanish-speaking world now has its own analog of Mowins, as 28-year-old Mexican sportscaster Iris Cisneros broke the news via Twitter that she will be moving to the U.S. to work for Univision Deportes as play-by-play announcer of men’s and women’s fútbol

Cisneros called play-by-play for the second half of the Liga MX match Club América vs Club León live from Estadio Azteca in Mexico City on Saturday March 10 at 10pm ET/7pm PT live on over-the-air Univision Network and Univision Deportes Network (UDN). (Veteran Univision Deportes play-by-play announcer Pablo Ramírez called the 1st half.)

Satellite television company Sky Sports México, where Cisneros last worked, promoted her to narradora in 2017.  She called play-by-play of English Premier League & FA Cup, La Liga & Copa Del Rey of Spain, and Ascenso MX (Mexican Division 2) fútbol matches off monitor from a studio in Mexico City.

Cisneros, who entered a talent contest on Mexican free-to-air TV network Televisa in November 2011, broke through over 5 years later to become the first Spanish-language female sports TV announcer to call play-by-play of men’s professional team sports.

Furthermore, Univision Deportes had 2 women in the booth, as 26-year-old Mexican sportscaster Ana Caty Hernández was also assigned to the telecast as the “co-commentator” (match analyst). In total, Univision Deportes President and Executive Producer Juan Carlos Rodríguez assigned 11 women to staff the live telecast, with Mexican sportscaster Cristina Romero reporting from the touchline and 8 women working inside the control room at the studio of Univision Deportes in Doral, Florida.

The latest U.S. English-language sportscaster to benefit from sports television executives who “worship at the church of what’s working now” is 1998 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Gold Medalist A.J. Mleczko, who worked for NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) as a booth-level game analyst at the National Hockey League (NHL) game between the Boston Bruins and the Detroit Red Wings from TD Garden in Boston on March 6, 2018.

A 42-year-old mother of 4 children, Mleczko recently served as the lead game analyst of women’s ice hockey for NBC Sports at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Mleczko spent 16 years at NBC Sports as its lead women’s ice hockey game analyst, spanning 5 Winter Olympiads, before she earned her first assignment to call an NHL game.

NBC Sports President of Production and Executive Producer Sam Flood was able to capture the public relations value of being the first U.S. television entity to assign a qualified woman to analyze an NHL game from the booth. Flood chose an NHL game for Mleczko to work with no significant travel cost (as Mleczko lives in the Boston Area), and he was able to secure sponsorship money from Providence, Rhode Island-based Dunkin Donuts to essentially cover Mleczko’s talent fee.

The two sports where dozens of women have broken through in recent years as game analysts on U.S. television are men’s basketball and men’s soccer.

In the case of men’s soccer, at least 12 women have experience as TV “co-commentators” (match analysts), in both English and Spanish, at both the national and regional levels in the U.S. One of these sportscasters, 37-year-old 2-time Olympic Gold Medalist Aly Wagner, is widely expected to be the first woman in the English-speaking world (but NOT the first woman overall) to “co-commentate” a men’s World Cup match for FOX Sports, as she is the most-qualified and the best-fit to call the 3rd place match on July 14, 2018 based on her mental approach to 3rd place matches during her playing career.

(Note: U.S. Spanish-language FIFA World Cup television rights holder Telemundo Deportes announced on March 6 that Argentine sportscaster Viviana Vila will be the first woman to “co-commentate” a men’s World Cup match on television regardless of country or language, as Telemundo Deportes is expected to deploy Vila during the Group Stage of FIFA World Cup Russia 2018. Possible assignments during the opening weekend for Vila include Morocco vs Iran on June 15 and Croatia vs Nigeria on June 16.)

The one sport where no women are currently active as TV game analysts is American Football. The last woman to have that opportunity was Pro Football Hall-of-Fame inductee Lesley Visser, who called the 4th quarter of the NFL New Orleans Saints at Miami Dolphins pre-season game for WFOR-TV “CBS 4” in Miami on September 3, 2009. Visser is now 64 years old and she has cut back her work schedule to special assignments only for CBS Sports.

Is another qualified female sportscaster available to follow Visser’s footsteps in the television booth as an American Football game analyst?

In my opinion: the answer is definitely YES, as the candidate I have identified has shown over the past 7 years as a sideline reporter of both College Football and NFL that she knows how to “break down film”. She also has the “bandwidth” to observe and process information from multiple sources simultaneously and communicate the information to viewers concisely.

Furthermore, there is an opportunity to pair her with a female play-by-play announcer for an upcoming College Football game that will fit both women as they both earned their Master’s degrees in Broadcast Journalism from the same university that will host the game. In my limited interaction with her via Twitter, she has indicated that she would welcome the opportunity for this unique, historic assignment.

The game: Akron at Northwestern on Big Ten Network on September 15, 2018

One sportscaster who followed the “coattails” of Beth Mowins into the television broadcast booth to call play-by-play of American Football is Chicago-based sportscaster Lisa Byington, who called 3 College Football games for Big Ten Network (BTN) in 2017.

