Behind the Mic: Social Media Notable Omar Raja Signs With ESPN; SportsCenter Shuffles Daytime Talent

Behind the Mic provides a roundup of recent news regarding on-air talent, including new deals, departures, and assignments compiled from press releases and reports around the industry. In this week’s edition, House of Highlights’ founder joins ESPN, the network moves around faces of their daytime SportsCenter shows, and the postseason edition of NFL Countdown gains a NFL head coach.

ESPN has added Instagram star and House of Highlights founder Omar Raja has joined ESPN as digital and social content commentator, a role that will encompass multi-platform talent appearances and strategic social programming.

Raja will continue to have a direct relationship with fans, injecting his voice – and the fun and personality that he is well known for – into ESPN’s digital and social content across all sports. His first appearance on ESPN platforms will be as a guest on Countdown to the CFP Championship on Monday, Jan. 13, ahead of the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Moving forward, Raja will be the leading voice behind ESPN’s SportsCenter Instagram account and will play a key role in new exclusive content offerings on the No. 1 sports app in the U.S., the ESPN App. He will also be a key contributor to ESPN’s NBA digital and social content, including a new Hoop Streams live show with co-hosts Chiney Ogwumike and Christine Williamson. The weekly studio show premieres on Wednesday, Jan. 15 at 6:30-7 p.m. ET and will focus on culture and viral moments across basketball. It will be the first show produced from ESPN’s new Studio E in Bristol, CT. dedicated exclusively to its growing digital content and shows. The show will be available to stream live on Twitter, YouTube, and the ESPN App.

“I’m very excited to join the ESPN digital and social team and help elevate the amazing product they’ve already built,” said Raja. “After meeting with Jimmy Pitaro, Connor Schell, and Ryan Spoon, I knew the opportunity at ESPN was incredibly special and I genuinely can’t wait to get started.”

Joining Raja will be a team of four digital and social content specialists that will work alongside ESPN’s existing team to support its presence on social platforms and areas of growth such as TikTok, Instagram, soccer, and high school sports. The team will also bring industry-leading expertise in user-generated content strategy and social community building to expand on ESPN’s success in reaching the next generation of sports fans.

“Omar’s distinct, edgy and authentic voice resonates perfectly with those we reach across digital platforms, and we’re excited to have him play a key role in creating fun content and strengthening our connection with fans across our entire digital footprint,” said Ryan Spoon, SVP of Digital and Social Content, ESPN. “Thanks to the hard work and dedication from the team, we’re coming off of an incredibly successful year of growth and leadership, fueled by audience expansion among younger and female fans. With the resources and the reach and scale of ESPN behind them, Omar and his team will be adding fuel to the fire.”

Raja founded House of Highlights in 2014 while he was a student at University of Central Florida as a way to share video clips of moments both on and off the court with his friends. The Instagram account quickly gained a following and, in just five years, has built a community of both a younger audience of sports fans and superstar athletes and celebrities like LeBron James and Drake. In 2015, Bleacher Report acquired House of Highlights and hired Raja. At Bleacher Report, Raja and team expanded the brand and business, building one of the most followed U.S. sports media accounts on Instagram that reached an all-time high 15 million followers last year. Raja has been named to numerous lists recognizing visionary leaders that are making an impact on the industry, including one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, an Agent of Change by Hashtag Sports, and to Digiday’s Changemakers…

…Daytime editions of SportsCenter will see some new anchor pairings as well as a familiar duos in different timeslots beginning the second week in February.

With Cari Champion’s pending departure, the noon ET SportsCenter will no longer be a bicoastal show and instead will originate completely from Bristol, CT, with Elle Duncan and Matt Barrie helming the newly-expanded 90-minute Monday-Thursday episodes. Hannah Storm and Jay Harris will handle Friday’s noon shows in addition to weekend SCs beginning at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., while Duncan and Barrie will be on the Sunday 7 a.m. show.

The Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 7 a.m. SC will be anchored by Nicole Briscoe and Randy Scott and David Lloyd shifts from the daily noon show to handle Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday 7 a.m. shows where he will be joined by Storm on Mondays and Toni Collins the other two days…

…ESPN’s Postseason NFL Countdown will travel to the College Football Playoff National Championship in New Orleans for two shows during the NFL Divisional Playoff Weekend, Jan. 11-12. The Saturday (10 a.m. ET) and Sunday (12 p.m. ET) editions of Countdown hosted by Sam Ponder and featuring ESPN’s full set of analysts and experts at Jax Brewery (600 Decatur Street) will be part of ESPN’s extensive coverage of both the NFL and college football playoff weekend.

Ponder will host a two-hour show on Saturday and the usual three-hour edition on Sunday in the heart of the French Quarter with Tedy Bruschi, Matt Hasselbeck, Randy Moss, Rex Ryan, Louis Riddick, Chris Mortensen, and Adam Schefter.

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton will be a special guest analyst on Sunday’s Countdown show. Members of ESPN’s college football team will also be part of Countdown as a preview to Monday’s LSU vs. Clemson National Championship matchup.