Fox Sports reporter Pam Oliver is returning to the NFL sidelines for two more seasons, but not without controversy.
Following a surprise demotion in 2014 when she was moved from the “A team” with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to the second tier, Oliver revealed Monday in an interview with Sports Illustrated that following what she thought was her “farewell tour,” she is actually being reinstated on the “B team” sidelines for the remainder of her contract — a development that shocked the veteran journalist herself and many in the sports world.
“I couldn’t have been more surprised by this announcement,” Sports Business Journal media reporter John Ourand told TheWrap Tuesday.
From the vantage point of sports crisis management expert Michael Bilello, CEO of Centurion Strategies, Fox Sports made a calculated business decision.
“Fox is doing what is best for the product,” Bilello said. “Pam has a genuine presence, rapport and history with the players and broadcasters. She is seasoned, she is talented and is good at what she does.”
Last year, 20-year veteran Oliver was “elevated” off the sidelines by Fox. After pushing back publicly in an interview with Essence magazine, she was eventually given the same gig — just on the network’s second squad.
The move paved the way for the newly-acquired “Dancing With the Stars” co-host Erin Andrews to take the top spot — which led some to wonder if this was a case of swapping out an African-American woman in her 50s for a younger, Caucasian female.
Ourand says the situation caused a “drumbeat of bad press,” especially after Oliver, who turned 54 on Tuesday, admitted she was “hurt” and humiliated. “It’s not difficult to notice that the new on-air people there are all young, blonde and ‘hot,‘” she told Essence.
TheWrap was told Tuesday that neither Oliver nor Fox Sports President Eric Shanks were available for interviews.
“It’s like in sports — it is not a big deal to put someone new in to do a job who is younger and fresher, and then realize that the more experienced voice is better,” Bilello explained.
“I see this as two very talented broadcasters working for a media giant that makes decisions [based] on ratings, viewer feedback and things we are not privy to.”
Oliver will now be back on the sidelines for the 2015 and 2016 NFL seasons with sportscasting duo Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch.
And while admittedly it was a “tough decision” to move Andrews into Oliver’s former position on Fox’s A team, Ourand believes it was simultaneously a “legitimate” one.
“Fox made a huge investment with Erin Andrews, and it’s logical that they would want her as their top sideline reporter for their top sport.”
In terms of that large investment, it is very possible that Andrews had a clause in her sizable contract requiring that she join the main team by a certain date, Ourand speculated.
An insider told TheWrap that if it was not explicitly stated in Andrews’ contract when Fox Sports poached her from ESPN, it was surely implied that the high profile hire would join Buck and Aikman by the start of the 2014 NFL season.
All a Fox insider would say regarding Oliver’s return was, “She gelled with her new team and had a terrific season, which senior management noticed. She was approached about coming back to work with the same team, and after giving it some thought, agreed. That’s really all there is to it.”