Today we learned that that ESPN and Keith Olbermann would part ways at the end of this month as talks on a new contract apparently broke down. Jim Miller broke the news and attributed the split as a business decision from ESPN’s perspective with a hope the split would be amicable.
— jamesmiller (@JimMiller) July 8, 2015
It remains to be seen if the split will indeed be amicable although I’m optimistic (perhaps foolishly) that the notoriously feisty Olbermann will wind down his tenure at ESPN without some of the infamous fireworks and napalming bridges we’re accustomed to hearing about. Regardless of how his exit plays out, the big question was this purely a business decision?
“Business Decision” is a broad explanation so to some degree that explanation holds water. That said, we’re being told it’s not the full story by any means.
Olbermann did receive substantive extension offers from ESPN and while compensation was a factor in the split (similar to the split with Bill Simmons) it was one of many factors that ESPN is being understandably less forthright with.
Last week it was reported that ESPN was hoping to reduce the amount of commentary Olbermann did on his show, a request that seemed to be a major sticking point and one ESPN was quick to refute.
While it’s unclear what reduction of commentary was being discussed, we’re told ESPN 100% did request that Olbermann relax on criticism of Goodell, a consistent and at times arguably a zealous focus of Olbermann’s commentary.
It was reported that ESPN’s lackluster upcoming slate of Monday Night games was believed to be retribution for Bill Simmons and Olbermann’s criticism of the league and Goodell. To that end, we’re hearing there are some ESPN folks who think the league denied a request for a Monday Night Football matchup featuring the Cowboys against a specific opponent due to Simmons and Olbermann’s vocal criticism this past year. ESPN does have one Cowboys game on this year’s schedule but comes late in the season and on the road versus a Redskins team that went 4-12 last season.
If this indeed is the thinking in Bristol, removing Simmons and Olbermann could be classified as “business decisions” and not editorial policing as improved quality of games would certainly help drive higher ratings and revenue and improve the quality of the Monday Night Football schedule.
Another interesting tidbit we’ve dug up is that the Olbermann’s studio at Time Square is posssibly going away, the same location that was reported prematurely to be the new home of Mike & Mike. ESPN awkwardly had to walk back that announcement saying the show would stay in Bristol. ESPN is now believed to be considering winding down that location, potentially doing some more belt tightening as Bristol tries to keep profits steady as rights fees continue to climb. Some prime real estate in the middle of Manhattan is probably a good place to start, although Mel Kiper’s hair product budget also warrants some scrutiny.
Ultimately ESPN is reducing talent costs, studio costs, and potentially removing a hurdle to getting a better MNF lineup, so yes a lot of this benefits ESPN’s bottom line. But the broad generalization doesn’t paint the full story of a continued kowtowing to the NFL, the loss of one of the network’s best and most dynamic shows, and a new era of belt tightening in the face of cord cutting and rising live rights fees.