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First Mover: Jim Rome

The combative sports talk show host on leaving ESPN and watching what he says

Photo: Turner Jumonville

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Why did you decide to leave ESPN?
I had a great run there; I’m very proud of the show. I was very well-treated. But if CBS comes calling, you don’t say “no.” I did one [on-air appearance] for the NFL pre-game show [on CBS]. It was short, but I got more social media buzz out of that than anything I’ve done on cable in quite some time.

So the viral response you got after that pre-game appearance played a role in your decision to move?
The viral reaction was interesting. There were things I said during that pre-game show that I would say on radio that didn’t receive the same reaction as it did [on broadcast TV]. I was immediately one of the trending topics on Twitter. That would happen on ESPN, but it’s not going to happen on ESPN2 and doesn’t usually happen when I’m on the radio.

How will your new endeavors—on CBS and Showtime—differ from your ESPN work?
I’m certainly not making this move to do the same thing I’ve been doing for the last seven or eight years on ESPN. I will be channeling my brand. I’m going to try to do big interviews, give you some divergent viewpoints. The daily show on CBS Sports will be tweaked and improved [from my show on ESPN]. But the Showtime show, which is going to debut in the spring, will probably be one hour long, and it will be sports and cross into Hollywood- type topics and other things.

How has sports media and its consumption changed since you got into the business?
When I broke into the business, there was a small news talk station in Santa Barbara, California, and there was one all-sports station in America, WFAN [radio]. Now there are markets that have three and four all-sports stations. The thing just kept getting bigger and bigger. And with Twitter and social networking, there are so many more voices, and the information is so immediate. It used to be that people would watch the game at night and think, “I gotta tune in to Rome tomorrow to get an opinion about that.” Now they get that opinion right away.

How has that immediacy affected what you do?
I’m always on, for one thing. You have to feed the beast constantly. I do a radio show in the morning, a TV show in the afternoon. There’s little downtime. I work harder now than ever before.

A lot of scripted writers love working for premium cable channels because of the freedom it allows them creatively. Will you have more freedom at Showtime? Is that part of your thinking?
I think probably there are [more freedoms], but that’s not why I’m going to Showtime. I’ve always been able to say what I want to say and do what I want to do. That said, and I’m still developing that show, I’m sure I can take some chances there that I couldn’t in the past. What those are exactly, I still don’t know.

Is Twitter important in your world these days?
Twitter is huge. If you’re not using it, you’re falling behind. But when it’s good, it’s great; when it’s bad, it’s bad. This week, [San Francisco 49ers wide receiver] Kyle Williams made a couple of [bad plays] in the NFC Championship game, and people were threatening his life, tweeting at him, “I hope you die.” I’m trained to think before I speak.

What about as a tool for athletes?
They can control their message. But people respond emotionally. They see something they don’t like during a game and break out their iPhone. Bam, it’s gone. It’s like a gun without a safety.



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