ESPN will move “First Take” from ESPN2 to ESPN, a move that ESPN execs believe will increase viewership for the nearly 10-year-old franchise. The move to ESPN’s 10:00am-12:00pm ET timeslot starts Jan. 3. Two hours of “SportsCenter” will replace “First Take” on ESPN2 -- the Hannah Storm interview show “SportsCenter Face to Face” and the David Lloyd-Cari Champion-hosted “SportsCenter Coast to Coast.” “First Take” has struggled with viewers since Skip Bayless left the show in the summer and was replaced by Max Kellerman. Since Labor Day, when Bayless launched the competing show “Undisputed” on FS1, “First Take” viewership is down 33% compared to the previous year, according to the website SportsTVRatings.com. ESPN execs said they expected to take a ratings hit when Bayless left -- not because Bayless went to a competitor and launched a competing show. Rather, it was because the biggest faces of ESPN’s “Embrace Debate” strategy -- Bayless and Stephen A. Smith -- were breaking up. It will take a while for Smith, Kellerman and host Molly Qerim to establish the same chemistry. “Skip could have left to work on a lobster boat and ratings would have suffered,” said ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus. “We knew there would be an impact with Skip and Stephen A. splitting up. It would be naïve and disingenuous to believe or say otherwise.” While he predicted that the move to ESPN will help ratings, Magnus said he had considered the move well before Bayless announced his departure, “This is something that we’ve talked about for a long time,” he said. “We believe the ratings impact has settled down now, and we’re seeing our numbers start to grow.” The move also furthers ESPN’s trend of bringing big on-air personalities back to the flagship network. The network considers Scott Van Pelt’s midnight “SportsCenter” a success. It also announced plans to move “His & Hers” hosts Jemele Hill and Michael Smith to host the 6:00pm “SportsCenter” starting Feb. 6.
NEW ESPN MORNING SCHEDULE
ESPN Weekday Morning Lineup (As Of Jan. 3)
6:00am -- SportsCenter (re-air)
7:00am -- SportsCenter:AM (live)
8:00am -- SportsCenter:AM (live)
9:00am -- SportsCenter:AM (live)
10:00am -- First Take (live)
12:00pm -- SportsCenter Coast to Coast (live except Jan. 3-6 when His & Hers airs)
The decline for NFL games has been well documented, and that dip has also meant a decline for most pregame shows through Week 9. Not helping Sunday morning shows this year was the league’s third London game returning to linear TV (NFL Net) after streaming on Yahoo last year (aired over-the-air only in local markets). Fox and CBS again have had one Sunday morning London game each. Looking at pre-election figures, viewership for “Fox NFL Sunday” is 32% higher than its counterpart on CBS, “The NFL Today.” But Fox’ 12:00pm ET pregame show is down 6% to date. CBS is seeing a 3% drop for “The NFL Today.”
EARLY BIRD CATCHES A WORM: One bright spot for pregame shows is “Fox NFL Kickoff” in the 11:00am window. The show, which is in its second year on the broadcast net, is up 15%. Some of that lift may be due to more affiliates carrying the show in ’16. The show aired on around 84% of Fox affiliates during the ’15 season, and that figure has increased to 86% this season. The increase in coverage for the show has come in some larger markets as well, including Memphis, Baltimore, Columbus, Denver, Hartford and K.C.
FOLLOW MY LEAD: NBC’s “SNF” has seen an 18% drop through Week 9, its lead-in show “Football Night in America” has seen a similar drop (generally airing from 7:30-8:20pm). While ESPN’s “MNF” has seen a 19% drop, “Monday Night Countdown” has seen a 22% drop in viewership, despite a well-publicized offseason cast change. The cast change also has not helped “Sunday NFL Countdown,” whose viewership is down 15% in the 11:00am-1:00pm window on Sundays. Leading into that show in the 10:00am window, “NFL Insiders: Sunday Edition” is seeing viewership decline 13%. If the three mornings during which London games aired are excluded from ESPN's averages, "Sunday NFL Countdown" is down 9% and "NFL Insiders" is down 11%. Over on NFL Network, its four-hour pregame show on Sunday mornings (9:00am) has seen a 1% dip. There was one less show this season, as NFL Net carried Giants-Rams from London on Sunday morning of Oct. 23.
