By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
11:59 AM EST, January 3, 2013
Update, Jan. 3: Ray Lewis close to signing deal with ESPN, report says
If Ray Lewis is looking for a high-paying, high-visibility job after he leaves the Baltimore Ravens, he's not going to have much trouble getting a shot at one in sports television.
That's the assessment of media analysts and TV executives responsible for producing the studio shows and game telecasts of the NFL.
But success in the TV studio or booth is far from guaranteed, even for someone with the stature of Lewis, analysts caution, pointing to the career of former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith among others.
"Last month, I did a piece for Sports Illustrated on what current NFL players and coaches are in the eyes of network executives," said Richard Deitsch, media writer for Sports Illustrated. "These guys all keep a list of those people they interact with on a weekly basis as to who has really good potential for television, should they decide to go into it and work at it. And every executive I talked to mentioned Ray Lewis ... and had Ray Lewis probably in their top three."
Calling Lewis' TV potential "extraordinary," Deitsch listed some of the things that make Lewis a lock for a TV job if he decides to go that route.
"He's considered to be incredibly charismatic, a great speaker, great communicator and on top of that has incredible name recognition, because he's a first ballot Hall of Famer," Deitsch said. "What I got from everybody was if Ray decided to do this, if Ray was serious about being good at it, the sky's the limit for this guy."
As the ESPN senior coordinating producer who oversees all NFL studio shows for the cable channel, Seth Markman is one of the people who will be deciding whether or not Lewis has a future in sports television
"Ray Lewis has instant name recognition among all football fans and when he speaks he never holds back," Markman said Wednesday. "You know he will be candid in offering his insights and opinions. That's everything you hope for in an analyst, not to mention the fact that he's a Super Bowl champion and a first-ballot Hall of Famer."
Fred Gaudelli, executive of producer of NBC's "Sunday Night Football," the highest-rated show on television, called Lewis "one of the most compelling figures ever in the NFL."
"He inspires, motivates and captivates people," Gaudelli said Wednesday, citing the kind of attributes that would make Lewis attractive to TV producers.
"Given that kind of ability, I think he would do better in front of the camera on a studio show or a taped show as opposed to being in booth. I'm not saying he couldn't succeed in the booth, but I think he would have a better chance in the studio setting."
John Ourand, media reporter for Sports Business Daily, agrees on all the attributes Lewis brings to the table, but he thinks it's a mistake for anyone to automatically assume that Lewis will be successful. There are simply too many variables between the personality, the camera and the public reaction to as polarizing a figure as Lewis.
"You never really know until someone is actually on TV how they're going to be," Ourand said. "You have somebody like Eric Mangini, who is on ESPN now and is actually pretty good. But when he was coaching the Jets, he was awful. He wasn't insightful, he didn't do well with the press. I never would have guessed Eric Mangini would be good on TV, but he is."
Former Cowboys star Smith is the opposite in Ourand's view.
"I thought he was very good on TV when he was a player," Ourand said. "He answered every question. He had a winning smile. He seemed like he was going to be very good, but he took the next step and sort of flamed out. So, it's very difficult to determine how they're going to do."
Nevertheless, Ourand does believe viewers will be seeing Lewis on some network or cable channel next year.
"I guarantee you Ray Lewis will be on TV on some national outlet next year," Ourand said. "He's a well-known name. He inspires a lot of passion. People love him -- or, outside of Baltimore, they hate him. They remember what happened in Atlanta. That's the kind of polarizing figure TV executives love ... There are more than enough national outlets for somebody like Ray Lewis to get a tryout."
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