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Media Mailbag: Will Cain-Fox News Impact, New NFL Live, Ratings

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

Here we go:

“Do you think Will Cain moving to Fox News will lead to more sports media folks moving to politics? You said political media is better. Why?”

Others would love to. The question is how many in the industry would a cable news channel have interest in for a significant role? Will Cain was one of them, Max Kellerman would be another. After that, a talent would likely have to take a contributor role to prove they can do it at a high-level. I’d encourage several to try it.

Yes, political media is a far better industry right now. As I’ve discussed throughout the week, cable news is ascending while the rest of television is descending. Year-over-year, the three primary cable news channels were up considerably: CNN +120%; Fox News +48%; MSNBC 34%. And cable news hosts are breaking records.Tucker Carlson Tonight just recorded the highest-rated cable news quarter in history with a 4.3 million average. For comparison, First Take, on a good day, may draw 450,000. That trails about 40 other political shows.

In the key 25-54 age demographic, Tucker Carlson and other political hosts average more viewers than the top sports shows do in total viewership.

Additionally, sports television has become toxic. The topic selection is so reliant on social media and has fallen out of touch with sports fans. It’s just not very good anymore.

What’s more, it has peaked on television. There isn’t going to be another Wilbon and Kornheiser on TV. I don’t see a TV personality getting as big as Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless. Partly, because we’ve seen that so few other strong opinionists are wanted by the viewers. Most have no impact and simply hold the base audience.

The best jobs in sports now, as I’ve stated numerous times, are independent of the networks. Hence why Dave Portnoy and Bill Simmons are at the top of the industry. The pyramid no longer leads to a television show on ESPN, as it always had before.

“So obviously the political stuff hurts NFL ratings but could the storylines boost them right back up to normal?”

My stance has been the ratings will be down this season but not as bad as 2016. Not because it won’t be as politicized, it will be even more, but the storylines are far better.

I can’t remember the last time a league has had this many intriguing selling points:

Tom Brady has a new team; Cam Newton with Bill Belichick; Patrick Mahomes coming off a Super Bowl victory; Lamar Jackson’s MVP follow-up; Aaron Rodgers with Jordan Love; the return of Ben Roethlisberger; the Cowboys; Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes; Kyler Murray; Deshaun Watson; a wide-open race for the Super Bowl.

It really is unfortunate all that will be overshadowed by kneeling, anthem talk, and politics.

The new NFL Live is another woke ESPN show with too many people at a desk. Why couldn’t they just leave the one show that isn’t political alone?

(ESPN confirmed Outkick’s report this week. The new NFL Live will feature Laura Rutledge, Dan Orlovsky, Marcus Spears, and Mina Kimes. Keyshawn Johnson will also have a role.)

I have a lot of concerns about this move, too. NFL Live has quietly rated well for ESPN in several different time slots. Viewers don’t react well to change, in general. And the viewers of NFL Live weren’t asking for a revamp. ESPN felt it needed one because it lacked buzz. That means it lacked social media attention. In case anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, I’ll remind you: what works on Twitter, doesn’t work on television. It never has.

ESPN shouldn’t have messed with this show. The new crew will get more attention and likely worse ratings. That combination is an L.

The new version will also be far more optioned than previous iterations. Another tweak the audience didn’t ask for or want.

Now, I will say, the addition of Keyshawn Johnson helps with this problem, some. Viewers will recognize him and remember him from his time on Sunday NFL Countdown. He’s a well-known name that is going to have a marquee radio role, as well.

Another note: I’m told the new NFL Live could air at 4 p.m. ET daily. This would be a good decision. Last year, ESPN ran High Noon and Highly Questionable from 4-5. High Noon was a disaster that is now canceled; Highly Questionable is now ESPN’s weakest show quality-wise. HQ, which doesn’t fit with the rest of the lineup, is better suited for ESPN2. But ESPN could very well just move it to an earlier spot on the main channel.

“What the heck is ESPN doing with Mike Golic? How is that being received by other ESPN talent?”

This story hasn’t gotten enough attention. Before I get into it, here’s where it’s at:

ESPN is replacing Golic and Wingo in the morning. Keyshawn Johnson has reached an agreement to co-host the new show. Per sources, Jalen Rose and David Jacoby are candidates to join him.

Where does that leave Mike Golic?

Golic’s future is officially up in the air. It’s unknown.

His contract with ESPN expires later this year. I don’t see a landing spot for him, at the moment. With that said, if he hits the open market, he’d bring a strong, likable, familiar presence to a competitor. He’s had a legendary run on national morning radio. There’s still value.

“Why would Finebaum and Spears want off of SEC Nation? Will Spears be migrating away from college football in general? Hopefully not because TOL with Greg McElroy is a hit. Finebaum’s Friday show on campus was a nice way to start the weekend, I’m assuming that will end with him leaving Nation.”

Marcus Spears wanted to focus on NFL coverage. This includes NFL Live (as mentioned above). ESPN looks at Spears as one of its top daily NFL analysts. At 37, Spears is in position to be a focal point of the network’s NFL coverage for years to come. He’s already one of its best NFL personalities.

Finebaum didn’t need SEC Nation. While the show has a passionate SEC fan base, it goes up against GameDay and now Fox Big Noon Kickoff. Finebaum helped that show more than it helped him. GameDay would be worth it for Finebaum, SEC Nation wasn’t doing much for his career.

I can’t imagine he’d be on the road on Fridays now, no.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers any news story that deserves attention but focuses on media. His interests include reading Stephen King novels, avoiding traffic on the road, and pretending to solve true-crime mysteries. He still believes Cersei should've won and encourages everyone to always question the news.

3 Comments

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  1. Do you think Will Cain was pushed out at ESPN or did he just take a better offer from Fox (or a combination of both)?

    I used to watch First Take all the time, but now I can’t stand it because it’s so left-wing. Will was the lone voice of reason on that show.

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