The first College Football game called by Byington, Bowling Green at Northwestern on September 16, 2017, is very similar to the Akron at Northwestern game coming up on September 15, 2018.

Both Bowling Green and Akron are “Group of Five” teams from the Mid-American Conference (MAC) which have received a monetary guarantee to play at Northwestern University. These “guarantee” games are generally decided by half time and are only shown on linear television on the primary channel in selected local TV markets (Chicago and Cleveland in the case of Akron at Northwestern.) The rest of the U.S. will have to access the television broadcast via an alternate linear television channel (in the case of DIRECTV, Channel 610-1) or via Internet streaming at BTN2Go.com or the BTN2Go app.

(The most memorable exception was of course the first ever College Football game televised by Big Ten Network, Appalachian State at Michigan on September 1, 2007. Someone forgot to show Appalachian State the “script”.)

Because FOX Sports (U.S.) executive Mark Silverman, who has been in charge of Big Ten Network (which is 51% owned by FOX Sports) before he was appointed to manage national sports TV networks FS1 and FS2, is the biggest champion of Byington inside the FOX Sports organization, one would expect Silverman to continue to offer play-by-play assignments of men’s sports to Byington, especially “low risk” games such as Akron at Northwestern on Big Ten Network which will take place near Byington’s home in Downtown Chicago.

Because the financial “downside risk” for a game such as Akron at Northwestern is just about the lowest possible for any College Football game produced by FOX Sports, Silverman can afford to take the risk of assigning another qualified woman to partner with Byington for the Akron at Northwestern game, if he so chooses.

The analyst candidate: Jennifer Hale

Just like Byington, New Orleans-based television personality Jennifer Hale earned her Master’s Degree in Broadcast Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Hale began her transition from news anchoring/reporting to sportscasting in 2011, when the news department at WVUE-TV “FOX 8” assigned her to assist the sports department to cover the NFL New Orleans Saints during pre-season training camp. Because the Saints and WVUE-TV are both owned by Tom Benson, Saints Vice President of Communications Greg Bensel, who was impressed with Hale’s work, recommended Hale on Benson’s behalf to FOX Sports executives in Los Angeles. FOX Sports hired Hale as a sideline reporter for NFL on FOX in time for the start of the 2011 NFL season.

Hale completed her transition to full-time sportscaster after Tom Benson purchased the NBA New Orleans Pelicans and Greg Bensel hired her as the sideline reporter for Pelicans telecasts on regional sports network FOX Sports New Orleans starting October 2012.

FOX Sports began assigning Hale to sideline reporting at College Football games in 2017.

As Hale demonstrated in this interview by New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Rachel Whittaker, Hale knows how to “break down film” to analyze American Football games and communicate her pointed observations to viewers in concise summaries. She has also shown that she is not afraid to be critical of players and coaches, including those of the NFL New Orleans Saints.

In addition to American Football and NBA, FOX Sports has assigned Hale to Westminster Kennel Club telecasts since 2014, when FOX Sports acquired worldwide media rights to the Masters Agility Championship at Westminster. The dog shows allow Hale to connect with a different demographic, predominately female viewers ages 25-54, then she would not otherwise connect with during her other sports television assignments.

Using College Football as a gateway to the NFL for announcing teams

Because Silverman is the one who decided to deploy Byington as an American Football play-by-play announcer on Big Ten Network in 2017, he ultimately will decide whether or when he will recommend Byington to his superiors, FOX Sports President of Production John Entz and FOX Sports President/COO/Executive Producer Eric Shanks, for possible play-by-play assignments during NFL games.

If Silverman were to choose to pair Byington with a woman, i.e. Hale, then Silverman has the opportunity to develop two women as a team so that they will be able to break through to the NFL level together as broadcast partners after gaining enough experience calling College Football games.

With FOX Sports winning the U.S. linear television rights through the 2022 season to a package of 18 NFL games, 11 of which will be on Thursday nights on both over-the-air FOX Network and NFL Network with the other 7 to be shown exclusively on NFL Network, FOX Sports has a need to assign broadcasting teams to those 18 NFL games in addition to those Sunday afternoon NFL games that already air on FOX Network affiliates regionally.

One option for Entz and Shanks, if Byington and Hale were indeed paired to call College Football games for a period of several years before they become ready to call NFL, is to eventually assign Byington and Hale to one of the NFL Network-exclusive games which will have fewer viewers (and hence lower financial risk) compared to the high profile games which will air on FOX Network.

The month of October is especially of interest, as the NFL generally uses October as “Cancer Awareness Month” and a charity fund-raising component will become an option if FOX Sports were to eventually assign two women, i.e. Byington and Hale, to call an NFL game in October.

So which NFL stadium would be the best fit for a possible Byington and Hale pairing to call their first NFL game a few years into the future? In my opinion, the SuperDome in New Orleans will be the best fit, as weather will not be an issue and New Orleans Saints officials, including owner Tom Benson, would definitely welcome Hale and her broadcast partner to the television broadcast booth.

