Hopefully, it’ll be for the better, but no one can say with 100 percent certainty that it will be. That’s equally true of the Philadelphia sports scene, the sports media and NFL Insider Adam Caplan.
“My time with ESPN has come to an end due [to] layoffs…” tweeted a “very disappointed”—but not surprised—Caplan on May 1, his ellipsis, perhaps unintentionally, alluding to that unknowable future change always brings.
In his tweet, Caplan also thanked various former co-workers, beginning with friend and once-and-future-rival for NFL scoops Adam Schefter, who recommended Caplan for his ESPN gig in 2013. Caplan describes the competition between NFL reporters as “cutthroat at times.” And yet, it’s his fellow reporters and other coworkers he misses most now that his old show, NFL Insiders, has been canceled and the worldwide leader in sports has sent him home to wait out his expiring contract and non-compete clause.
“It was wonderful,” recalls Caplan of his time at ESPN, contradicting how some fans, bloggers and media commentators looking in from the outside have described Disney’s sports network over the years. Caplan has heard those whispers—and screams—but they don’t match up to his experience.
“It was better than I anticipated. Because you would hear rumors and read media articles of what people really think is going on in there, and unfortunately the people writing these articles have never worked in television, at least it sure seems that way. I can only talk to the NFL group. I didn’t see the narcissism or entitlement that people talked about or would write about. Didn’t see that at all. People were great. We laughed a lot, had fun with each other.”
For sports fans who dream about covering their favorite teams and leagues, the reporters, analysts, producers, etc. they would ostensibly call coworkers are probably not close to their top reason for wanting such a job. But why shouldn’t they be for those who’ve actually lived that dream? For Caplan, this is his career, and it’s natural to miss the people you worked alongside after leaving a fun job. Of course, Caplan will almost assuredly get to call some of them colleagues—or at least rivals—again someday. He’s been at this NFL reporting business for 18 years, and he’s confident he’s set himself up to keep on doing it.
“The good thing is I’m lucky that I learned early on once the internet came about to do versatility,” he says. “I can do radio, TV, I can write. There’s a lot that I can do.”
He’s not wrong. In 2017, anyone who wants to work in media, especially in an extremely desirable NFL media job, had better be at least a triple threat like Caplan. The written word has been proclaimed dead more than a few times, but go ahead and pull up ESPN.com right now on your phone. What do you see? Lots of video and audio, sure, but the homepage alone also has a few thousand words on it. And while plenty of consumers may be cutting their cords and tuning in only for the hottest of takes and highlight reels, not everyone is. Point being, no one really seems to know where this whole media thing is going.
Caplan sees this and acknowledges that sports media is changing and has to keep changing, but he doesn’t think anyone can fully see its future. When I mention that no one network or website seems to have it all figured out, he can’t agree quickly or vigorously enough. “If you and I were doing a radio show, I would have rang the bell,” he quips. “No one knows what is going to work, which was not the situation even two years ago. I think what happens with cord cutting is companies are very reactive, which makes sense, but in the end, it’s the first time there’s significant uncertainty in sports television.
“The only certainty…is that companies are going to pay for rights fees. You know they’re going to broadcast games, you know there’s a need for games. People are going to watch. As far as studio television, people don’t know. They just don’t know what’s going to work and what’s not going to.”
That hasn’t stopped them from looking for answers. Caplan has his own thoughts about what’s wrong and what the answers are, but he won’t share them for print—maybe over a beer sometime, he suggests.
But you won’t find him sitting around drinking his troubles away. After taking just a bit of post-ESPN downtime, which is normal for NFL reporters in late spring and early summer anyway, Caplan has been covering sports however he can without running afoul of that non-compete clause. He’s made his usual appearances on 97.5 The Fanatic and has a Sirius XM deal lined up for the fall. He even stepped behind the booth for the first time, filling in as Philadelphia Soul color man for friend and 94.1 WIP host Joe DeCamara.
“The thing that I loved about it is it’s something different than I’ve ever done before,” says Caplan. “I’ve never worked an NFL game in terms of calling a game. Yes, this is the Arena league, but it’s so much faster than an NFL game. I was familiar with the Soul personnel, but not as much with the Cleveland personnel, so it certainly was a challenge and one I look forward to again sometime.”
And just because he’s not on ESPN anymore doesn’t mean he’s stopped reporting on the NFL. He’s still tweeting about sports, and he’s planning on starting a public Facebook page soon. Caplan isn’t holding back on thoughts about the home teams either.
“I just don’t believe in all four teams and their structure,” he says. “I do believe in what the Sixers are doing. Eagles, I do to a certain extent. I just want to see it. They need to have more stability. Flyers, it’s hard to see. There’s some upside to the team, but they haven’t achieved. Phillies are just so unbearably bad, that I’m just not there. I don’t know if they’ll ever get it.”
Yikes. For a city that hasn’t seen its beloved Eagles make the playoffs since 2013 or any of its teams win a playoff series since 2012, that’s not what most fans want to hear. Eagles’ fans are looking forward to seeing year two of Carson Wentz with new weapons. Sixers fans are hoping to see “the FEDS”—assuming number-one pick Markelle Fultz’ ankle heals—take the court this fall. Flyers fans are hoping number-two pick Nolan Patrick will make the big club this season. And Phillies fans, well, they’re just wishing for anything other than the current season.
Caplan gets it. He stopped being an Eagles fan when he became a reporter, but he still loves his 76ers, and he remembers when all four teams made or won their respective finals between 1980 and 1981. He doesn’t think that’s likely to happen again in his lifetime. Still, a former Sixers season ticket holder, Caplan is excited for that young team’s future and astonished by how Philly fans, especially millennials, have gone gaga over it. But he knows this is ultimately an Eagles town and always will be.
With their improved roster, the Eagles should have a better season than in 2016, but a tough schedule, difficult division and a weak secondary will hold the birds back from soaring to greatness, Caplan says. He pegs them at 9-7, finishing behind the Cowboys and Giants but ahead of the Redskins. “The thing about the Eagles is they’re going to be fun to watch. I still think the offense is going to need to carry the defense. Last season, the offense couldn’t do it; they had a record a little under .500. This season, I don’t know about carrying them, but their offense just will be better than their defense.”
Even if he’s right and most of Philly’s teams aren’t about to enter a renaissance after their elongated dark ages, at least there’s always the Soul. Don’t knock them. They could be the next big thing. After all, no one knows what the future holds, so it’s good to keep your options open, like Caplan. Just be sure to brush up on that Cleveland Gladiators roster first.