Liberty Media Chair John Malone on Thursday said that Disney is "being held back from its full potential by ESPN and may consider spinning off the sports broadcast network," according to Elizabeth Gurdus of CNBC.com. Malone, appearing on CNBC, said, "If I had to guess, what you will see is a split of Disney with ESPN spun off and, probably, ESPN could be owned and protected by a distributor in the U.S." Malone said that ESPN has become "something of a hindrance to Disney ... as the sports network has grown more costly over the years." Malone, referring to Disney's expectation that ESPN would become more profitable in the future, said, "In order to solve the issue of having to pay more every time the contract comes up, they went long." Malone "admitted that his views are more speculative than predictive" (CNBC.com, 11/10). BARRON's Alex Eule wrote under the header, "ESPN Is Weighing On Disney's Magic." The net, once Disney's "growth engine, has become a headache for the entertainment giant" (BARRONS.com, 11/10). BUSINESS INSIDER's Akin Oyedele wrote under the header, "ESPN Is Crushing Disney" (BUSINESSINSIDER.com, 11/10).
College football seems to be a mixed bag for broadcasters to date. ABC’s games (31 telecasts) are averaging 5.0 million viewers to date, up 10% from 4.6 million viewers through Week 10 last year (29 telecasts). Notre Dame-Texas on Labor Day weekend was a big help, as ABC’s first-ever Sunday primetime CFB game drew a ’16 season high of 10.9 million viewers. Excluding that Sunday night game, ABC’s “Saturday Night Football” package is averaging 6.16 million viewers to date, up 12% from 5.51 million viewers through Week 10 last year. However, it is not all sunny news for the Worldwide Leader. ESPN’s “College GameDay” is averaging 1.8 million viewers, down 6% from 1.9 million viewers last year. Meanwhile, FS1 and Fox’ combined average for CFB games to date is 1.21 million viewers, up 7% from the same point across the two networks last year (1.13 million). Games on the Fox broadcast channel are averaging 2.05 million viewers, down 10% from last year’s 2.3 million. FS1 has helped make up the difference, as games on the cable net are averaging 782,000 viewers, up 22% from 640,000 last year at this time.
SOUTHERN CHARM: CBS is averaging 5.84 million viewers for its SEC football games, up 9% from 5.34 million viewers. Last Saturday's annual primetime matchup between Alabama and LSU was lower this year, but still drew 10.4 million viewers, which ranks as the second-best college football audience this year to date. Last year’s game drew 11.1 million viewers, while the ’14 game drew 9.1 million viewers.
Fox NFL analyst Troy Aikman has "signed a three-year contract extension" with the net, where he will "continue to work with" play-by-play announcer Joe Buck and sideline reporter Erin Andrews on Fox' top announce team, according to sources cited by Michael McCarthy of SPORTING NEWS. Aikman during his 15-year sports TV career has "become one of the most respected analysts in the business," as "nobody is better" at identifying a play before it happens. McCarthy wrote most observers would say Aikman and NBC's Cris Collinsworth "are the two best NFL game analysts" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 11/10).
TALKIN' BASEBALL: Buck appeared on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” on Thursday, with host Jimmy Fallon calling him a “man at the top of his profession.” Fallon complimented his broadcasting of Game 7 of the Cubs-Indians World Series, saying there were “rave reviews, they just love you.” Buck: “Well no, unless you’re on Twitter, then there are no rave reviews.” Buck said of broadcasting through the rain delay in Game 7, “It’s a little bit intimidating because you know 40 million people are hoping to see the end of this game and you’ve got to kind of lie a little bit and go, ‘Well, it’s stopped raining. It looks like they’re going to pull the tarp off here soon,’ and eventually you get back to baseball” ("The Tonight Show," NBC, 11/10).
FS1's Skip Bayless said he was "offended" by comments Warriors coach Steve Kerr made on Wednesday about sports talk shows while discussing the presidential election, according to Neil Best of NEWSDAY. Kerr noted people are "getting paid millions of dollars to go on TV and scream at each other." Bayless on Thursday said, "Do we raise our voices occasionally? Occasionally we do. Do we have what I think are very thoughtful, deep discussions of race or a lot of social issues surrounding sports? We do. Do we have deep discussions of what happened on the NFL field on Sunday or Monday? We do, and I’m proud of that." Bayless, referring to himself and "Undisputed" co-host Shannon Sharpe, said, "People like to hear two relatively smart people -- and I think we qualify -- disagree, and it’s all natural. In my 13 years doing this type of show, not one time have I ever contrived a debate. We don’t trick it up. If there’s a topic that’s a must-do and we agree, so be it." Fox Sports National Networks President Jamie Horowitz said that he would "like to have Kerr on the show to talk about it." As for the notion that the show is 2 1/2 hours of screaming over contrived disagreements, Horowitz said the fist bump between Bayless and Sharpe that opens the show is “supposed to be an immediate sign, to quote our President, that’s it’s an intramural scrimmage." Horowitz: "This is not a fight to the death. If you charted out our show, I think you’d see far more agreement than people realize" (NEWSDAY, 11/11).
