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Posted on Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 11:37 a.m.

How 'SportsNation' became an ESPN staple and developed an emerging star in Michelle Beadle

By Michael Rothstein


ESPN "SportsNation" co-host Michelle Beadle shows off her Denard Robinson Michigan football jersey for fans while broadcasting live from Ingalls Mall.

Melanie Maxwell |

The yelling started as soon as the crowd saw Michelle Beadle and Colin Cowherd walk out of the Michigan League and out into the sunny Ann Arbor afternoon on the University of Michigan campus.

“We love you, Beadle,” a college-aged man in a maize T-shirt yelled. Another quickly added, “Colin, we love you, too.”

The phenomenon of "SportsNation," the ESPN television show on 4-5 p.m. on ESPN2, arrived in Ann Arbor on Wednesday as part of the year-old show’s first venture into live broadcasts away from their Bristol, Conn., studio.


ESPN "SportsNation" co-hosts Michelle Beadle and Colin Cowherd sing "The Victors" on Wednesday.

Melanie Maxwell |

It was the third consecutive day of shows at Big Ten schools. On Monday, in Madison, the first show went well but was almost more of a test run. A day later, lightning and a downpour cut short the show at Iowa.

Wednesday, “SportsNation” drew a large, enthusiastic crowd made up mostly of young men for its live show at Ingalls Mall at Michigan. The show, co-hosted by Beadle and the long-time ESPN Radio host Cowherd, blends sports and pop culture, has been on ESPN2 for over a year and uses suggestions and input from viewers through e-mail, Facebook and Twitter to construct the show. Through the social media and when in studio, the show uses technology throughout its hour-long broadcast.

The appeal has been immediate. The show has over 241,000 people liking it on Facebook. Beadle has over 111,000 followers on Twitter and the show’s feed has more than 737,000 followers. Jamie Horowitz, one of the show’s co-creators and the coordinating producer of the show, said it is the youngest and most male-skewing show on ESPN or ESPN2.

That is why the producers chose to visit college campuses during football season.

“It’s an ambitious schedule,” Beadle said while eating lunch in the second floor of the Michigan League. “Four stops in four days is something. The closest thing is an NBA schedule, you do have back-to-backs, but not very many, so you usually travel to the city, have a night off. Little, little easier.

“I don’t think it’s rough, but I think we’ll be exhausted when we get home and back to normal.”

Today’s stop: Penn State. The travel, though, is worth it. It is part of the evolution of a growing show and a growing personality.

Birth of a sports show

“SportsNation” is the brainchild of Horowitz, Kevin Wildes and Dave Jacoby, who started working on it in January 2008 in the ESPN Content Development offices in the Midtown East section of Manhattan.

Horowitz and Wildes wanted to capture on air the natural conversations they’d have combining sports and pop culture in their cubicles and after work in bars. Games and segments were tried out in conference rooms, with one person watching as the other two acted the parts of host and co-host.

“We failed a lot,” Horowitz said. “And drank a lot of coffee.”

Soon, the concept took shape. The group met with Cowherd on a trip to Bristol and he was sold.

With Cowherd on board, they worked harder, once refusing to leave the office on a Friday before finishing plotting the “B Block,” or second segment, of the new show.

“We had to figure out a seven-minute segment in five days and it would take all five days,” Horowitz said. “A little bit because we were a bit of perfectionists, but we have high standards for what makes good TV. Our rule is, anyone can create a good TV show in an afternoon.

“The goal is to create a compelling TV show, so that’s a lot different.”

The three also traveled to Washington, D.C., and studied with Erik Rydholm, the executive producer of “Pardon The Interruption.” The “Ten Rules of SportsNation” hangs on a wall of Horowitz’s office. On it is “WWRD” - What Would Rydholm Do.

With the show green-lit and the rules set, one agenda item remained: finding a co-host.

Michelle Beadle impressive from the start

Horowitz and the “SportsNation” team started with 142 names. They interviewed 78 candidates, tested 12, cut the list to six and then, finally, two.

Beadle was one of the last to audition.