(March 15, 2018 update: NFL New Orleans Saints and NBA New Orleans Pelicans Senior Vice President of Communications Greg Bensel announced the passing of Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson at age 90. Condolences to the Benson family.)

Two NFL matchups would allow FOX Sports to minimize travel cost if FOX Sports were to pair Byington and Hale: Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints (next scheduled for 2023) or Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints (next scheduled for 2020.) The training facility for the Bears in Lake Forest, Illinois is 35 miles from Downtown Chicago, while the Packers’ training facility across the street from Lambeau Field in Green Bay is about 210 miles from Downtown Chicago. Byington lives within reasonable driving distance of either facility, which she will need to visit prior to calling an NFL game. The Saints training facility in Metairie, Louisiana is 18 miles from the French Quarter, where Hale lives.

What can the Northwestern University community do?

For the record, I am a complete outsider and I have no business ties to Northwestern University or any of the people I mentioned above.

I briefly owned an agency in 2006-2009 to secure opportunities for poker players and broadcast talent at televised poker events. Among my clients was the first female sportscaster on U.S. Spanish-language television who switched from sports to poker announcing and hosting when she accepted the only assignment available to her prior to the launch of ESPN Deportes as a full-time television network serving the U.S. Hispanic market in 2004.

During her broadcasting career (which ended in 2011 when her employer went out of business), she was the target of verbal and internet abuse from co-workers and viewers because of her gender. One of her male colleagues issued an ultimatum to the executive producer of the sports division at the major U.S. television network where they worked in order to force the executive to remove her from the talent team prior to World Cup France 1998 (she resigned within 48 hours after that incident and was out of television for nearly 2 years.) What happened to her in 1998 should NEVER happen again to anyone else at any media company in any country broadcasting in any language.

Having conducted business with U.S. sports television network executives in both English and Spanish since 1993, my reputation is what it is. One thing I do know: executives will listen to reasonable suggestions I make and think about what I have to say before they ultimately decide whether to implement any of my ideas. FOX Sports in particular is a company where my opinions and suggestions have limited but noticeable impact over the years.

If you are a member of the Northwestern University community, this is your chance to play a small part in shaping the history of U.S. sports television by helping two of your own alumni.

This is particularly true if you are a member of the so-called “Medill Mafia”, the proud graduates of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University who have built careers in sports media, including but not limited to the following:

J.A. Adande – Director of Sports Journalism at Northwestern University, former Los Angeles Times sports columnist and ESPN sportscaster
Christine Brennan – CNN International World Sport contributor and USA Today sports columnist
Rich Eisen – NFL Network studio host & syndicated radio host of The Rich Eisen Show
Mike Greenberg – Host of ESPN morning show Get Up!
Brent Musberger – Former CBS Sports & ESPN sportscaster, currently host of sports gambling show on XM Satellite Radio
Rachel Nichols – host of ESPN’s NBA talk show The Jump
Darren Rovell – ESPN sports business reporter
Adam Schefter – ESPN NFL correspondent
Michael Wilborn – co-host of ESPN sports debate show Pardon the Interruption

If you believe that Jennifer Hale is qualified to be Lisa Byington’s broadcast partner in the television booth at Ryan Field for the Akron at Northwestern College Football game on Saturday September 15, you can do the following:

1. Express your opinion directly to Big Ten Network and FOX Sports National Networks President Mark Silverman via email. Please contact me if you are not able to correctly “guess” his email address.

2. Retweet the link (wp.me/p9bV8O-3Y) to this blog post to your followers and encourage them to email Silverman. Use the simple hash tag #BTNLisaJen. No form letters, please.

Because Silverman will generally make his annual public announcement regarding Big Ten Network college football on-camera talent at the Big Ten Football Media Days event during the final week of July, he will have plenty of time between now and July to evaluate ideas such as this one and the associated public response.

About the author: Oliver Tse operated Oliver Tse Management Group in 2006-2009 to secure product endorsement opportunities for poker players and broadcast talent appearing on televised poker events such as the World Series of Poker (WSOP), the World Poker Tour (WPT), and the NBC Sports National Heads-Up Poker Championship. Among his clients were 3 out of 9 players at the 2007 WSOP Main Event Final Table airing on ESPN (including the champion), the first woman to win a mix-gender WPT event (at the 2008 WPT Celebrity Invitational), and the first female sportscaster on U.S. Spanish-language television who made a successful career switch to poker announcing and hosting and became the original “Voice of Poker in Latin America.” Tse’s clients were deployed as brand ambassadors to emerging international markets for poker including Germany, Russia, Brazil, and Mexico. From 1995 through 2007, Tse founded and operated soccerTV.com, an Internet-based marketing business of televised soccer products for clients including ESPN, FOX Sports, and GOLTV. He holds a master’s degree in Financial Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.