It will be 2033 at the earliest before Cardinals fans watch a local broadcast that isn’t produced by Fox Sports Midwest, after the club and network last summer signed a billion-dollar rights deal that will begin in 2018 and run for 15 seasons. And unless the network breaks with an unfortunate, unusual, and long-standing trend, it could be that long before many fans are able to see themselves represented on Cardinals telecasts.
Fox Sports Midwest is one of only four regional sports networks that currently do not feature a woman or person of color on its Major League Baseball broadcast team, and is the only one not to have done so since 2008.
Those findings come from some intensive scanning of the websites and social media accounts of all 25 networks that hold local MLB broadcast rights (including five that hold them for more than one team); it’s quite possible that I’ve undercounted figures for some networks, but to the best of my knowledge, no one is on the list who shouldn’t be. Here’s the list in full:
- Fox Sports Midwest (Cardinals): none
- Fox Sports Kansas City (Royals): none
- Root Sports Pittsburgh (Pirates): none
- MASN (Nationals and Orioles): none
- Fox Sports San Diego (Padres): Julie Alexandria, Michelle Margaux
- CSN Bay Area (Giants and A’s): Vida Blue, Bip Roberts, Amy Gutierrez, Shooty Babitt, Randy Winn
- SportsNet LA (Dodgers): Jerry Hairston Jr., Nomar Garciaparra, Alanna Rizzo, Kelli Tennant
- Fox Sports West (Angels): Victor Rojas, Jose Mota, Jeanne Zelasko, Alex Curry
- Root Sports Northwest (Mariners): Dave Sims, Jen Mueller, Angie Mentink
- Fox Sports Arizona (D-Backs): Jody Jackson, Kate Longworth
- Root Sports Rocky Mountain (Rockies): Jenny Cavnar
- Fox Sports Southwest (Rangers): Mark McLemore, Emily Jones
- Root Sports Southwest (Astros): Julia Morales
- Fox Sports Wisconsin (Brewers): Telly Hughes, Sophia Minnaert, Dave Nelson
- Fox Sports North (Twins): Marney Gellner, Ann Carroll
- Fox Sports/SportsTime Ohio (Reds and Indians): Andre Knott, Ashley Collins, Bridget Linton
- YES (Yankees): Nancy Newman, Meredith Marakovits, Ken Singleton
- SNY (Mets): Nelson Figueroa, Michelle Yu
- NESN (Red Sox): Jim Rice, Elle Duncan
- CSN Chicago (Cubs and White Sox): Kelly Crull, Siera Santos, Kip Lewis, Leila Rahimi, Frank Thomas
- CSN Philadelphia (Phillies): Amy Fadool, Marshall Harris
- Sportsnet (Blue Jays): Hazel Mae, Jackie Redmond
- Fox Sports Detroit (Tigers): Rod Allen, Craig Monroe
- Fox Sports South (Braves): Kristina Fitzpatrick, Brian Jordan
- Fox Sports Florida (Marlins and Rays): Emily Austen, Preston Wilson, Jessica Blaylock, Eduardo Perez
As you can see, the Cardinals’ broadcaster lags well behind the rest of baseball when it comes to on-air diversity, failing to employ a single announcer, analyst, reporter, or studio host who isn’t a white man, while the vast majority of local telecasts employ several.
Joining FSM in attaining this dubious distinction are Fox Sports Kansas City (which, troublingly, is a sister station under the same management), Pirates rightsholder Root Sports Pittsburgh, and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), the home of both the Nationals and the Orioles. Fox Sports Kansas City previously featured Royals Hall of Famer Frank White as its lead analyst, but let him go after the 2011 season; current CSN Philadelphia reporter Marshall Harris, who is black, covered the Pirates for Root Sports Pittsburgh until 2008. MASN has employed a number of female sportscasters in recent years, including Christina Akra, Julie Alexandria, and Mandy Knight.
Meanwhile—according to my own memory, the memories of many people I reached out to for help with this post, and a fair bit of research—Fox Sports Midwest has featured an all-white, all-male broadcast team for its Cardinals coverage for nearly a decade now. And while I can’t confirm this, it’s possible that the network has never featured a woman or person of color as a permanent member of the broadcast team since it began airing Cardinals games in 1994, when it was still known as the Prime Sports Network.
