Chris Fowler’s growing role, where ESPN stands on WWE, and an ESPN shake-up: Media Circus

By the time Chris Fowler completes his current contract with ESPN, the broadcaster will have been at the company for nearly 40 years. It has been a remarkable run, including voicing some of the most memorable moments in college football and tennis history. Fowler has been the American soundtrack — and an excellent one at that — for the careers of Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and will once again be onsite next week at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York for the U.S. Open.

Fowler’s portfolio, however, will be significantly different in the final months of 2023 as part of his new long-term contract with ESPN. (His old contract expired in July.) As part of that deal, Fowler will call five NFL games this season alongside Dan Orlovsky and Louis Riddick. The group has been assigned Saints-Panthers for Week 2 (7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) and Rams–Bengals (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) for Week 3. They’ll also have the NFL’s International Series game between the Falcons and Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London on Oct. 1 at 9:30 a.m. ET, which is an ESPN+ exclusive. There is also a “Monday Night Football” doubleheader in Week 14 and a Saturday doubleheader in Week 18, and they’ll get a game those weeks.

“You look for new challenges and new reasons to kind of stay energized,” said Fowler, who joined ESPN in 1986. “I am grateful to do my two favorite sports in college football and tennis, and the NFL is football at the highest level. I’ve been an NFL fan for a long time. To work with Dan Orlovsky and Louis Riddick and this production team is very cool for me. It’s challenging, but being a little bit uncomfortable, being put in a situation that’s new or different, creates growth and a need for improvement.

“I’ve done a grand total of two NFL games, both of them extremely challenging preparation situations,” Fowler continued. “One of them was the day after the U.S. Open finals in 2020 (Steelers–Giants) at an empty stadium. The other one was two days before the (college football) national championship game in Indy when Kirk Herbstreit and I called Chiefs–Broncos in 2022. I don’t want people to take this the wrong way, but if you’ve done years and years of calling college football, the NFL, although it’s challenging and different, is in some ways easier. The players involved are far fewer and the support system to get you ready to call an NFL game from the league and ESPN is spectacular. I’ve seen a lot of these guys as college players. Our first game (this season), I get to visit with (Panthers quarterback) Bryce Young again, who we covered at Alabama and I got to know pretty well when he won the Heisman Trophy. We have Joe Burrow in Week 2. That’s very cool for me. I approach anything new the same way — with genuine enthusiasm but no false authority.”

Fowler still has college football and tennis as part of his deal, which means he is about to embark on the busiest play-by-play stretch of his career. He will call three college football games during his usual U.S. Open assignment, starting with Florida-Utah at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN on Aug. 31, which is also Day 4 of the U.S. Open. After heading back to New York to call tennis, Fowler will then travel to Orlando to call No. 5 LSU vs. No. 8 Florida State on Sept. 3 on ABC at 7:30 p.m. ET. Then it’s back to the U.S. Open for second-week coverage. He will then call No. 11 Texas at No. 4 Alabama on Sept. 9 (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) in Tuscaloosa. Then it’s back to New York to call the U.S. Open men’s final the following day. Fowler said he has been preparing for his college football assignments for some time.

“You say ‘yes’ because the company asks you and it’s important to them and it’s a great opportunity and it’s fun,” Fowler said. “But I’ve never done three big college football games within the U.S. Open framework. It’s a blessing, but I’m not cocky enough to say that it isn’t a daunting challenge to do all that stuff.”

In case you missed it: Here are college football broadcasting crews for ESPN, Fox, CBS and NBC for the 2023 season.

One item from my long interview last week with Burke Magnus, the president of ESPN’s content, didn’t make the first piece for space. I wanted to include it in today’s piece for those interested in WWE content:

Where do you stand on the WWE as a property?

Magnus: I guess from a glass-half-full perspective, I’d say that I believe our companies — and this changed a couple of years ago, so this is not breaking news — our point of view toward the WWE as a potential distribution outlet for their events is that passed the (threshold) a long time ago. We’re now in the bucket of, hey, if their rights are available and there’s a deal for us that works and a deal for them that works with us, I think it’s certainly a possibility. There’s no hesitation anymore from a brand perspective or from a live-event versus scripted perspective. Their fans and our viewers have tremendous overlap.

To me, it’s just about the business of it and is there something that works. They run a 52-week-a-year business, and from a linear perspective, 52 weeks a year is impossible for us to do in almost any configuration based on the other rights that we have. So that actually cuts against us from a linear perspective. But on the digital side, if we were to be in business with them on streaming or direct-to-consumer distribution or pay-per-view distribution or other such things, I think that’s more easily achievable. They have a great product.

Last Saturday’s final of the MLS Leagues Cup between Inter Miami and Nashville was thrilling theater, and kudos to Apple/MLS English-speaking broadcasters Jake Zivin and Taylor Twellman for living up to the moment. I didn’t watch the Spanish-language coverage, but watch how great this call is from Jose Hernandez, the lead game caller for the Spanish-language broadcast.

Episode 327 of the Sports Media Podcast with Richard Deitsch features Marc J. Spears, senior NBA writer for Andscape and one of the prominent NBA voices in the country. In this podcast, Spears discusses being awarded the Curt Gowdy Media Award by the Basketball Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game of basketball; the experience of being honored in Springfield, Mass.; joining ESPN in 2016 as a senior NBA writer with The Undefeated, now known as Andscape, and how ESPN has changed from 2016 to 2023 from his perspective as a writer; writing about race and culture and how people react to that; how NBA players feel about playing in Toronto; why players have given him access over the years; LSU women’s basketball; the role of agents in NBA stories; hosting and producing a new show about food and wine that will air on Hulu on Aug. 28, and more.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, and more.

Lee Fitting, an ESPN senior vice president of production and one of the company’s top executives for its NFL and college football coverage, is no longer with the company. ESPN declined to comment. Outkick was first with the news. Fitting had worked at ESPN since 1996 and, prior to his senior leadership position, was the producer of “College GameDay” and then the show’s coordinating producer. He was a major reason for that show’s success within the ESPN ecosystem. A link to Fitting’s bio on is sending readers to a 404 error as of this writing. Company leaders had previously said that all layoffs at ESPN had concluded.

In a note to select staff on Monday, ESPN executive editor and head of event and studio production Norby Williamson wrote, “I am reaching out with some important news about our football production team. Lee Fitting is no longer with the company. As a result we will be finalizing a new production structure for NFL, college football, SEC Network and XFL in the days ahead.”

Some things I read over the last month that were interesting to me:

• Gen Z can’t afford the rent. By Karen Hanley and Anna Kodé and produced by Leo Dominguez of The New York Times.

• After 42 years, it’s time to go. By Greg Bromwell of The Glens Falls Post Star.

• China’s 40-Year Boom Is Over. What Comes Next? By Lingling Wei and Stella Yifan Xie of The Wall Street Journal.

• Messi through the lens: What it’s like to photograph the Inter Miami star in a game. By Pablo Maurer of The Athletic.

• The Story Behind Phil Mickelson’s Call to Billy Walters. By Armen Keteyian for Fire Pit Collective.

• True Crime, True Faith: The Serial Killer and the Texas Mom Who Stopped Him. By Julie Miller of Vanity Fair.

• A young hockey player’s tragic death and a search for answers: ‘We have to do more.’ By Dan Robson of The Athletic.

• What Happens when People with Dementia Commit Crimes? By Jessica Wapner of Scientific American.

• How the Maui wildfires devastated Lahaina, hour by hour. By Joshua Partlow, John Farrell, Brady Dennis, Brianna Sacks and Joanna Slater of The Washington Post.

• Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker on Elon Musk.

• She Just Had a Baby. Soon She’ll Start 7th Grade. By Charlotte Alter of Time Magazine.

• The Fox Sports World Cup studio says goodbye to David Neal, the executive producer of the network’s World Cup coverage since 2012.

• Laia Cervelló Herrero of The Athletic wrote on Spain’s success despite its federation.

• The ones we sent away. By Jennifer Senior of The Atlantic.

(Photo: Jeffrey Vest / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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