The “demise” of ESPN is going to be the predominant story that looms large for the sports media beat and this site. I wrote recently about how ESPN has some big challenges in front of them, but there is a lot of bullshit getting traction out there (a trend not limited to sports media and one that doesn’t seems to be going away).

And while there is a handful of various narratives you can attach to the ESPN “demise” story, Colin Cowherd shared some thoughts on something that indeed seems to have not gained much attention. Below some quotes from his Saturday podcast with Jason Whitlock:

There are now 31 sports networks. The advantage for ESPN has dried up, as now people have options. Not only 31 sports networks Jason, we have 22 regional sports networks. And they are in cool places to live like New York, and LA, and Boston, and Detroit, and Dallas, and Chicago. What is undoing ESPN and is not spoken about, is no one wants to live in rural Connecticut” 

“They used to have the hammer. They don’t anymore. Fox can offer you LA, Chicago, New York, Charlotte. The advantage was, you have to live here. Nobody… elite people… Olbermann didn’t want to live there. Simmons didn’t want to live there. You didn’t want to live there. I didn’t want to live there. The seven bosses that worked for us at Fox, didn’t want to live there. It has become a huge unspoken disadvantage. Rural Connecticut as a whole is dying.”

“It’s a turnoff”

 “It is unspoken. It is not discussed on any blog I imagine. It is a huge… anybody we want, we get. Why? They don’t want to live there.”

“Mike Greenberg is going to quit Mike and Mike before Thanksgiving. He’ll be off the show. Why? Because he was furious they were going to move it to New York and they pulled the rug out from under him. Because he doesn’t want to live there. He wants to go to the city and live an urban life. I don’t blame him.”

Before jumping into this, I just got to say Cowherd is a fucking machine. 3 hours of radio a day with no co-host to shoulder a lot of the load. Then an hour of crappy TV that nobody watches and he still is compelled to do a weekend podcast with Whitlock? I’m honestly impressed. I may take a nap after this post and I write like one post a week. 

Back on point here, this is actually a pretty interesting theory. Before Cowherd signed with Fox, he actually already had his Connecticut house on the market so this obviously borrows from his personal experience and he cites some other names as well. Over the years there have been other names that have been rumored to want out at ESPN because of a preference to be in a major media market. With that in mind, how much credence should we give Cowherd’s comments?

While I’d like to say this isn’t a big deal, the reality is that even if it is a driving factor for just a few key personalities that ultimately sways them to leave, it certainly could become a more significant issue for ESPN.  Now with that said, I think there are probably maybe only a dozen or two personalities whose departure would be more than a flesh wound for ESPN.

For this to be a substantive issue for ESPN, they need to lose talent specifically because of this and while that COULD happen, I’m not sure we’ve seen or will see much of that. First off, if we’re looking at the top of the ESPN talent pool, probably only a fraction of them are getting firm offers and interest from other networks. Sure there are conversations and overtures, but CBS, NBC, and Fox just don’t have the scale, audience, and open programming slots to just plop down any and every ESPN personality and replicate their ESPN success. We’ve seen that with a lot of folks who have left the network and ultimately returned.

Also of all the examples Cowherd gave, Simmons, Whitlock, and Olbermann all departed with ESPN ultimately making the call not to retain those personalities. Basically ESPN let them walk out the door. The point on Greenberg has merit but he’s still with the network.

Meanwhile there is a lot of talent that either flies in to Bristol (actually Hartford) or their work and role is tailored for them to be on the road at venues or doing studio shows at other locations like New York, Miami, or Los Angeles.

I spoke with several high profile personalities on this topic and came away with these takeaways:

  • Bristol is not for everyone but some people actually like being up there. “Quiet is not always a bad thing.”
  • A lot of ESPN talent travels often on assignment so it’s not like they feel stuck and isolated.
  • People’s comfort with Bristol is largely tied to one’s appetite to be social and go out beyond the usual places with the usual people, which for many is just fine but I could see how it could be monotonous for some.
  • The weather can be a tough adjustment for many as well. Getting folks to come up and stay there from the west coast or the south can be more of a challenge.
  • What was conveyed to me several times is that when evaluating a career change, the bulk of the decision was tied to a) the gig/role b) compensation c) the company, people, and culture d) a little further down the list was location.
  • “Moving to another network and location may make sense for a lot of people, but I don’t think there are enough obvious fits where this is going to be a big deal.”

For Cowherd it was a big enough deal to play a role in his move to Fox. While saying “anybody we want, we get. Why? They don’t want to live there.” was a pretty big overreach, it does seem that there is vulnerability here. However, I think until Fox and other networks close the gap in audience and influence that ESPN currently has, there probably isn’t going to be a dramatic exodus of talent from Bristol.  Ultimately we’re probably sounding the alarm on this being a huge problem for ESPN a handful of years before it could really come into play in a substantive way.

