There is an expectation in sports media circles that Dan Le Batard’s time with ESPN is dwindling. If and when ESPN and Le Batard part ways, his ESPN Radio spot will be valuable real estate.
Le Batard’s friction with ESPN has been reported by OutKick on several occasions. Pre-pandemic, ESPN considered moving Le Batard off radio entirely and onto its digital platforms. Once those plans fell through due to budget concerns, ESPN opted to reduce his air time to two hours. As I wrote at the time, that was the first step toward the departure.
Recently, ESPN laid off Le Batard’s producer, Chris Cote. Each time ESPN has made a change, Le Batard has complained about it publicly on ESPN’s airwaves. Other instances that have angered Le Batard include Highly Questionable‘s demotion in the TV lineup and the network’s decision to move all radio shows to ESPN+.
And in general, Le Batard is a headache for ESPN and comes with significant downside. His show struggles on terrestrial radio, and he’s expensive, making over $3 million a year.
However, moving away from Le Batard and his radio show is complicated.
Both Le Batard and co-host Stugotz have over a year left on their contracts. A buyout could cost ESPN around $4 million, which would be a bad financial and PR move for a network that just laid off 300 employees and is in cost-cutting mode.
The timetable is uncertain.
ESPN then must also find a replacement among limited options. As OutKick reported in May, ESPN looked to move Will Cain up in the radio lineup, but he chose to leave for Fox News. Management also discussed adding Emmanuel Acho to the radio network, but he left for FS1.
Traditionally, when an early radio spot opens, a network explores moving current hosts up.
Mike Greenberg and Max Kellerman respectively follow Le Batard in the lineup. But Kellerman can’t take over, as he hosts First Take at that time. Per sources, this summer, Kellerman did not want to give up First Take to host the morning radio show.
At 10 a.m., Greenberg’s TV show, Get Up, ends. Unless he were to pull a Brian Kilmeade by going from TV to radio with six minutes in-between — he isn’t an option, either.
The newly-paired Mike Golic Jr. and Chiney Ogwumike, who host from 4 to 7 p.m., still have a way to go and are better suited for the afternoon drive.
In the evening, Sarah Spain has struggled with several co-hosts. Her current co-host Jason Fitz is too talented to be buried in the radio lineup. However, he’s probably not far-left (he doesn’t let his political views be known), pro-NBA, or anti-football enough to receive a push from ESPN.
But ESPN Radio might not be seeking the best move, as it is notorious for bad decisions that tank its ratings. See OutKick’s Clay Travis’ report on Bomani Jones:
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) November 2, 2017
Sources say that when Le Batard’s spot ultimately becomes available, Bart Scott is a name to watch as executives are high on him. Recently, Scott filled in on national radio, and it went well overall among decision-makers.
Additionally, ESPN could pair Scott with several co-hosts instantly, including Chris Carlin, a host with whom he has strong chemistry from their days working together in New York radio. Carlin, too, is now under ESPN’s umbrella.
Le Batard and ESPN’s relationship is about out of steps. The timing of the divorce remains the only question mark.