ESPN’s flagship edition of SportsCenter is about to get an injection of Philadelphia pride.
Kevin Negandhi, a Temple graduate and Chester County native who has worked for the network since 2006, will take over as permanent anchor of the 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter starting Monday afternoon. It’s been a dream he’s had since he was a sports-obsessed 14-year-old walking the halls at Phoenixville High School. He’ll be joined behind the desk by fellow SportsCenter veteran Sage Steele, whose relationship with Negandhi goes back to their days covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Florida Gators at network affiliates in Florida in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
It’s the second big promotion Negandhi has had in the past year. In July, the Temple graduate got a dream job — anchoring ESPN College Football on ABC on Saturdays alongside former college football coach Mack Brown and former Louisiana State standout and two-time Super Bowl champion Booger McFarland (who is leaving after just one season to join ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast). That’s happened as the SportsCenter franchise, like much of the network, has suffered cutbacks and layoffs under the combined pressure of expensive contracts to secure live sports rights and viewers’ ditching cable subscriptions in favor of less-expensive offerings.
“It’s been a crazy, upside-down year,” Negandhi said. “To be part of all this is pretty amazing, and I consider myself very lucky.”
In an interview with the Inquirer and Daily News, Negandhi talked about his goals with the 6 p.m. SportsCenter, why he avoids talking politics and what it was like working alongside former Eagles coach Chip Kelly. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve been anchoring the morning SportsCenter for years. What will change now that you’ll be hosting a much later time slot?
The same energy that I brought to the morning shows is the same one you’re going to get at 6 p.m. There are going to be people that are coming in that worked all day that just want to get a reset and get their minds right for what’s going to happen for the rest of the night. I think having six to eight hours from that morning show to the 6 p.m. show, the difference is you’re going to get a lot more context on how a particular shot was made, or why this defense was out there.
I imagine the challenge of hosting at 6 p.m. is that most highlights from the night before are stale.
Well, we have day baseball. I filled in at least two to three times a week for the last six to eight weeks while they were figuring out what they were doing with that slot, and we had plenty of highlights to talk about.
I think our viewers are extremely bright. They want to see highlights and video, but they also want to see why this happened, and we get the chance to explain that, whether it’s through stats brought to us by our research team or [data firm] Second Spectrum, which lets us go deeper. Those advanced stats and advanced breakdowns along with the analysts in studio we get to break stuff down, and I think when you walk away from our show, you’ll feel more informed, smarter and more prepared when you watch a game that night.
Obviously, you go way back with Sage Steele.
I go back with Sage for 20 years, when I was working in the Sarasota market at the ABC affiliate and she was in the Tampa affiliate. Then when I came to ESPN in 2006, and I think she came within a year. Her first show on ESPN News I did with her, and on my early days on the morning SportsCenter, she was the update person. So we go back over a decade when it comes to working together on SportsCenter.
It’s like riding a bike. I think within the first five minutes of our first show on Monday, it’ll be like, “All right, this is like we never missed a beat.”
As you know as well as anyone, Sage isn’t afraid to speak her mind about politics. Have you talked about the role politics will play in your show, considering what happened with SC6?
We haven’t talked about it. [SC6 hosts] Michael Smith and Jemele Hill are really good friends of mine. I thought that sometimes narratives can find a way to take over what reality is. I don’t want to be in a position where a narrative suddenly takes over, and something that’s perceived becomes a reality.
I watched that show, and before we did this rotation of anchors, Michael was anchoring SportsCenter like the show I’m doing now. He was doing interviews, he was doing highlights, and I never felt there were political leanings when I was watching his SportsCenter in February.
If you get a subject and a conversation like Colin Kaepernick, you’ll have your analysts there to tell us how it affects football, the locker room and players. My job is to make sure I’m asking the right questions, the smart questions to allow the viewer to understand all the angles about the topic that’s being discussed. As for the politics, I think we live in a day and age where everything intersects no matter what. I don’t want the show to be part of that narrative. When you’re watching SportsCenter, I’m going to give you a highlight. I don’t want anyone wondering what the political leanings on anything is.
Who were some of your favorite SportsCenter hosts growing up?
I think Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann will be the gold standard for everybody. They were the best duo in American sports TV history. I thought Stuart Scott was so good at what he did, because Stuart was who he was. He just brought out the best in a lot of people.
Scott Van Pelt is so good because he’s another example of just being who he is. When you watch Van Pelt’s SportsCenter, he’s not being a character — he’s just talking to you. I’ve always felt Rece Davis was fantastic. I’ve worked with a legend in Hannah Storm for the past five years.
Another guy who stands out in my mind is Bob Ley. His nickname is “The General,” and he is an OG. He walks around and when he talks, everybody knows to just shut up and listen.
During the college football season, you did a segment every Sunday with Chip Kelly. As a lifelong Eagles fan, what was that like?
Chip and I never talked about the Eagles. I was very critical of Chip, but he became a teammate of mine [when he was hired as an analyst] and time had passed between when he was fired by the Eagles and came to ESPN.
We developed a rapport. We’d talk a little bit about Philly, or we’d bring up Wawa or cheesesteaks. Or Chip would talk about Temple and how [former football coach] Matt Rhule would visit there and that Chip always liked that. But we never discussed what happened with the Eagles.
I’m a passionate Philadelphia fan through and through, and I think Chip always knew that and respected that. I also always respected Chip because that first year was amazing. He gave us some excitement and some buzz on that Monday Night Football game with Mike Vick we’ll never forget. And if we don’t have a Chip Kelly, we don’t have Carson Wentz and we don’t have a Super Bowl.
So did Chip make ESPN install a smoothie machine in the green room?
[Laughter] No, no, no. We had a lot of fun with Chip, but the one thing we knew was he was going to eventually go back to the college game, just because he knew the ins and outs of the majority of every program. He was well prepared from Day 1 as a college football analyst, and I think UCLA is going to be in a great spot.