About Ben Koo

Copying and pasting my Twitter bio. I'm also refusing (for now) to write this in the third person. This is me - EIC and CEO at @comeback_sports and @AwfulAnnouncing, world's greatest chinese jew, proud Buckeye, funny dude, and sports and digital media zealot.

  • Tyshaun Miles

    Greeny just re-signed with the network a few months ago. While I do believe that Mike & Mike will be broken up before the end of the summer, this is just another instance of Cowherd throwing something on the wall and hoping it sticks.

  • capital44z

    Simmons had been living in LA for a while before he got canned.

  • bibliomaine

    “Rural Connecticut” is not Wyoming. There are no silos in Southington. For the hipsters, Bristol is an hour from Manhattan and 90 minutes from Boston. The schedule out of BDA isnt perfect but it beats using the dumpster fires that are LGA and JFK, for sure. The ESPN execs can afford an uber to somewhere fancy to eat if they tire of the Applebee’s in Bristol.

  • MrBull

    Cowherd is so full of it!…he needs to fill podcast time so he goes on a bs rant…Cowherd was in Portland before ESPN hired him and made him a national name…
    As for competition? Another bunch of bs from Cowherd…ESPN has deeper pockets then the others and will always…the others can not compete…
    Cowherd better save his big time contract $$$$ because when Fox passes on resigning him, where is he going to go? Portland?

    • Real Talk

      Why are you so angry and offended? Get a life please

      • 66pugs99

        You sound just like a Trump supporter, who angry and offended by everything, so they accuse others of being angry and offended. So transparent.

        • Tommy509

          The fact that you had to bring up Trump’s name says everything about you

          • 66pugs99

            The fact that you defend Trump in any way says everything about you. Silly to defend the indefensible.

      • MrBull

        Angry and offended? It sounds like you are the one who is ‘angry and offended’ because someone expressed a view you didn’t like about your idol, Colin Cowherd….
        And if your educated deduction about my view point is ‘angry and offended’ – which it isn’t, it was a flat out rip job on a no talent clown – then it is you who needs to ‘Get a Life’….

  • crs44

    I don’t know how us rubes survive out in the wilderness away from N.Y. and L.A.

  • robbyburns

    Cowturd at his best, ESPN has an LA studio a Times Square Studio they share with ABC in NYC, LeBatards set up at the Clevelander in Miami and they frequently go an location pretty easily and most of the writers live where they chose and some of the anchors live in Connecticut or a short drive to NYC. This is just FS1 at it’s “best” all throw it at the wall and if it sticks i’ll be trilled and if it wasn’t for the back woods of Bristol we wouldn’t have know who the hell this asshole is.

    • Raymond Chuang

      But LeBatard works in a place where people WANT to go there–Clevelander Hotel is one of THE “hot” entertainment sports on the South Beach are of Miami Beach.

      • robbyburns

        My point is that ESPN gives it’s talent options you don’t have to be stuffed away in Bristol,

  • Steeler fan in NE

    Also what is missing from this point is that all of the rest of the folks that work at ESPN (the producers, writers, stats, graphics, video, etc) may find it easier to raise a family in real connecticut as opposed to LA. Lord knows your money goes further when buying a house in Bristol than in LA

  • 66pugs99

    Cowherd like usual is just trolling here as his show is just the national Enquirer of sports radio.

    Has anyone ever met a Cowherd listener? Total lowest forms of life I’ve ever met. They are not smart enough to think for themselves, so they listen to Cowherd.

  • Raymond Chuang

    Despite what you think about Cowherd, he’s right in a way: people don’t want to work in relatively isolated, cold-in-winter Bristol, CT. This is why I think ESPN–especially in regards to the corporate tax situation–may seriously look at moving ALL its operations to Orlando, Florida–to a state with no state income taxes. ESPN should have back in 2011–before they built the very expensive Digital Center 2–moved its operations to a new complex on Disney World property, given the huge amount of unused land available on that property.
    Why Orlando? Besides the tax issue, Orlando has a world-class International Airport with plentiful flights to the entire USA, direct flights to Europe and South America and one-stop flights to Asia. And unlike Bristol, CT, Orlando has excellent year-round weather, particularly in wintertime.

    • Bryck

      Isolated?? Have you ever been to Bristol CT? I guess not, because it’s not an isolated city.

  • newdog301

    I actually enjoy Speak For Yourself for the most part so I didn’t see the need for the “crappy” jab in your post. Every single TV show and radio show today is “hot takes” and “embracing debate” we just choose to focus on some of them more than others. Brian Kenny says more players suck on a daily basis on MLB Now than Skip Bayless does in a month. But we’ve chosen to embrace that show and not call it “debate”.

    As for the Connecticut thing, I’d argue the opposite. I would much rather live in a suburb than a city. I live in New York City because I have to. If there was a good job available in the sticks I’d move in a second.

  • AdamX

    I look forward to more people from ESPN taking spots on FSR in the coming years…

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