Back in December 1979, Dick Vitale called ESPN’s first-ever college basketball telecast. Guess what? Nearly 40 years later, the 80-year old’s still in demand come contract time.
ESPN is giving sports TV legend “Dickie V” a new contract extension that will take him through the 2021-2022 season, sources tell Front Office Sports.
During a phone interview, Vitale confirmed the new deal that’s scheduled to take him through what would be his 42nd year on ESPN.
With his unbridled enthusiasm and catalog of catchphrases, Vitale’s the best promoter that college basketball — and ESPN — has ever had.
Vitale was recently awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 40th Annual Sports Emmy Awards in New York. With Chris Berman now an anchor emeritus, and Bob Ley on sabbatical, he’s one of the last links to the upstart cable network that launched in 1978.
But Vitale’s not ready to hang up his microphone yet. He’s even talked about opening a game telecast at 100 years of age by declaring, “This is Awesome, Baby!” In his spare time, he’s an advocate for pediatric cancer research, raising $4.3 million at his 14th annual Dick Vitale Gala in May.
“I’ll be able to tell when the time comes. If I feel like it’s not there, I will just tell them. I would not try to embarrass them, I would not try to embarrass my family and most of all I would not embarrass myself,” Vitale told FOS. “But I feel as young as ever. I feel like 20, I act about 12. Then reality sets in when I look at the mirror. At my age, it can happen overnight. Bottom line? I feel really great. I don’t feel any different than when I was 45 or 50. I really don’t.”
Vitale attributes his longevity to his positive personality and attitude. He’s always related to people of different ages. He came across his high school yearbook recently. His classmates called him: “Everybody’s buddy.” That continues to this day.
“I love people. I love being with people. There’s a hot dog in me. People ask me, ‘Don’t you ever get tired of people coming up for your picture or autograph?’ I tell them, ‘If they don’t recognize me, I’ll put a sign on that says, ‘My name’s Dickie V.’”
Sports TV is typically a young person’s game. Aging announcers and analysts are often axed in favor of fresh young faces.
But Vitale has stayed current with college basketball and social media. He remains popular with older and younger viewers alike, says Jason Barrett, president of Barrett Sports Media.
“In society, the expectation is that as we age, certain skills will erode. Passion, energy, enthusiasm, and attention to detail are supposed to decline. An ability to retain a cool-factor and be considered hip by Gen-Z and Millennial audiences is considered unrealistic,” notes Barrett.
“Yet if you watch Dick Vitale work, you’d have a hard time convincing most people that he’s lost even one-mile-per-hour off his fastball. His presence on ESPN programming remains large. His love for basketball is infectious. He’s socially active more than most 21-year-olds — and his quick wit and candor are frequently on display. When you tune in to watch college hoops on ESPN, you know the broadcast will be stellar. When Dick Vitale is on it, it becomes a much bigger event. Some might even say it becomes awesome baby.”
Vitale (who turned 80 June 9) seems like he’s lived a charmed life. But he’s had his disappointments. After growing up poor in New Jersey, he slowly worked his way up the high school and college ranks. He landed the job of head coach of the Detroit Pistons — only to be fired in 1979. Vitale was disconsolate. But that led to his second career at ESPN.
Vitale also worked through serious throat problems. Now he deals with the ageism of social media critics, who like to troll older ESPN personalities like himself, 85-year old NBA analyst Hubie Brown and 83-year old “College GameDay” star Lee Corso.
“I probably work harder now than I’ve ever worked in my life — because I want to make certain I don’t make mistakes on names or not knowing about a player’s life. I really pride myself on that. The bottom line is if I make a mistake, or Hubie makes a mistake, we’re senile, we’re old, we’re washed up. Does a young guy make a mistake? Oh, he made a slip. When you get into our numbers, there are cruel people out there. 99% aren’t like that. But there is that percentage that really can’t wait to knock you off.”
So does Vitale still want to be on TV at age 100?
“You’ve got to have goals,” he replies. “And that’s a pretty good goal. It’s only 19 years away.”