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Volume 25 No. 88
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Scott Van Pelt's Popularity Transcends ESPN's, Industry's Issues

Fans credit Van Pelt for sticking to sports in a time when many shows touch on societal issues
Photo: ESPN IMAGES

Scott Van Pelt over his 17 years at ESPN has become one of the network's "most recognizable and popular faces, a perfect front-man for a network constantly in crisis," according to Alex Putterman of the HARTFORD COURANT. Van Pelt "remains largely uncontroversial, even while offering unvarnished opinions." At a time when cord-cutting has "sapped ratings, his show continues to generate strong viewership." As of Aug. 19, Van Pelt's show is up 8% "year-over-year" from '17. Few personalities at ESPN have as "much control over their shows" as Van Pelt does with his midnight "SportsCenter." Although other shows in that mold have "since been canceled in a move back to a traditional news-centric model," Van Pelt's "SC" enters its fourth year as a "talk-show/highlight-show hybrid." The Supreme Court's May decision to legalize sports betting led to many media outlets "ramping up their gambling coverage," but Van Pelt has been "doing a 'Bad Beats' segments since his show began three years ago." He is "careful not to claim too much credit as a pioneer" in that area, but he clearly "recognized an appetite for betting talk before many others." Van Pelt's "1 Big Thing" is his "nightly commentary, his chance to offer opinions" on things that fascinate him. In '18, writing commentary about sports, "particularly under an ESPN banner, can be a fraught exercise." But Van Pelt "navigates this dynamic by largely sticking to sports." He said, "Everybody has their own feelings, and I have mine, but I look at sports as the great unifier, and I choose to treat my show that way. If you are Donald Trump's biggest fan or his biggest detractor, here's the score of the Yankee game" (COURANT.com, 9/12).