Scott Van Pelt can be feisty. We’ve seen it on Twitter especially when Jay Mariotti went after him this week:
Anybody know @MariottiSports ? Somebody tell him he's a piñata and I'm getting my bat.
— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) September 6, 2016
With that in mind, Van Pelt talked with the Washington Post about ESPN and its alleged rivalry with Fox Sports, FS1 in particular. While FS1 has been trying to get under ESPN’s skin by promoting Skip Bayless’ show with a billboard near the Worldwide Leader’s headquarters, the sports media behemoth continues to move forward.
When asked about FS1 and former ESPN wunderkind Jamie Horowitz, Van Pelt wasn’t afraid to opine:
“Jamie Horowitz is a guy that’s a friend, and every article he’s quoted in he mentions ‘SportsCenter’s’ failing ratings. And not one says, ‘Well how about [the Cowherd-Whitlock team-up] “Speak for Yourself,” which gets 50,000 people.’ We don’t have a single show that rates that badly. He gets constantly quoted talking about our ratings, and that is an astonishing thing that continues to happen. … At some point, if you’re going to talk [junk] about our ratings, you should be held accountable for yours. They’re not close. And by not close, I mean it’s like Washington to Los Angeles, not Washington to Baltimore. You’re a long, long, long, long flight away.
And Van Pelt wasn’t done bringing up ESPN’s ratings as compared to FS1:
“I’m competitive. I’m professionally competitive,” Van Pelt continued. “There’s not one person involved in this discussion that I’m not friendly with. Skip Bayless, I don’t know [him]. But Colin, I’m friendly with. [Jason] Whitlock, I’m friendly with. The higher-ups at Fox, I’m friendly with. There’s no anger in any of this, I’m just professionally competitive. And so I can say, ‘Wait, if you’re going to keep saying that,’ then I’m going to say, ‘What are your ratings?’ I saw one day there was 28,000 people watching that show. … That’s the attendance of a Cincinnati Reds game. That’s your audience. ‘SportsCenter,’ on its worst day, gets 300,000 people. But we’re failing. We’re just failing away over here.”
Van Pelt said anyone who rings the death knell for ESPN in the wake of cord cutting and cord shaving does so at his or her own risk:
“I look at it this way: [Stories like that are] like a Mad Lib: We’re going to reference cord-cutting, we’re going to reference the names of the high-profile talent who have left, then we’re going to mention that a bunch of people were let go, and then we’re going to mention ratings. … And the picture that it begins to paint is, ‘We’re [in trouble],’ ” Van Pelt said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “And then you see in the third quarter ESPN made $5.9 billion. I would put it this way, the analogy I would make is: Warren Buffet lost $50 million. He’s still a billionaire and he still has more money that the people he’s in common with that it’s not even close. So my push-back and my fatigue with this, and it’s real fatigue — I’m really tired of being painted as some sort of failing, sinking ship.”
The late night SportsCenter host says people should look at the whole picture before discussing ESPN. Van Pelt says FS1 has not made huge in-roads into ESPN’s ratings and noted the layoffs at Fox that has led to low morale at the company. He said that is not the case in Bristol:
“No one’s looking around up here and saying, ‘Oh God, I hope we get paid next week.’ That’s not the reality that we’re existing in. We’re still us, and if we were losing everyone and some competitor was closing the gap, then I think you’d look around and say, ‘What do we need to do?’ I don’t know who can show me any evidence of that.”
So no one can tell Van Pelt that ESPN is dying or on its way out. Judging from these and other quotes in the WaPo, he’s quite bullish on ESPN’s future.