FS1's Undisputed doesn't always make headlines, but that changed in a major way this week, thanks to Shannon Sharpe's call to Julio Jones live on air. During the exchange, Jones confirmed that he wants off the Atlanta Falcons, saying "I'm outta there."
In terms of attention, it was a coup for Sharpe and FS1. However, there could be some serious fallout from that appearance. It is still unclear whether Jones was aware that he was on air when Sharpe called, and he gave out that bit of crucial info.
There is a legitimate legal concern for Sharpe as a result, though given his apparent relationship with Jones, it probably won't become a major issue. Because California, where Undisputed tapes, is a two-party consent state for recording or capturing phone calls, Jones could pursue legal recourse. If he went through with it, Sharpe could be charged with a misdemeanor.
The more long-term issue for the former star tight end may be the general lack of professionalism, though plenty of that also falls on the show's producers. This is the second pretty significant gaffe by Shannon Sharpe and the show in recent weeks, after he was caught attributing fake quotes to Kevin Durant on-air in April. Front Office Sports' Michael McCarthy has a report on potential "blowback" on Sharpe, who is in contract extension talks with FS1, and the show and network as a whole.
“It was creative and organic. But it was unprofessional as well,” a McCarthy source said of the segment. “You have to tell someone they’re on TV. And not just at the end of the segment to cover your ass.”
“This is on the production team. The producers have to do their job,” said a source. “Their job is to protect Shannon and Skip. When something like this happens, you go to a commercial and figure it out — before they get in trouble.”
The more significant fallout may come down on FOX as a whole. The Atlanta Falcons were reportedly blindsided by the segment, and there's a fair chance that they could raise the issue with the league.
McCarthy notes the issues that ESPN faced after the league "voiced displeasure" with the network's involvement in a PBS Frontline special on the concussion issue in football. While all sides of the issue denied that the league pushed for ESPN to drop out of the production, ESPN's Monday Night Football was given poor matchups for a few seasons.
The NFL has its ways of handling its TV partners. The Falcons could quietly seek an on-air apology or some other redress from Fox. If not forthcoming, Fox could end up in the doghouse among the league’s TV partners, which include NBC, CBS, and ESPN.
That could mean less access and cooperation from the team and other NFL clubs. Or, the worst case scenario for an NFL TV partner, the bad blood could lead to poor game matchups.
As FOX continues to jockey for position along with NBC, CBS, and ABC/ESPN, not to mention the growing presence of the tech world led by Amazon, losing out on strong game inventory could be very significant.