First Take moves to ESPN

Putting studio programming in New York instead of Bristol has long been a topic of discussion around ESPN, with that initially announced as the plan for Mike and Mike in May 2015 (along with the addition of Molly Qerim) but then cancelled that summer. ESPN eventually did open New York studios this April, though, leasing the third floor of a new South Street Seaport Pier 17 complex. They moved half the Mikes there for Get Up (which had its own launch delayed several months thanks to studio construction issues), while also relocating NBA Countdown (hosted by Get Up‘s Michelle Beadle) there after a short stint in Bristol and then launching High Noon with Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre out of the New York studios in June.

And now, the network is bringing yet more studio programming to New York, including Qerim (now the host of First Take) this time. She and First Take featured commentators Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman will be making that move this fall. And as per ESPN’s release, they’ll be doing so on a permanent basis:

On Monday, Sept. 3, First Take – with featured commentators Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman, and hosted by Molly Qerim – will permanently move to ESPN’s New York Seaport District Studios. The debut will showcase an updated look, while bringing all of the analysis and debate that viewers know and love. Production for the program will continue out of ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters. Additional details about the September 3 debut will be released later.

“First Take’s consistent success is largely due to a team on air and behind the scenes committed to seizing every possible opportunity to be the best,” said David Roberts, vice president, Network Content. “This move to a state-of-the-art studio in New York underscores our commitment to achieve our primary mission – serving the sports fan through excellence on all fronts.”

This might make some sense on a few levels. For one, First Take directly follows Get Up, and with the latter show still looking for ways to find traction, having the shows in the same location might make some crossovers and cross-promotion easier. (The same can be said for High Noon, which follows First Take, but it seems to be doing better relative to expectations in the first place.) Beyond that, a big part of putting Get Up in New York was about better access to guests, and that could be the case for First Take too.

The move could also could create the chance for a mini-ESPN “car wash.” Guests who visit Bristol have regularly appeared on many of the shows based there, and it would now be much easier to do that in New York as well with all of ESPN’s programming from 7 a.m. Eastern to 1 p.m. Eastern (Get Up, First Take and High Noon) originating there. Moreover, there’s probably some appeal to being based out of New York instead of Bristol for Qerim (who just married Get Up‘s Jalen Rose), Smith and Kellerman.

And this can also be seen as a sign of the value that ESPN still places on First Take. While the show and its personalities (especially, especially Smith, our active leader in the This Week In Hot Takes Standings) regularly take plenty of criticism, First Take remains a valuable piece for ESPN, and one of their strongest-rated studio shows. Yes, there are still questions to be asked about if moving it to the main ESPN network and bumping SportsCenter to ESPN2 in January 2017 was the right call, as that move appears to have hurt ESPN overall (even if it did reinforce First Take‘s lead over FS1’s Undisputed, which features former First Take commentator Skip Bayless), but it’s clear that the network values this show. And it’s clear there’s still some audience affinity for it, even outside of traditional timeslots; as per ESPN’s release, the afternoon NBA free agency specials showed year-over-year ratings gains from the network’s previous programming there.

During the first week of Wimbledon (July 2-6), First Take aired afternoon specials from 4:30-6 p.m. ET (except for July 4), and earned a 53% P2+ audience increase over that timeslot from the year before (468,000 vs. 306,000). In addition, those same airings garnered a 61% increase in viewership year-over-year in the People 25-54 demographic (238,000 vs. 148,000).

And that was even with a poorly-timed NBA free agency deadline that meant the specials began well after many of the prominent moves. So First Take seems to be doing just fine for itself. And this move to New York seems to be yet more evidence that ESPN views it as a key property, and one to invest in for the long term.

[ESPN Media Zone]

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.