Media Mailbag: ESPN Radio Update, Mike Greenberg, Fox News Dominance

Another great week of questions for the Outkick Media Mailbag. Thanks for all of the DMs. 

Here we go:

“What’s the latest on ESPN Radio?”

Okay, so to be clear, nothing is final yet. However, things are moving along well and some spots are getting close. 

As Outkick reported earlier this week, Mike Greenberg is close to a deal to return to ESPN Radio. The exact time slot is still being hashed out, but it’s expected he will host a show sometime between 12-3 p.m. ET. That could mean 12-2, 1-3, etc. Greenberg would host this show solo. 

We reported two weeks ago ESPN’s has been in discussions with Keyshawn Johnson for morning radio and that Max Kellerman is the first choice to be his co-host. Since then, talks with Johnson have taken the next step. It’s much more complicated with Kellerman. He wants to stay on First Take, which airs immediately after at 10 a.m. Thus, it‘s unknown who ultimately would join Johnson in the mornings at this point. But there’s no doubt there’s a significant drop-off after Kellerman. 

The other opening is in the afternoon. Will Cain is leaving ESPN, freeing up the 3-6 p.m. ET slot. I could see Mike Golic Jr. ending up somewhere later in the ESPN lineup, but several ideas are still being discussed. 

Those are just the spots we know of. I wouldn’t rule anything out. 

“Greenberg is very popular but does he really work outside of a morning slot? Folks driving to work are a different audience compared to people in the afternoon. Does he work in all time flora or do you think one is a better fit?”

Assuming this gets done, I think it will be a success. Greenberg is one of ESPN’s most talented broadcasters. He might actually be No. 1. He’s one of the few names that nearly all sports fans know. Thus, it will get their attention when he’s on in the afternoon when they are switching the channels. 

Greenberg is a better radio host than Stephen A. Smith, who hosted from 1-3 up until the end of last year. Smith is a superstar, the top one, but his radio show was messy and felt unprepared. I’d expect Greenberg to get athletes, coaches, and former players to make headlines on his show regularly.

I’ve been critical of ESPN Radio as it has lost so much star power. This move won’t change all of that, but it’d be a good start. 

“Question- what was the reasoning behind ESPN getting rid of all reputable/ established SportsCenter anchors over the last several years? Every time you watch SportsCenter now it’s always some no-name anchor vs. 15 years ago SportsCenter was stacked with talent?”

Well, a few years ago, during John Skipper’s last few years, they were clearly moving away from the traditional SportsCenter model. They have since brought it back some by airing it live before Get Up and moving it back to noon after High Noon failed there. 

I disagree that the SportsCenter hosts right now are “no-names.” Scott Van Pelt is an A-level name in the industry. Van Pelt is arguably the second-most powerful talent at ESPN behind Stephen A. Smith. And it’s closer than people realize.

Sage Steele is a tremendous SportsCenter host. ESPN is also high on her co-host, Kevin Negandhi, who has emerged as one of the network’s best all-around traffic cops.

John Buccigross and John Anderson are both underrated and well-known among sports fans. 

The younger talents hosting SportsCenter are also strong. Matt Barrie is on the rise at ESPN. Nabil Karim is impressive. Nicole Briscoe is ascending. And Antonietta Collins is someone to keep an eye on.

“Love your stuff and good to push back on New York Times…your reporting and analysis fair even if one wants to disagree…moving onto a mailbag question: clearly the pandemic has affected the sports media landscape. Outkick gained me as a fan when Sirius started carrying Outkick while FTF was on break. Outkick showed an ability to showcase informative and interesting content even when sports were on hiatus. What sort of more permanent effects of the pandemic do you foresee in sports media moving forward? Seems to me that those platforms able to adjust should be a mainstay? And those that were not able to demonstrate an ability to adapt have to wonder if it will be sustainable?”

Ha! Thanks! And I appreciate the kind words about both the Outkick site and Clay’s morning radio show. 

To answer your question, unfortunately, I don’t trust executives much. We’ve all seen ESPN’s ratings right now — they’ve been bad. Woke sports shows don’t work. They never have. They never will. The current shows are as out of touch as they were in 2016, when they, too, tanked.

You are right that the hiatus of sports showed which hosts are able to adjust and dig deep to find interesting topics. Some shows and hosts are reliant on news and games; others excel when they have more freedom. 

I pointed this out previously, Pardon My Take was the only sports podcast to rank in the top 20 in May. It didn’t drop, it remained 9th overall. That proves it has an audience that is there for them, not for their takes on the latest games. There is a difference in the two. 

As for Outkick, I’m proud that our site has been able to adjust. Our readers and listeners appreciate that we don’t have to follow the same rules as the rest of the media. Those rules include consistent outrage and trying to be the wokest sports platform out there. 

“Who are the sports media talents who have elevated since the pandemic?”

I feel like there have been about three different parts of the pandemic. No?

 I’ll run through a few:

  • Paul Finebaum focused on real-world issues in a way where he let his callers express their feelings. It was unique and a strategy most hosts couldn’t pull off. While some of his fans probably wish he would have focused more on college football — overall, it was a win for him.
  • Big Cat and PFT Commenter for the reasons answered in the question above. 
  • Adam Amin has to be a winner, right? It’s hard to get a competing offer during a global pandemic. Amin didn’t just get one, he got a better one with FOX.
  • There’s some downside in a sports personality going on cable news in such divisive times. But that’s where the viewers are (more on that below). Chiney Ogwumike has been featured on cable news several times over the past few weeks. Most recently, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Going on a show watched by millions bolsters her Q-rating. More people know who she is now than did before the pandemic.
  • Dave Portnoy didn’t need to elevate, but he did. We ranked him as the most valuable person in all of sports media this month. Portnoy has lately been the subject of high-level features for his day trading. And every time he goes on Tucker Carlson Tonight, many nights the highest-viewed cable news show, he’s watched by more people than most of the sports shows combined. 

“How come MSNBC and CNN have such lower ratings than Fox? I mean it’s the same thing except pandering to the other side reason I ask this is I love looking at the cable news ratings every day and it just shocks me how dominant Fox is?”

Great question. For some background, Fox News dominates. Here are the ratings for Monday and it represents how they record most days:

The battle for No. 1 is always between Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, both of Fox News. And many nights, like Monday, The Ingraham Angle beats MSNBC’s top-rated program, The Rachel Maddow Show. CNN’s top shows are never close to the top.

There are two reasons for this. The main one: it’s different. It’s not just a narrative that the media is left-leaning, it is. Now more than ever. Fox News is the only channel that is giving a different perspective. It doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong, it’s just different. There are fewer conservative options. Therefore, conservative shows, hosts, and channels can claim a larger portion of the market share. Liberal media is so crowded that the pie is split up between several different outlets. 

The other reason is that conservative media is made up of more compelling personalities. They are more engaged and powerful as they push back against what is considered “okay,” and “offensive.” That’s always going to generate more love and hate than what is said by liberal hosts. Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh are all more polarizing and impactful than Maddow. 

The most-discussed liberal personality is probably Bill Maher because he pushes back against the left-leaning views. 

When there is too much of the same, the less room there is for stardom. 

This isn’t changing, either. 

Written by Bobby Burack

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

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