Keith Olbermann

It looks like Keith Olbermann is on his way out from ESPN again. Only a week after The Hollywood Reporter wrote that ESPN wanted Olbermann to “quit commentary,” particularly commentary bashing the NFL and Roger Goodell, if he wanted his contract renewed, famed reporter James Andrew Miller tweeted that Bristol has elected to part ways with Olbermann regardless when his contract expires July 31:

Miller, the co-author of ESPN history Those Guys Have All The Fun and a frequent contributor to The New York Times and other media outlets, is seldom wrong on anything, but he’s particularly dialed in when it comes to ESPN. CNN’s Brian Stelter has also confirmed this through his own source. Thus, it looks like one of the most unusual returns to ESPN ever (remember that Olbermann’s first exit was described by ESPN PR’s Mike Soltys as “He didn’t burn bridges here, he napalmed them”) is about to end. It’s a pity on some levels, as Olbermann brought an interesting and thoughtful dimension to ESPN’s sports coverage, and he wasn’t even as confrontational internally this time around. (Externally, there were some flare-ups, but by ESPN standards, Olbermann wasn’t that much of a headache.) However, while Olbermann’s show had its merits, it wasn’t a ratings smash. Some of that may have been about the way ESPN moved it around, but there’s a case to be made that parting ways with Olbermann is the “business decision” move ESPN wants it painted as, especially when you consider their overall cost-cutting strategies.

That may not be the whole story, though, especially given the THR report about the NFL pushback against ESPN for Olbermann, particlarly with Monday Night Football scheduling. When “multiple sources inside ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. headquarters believe the “terrible” schedule is “pay back for Simmons and Olbermann,” as one source put it,” that suggests there’s a strong element of wanting to appease the NFL at play here. It’s worth keeping in mind that pleasing their business partners at the NFL would also count as the “business decision” ESPN so clearly wants to brand this as. We may never know just what role NFL pushback played in Olbermann’s exit, but it seems unlikely that it wasn’t considered. Regardless of if saving Olbermann’s salary or appeasing the NFL was the main motivation here, the bottom line is that one of ESPN’s top NFL critics is on his way out. One can imagine that Roger Goodell isn’t terribly displeased by this news.

Update: Here’s ESPN’s statement, via Josh Krulewitz, which says Olbermann’s show will conclude “sometime this month”:

“Keith is a tremendous talent who has consistently done timely, entertaining and thought-provoking work since returning to ESPN. While the show’s content was distinctive and extremely high quality, we ultimately made a business decision to move in another direction. We wish Keith nothing but the best and trust that his skill and ability will lead him to another promising endeavor.”

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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