ESPN Signs Fox Sports' Jason Whitlock, Capping Series Of High-Profile Moves
ESPN President John Skipper before the launch of FS1 on Saturday "capped a whirlwind month by snatching Fox Sports’ top digital talent and longtime ESPN nemesis Jason Whitlock," according to sources cited by Jason McIntyre of THE BIG LEAD. The move "culminates Skipper’s master plan to define ESPN as the Worldwide Leader in original sports thought and intellect, while letting his new challenger, Fox Sports 1, go the 'jockularity' route." Whitlock’s hiring comes after ESPN re-hired Keith Olbermann and landed N.Y. Times "statistical wunderkind " Nate Silver. That group along with Bill Simmons, Dan Le Batard, Jay Bilas and radio hosts Colin Cowherd and Scott Van Pelt "gives ESPN a formidable and unprecedented sports lineup of original thinkers and personalities." Skipper has "made it his goal to fix the network’s No. 1 problem: the perception that the lowest-common-denominator debate culture of First Take defined" ESPN. Sources said that this search "led Skipper to Whitlock in early August and a clandestine meeting" in L.A. Whitlock "has spent the past six years writing columns for Foxsports.com" after he left ESPN in '06. Whitlock’s return to ESPN "seems even more odd considering Fox Sports green lit a TV segment featuring him on its new network." He is "expected to appear on all ESPN platforms" (THEBIGLEAD.com, 8/14).
REUNION TOUR: Olbermann appears on one of four covers of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Aug. 23 issue, titled "The Sports Issue," and the magazine's Marisa Guthrie writes Olbermann's return to ESPN "marks one of the most improbable reunions in television history." The two-year "multimillion-dollar deal" was brokered by Olbermann's agent, Nick Khan of CAA, and his manager, Michael Price, and will "restore him to a network that despite Olbermann's 16-year hiatus still employs some of his fiercest detractors." It also will "give one of the more prominent serial feuders in the industry ... a perch with a bullhorn." Olbermann for ESPN "represents heavy-duty firepower," and he is "not about to let his personality get in the way of his prize." Skipper characterizes the hire as a "calculated gamble." Skipper: "It comes down to deciding if the potential upside will outweigh the potential downside. I am not naive going into this. I am optimistic; I believe it's going to work. And if it does work, there is very significant upside for us" (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 8/23 issue).