As the network continues to undergo a massive overhaul of its programming, ESPN is exploring the possibility of moving First Take with Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman from ESPN2 to ESPN, a highly placed source with direct knowledge of the situation tells The Big Lead. The source wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter. An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment.
Yesterday, Michael McCarthy of Sporting News reported that ESPN has discussed the possibility of creating a show based around Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre to replace His and Hers at noon Eastern on ESPN2 after Michael Smith and Jemele Hill take over 6 p.m. ESPN SportsCenter.
The Big Lead has confirmed that discussions on the show involving Jones and Torre have indeed happened, but that there’s a distinct possibility of the show airing on ESPN following First Take, as opposed to on ESPN2. However, the source cautioned that neither of these talks are finalized, and that the network is also exploring other options.
One potential impediment to the show with Bomani and Pablo is that Bomani’s current contract with ESPN is up in early 2017. Given that, he would need to sign an extension with the network for a new program starring him to air.
These moves, if they come to fruition, would be the latest developments in a seismic shift in ESPN’s strategy to build more and more around personality-driven television. Three more hours of SportsCenter would be displaced; as we already mentioned, Jemele Hill and Michael Smith will be taking over the 6 p.m. SportsCenter presently hosted by Lindsay Czarniak. Furthermore, SI’s Richard Deitsch has also reported on the possibility of Mike Greenberg taking over a four-hour morning block presently occupied by SportsCenter. To be clear, this show is not something that has been finalized.
It would not be unreasonable to conclude that the success of Scott Van Pelt’s Midnight SportsCenter has been a blueprint for subsequent iterations, already announced or in “exploration,” in ESPN’s programming.
ESPN has been facing stiffer competition in mornings and mid-day from FS1 since Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe launched Undisputed in early September. This show has also lifted ratings for The Herd, which now suddenly has a viable lead-in.
First Take ratings have declined substantially since Bayless left. While it does still generally out-rate Undisputed by a margin of more than 2-1, a move to ESPN would be an attempt to stave off further attrition, and also an attempt to bolster viewership on the main network.
This metrics chart was posted on Sports TV Ratings earlier this week:
It will be interesting to observe if these moves happen, and also what effect they’ll have.
Disclosure: The Big Lead’s editor-in-chief Jason McIntyre is an on-air personality on FS1’s Speak for Yourself.