MLB Net is on pace for its best Q4 audience figures on record, fueled by its best postseason viewership on record. The cable net during the playoffs saw record viewership for primetime (219,000 viewers) and total-day (87,000). The net’s “MLB Tonight” studio show also had its best playoff figure, posting an average of 110,000 viewers. The combination of studio shows and two live LDS games led to the net’s best October audiences on record (232,000 viewers in primetime, 91,000 for total-day).
THE NINTH GATE: While CBS led Week 9 NFL windows with Colts-Packers in its national window, its 20.2 million viewers was the net’s least-viewed national window of the season to date. That audience also is down 18% from the same Week 9 window last year, which featured Broncos-Colts. CBS also saw a season low for its regional window with 11.2 million viewers. NBC drew 18.3 million viewers for its Broncos-Raiders “SNF” telecast in Week 9. Although it was the net’s best “SNF” audience since Week 3, it was still down sharply from 23.1 million viewers for Eagles-Cowboys in the same window last year. Fox on Sunday had its best singleheader of the ’16 season to date, drawing 20.2 million viewers. Cowboys-Browns was featured in many Fox markets, but when the score became lopsided, Fox flexed 15% of the country to Eagles-Giants as a preventive measure.
NOTES: NBA TV for its two Fan Night games to date this season is averaging 557,000 viewers, up from 525 the first two games last season….Election night on Tuesday averaged a combined 61.1 million viewers across ABC, CNN, CBS, Fox News, Fox, MSNBC and NBC, up from 58.2 million viewers in ’12, but down from 64.9 million viewers in ’08. Cable news was a big help this year, as the four broadcast nets averaged a combined 29.8 million viewers, which was actually down from 32.8 million viewers four years ago.
The chart below lists audience figures for select recent sports telecasts.
World Series: Cubs-Indians: Game 7
World Series: Cubs-Indians: Game 6
NFL nat'l window: Colts-Packers (87%)
College football: Alabama-LSU
"Football Night in America"
"Fox NFL Sunday:
College football: Nebraska-Ohio State
College football: Florida-Arkansas
"The NFL Today"
College football: (regional)*
College football: Notre Dame-Navy
College football: Wisconsin-Northwestern
College football: Maryland-Michigan
Breeders' Cup Classic
College football: Vanderbilt-Auburn
"College Football Today"
"Sunday NFL Countdown"
"Monday Night Countdown"
"Fox NFL Kickoff"
NASCAR Xfinity Series:
O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge (Texas)
College football: TCU-Baylor
Liga MX: Leon-Chivas
Liga MX: Cruz Azul-Pachuca
TCS N.Y. Marathon
NOTES: * = Syracuse-Clemson and Oklahoma State-Kansas State.
In Dallas, Tim Cowlishaw notes Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban denying credentials to ESPN writers is a "silly, attention-grabbing stand." The Mavs are "on the road all week," but by the time they are home, expects ESPN's Tim MacMahon and Marc Stein "to be credentialed." Cuban "wants to run ESPN and tell them how to do business." Cowlishaw: "He should pay more attention to his own. Looks to me like his team is 2-6" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 11/11).
ANYBODY THERE? In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes TV ratings are showing the NFL Jets' "ability to stay relevant while the ship be sinking is something that is going to elude" the team. While playing the Dolphins last Sunday, the Jets "failed miserably in the TV ratings department." The CBS telecast drew a "weak" 5.9 local rating in N.Y. When "coupled with how well the Giants did, playing the Eagles on Fox and going head-to-head" with the Jets at 1:00pm ET, the Jets' "anemic number is alarming." Eagles-Giants did a 13.9 local rating (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/11).
OUT WITH A WHIMPER: In L.A., Tom Hoffarth notes the series finale of HBO's "Any Given Wednesday" was "another missed opportunity," as it "should have been live, for many reasons, most of which so that the Tuesday presidential election was pretty much on everyone’s mind at that moment." But the show was "always taped and felt it was a day late of any news cycle" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 11/11).
DAVIS LOVE: “The Seth Davis Podcast” launches Tuesday through a partnership between SI and DGital Media. The weekly podcast, which will involve Davis conducting interviews with sports figures, will be available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn. The first episode will feature Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops (John Ourand, Staff Writer).