In an interview with The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre earlier this year, ESPN sports business analyst Darren Rovell was described as "polarizing." This strikes me as a misrepresentation: Polarizing implies that there are people who love him and people who hate him, in equal measure. But I honestly can't find a single person who likes Darren Rovell. He is polarizing in the same way sleet is polarizing, or a foul smell on the subway is polarizing, or pop-up spam is polarizing.
That sounds harsh, but I don't mean it personally. I've met Rovell a few times and found him to be a perfectly respectable, normal, even friendly chap. I've written about Rovell before but not in any overly aggressive way. The guy, as a writer and a journalist, basically stands for the exact opposite of what I stand for as a writer -- essentially, Rovell seems to be out to commodify the human experience -- but that doesn't make him a bad guy, or even wrong, necessarily. But as an observer of the world of sports media, it's impossible to claim that Rovell is anything other than almost universally loathed.
The thing that's strange is that he doesn't seem to recognize it. Rovell is not Skip Bayless, gleefully spewing horse manure with a Cheshire grin, feeding off your hate, the giddy troll. He seems to legitimately believe he's the good guy. This sort of makes me sad. I hadn't realized this until this weekend, when Rovell, as Rovell tends to do, got in another spat with another media person, this time SB Nation lead NBA writer Tom Ziller, the founding editor of Sacramento Kings blog Sactown Royalty. Saturday night, Kings fans held a Here We Buy night, a way to show the NBA how devoted a fanbase they have and how sad they are to lose the Kings. From all accounts, the night was a big hit, but that morning, Rovell tweeted out "I hope Kings fans don't think that filling the arena for 1 night on discounted tickets means anything to David Stern."
I hope Kings fans don't think that filling the arena for 1 night on discounted tickets means anything to David Stern.— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) February 9, 2013
Ziller went after Rovell, perhaps too strongly for the situation but with understandable defense of a pretty nasty little "you stupid fans have no idea how sports work" attitude.
I had thought @darrenrovell was smart, but a professional know-it-all who had significant trouble communicating with humans.— Tom Ziller (@teamziller) February 9, 2013
Rovell attempted to remain patient but mostly sounded condescending, saying, "understand that reality is hard to accept" and "putting blinders on doesn't help."
@teamziller all good. understand that reality is hard to accept. Hope Mastrov/Burkle pay on $525M valuation, new arena and keep team in sac.— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) February 9, 2013
Ignoring the details of the Twitter fight -- Twitter fights are stupid, by definition -- this is when it hit me: Rovell doesn't know. He thinks there are just a few jerks on the Internet who are just out to get him, rather than, you know, an overwhelming consensus that he is demon lord of Twitter, engaged in a relentless battle to suck the soul out of sports. (I am just reporting facts! I have no issue with the guy other than a worldview that's diametrically opposed to his! Hi, Darren!) So I decided to help Darren out: I want him to have no confusion. He should know, so he can either react accordingly, change his ways, or go full Bayless and just embrace the heel turn.
I spent the weekend asking around to various high-profile Rovell-haters, seeing if they could help me quantify why, exactly, everyone on the Internet smells sulfur every time Rovell does anything. Lest they be another person blocked by Rovell, I've allowed them to remain anonymous. But they came up with a handy list. So, without any further throat-clearing:
Why People Hate Darren Rovell
- He's a shill for corporations and is far more skeptical of the average fan than he is of his business sources. The Kings tweet is a great example of this. He accepts David Stern's and the Maloof's claims of losing money at absolute face value but seems to think fan complaints are simply sour grapes from a vocal but pointless minority. As one hater put it: His "pro-corporate bent and immense self-congratulation habit really differentiates him. He produces a sort of know-it-all cynicism that is really, really unbecoming. He's like a cross between the kid from JERRY MAGUIRE and Debbie Downer. He's also a hopeless booster of absurd technology claims (like Twitter being the most important thing ever) and a heartless cynic about human things (like fan passion, fan opinion). He's a miniature sports version of the WSJ op-ed page." This is person whose Twitter avatar is an actual advertisement for the NFL. His "scoops" are often, often simply press releases or links to commercials.
FIRST LOOK: Fun commercial for NBA Tickets website sprts.bz/VPKjqS— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) February 11, 2013
- He thinks Twitter is an actual, grownup way to communicate with people on a comprehensive level. I remember seeing Rovell at an event in March 2010. We'd known each other for a few years, and I asked him what he was up to. He said, "You know, I'm getting really into Twitter." I had no idea the profound ramifications of that statement. Rovell sees everything through the lens of Twitter, from comparing the Pope to Mark Cuban (Mark has more followers; you suck, Pope!)
random integer generator to a reported gaggle of interns who keep his Twitter machine humming at all times. This is a man who wears a shirt with his Twitter handle on the back and links to a "great infographic on social media winners on Super Bowl Sundays" whatever the hell that means.
Great infographic on social media winners on Super Bowl Sundayfilexchange.fleishmanhillard.com/confirmedaspx/…— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) February 8, 2013
- He thinks he is the only person who understands the "rules" of Twitter, yet constantly breaks them himself. This is an old criticism, but honestly, if consider yourself some sort of Twitter policeman you probably shouldn't be Tweeting picture of your breakfast.
