For weeks the fate of ESPN’s high-profile free agents, namely Scott Van Pelt, has been up in the air. Many have felt SVP’s ultimate destination would be NBC Sports Network to give the revamped Versus a marquee personality to build up the network. Of course, Van Pelt could also remain at ESPN where he has steadily climbed the ladder at the WWL to become a signature voice on SportsCenter, ESPN Radio, and The Masters. However, it seemed as if these were the only two options for Van Pelt with no other networks explicitly expressing interest… until this weekend.
In USA Today, a tidbit in Michael McCarthy’s article suggested FOX may be interested in the free agent Van Pelt. Here’s the quote from FOX on the free agent Van Pelt
“We think Scott is a very talented broadcaster who would be a great asset to any broadcast or cable sports network,” Fox spokesman Dan Bell said Sunday.”"
McCarthy uses the quote to suggest FOX could be a serious player in the SVP Sweepstakes. However, the quote above seems more like common courtesy than anything else. What other position is FOX supposed to take publicly? Sorry, no vacancies? Who cares, Van Pelt is overrated? Van Pelt and FOX just aren’t a fit with each other, no matter which way you slice it. From the outside, it looks like FOX was only trying to say something nice about SVP, not trying to state their interest.
Ask yourself, where exactly would Van Pelt fit on FOX with their current portfolio of live sports? The one area where FOX has been thin is at play-by-play, not in the studio, which is SVP’s strength. Is he going to supplant Curt Menefee on FOX NFL Sunday? Can you imagine Van Pelt anchoring NASCAR or international soccer coverage? Would he go in to a pregame show for MLB, which FOX has devoted few resources to over the years. Is there room for him on FOX’s college football coverage, which has already been claimed by Gus Johnson? At best, SVP may be a replacement for Chris Rose on FOX Sports, which is probably a downward move from where he is now.
So, it really does seem as if the two likely destinations for SVP are ESPN and NBCSN. The other possible destination for SVP would be CBS, but there he would be blocked by heavyweights like Jim Nantz (golf), Greg Gumbel (NCAA), and James Brown (NFL Today). The more interesting development in the SVP Sweepstakes actually occured over a week ago, when Jim Miller noted that Van Pelt was currently working without a contract at ESPN:
ESPN’s contract w @notthefakeSVP expires Monday, but he will continue working w/o one…for the time being.
— James Andrew Miller (@ESPNBook) April 24, 2012
Of course, ESPN is taking the public stance that it’s trying to sign Van Pelt to a new deal, and why wouldn’t they. Van Pelt has grown into one of the top personalities at the WWL. He’s arguably risen to #1 on the SportsCenter depth chart (if there is such a thing) and his radio show has greatly improved to fill the large shoes of Dan Patrick in the afternoon after the circus that was Mike Tirico and friends. Not only that, Van Pelt is allowed to dabble in his first sport, golf, when ESPN covers The Masters.
However, the grass may look like it has the potential to be greener for SVP The Brand at NBCSN. At ESPN, Van Pelt will never be bigger than he is now. The Bermanization of popular on-air talents, for lack of a better term, is over in Bristol according to many. Thus, Van Pelt can continue to be a very successful TV and radio personality, but there may be a ceiling in place to just how popular he can become.
On the other hand, the opportunity to blaze his own trail at NBCSN must be enticing. A chance awaits to go back to his roots at the Golf Channel, which now neatly falls in to the Comcast/NBC umbrella. A chance to have an all-sports network built around him. A chance to lead a competitor against ESPN on a daily basis. And let’s not forget other new avenues NBCSN would present, namely the Olympics. If Van Pelt could slide in along side well-known personalities like Bob Costas and Al Michaels, the Olympics could help Van Pelt become a bigger household name.
Undoubtedly, it would be a risky move for Van Pelt to leave his position at ESPN. The fact that he’s working at ESPN beyond his contract gives you reason to infer that he may be close to staying there long-term. However, the risk/reward to leave the WWL for NBCSN has to be an interesting thought. There is one certainty though, SVP is about to be paid a lot of money to continue to talk about sports for a living, wherever that may be.