Our InsideNU Q&A series continues with Northwestern graduate and ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell. Rovell worked at ESPN from 2000 to 2006 and then at CNBC until this summer. He started at ESPN again on Monday and will also be a business correspondent for ABC News. He hosted a sports business show at CNBC and is well known for his presence on Twitter, where he tweets interesting sports business facts and statistics surrounding different sporting events. Follow him on Twitter at @darrenrovell.
How did Twitter help you build your audience as a journalist?
If it was about sports business in general think I wouldn’t have the audience I do on Twitter. Being one of the first adopters has helped me get larger audience than my niche. I think sports in general helps because people are watching games and setting up with their laptops and it’s their second screen. For me, what I can provide is a fact or two that others aren’t providing.
Is the move to ESPN going to effect your tweeting at all?
I abided by a policy at CNBC that is similar to ESPN’s which is that you’re getting paid by an organization and they expect you to do it on their platform, and so the way it works is if I have a piece of breaking news it’s going to go TV first and I understood that at CNBC and I understand that at ESPN. But I think ESPN benefits from Twitter; you can just look at their ratings gains and you can see that ESPN certainly benefits from Twitter and I think they are embracing it as any media organization would.
There are certain rules of making sure that you uphold the standards of a brand and that’s expected and I’m going to abide by all the rules. I do not think it will significantly change me.
Why the move to ESPN?
Well I was there from 2000 to 2006. I loved my time there. I left on good terms. I had six years at CNBC, which was great, just learning from the business journalism standpoint because I do consider myself a business reporter before a sports reporter. And I had a good run; I had my own show on NBC Sports Network, which I loved. But I think it was time to come back to ESPN. It’s so much bigger than when I left. Just in six years, it’s amazing to see the campus development and how many people are running things.
What I’ve been most impressed about is just because it’s big doesn’t mean it’s bulky. It’s very efficiently run. They expressed interest in me again and I was excited about it. And then the ABC New part of it is appealing to me because while I was at CNBC I really got more into the business journalism side and the interesting stories that a lot of people aren’t telling. I think for my experience in sports I think it helps me to be able to tell an interesting business story, because business does have a negative stigma. Especially with sports fans, when you say it’s a business they think poorly. But I think a lot of people do.
(Most of) those who are in the business world aren’t on Wall Street. I enjoyed my time at CNBC and I realized that there are these great business stories to be told that aren’t necessarily sports, so ABC is going to give me that opportunity, so it really was the perfect storm for me.
How does the Under Armour deal help Northwestern from a marketing perspective?
I think we were the redheaded stepchild. When I was there — I came in 1996, right after the Rose Bowl season — what I couldn’t believe, as a fan, is how many different colors of purple there were and how is this ever acceptable. That just to me screamed unprofessionalism. Now I’ve come to learn that there are big programs now that still have color problems. Maybe the Wisconsin red is not as red or true red in some cases, but to me we were always the redheaded stepchild and I think Adidas tried too late with those night uniforms last year.
I think now Under Armour is going to make an effort to pay attention to us and it’s their only Big Ten team. So I think it’s the first time ever that Northwestern is considered special and I think that’s great.
What does Under Armour offer that Adidas can’t?
I think attention. Under Armour has what now, I think it’s 12 schools. I think they can pay attention more because they have fewer teams across the world than Adidas does and that’s important. And the initial look I think looks great and I think it falls along the lines of love it or hate it.
I love what they do with the stripe. Some people don’t, but you know what, it’s unique, and it’s not crazy absurd, which has gotten a lot of the attention recently with the Oregon invasion of uniforms.
How has the culture and fan support of NU football and basketball changed since you were there?
I would say certainly with Coach Fitzgerald the expectation of winning has changed, and that was laid down by Randy Walker, obviously, I mean tremendous years in 1995, 1996 and really 2000. I thought when Darnell Autry in 1996 decided to go pro instead of come back for his senior year, I actually thought that was going to be the end of anything good at Northwestern. I thought that was the chance to get recruits for the future and have a great 1997 year, and 1997 didn’t turn our well. I actually thought that Northwestern was going to go back to (where) winning four was lucky.
We had some bad years and I don’t think people talk enough about Coach Walker, because the fact that he was able to get that team to where it was where it completely dominated in 2000. There was some luck with Zach Kustoc, but that really laid the foundation.
So now we’re in a position where winning six is disappointing. I always consider myself fortunate to be a Northwestern fan because I do enjoy every victory, and I don’t think the people at Nebraska and Wisconsin and Michigan feel the same way. I feel like they feel like if they’re not 10-2, 10-3 then their season is a failure and I think that’s a bad way to be a fan. I understand that their history has kind of dictated that sentiment, but that’s why I love being a Northwestern fan.
It’s like a club; its an exclusive club, and I love being apart of it.