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Yesterday, ESPN announced its revamped radio lineup (my thoughts are here). In the move, the Dan Le Batard Show was cut an hour, and will now run from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET. Le Batard addressed the change on his podcast network — you can hear that below. ESPN executives told Le Batard, according to him, it was not a demotion; Le Batard said he viewed it that way.
Of course, ESPN is going to tell him that. Le Batard and Stugotz have more than a year left on their contracts. But I don’t believe what ESPN told him. This was a demotion
A third of the show was cut from radio and TV. As I’ve tweeted and written, Le Batard’s show does not perform well on terrestrial radio; nor does it fit with the rest of the lineup. ESPN considered moving the show off radio entirely earlier this year, per sources. The New York Post first mentioned ESPN considered this move.
ESPN’s decision to chop the last hour opened it up for the Mike Greenberg-led show to run from 12-2, instead of 1-3. In addition to cutting Greenberg and Max Kellerman’s layover by an hour (two hours after Get Up and First Take, respectively), ESPN now has two of its biggest stars head-to-head with The Herd, which airs 12-3 p.m. Both shows will perform better against Colin Cowherd than the last hour of the Le Batard Show and the two hours of First Take, Your Take (ending). Presumably, this was at the center of the discussions.
So, where does that leave Le Batard moving forward?
Le Batard was a John Skipper, former ESPN President, favorite. Jimmy Pitaro’s first few years brought back a traditional feel that focused on sports. This favored stars like Stephen A. Smith, Scott Van Pelt, Max Kellerman, Mike Greenberg, Michael Wilbon, and Tony Kornheiser. It didn’t Le Batard, who hosts a variety show that is not for the average sports fan. Despite the success of the pivot, ESPN is bizarrely going back to where it was in 2016-17. An era in which its ratings tanked with an emphasis on social topics and criticism of the NFL. So, all of sudden, the new direction could bode well for Le Batard, even if it’s not on radio.
Yesterday’s news felt like a first step. Nothing is certain, but I’d be far from stunned to see the show moved off radio entirely before or when Le Batard’s contract is up. ESPN had interest in Pat McAfee pre-pandemic, according to sources. McAfee’s show airs the same time as Le Batard’s now, 10 – noon. McAfee would be a better lead-in for Greenberg and Kellerman. It’s unclear what McAfee’s interest level of moving his show to ESPN is, sources say. McAfee recently agreed to a partnership with FanDuel Group.
Le Batard does still have value to the network. As he pointed out numerous times in the episode above, his show is successful digitally. A medium I’ve said for years his show should be exclusive to. If Le Batard and Stugotz test the open market, they could receive interest from a digital company. Though, that is not the slam dunk bet some think. Who knows what the podcast market will be in a few years? The money is being spent now with no guarantee it will work or last.
There’s also Highly Questionable, Le Batard’s afternoon TV show. It’s hard to imagine the 4:30 ET show would be much of a factor in Le Batard’s future. It rates fine but has declined in quality since his father, “Papi,” no longer appears regularly. What’s more, it brings on co-hosts who haven’t had success at the network. ESPN is exploring moving NFL Live to 4 p.m., thus HQ could be moved elsewhere. If it were to move earlier in the lineup, it’d lose much of its value not leading into Around the Horn, another Erik Rydholm project. ESPN could be better suited to just extend SportsCenter, in that case.