With the NFL’s regular season starting in less than a month, it probably won’t be long before ESPN announces who they’ve chosen to cover the San Francisco 49ers as a full-time beat writer. For reasons that should be obvious to anyone familiar with TV ratings, ESPN will employ 32 beat writers — one for each team.
ESPN already had “bloggers” covering each division, but in today’s world where injuries to third-string defensive linemen earn headlines and pageviews, eight writers covering four teams each wasn’t enough. ESPN also has regional sites (a plan that didn’t quite catch on like they probably thought it might, which explains why there’s no “ESPN Bay Area”) covering Boston, New York, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles. “One imagines those writers would be reassigned to the NFL beats,” wrote Awful Announcing’s Matt Yoder.
Awful Announcing has an updated list of the hires ESPN has already made. So far, only one beat writer has been chosen for the NFC West: Nick Wagoner, who used to cover the St. Louis Rams on their official website. Mike Sando is currently the NFC West blogger. If Yoder is correct, we’ll probably see Sando on the Seattle Seahawks based on his ESPN bio:
Sando joined ESPN.com in 2007 after nine seasons covering the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune. He lives in the Seattle-Tacoma area with his wife and two sons.
So what does this mean for the 49ers’ media trailer? I’ve heard ESPN has interviewed some (but not all) of the beat writers currently covering the team. Here’s a list of the guys who are (probably) in the running:
Matt Barrows (Sacramento Bee): He’s been covering the 49ers for the Bee for a decade, and does a great job. Barrows also serves as a “49ers Insider” for KNBR, which means he gets to sit on his phone and twiddle his thumbs while Gary Radnich and Larry Krueger fight for microphone time every couple weeks or so. Barrows is always good for some hilarious one-liners in the media trailer.
Matt Maiocco (CSN Bay Area): He joined CSN Bay Area in 2010 after 11 years at the Press Democrat, where he launched the extremely popular “Instant 49ers” blog in 2006. Maiocco has the most TV experience among the current beat guys, but CSNBA would probably fight to keep their guy from heading to big, bad ESPN (that’s an assumption on my part, of course). Maiocco is the most recent reporter to quote a 49ers source — on Tuesday someone told him that the fight between C.J. Spillman and Michael Thomas was due to a dispute over practice reps.
Cam Inman (Bay Area News Group): A fact no one can deny: Inman’s got the best hair of all the 49ers beat guys (I’ve even heard Jim Harbaugh compliment Inman’s haircut, but that might be because they have similar hairstyles … who knows, maybe they share the same barber). Inman covered the 49ers from 2000-04, then returned to the beat in 2011. Inman asks good questions at press conferences and is the most active beat writer on Instagram.
Eric Branch (San Francisco Chronicle): The San Francisco Chronicle appears to have two beat writers these days, with Branch as 49ers Beat Writer No. 1 and Kevin Lynch as 49ers Beat Writer No. 1a. Branch is at the facility more often and handles most of the traditional “beat guy” responsibilities, while Lynch has spent increasingly more time as a fill-in host on KNBR as of late (you can see where LOL KNBR Callers ranked Lynch and all the other KNBR personalities here). While all the beat guys are pretty funny, Branch’s commentary during practice entertains me the most. Good writer, too.
Grant Cohn (Press Democrat): Many fans around here cry about ESPN’s East Coast bias so often, it sometimes leads me to wonder why they watch ESPN. Then I found out an interesting fact: something like 33% of people between the ages of 16 and 44 are contractually obligated to watch at least 10 hours of ESPN programming per week. Glad I somehow escaped that requirement. What’s my point? If ESPN wanted to prove once and for all that they exist to troll fans in the Bay Area, instead of talking about Tom Brady and Tim Tebow all day they could hire the youngest person on this list.
Who will ESPN choose? Will they hire of the men listed above, or will the “Worldwide Leader” order off the menu? Your guess is as good as mine, but once Bristol tabs someone to cover the daily news in Santa Clara we’ll keep you updated and make some uneducated guesses at who’ll replace that person at their current paper/website.