In honor of the storm named Nemo, my Munster & American cheese bagel looks like the fish twitter.com/darrenrovell/s…— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) February 9, 2013
- He's anti-fan. This goes beyond just favoring corporations. It's actually cheering against fans. One of our haters elaborates. "Rovell seems to actively root for The Man to get over on the little guy at every turn. For instance, there was a moment during Super Bowl week when the average ticket price on the resale market dropped significantly over a 24 period. Rovell seemed genuinely disgusted that the average fan might suddenly be able to afford a ticket to the game. Before the game was even played, he seemed poised to write it off as worthless because scalpers were suddenly only getting $1,200 a ticket instead of the $1,800 a ticket they were getting the day before. I'm pretty sure that if you asked Rovell to rank the last ten Super Bowls from best to worst he would rank them in order of highest resale ticket price to lowest and completely disregard what happened on the field in each. He's like a terrible prick character from a s----- Ayn Rand novel brought to life and given a microphone."
- He is attempting to commodify the human experience, turn the genuine emotional reactions that only sports can provide us into dead soulless numbers on an Excel spreadsheet. OK, this one was mine.
- He only credits initial sources when it's too late. A good example from this weekend. "He took a picture that Ryan Wilson tweeted, then saved it and uploaded it to his own account with no mention of its origins. That tweet has now been retweeted 187 times. A couple of minutes later he tweeted out the source. That tweet has received four retweets." That might sound like a little too much Twitter inside baseball, but there is an etiquette to these things -- both on Twitter and online in general -- and Rovell consistently flouts it.
- He's intellectually dishonest. Another hater: "He's also pretty intellectually dishonest in the end. He creates straw men as a rule, he never admits when he's wrong, he champions 'conversation' and then DMs people he doesn't follow, and his excuse for turning to one-way DM conversations is that his followers don't want to read the conversation. The empty arena pics are annoying as anti-fan propaganda, but even those are taken in the first inning, the first minutes of a game or whatever." It is worth noting that Rovell hid his responses to Ziller about the Kings from his timeline.
- He's got a bit of a lady problem. The most famous example of Rovell having a somewhat "Mad Men" mindset about ladyfolk is probably when he creeped out Kate Upton on his CNBC show last year, but for my money, the time he groused about how unattractive Playboy models had become while boasting of how many Playboy Super Bowl parties he had been to had to take the cake.
explained Rovell's comment: "when he asked to take a photo w/ me on the red carpet, the closest person to us was on the phone and advised they were unavailable because they were in the middle of handling an issue at VIP check in and to see if someone else could take it...he then said to me in a snotty fit 'Oh not even for my 175,000 Twitter followers' and stormed away." To be fair: He now has 311,611 followers.
- The mancave Tweet.
Is it bad that I'm most concerned about my mancave flooding? #Sandy— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) October 29, 2012
- He thinks he is better than everyone else. You can see this when Rovell was famously duped by an 18-year-old kid into thinking he was an escort. (The whole story is here.) When Rovell had to apologize for his mistake -- something we've all had to do -- he couldn't resist a dig at the person who had decided to point out how shoddy Rovell's reporting was in the first place: "As a result I will do fewer stories on the real life impact of big events which I do think the public enjoys. There will always be people out there who want their 15 minutes of fame and not really care how they get there." From a hater: "Someone I know from a publication that will remain nameless said he's a total jitbag when he deigns to call and seek info for a tweet or story. As in, WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN'T TALK TO HIM/HER IMMEDIATELY? I. AM. DARREN. ROVELL!!!" (Anecdotally, I can confirm this: I've had several people whom Rovell has needed info from who have felt harassed and pushed around. Though, to be fair, "politeness" isn't necessarily the first word that should be associated with a journalist. Rovell's renowned rudeness when he needs information is something I'm prone to give him a pass for.)
- He's extremely successful. Through it all, this might be the biggest one. When Rovell left CNBC last year to return to ESPN (where he'd worked six years earlier), reports had his salary at roughly $500,000. What that says about Rovell, and ESPN, is a bit too much for a lot of people. Of course, if Rovell were the sort of person who quoted "The Simpsons" -- 5.3 million viewers for its last first-run episode; 998,948 official Twitter followers; $286,131 cost for a 30-second ad -- he might say that he sleeps soundly on a bed full of money, with many naked beautiful ladies.
I am just reporting facts, Darren. I don't hate you. I'm just trying to help. C'mon, do the heel turn. First Take could always use a fill-in for Skip.
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In all honesty, every time I've ever talked to Darren, I've enjoyed his company, though that might change now. I really think there's something to Twitter just making him crazy. But at $500,000 a year, hey, there ain't nothing crazy about that. By the way: this is why that list went to 11. Remember, this column is meant as a valve, a release, for when you're yelling at your television during games, or, after reading a particular column, you're pounding your fists into your computer. Obviously, I'll need your help to do that. Anything you want me to write about, let me know, through email or Twitter. I am at your beck and call.
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Ed. Note -- this article has been updated to reflect the fact that Rovell's tweets to Tom Ziller are still visible on Rovell's page.