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Role changes for Beadle, Ward illustrate challenges for networks, female broadcasters

Confirmation this week that NBC was definitely poaching Michelle Beadle from ESPN was no surprise to sports media nerds; those rumors had been in the wind for many weeks.

But when the press release finally hit the public Monday, what surprised me was the first job outlined in her new TV home: a correspondent for Access Hollywood.

“This job is the perfect blend of two things I am most passionate about – sports and pop culture,” Beadle said in the inevitably upbeat press release quote. She also promised she’d be “trying to the kick a—and have some fun along the way.”

No one blames Beadle for trading time in Bristol, Conn, for the glamour of covering show business in New York City. But her transition also illuminates one of the biggest challenges facing sports outlets like ESPN:

Keeping its most popular female anchors in the fold.

Beadle was, next to Erin Andrews, the Worldwide Leader’s best-known female talent. And yet, at ESPN was there ever a chance she could reach Chris Berman-level status, where her name was synonymous with the channel’s brand?

It is telling that, even though NBC owner Comcast is building its own sports network as a competitor to ESPN, Beadle’s work on NBC Sports took a backseat to Access Hollywood shout-outs, even in the official announcement about her move.

Similar questions have surfaced about Andrews, who seems much more publicly conflicted about pursuing a broadcasting career outside of sports, despite appearing on Dancing with the Stars and scoring appearances on ABC’s Good Morning America in negotiating her current contract.

It isn’t uncommon for sports broadcasters to want the expanded horizons – and bigger paychecks – which comes from work outside the sports arena.

But I wonder what this means for the future of sports broadcasting when it’s most popular female figures seem destined to move beyond sports, if only to keep the forward momentum going in their careers?

Perhaps these questions seem more pressing for the unfortunate coincidence of another event: the removal of Pam Ward from college football announcing by ESPN.

Ward’s tenure has drawn loads of criticism from fans; seemed to take particular delight in tracking her missteps while calling games.

But more than anything, her tenure and departure may highlight just how shallow the bench is for female announcers. Much as some fans might criticize her work, Ward was the first woman to call play-by-play for a college football broadcast nationally back in 2000 and remains among a select few females doing that work now.

Why, a dozen years after her pioneering achievement, are there no more than one or two names of women doing similar work who surface in the wake of Ward’s reassignment?

In different ways, the transitions of Ward and Beadle reveal just how much work the Worldwide Leader – and sports broadcasting itself – faces in building up female on-air talent who can find full, complete careers in the sports world.

Wonder if, among all the carping about Ward’s mistakes and Beadle’s feud with Andrews, anyone is paying attention to that?

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