SBD/July 26, 2013/Media

Sports Will Be A Large Part Of Nate Silver's Role At ESPN, But Politics Will Still Factor In

Silver said ESPN may use USA Today's sectional breakup as a model for his site
Nate Silver said he will cover a "whole range of topics where data-driven journalism can be helpful" as part of his recent deal with ESPN, and sports "is certainly among those." Silver appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" Friday and said, "I was in sports before I covered politics. We're still going to be covering politics." Silver said in terms of using data, sports coverage "has come a long way since Michael Lewis wrote 'Moneyball' about 10 years ago now, and in baseball in particular." Silver: "Almost every team has a statistical analyst on their payroll, sometimes the so-called stathead is running the team. So baseball ... is the one place where you've already seen reaching equilibrium. But it's way behind still in coverage of elections, for example. Part of the problem is people are looking for narratives." Silver noted he previously worked for Baseball Prospectus and said "one great thing about baseball is that it's probably the world's best data set." Silver: "Some people put it to me that it was almost devised to give statisticians a fun problem to work with. ... It's a unique environment there to kind of train yourself to use data and statistics in a better way" ("Morning Edition," NPR, 7/26).

COULD BE A GAME CHANGER: FORTUNE's Douglas Alden Warshaw noted Silver is "potentially an intellectual leader" at ESPN whose presence "could be transformative to sports television." While at the N.Y. Times, Silver was "a prognosticator and a brand, a conjuror who with his FiveThirtyEight.com blog was scarily accurate in predicting the outcomes of elections." That was the "sizzle," but the "actual steak is that Silver is able to tell stories we can all dine out on using data." Silver's ability to "use numbers as a thread and weave data throughout a coherent narrative, when coupled with ESPN's resources, gives him the opportunity to transform how sports stories are told on the TV." Silver could "be something special if ESPN supports him with production, vision and creativity." To get the "most out of their substantial investment in Silver, ESPN needs [to] avoid thinking of him as just some new talking head who requires infographics instead of highlights." The net should "start thinking up new production values, elements and animations to support Silver's style of storytelling" (FORTUNE.com, 7/24).

KEEP SPORTS IN THE EQUATION: However, in Boston, Chad Finn writes ESPN in "promoting its coup of landing" Silver has "left those of us over here in the sports section wondering exactly what he will do that relates to ... well, sports." ESPN President John Skipper said that Bill Simmons’ Grantland site "will serve as somewhat of a model and noted that Silver is getting back to his 'sports roots.'" He added, “Our expectation is he will determine the content of that site. Politics remains at the core of what he does, so politics is going to be important there.” Silver said, “I have a background in sports, and that would be a big focus here, but it’s not just going to be a politics site or a sports site." Finn notes the "idea of how to structure the site is already percolating." Silver: “One model we’ve talked about is kind of the old, the current actually, USA Today, where you have those four sections; you have news, sports, money, and life, and you can kind of fit most things we want to cover into one of those four bundles" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/26).
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