“She was a unique person. Like, ‘Oh, this one,’ ” Wildes said Wednesday. “All these ones sort of, kind of felt the same, but she was brand new.”

Beadle, a 34-year-old Texan, worked for the San Antonio Spurs, Fox Sports Net, The Nashville Network, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, People Magazine, CSTV and the YES Network. She’s covered the NBA, Professional Bull Riding and hosted a show called “I Want Your Job” on the Fine Living Network.

In 2008, Beadle was living in Manhattan and working as the pre- and post-game reporter for the New Jersey Nets on YES.

When she auditioned for “SportsNation,” it looked nothing like the flash-and touch-screen world she now lives in.

“Everything was still in theory,” Beadle said. “So what is now this fancy 82-inch touch screen was poster board with sticky notes on it. I was like ‘What the hell? This is weird.’

“But I knew I liked Colin right away. The guys that started it, I met them in New York months before they even started it and I knew I liked them. But you have a million meetings in this career, and most of them don’t turn into anything.”

Despite the conceptual nature, Beadle was hooked. She pestered her agent, asking whether ESPN had called. Eventually the network did -- and asked her to write something about ‘What would you do to make this show better?’

Thinking it was a joke, she wrote “a sarcastic list of 10 stupid things.” Then she found out it was real, but Horowitz said the list ended up being submitted anyway.

It helped her land the job. Beadle started at ESPN on June 1, 2009.

Nervous on Letterman

Today Beadle is one of the most recognized people at ESPN. In April, the a second show featuring Beadle - “Winners Bracket” - was launched on ABC. Horowitz is the producer.

And on Sept. 2, almost 15 months to the day from when she was hired by ESPN, she was a guest on "Late Show with David Letterman."

“I was nervous as hell,” Beadle said, smiling. “I remember standing there, Donald Trump walked off and introduced himself. Biff, the stage manager, was there. I was so dry-mouthed on the set while Dave was talking and actually said (whispering) ‘Water,’ and drank water during the interview.

“Saw that the next day and was like, ‘That’s probably not cool.’ But I was nervous. Once I got out there, it was OK, better than I had hoped.”

The Letterman experience boosted her profile, yet she still doesn’t feel like a star.

Walking down the stairs from lunch, two security guards surrounded her. This week, she said, is the first time she’s had security assigned to her.

“This is what Chelsea Clinton must feel like,” Beadle deadpanned.

It is what Wildes and Horowitz expected when they chose Beadle. She had chemistry with Cowherd. And she had comedic timing and a disarming, one-of-the-guys-but-a-girl way about her.

Taking the show on the road

The show is the hippest show among young males a key ESPN demographic -- on the network. Now the executives decided to take it on the road, which meant reinventing the show.

Wildes brainstormed everything again. How could they keep the show the same without the technology?

All last week, Horowitz took care of daily production. After "SportsNation" wrapped at 5 p.m., the two met in Bristol like they would in New York two years before.

“We have an audience of six people in Bristol, just a handful of people hanging out,” Wildes said. “Now we have hundreds. We have to sort of do everything different. Every time we’re ready to vote something, people are yelling and we have to feed on this.”

Horowitz met with "College GameDay" coordinating producer Lee Fitting on Wednesday in Bristol. Horowitz bought lunch. Fitting gave advice.

With "GameDay," the crowd is behind the talent. Horowitz wanted Beadle and Cowherd to perform, so they put the crowd in front.

They coordinated with Bristol for the "SportsNation" poll results segment on the JumboTron to the right of the stage on Ingalls Mall. They used Michigan cheerleaders, who found out Tuesday about their role in the show, to hold placards for the “pop culture game” and “number crunch.” Instead of Horowitz announcing the show, "SportsNation" contacted Boobie Smooth, the in-game announcer for And1 Streetball, to be the master of ceremonies.

“I was like, ‘All right, I’m in man,’” Smooth said. “Because I knew it’d be fun. It’s been fantastic.”

A loud crowd in Ann Arbor

The show wasn’t without problems Wednesday. The female Michigan cheerleaders arrived. No male cheerleaders. Welcome to live television.

