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Media Mailbag: Drew Brees/NBC, Skip Bayless’ Future, ESPN Radio

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Since we got such great questions last time, I had Outkick readers send in more media questions for the mailbag.

Here we go:

“How do you see Skip Bayless’ contract going? I think it is up this year, wondering if FS1 doesn’t want to keep paying millions with the struggling ratings.”

The pandemic is unfortunate timing for anyone with a deal coming up. Timing is everything in the media and the timing couldn’t be much worse. With that said, Skip Bayless’ impact at FS1 is irreplaceable. As someone who tracks TV ratings daily, I can confidently say Bayless is one of the only real difference-makers on sports programming. He was the primary ingredient to FS1 establishing itself as a daily sports talk option. I’d expect FS1 to do everything it can to lock him up despite the trying times.

As for the ratings, I disagree that they are struggling. Every mainstream sports show is down right now — there are no sports. Undisputed has exceeded all reasonable expectations since it launched in 2016. Remember: Bayless’ departure and direct competition with First Take led ESPN to move his former show from ESPN2 to ESPN. A move that placed ESPN2 into irrelevance. Additionally, Bayless’ clips on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube draw high views, which is a key factor in FOX Sports’ strategy.

“How long will a company such as ESPN or FS1  stay with a show when said show regularly fails to meet ratings expectations? What are the variables involved? Seems some shows getting longer try outs than others??”

Interesting question.

ESPN first moved High Noon from noon to 4 p.m. ET, then gave it a second football season. It was clear by its sixth month it wasn’t going to work and was hurting ESPN’s daily viewership. Similarly, SC6 was given over a year. It did, however, get a drastic format change that resembled a more traditional SportsCenter format. Factors vary from talent contracts, time slots, value to a network, and flexibility. But around 16-20 months appears to be the new norm for a struggling show at ESPN. Outside of not renewing Fair Game with Kristine Leahy, FS1 has kept all of its recently-created shows.

Networks can use Get Up as an example that a show can turn around if changes are made fast. Get Up went from a mess to one of ESPN’s most critically acclaimed programs. It wisely transitioned into Greeny and Friends the day before its first football season. The difference between Get Up and High Noon and SC6 has always been Mike Greenberg. As one of the network’s biggest stars, he gave the show an upside the other two never had.

Overall, if a show has undergone a format, time, or cast change and still isn’t working nine months in — it likely never will.

“Hey Bobby! Big fan of your work. I’m a media junkie and you do a nice job of covering media, especially sports media. My question for the mailbag: Do you think Spotify will start to pursue other podcasts — especially podcasts based in Los Angeles a la Rogan? Who would be Spotify’s first target? “

I appreciate the kind words.

Yes, I do. The expectation around the industry is that Spotify will continue to invest unmatched money and resources into its podcast network. The Sweden-based company wants to own that lane, and I expect it will get close to its goal. This doesn’t mean it’s going to hand out $100 million to every podcaster it wants. Joe Rogan’s success is islands away from the pack. A la Howard Stern in radio and why no other radio host got that type of offer from SiriusXM.

Though, there’s a lot of room between the Joe Rogan Experience and the podcast your buddy from high school hosts.

Spotify is better off striking deals to offer podcast exclusively — as it did with Rogan — than acquiring shows and networks as it did with The Ringer. Both NPR and New York Times feature highly-downloaded podcasts and their shows are established as daily routine listens. If Spotify were to take one or both of them off Apple, it might not be much of a podcast battle, after all.

I said it on Outkick Live last week, with Rogan off the board, Ben Shapiro is the best remaining option. He’s a harder investment than Rogan because he’s political and would likely have to come with the entire Daily Wire podcast lineup. Since Spotify has tried to remain apolitical, Shapiro/Daily Wire would be a good counter from one of its competitors.

“How do you see the Brees/Collinsworth situation at NBC playing out? It’s looking like Brees will be retiring and joining the network for 2021, but Collinsworth is only 60 and is still at the top of his game with a solid decade left in his broadcasting career, so it will be interesting to see the dynamic there.”

No doubt it’s an interesting dynamic.

NBC looks at Drew Brees as the potential heir to Cris Collinsworth. The first question will be: is Brees any good? If the answer is yes, it will be more complicated. If he’s not, NBC made a big mistake.

Industry sources expect Mike Tirico to take over for Al Michaels after NBC’s 2022 Super Bowl. It’s hard to imagine Brees elevates that quickly. Ideally, NBC can get several years of Brees in the studio for Football Night in America and on the Notre Dame broadcasts. Perhaps, even in the booth for a playoff game. NBC was a beneficiary in the new extended playoff format picking up an extra game Wild Card weekend. If the network keeps that package moving forward, it can use Brees one game and Collinsworth on the other.

Of course, the upcoming NFL rights negotiations could change everything. NBC’s deal with the NFL, like FOX and CBS, expires after the 2022 season. If it were to pick up an additional NFL package, Brees and Collinsworth could both serve as weekly color commentators.

Regardless of what happens with Brees, Collinsoworth’s time on-air isn’t coming to an end. NBC remains high on him and just added his son, Jac, to the network. If Collinsworth were to ever leave NBC, he’d have his pick of networks to choose from.

“Any word on how ESPN radio plans to replace Will Cain? Are Chris Carin or Jorge Sedano candidates to go national?”

A lot is being talked about.

The Will Cain Show ends on ESPN Radio this month. I made my thoughts pretty clear last week, this is a massive blow to ESPN. Cain was a draw on radio and offered a different perspective. He mixed thought-provoking rants with Dan Patrick’s hang out with your buddies vibe. ESPN isn’t going to be able to successfully replace that. Thus, I’d expect the ratings to go down significantly this fall.

ESPN Radio is still up in the air. This goes from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Keyshawn Johnson is the name I keep hearing for the next iteration. Johnson could fit anywhere in the lineup with mornings making the most sense.

The two names you mentioned would work nationally. ESPN is impressed with Carlin; Sedano has done well in various spots. Peter Rosenberg is another candidate who could go national.

ESPN originally, pre-pandemic, had big plans for its next radio lineup. Discussions included adding Emmanuel Acho, who as Outkick reported, is now leaving and going to FOX.

At this point, the only splash ESPN Radio can make is Max Kellerman. It’d be expensive, but it’d put its radio lineup back into the conversation. Kellerman and Stephen A. Smith are more valuable separated than together. Maybe this idea is visited at some point in the future.

Disclosure: Outkick’s founder Clay Travis is an on-air personality at FS1.

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Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers media, politics, and sports at OutKick.