SBD/July 22, 2013/Media

Renowned N.Y. Times Statistician Nate Silver Leaving Paper To Join ESPN

Silver is expected to be a regular contributor to Keith Olbermann's new show
N.Y. Times political blogger Nate Silver, who has "attained national fame" for accurate predictions in recent presidential elections, is "moving his FiveThirtyEight franchise to ESPN," according to Brian Stelter of the N.Y. TIMES. Silver is "expected to have a wide-ranging portfolio" at ESPN. He will "most likely be a regular contributor" to Keith Olbermann's new show, "Olbermann," along with his "writing and number-crunching." Silver before creating statistical models for elections was a "baseball sabermetrician who built a highly effective system for projecting how players would perform in the future." He recently has "expressed interest in covering sports more frequently, so the ESPN deal is a logical next step." His three-year contract with newspaper is "set to expire in late August and his departure will most likely be interpreted as a blow to the company" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/20). USA TODAY's Rem Rieder wrote Silver's departure is a "huge loss for the New York Times" and a "major pickup for ESPN" (USATODAY.com, 7/20). ADWEEK's Anthony Crupi wrote, "ESPN is a seemingly perfect fit for Silver" (ADWEEK.com, 7/20).

THE SQUARE-OFF FOR SILVER: POLITICO's Mike Allen reported the "battle" for Silver has been "fought secretly and aggressively by several of the nation's top news executives for the better part of a year." He chose ESPN and ABC after he was "promised extensive air time, a role in the Oscars (airing on ABC through at least 2020), and a digital empire that may include websites devoted to weather, education, economics and other topics." Sources said that Silver was "aggressive but not greedy" when it came to money. Silver at times "felt unwelcome in the Times Sports section, and seemed to struggle to fit into its culture." The section is "among the most innovative at the paper, but not in the areas that are Silver’s wheelhouse." ESPN's recruitment was led by President John Skipper and Exec Editor John Walsh, who are "pushing the organization in a more analytical direction." Silver’s "youth and credibility were hugely attractive." The model they "proposed to Silver was Bill Simmons." Silver's flagship will "return to FiveThirtyEight.com," whose business model "mirrors Grantland’s: a strong, independent brand that ladders up to the bigger brand of ESPN" (POLITICO.com, 7/21).

TAKING HIS TALENTS TO BRISTOL: THE NEW REPUBLIC's Marc Tracy wrote the signing of Silver is "maybe the juiciest free agent signing since LeBron James bolted for Miami three years ago." ESPN has been "trying to land Silver for at least five years." Time.com columnist and former ESPN The Magazine Editor-In-Chief Gary Belsky said that the "original effort" to land Silver "had been spearheaded by Gary Hoenig, then the general manager of ESPN Publishing, and that the original plan had been for Silver to write for the magazine and ESPN Insider, a collection of paywall-protected premium content on the web." It is "not difficult to imagine Silver netting seven figures for himself," but "consider the possibilities in terms of resources, branding, and things to cover." ESPN hiring Silver and Olbermann are "best-of-both-world situations: Big-name journalists who are likely to bring in good ratings and pageviews, earn plaudits from highbrow validators." They both are "serious; at best mildly irreverent; and stat-very-happy." Their hires are a "sign that ESPN considers both sports and the challenge presented by Fox Sports 1 to be no laughing matters" (TNR.com, 7/20).
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