Over the last year or so we’ve seen an unprecedented number of big names trading places in the sports media world. Simmons, Bayless, Cowherd, Whitlock, Tirico, Nessler, Spielman, and many more. But which of these moves will have the biggest impact on the overall landscape? We polled our writers for their choices…
Ben Koo: The biggest impact is Bayless to Fox. Tirico to NBC is a great move by them, but it will not have much of an impact in terms of the audience and strategy of NBC. Same with Nessler and McDonough. The same audiences who watch those games they are calling will continue to do so. Some people may like those new voices, but more or less nothing has changed.
Bayless to Fox though will move the needle and impact their daily weekday schedule. ESPN shedding a well-known toxic personality with FS1 picking one up will change how some viewers perceive both networks. While there is some upside for FS1 in making this move, Bayless’ trolling and reputation is much more well-known than more niche shit-mongerers under FS1’s banner. Those who aren’t a fan of Skip and are less media-savvy who haven’t yet gotten a taste of FS1’s direction (there are many to the point where FS1 commercials I still hear on the radio still have the call to action to go to the website and find out what channel number it is) are more likely to connect the network with the negative aspects of ESPN. More or less, FS1 is becoming like a bar whose main clientele is a rowdy biker gang. If that’s your thing, you’ll be happy there. If not, you’ll avoid it at all costs.
Andrew Bucholtz: I really think the most important move is Simmons to HBO, as well as the launch of The Ringer and The Bill Simmons Media Group. Skip Bayless, Mike Tirico and Brad Nessler will all be doing largely the same thing as they were, just at different networks, and while McDonough’s shifting from college football to MNF, that’s not as different as what Simmons is doing.
First, he’s essentially taking his podcast to TV with Any Given Wednesday, something that seems like a far better TV fit for him than NBA Countdown or even the Grantland Basketball Hour. This makes him more of a late-night host, even if he’s shrugging off those comparisons, and it sounds like a format Simmons fans will eagerly embrace.
Second, he has his hand in producing all sorts of other interesting stuff for HBO, from the Andre the Giant doc (and presumably other ones) to shows like After The Thrones.
Third, The Ringer allows him to remake Grantland according to his own vision, without corporate interference from ESPN.
Fourth, he was one of the most interesting personalities at ESPN and one with one of the biggest external fanbases, and there’s no one there who’s particularly filling any one of the many roles he had, much less all of them.
Post-Simmons ESPN is interesting to watch in its own right, and Simmons is going to have a huge impact on the sports media landscape going forward, He might be one of the few people who actually grows in stature by leaving ESPN and who’s able to do everything he wants outside of Bristol. That’s particularly true given his massive fanbase, the way he chafed at Bristol’s rules and restrictions, and the huge numbers of important and powerful people who want to work with him; this week’s Hollywood Reporter piece on him was highly illuminating on that front. This move could work out very well for Simmons, but even if it doesn’t, it will be fascinating to watch.
Joe Lucia: Bayless is pretty clearly “the one”, because of the effect it’ll have on both of the networks involved. With all due respect to some of the other names mentioned, there’s already a decent in-house replacement at the network they’re leaving. With Bayless, the situation is much murkier in regards to who replaces him on First Take, and that decision is arguably one of the more important ones ESPN has had in recent memory. And that doesn’t even take into account Bayless at FS1, which is the network’s boldest move yet. No other personnel move can hold a candle to this one.
Matt Yoder: I’m going off the beaten path – Kevin Merida moving from the Washington Post to ESPN.
Jason Whitlock was such a disaster and The Undefeated in such trouble that it was a major surprise that it actually launched. Much of that is due to John Skipper’s commitment and the work of Merida to sell a huge array of very talented people on the post-Whitlock version of the site.
Merida took something that was a toxic, perpetually under construction site designed for someone else and brought it back from the brink to launch to rave reviews. How many people could have accomplished that?
Phillip Bupp: When it comes to most important and having the biggest impact, I’m looking long term and choosing Mike Tirico to NBC. Tirico to NBC answers a lot of questions NBC has when it comes to replacing their mainstays as they start to enter retirement. Tirico is going to be doing Thursday Night Football and can eventually take over on Sunday Night when Al Michaels retires. Tirico has hosted The Masters for ESPN and thus will be able to take over hosting duties for the British Open and Ryder Cup. And most importantly, Tirico has hosted prestigious worldwide tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup and thus gives him the experience to best take over for the most prestigious hosting position at NBC, the primetime Olympic hosting job whenever Bob Costas retires. This may not seem like the most important move right now, but Tirico will be dominating NBC Sports airwaves long after likely many of the things mentioned have come and gone.
Liam McGuire: Bill Simmons going over to HBO is fascinating for a number of reasons. I’m interested to see what he can do with a weekly talk show and what kind of audience it will draw. What type of programming will he bring to HBO? Which personalities could he bring to HBO television? Simmons post-ESPN is going to be worth following – it should be a big win for HBO and Simmons. As for Bayless, that’s a huge acquisition by FS1, but I’m still not a fan of the hot take mindset over at Fox. He’ll bring in more viewers, but I don’t think anyone but Bayless diehards will be willingly tuning in.
Ken Fang: I’ll agree with Phillip on Tirico being the most important move to date. It was his departure that left big holes to fill at ESPN not just on Monday Night Football, but Big Ten basketball, tennis, soccer and The Masters. And with his move to NBC, there’s so many roles he can fill. The short term will be Olympics and Thursday Night Football, but there’s Sunday Night Football down the road when Al Michaels decides to hang up his microphone, taking over for Bob Costas when he decides not to host the Olympics and of course, there’s a role on golf if he so desires. Should NBC get into college sports and perhaps the Big Ten if NBC gets a piece of the contract, Tirico could be back calling that as well.
At ESPN, we already know that Sean McDonough will replace Tirico on MNF, and most likely we’ll see Scott Van Pelt fill his role on The Masters next year, but who fills his roles elsewhere is still a question.
Alex Putterman: While the movement of Tirico and Simmons and all the rest will affect our sports consumption in one way or another, Bayless’ move from ESPN to Fox carries more symbolic importance than any other. In addition to driving conversation and drawing eyeballs to his show, Bayless has come to represent the hot take era of sports TV. He’s basically a walking symbol of provocative opinions. So when ESPN lets Bayless walk and FS1 welcomes him with open arms, we can extrapolate a certain amount about the direction of those networks. Before adding Bayless, Fox had already amassed the world’s greatest collection of take-havers (Colin Cowherd, Jason Whitlock, Clay Travis), but signing Skip was the final indication that the network was all-in on debate. And maybe ESPN’s decision to let Bayless — as well as Cowherd, Whitlock and Bill Simmons — depart for a higher bidder, signals something about the Worldwide Leader’s priorities.