Several people recalled that St. Louis native and former Cardinal Kerry Robinson had appeared as a FSM analyst in the past, and a bio on the website of a foundation whose board Robinson sits on confirms that he did, in 2005 and 2006. Since Robinson was still an active player and played full minor-league seasons in both years, these appearances would’ve been limited to very late in the regular season or in the playoffs. It’s unclear whether he was ever actually employed by the network; a search of the Post-Dispatch‘s archives turns up no mention of his broadcasting work in either year.
No one I talked to could remember a woman ever appearing as a member of FSM’s Cards telecast—with the exception, if you want to call it that, of the “Fox Sports Midwest Girls,” the somewhat notorious promotional team that was quietly “phased out” last season.
I reached out to the network several times to confirm these details—which, to reiterate, are the sum of the recollections of a couple dozen people whom I asked personally or who responded when I asked the question on Twitter—and to ask whether they’d had any internal discussions about on-air diversity in the past. I haven’t received a response; I’ll update this post if I do.
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Hopefully, the value of greater diversity in the TV booth and the studio—of a broadcast that better reflects its audience—is self-evident to most people. But if you’re someone who truly doesn’t care about the chronic (and anomalous) homogeneity of FSM’s Cardinals coverage, consider that study after study after study after study after study after study after study after study after study has found a correlation between higher levels of racial and gender diversity and higher levels of organizational performance. A more diverse FSM telecast would deliver a better viewing experience for everyone, regardless of whether or not they currently feel underrepresented.
And there are several factors that make the need for the network to make progress on this front particularly acute. One is the fundamental shift in its relationship to the Cardinals’ organization; since 1994, Fox Sports Midwest has evolved from an upstart network “cablecasting” 40 games per year to the club’s exclusive local TV rightsholder.
FSM is also, of course, a lead tenant and sponsor of the club’s Ballpark Village development, and last year’s rights agreement further cemented the relationship by giving the Cardinals a reported 30% equity stake in the network. Twenty years ago, FSM was just one component of a larger broadcast ecosystem around the club (one in which fewer than two-thirds of its games were even televised); today, for all intents and purposes, it’s an extension of the Cardinals brand. Its problems are the Cards’ problems.
And, yes, it’s a problem that FSM’s telecasts have consistently featured so few African-American voices in a metro area that’s nearly 20 percent black—a higher percentage than all but seven other MLB markets—and that’s especially the case now that the Cardinals are the larger of the only two major pro sports franchises left in town. The decline in the number of black players and fans over the last few decades has by no means been limited to St. Louis and the Cardinals, but it’s been particularly tragic to see the club of Gibson, Brock, Flood, Smith, McGee, and so many others struggle in recent years to field a single African American on its roster—not to mention a few awful instances in which Cards fandom has overlapped with an ugly reactionary post-Ferguson backlash. For the club to truly be one of the city’s crown jewels, it needs to represent all of St. Louis—and the conspicuous lack of diversity on its local telecasts isn’t helping to accomplish that.
It’s no less important for FSM to address its long-standing lack of female broadcasters—that is, those who aren’t limited to reading promo copy and referred to as “Girls.” A 2013 Nielsen report found that women made up 30 percent of MLB television audiences; a more recent analysis of social-media activity put the number of female fans significantly higher, and Major League Baseball itself cites figures of around 47 percent. Whatever the exact number is, it’s way higher than zero, and it’s well past time for FSM’s Cardinals coverage to reflect that. Twenty out of the 25 regional networks listed above have at least one woman on their broadcast team—and while women have long been relegated to auxiliary sportscasting roles, that too is beginning to change, with both ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza and the Rockies’ Jenny Cavnar making their debuts as color commentators in 2015.
With a few exceptions, the Cardinals have proven themselves over the years to be a cautious, conservative organization. In some ways, such as a reluctance to break the bank with ill-advised contracts to aging veterans, that small-c conservatism has almost certainly been a positive; in others, like the club’s bafflingly inadequate digital-media efforts, it can be frustrating to fans but ultimately perhaps not all that big of a deal. Such a glaring and persistent lack of diversity on its local telecasts, though, falls into another category entirely—regressive, harmful, and wrong. And the sooner the Cardinals and FSM begin working to correct that, the better.