Hannah Storm knows football fans have to take an extra step to listen to her and Andrea Kremer broadcast “Thursday Night Football.” “It is your choice,” she told viewers during last week’s game between the Denver Broncos and the Arizona Cardinals.
You won’t find the duo holding forth on Fox, which owns TV rights to the NFL’s Thursday-night showcase. To get to them, a sports aficionado must subscribe to Amazon Prime, then opt not only to stream each week’s contest, but also toggle the audio selection to “Storm-Kremer” rather than sticking with the default Fox feed.
The results can be astonishing. Where are the deep male tones of a team like Fox’s Joe Buck and Troy Aikman or NBC’s Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth? Never before in the history of NFL broadcasting has an all-female team called TV games. On other media outlets, female sportscasters such as Michele Tafoya or Lisa Salters work the sidelines for NBC or ESPN. Storm and Kremer gather each Thursday night for Amazon at a studio in Stamford, Conn, relaying their take on a match between the Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings or the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants.
The two veteran sportscasters know they represent something different. “We are doing something new. Are we taking a risk? Absolutely,” says Kremer, known for her work on NFL Network and HBO, among other places. “Someone had to be first,” says Storm, a veteran of NBC Sports, CBS News and ESPN. “Our hope is other people will see it as maybe a path they would want to follow.”
Amazon declined to offer statistics on how many people are tuning in to listen to Kremer and Storm, but their assignment is viewed in some circles as seismic. “This is part of the social revolution,” says Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University. In 1978, he says, female sports journalists had to go to court to get access to interview athletes in team locker rooms like their male counterparts. Now, he suggests, women are an integral part of the NFL’s economics. “The largest growth in their fan base is women,” he notes.
Amazon’s choice shows media outlets working to curry a younger audience for whom old programming norms are no longer relevant, says David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business “At this point viewers, regardless of platform, want reliability and credibility when it comes to being able to watch the game and gather insight from on-air talent,” he says. “Gender seems to have largely faded as an issue impacting most viewers’ decisions, especially among younger viewers for whom female broadcasters have always been a part of the landscape. It is all about the ability to distribute content seamlessly and have it described professionally.” Other places are testing new concepts, including NBC’s “Today,” which now relies on the team of Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb – the first time the NBC morning mainstay has relied on two female co-anchors.
Kremer and Storm aren’t simply trying to reach U.S. football fans. Their broadcast can stream in more than 200 different countries and territories around the world. With that in mind, they believe there’s room to dive in on certain elements of play important to each game, rather than feeling they have to be tied to whatever image Fox is putting up on the feed. “We want to experience what it is, which is not in any way dumbing it down. It’s just expanding things,” says Kremer. “We are not going to do traditional X’s and O’s and analysis,” says Storm, “because we might be drilling deep into a subject.”
The two found Amazon’s idea impossible to resist. Executives from the e-retailing giant approached Octagon, the Interpublic Group-owned sports-and-entertainment agency that represents both sportscasters, and their agent Phil de Picciotto, about working with them. They spoke with Jason Weichelt, a live events production executive from Amazon, and liked the fact that the company wanted to work with them because of their experience, not because it wanted female sportscasters.
“We thought that took it from a realm of ‘Yeah, we are just looking for a female broadcast booth,’ into the realm of ‘We want your specific voices – yours and Andrea’s,’” says Storm. “This wasn’t a gimmick. That was really critical.”
They have known each other for years, but never worked together. Now, they have the chance to change perceptions of how live sports are handled. If their football talk finds fans, other media companies may want to try similar arrangements. Kremer says she and Storm are focused on using their experience to bring out the best in the games. Their knowledge, she says, is what fans really want. “You may choose that you don’t care to listen to women,” she says, “but you cannot besmirch our accomplishments.”