Crisis averted -- the first male cheerleaders showed up minutes later. In the next hour, Beadle and Cowherd ran through each segment, getting acquainted with their props and standing markers. They showed the cheerleaders where to hold the placards, learned “The Victors” for the third segment of the show and entertained a growing crowd.

During rehearsal, a Michigan student yelled out a marriage proposal to Beadle. Showing her comedic timing -- she said earlier in the day she wouldn’t be opposed to trying out late night television at some point -- Beadle deadpanned, “I don’t believe in marriage.”

The banter was free flowing and easy. Cowherd and Beadle needled each other non-stop. As the crowd grew, Beadle and Cowherd warmed up more. Cowherd told the students they are smarter than those that showed up at Wisconsin on Monday.

“When we did the rehearsal I was a little like ‘I don’t know if anyone’s coming,’” Beadle said.

By 4 p.m., the metal barricades ESPN set up at Ingalls Mall overflowed with students and other curious onlookers. By the final segment, Cowherd and Smooth had to ask the crowd to be quiet at points so Smooth could hear himself ask questions.

As they left the set after the show ended -- Cowherd said they “hit it out of the park” -- both were besieged for autographs. Cowherd had a group of students throwing a football around toss him the ball as he walked back to the Blagdon Room in the Michigan League, which served as the temporary on-campus nerve center for the show. He made a basket catch and tossed it back.

“This was definitely the loudest so far,” Beadle said, making her way back to the Michigan League. “My ears are ringing right now, so I don’t hear anything.

“… I’ve never been a rock star, and I would imagine that would be awesome. It sounds so loud, I don’t know how people do that every day in front of a live crowd like that.”

With that, Beadle walked back into the Blagdon Room. Horowitz, Cowherd and Wildes were already inside.

They needed to get to the airport. A charter plane waited for State College, Pa. One more show remained.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan basketball for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein



Fri, Sep 24, 2010 : 11:28 a.m.

Good post lumberg


Fri, Sep 24, 2010 : 10:29 a.m.

This show is going to be a huge hit. It's the "Cold Pizza" of ESPN right now. It will evolve into a two hour platform with everything under he sun. Why? because the hosts are like peas and carrots, and young people love to be involved/interact with the show real time.


Fri, Sep 24, 2010 : 7:16 a.m.

I'm a baby boomer and I've watched it a few times and listened to Cowherd on the radio. Cowherd is a good talk radio host and Beadle has got that intangible appeal that is going to serve her very well.


Fri, Sep 24, 2010 : 12:18 a.m.

It is a big deal and it is a well known show with young men like myself. It's funnier, more informative, and more interactive than a snoozefest like PTI(good hosts and opinions), or around the horn(self indulgent journalism). When this show first started a few years ago, I knew it would be big just due to its platform. It rarely dissapoints.

UM owns

Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 10:54 p.m.

A show that's on at 4pm on ESPN2 is a phenomenon? Hah! As an avid sports fan (and ESPN addict), I can state that this is absolutely false -- virtually no one has heard of this show, let alone it being as popular as Pardon the Interruption (a phenomenon) or even Around the Horn (an average show). Also, nowhere in this post was it mentioned that Colin Cowherd is infamous for ripping off the M Zone's blog post on the Wonderlic test in 2006 -- and then butchering the aftermath. Thankfully mgoblog exists so I can get my sports analysis from someone other than Rothstein.

3 And Out

Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 5:30 p.m.

I dont watch or listen to this show and all I knew about Cowhard was from Michigan fans griping about him when he criticizes our team or our coach... and I just tune that stuff out... but this Michelle Beadle is so cute, maybe Ill remind myself to check out this show sometimes...cute smile on that woman. :)


Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 4:06 p.m.

I went to the morning radio show session that was a lot quieter. The Sports Nation show looked a lot more fun and energetic. It was great exposure for U-M and Ann Arbor. I listen to Colin Cowherd quite a bit on his 10-1 show and think he's pretty entertaining. He can be pretty opinionated sometimes and make huge generalizations, but that's what get's people to listen I guess.


Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 1:58 p.m.

Though I didn't make it down to Ingalls Mall, I've been a big fan of the show since the beginning when it was called something else. Beadle is funny, smart and knows her sports. Conlin is a good fit and the two make the show enjoyable viewing. Kudos to ESPN, and the Disney Network for branching out the franchise.


Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 1:24 p.m.

I watched Sports Nation for the first time with their Ann Arbor show. Maybe because I am not as you say a young hipster or maybe because I dont have time to watch the shows I currently would like watch, who cares? The energy of the Michigan Student body and other fans gave the show real energy like the game day shows I have seen in Ann Arbor. The other reason the show was enjoyable was Michelle Beadle, her on screen personality, and like you said her comedic timing, as for Colin Coward not so much. Colin with his below average set ups for Beadle made a poor straight man, but the main problem is there is nothing likable about his personality. The show did impart some information, for example the publics feeling concerning Tom Bradys hair cut. I admit my interest in such feelings may not be at the same level as say a high school girl, or even a high school boy who wants to hook up with a high school girl, but I do have a passing interest the same interest the average zoo patron has concerning animals, but that interest does not reach the level of wasting a 130 hours a year watching this show on TV, or even 88 hours without commercials with the use of a DVR. However, if they come back to Ann Arbor it would be worth the 20 minutes of my time, just to watch the Michigan fans.


Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 12:44 p.m.

Hmmm, didn't we just read something the other day about the U of m going after people who are making a buck off Shoelace. And now, they host their own party for one of the biggest tv networks to reap the reward of identifying their brand with Shoelace. Come on, if it is good for the goose it is good for the gander.


Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 12:34 p.m.

Phenomenon? This writer is caught up in hyperbole as he uses "Phenomenon" in the third graph to describe a show few know exists. There are many definitions for the word but when it comes to a TV show - I simply don't think this word describes a show that so few people actually watch. How simple is it to wear a U-M shirt and show a camera and get a reaction - this is not rocket science. But that does not make it a Phenomenon. Basing the success of a TV show on Facebook fans or its attractive host misses the point of what a TV show is - its about ratings! What are the ratings for this show that appears on ESPN2? Getting a crowd of college kids in front of a camera is like shooting fish in a barell. How does having 240K Facebook fans (how many hide it by the way) correlate to ratings - the lifeblood of TV? If the ratings are setting records, then perhaps we call the show a hit. Phenomenon? Like Survivor 10 years ago or American Idol at its peak? Hardly! Based on the numbers for similar shows on ESPN and ESPN 2 at the same time we are likely talk about several hundred thousand viewers - not millions! Compare this show with the established GameDay on ESPN! This show actually draws ratings, draws crowds, and has value to the viewer. Back when U-M was good (remember those days) and GameDay showed up before the Notre Dame game - that was something to see AND watch. Fans showed up just to see who the hosts would pick to win - and they TUNED IT! While not quite a Phenomenon itself the show changed coverage of college football forever. SportsNation - "The appeal has been immediate. The show has over 241,000 people liking it on Facebook. Beadle has over 111,000 followers on Twitter and the shows feed has more than 737,000 followers. Jamie Horowitz, one of the shows co-creators and the coordinating producer of the show, said it is the youngest and most male-skewing show on ESPN or ESPN2." Notice how there is no reference to actual ratings - which are the ONLY way to gauge a shows popularity! Why - cause it tells you who is watching it - not who is Tweeting about it! What good are Tweets if no one watches? I dont watch this show and I am sure its fun - but I think this is the case of a self-created identity by ESPN and attempting to perpetuate itself and writers fawning over themselves to be a part of the "in" thing at the moment. How much of this success is because of an attractive host that struck a cord? Compare with Gameday where people tune in to see crusty old coach Lee Corso who is, well, not as hot as Michelle Beadle. Phenomenon Defined: a : a rare or significant fact or event b plural phenomenons : an exceptional, unusual, or abnormal person, thing, or occurrence Does this show qualify or is the writer simply guilty of a bit of hyperbole. hyperbole 1. an obvious and intentional exaggeration. 2. an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally