Mike Ryan of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz Credit: The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz

Dan Le Batard’s falling out with ESPN was big news until his departure in early 2021, but Mike Ryan, the longtime executive producer of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, believes Le Batard and the show’s staff would have left the worldwide leader much sooner if not for the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an interview with colleague David Samson on his Nothing Personal podcast released Friday, Ryan explained that once former ESPN president John Skipper stepped down in 2017, he felt they could be fired at any time.

“Had the pandemic not happened, we would have been out at ESPN a lot sooner,” Ryan said. “We just kind of sat on the ball, still doing really good things, invented new ways to broadcast. But while we were putting out content, ESPN was scrambling to get its post-Skipper management team fully in place, and then we left.”

Aside from Skipper stepping down over a blackmailing scandal, local changes in their Miami market forced the Le Batard Show crew to re-evaluate their place in the industry.

“790 The Ticket, which had combined with (W)QAM, had made the decision that they weren’t going to do the local hour anymore. And we didn’t get a lot of heads up on that,” Ryan explained. “We collectively made the decision that we have this digital property, we have an audience who still wants this. I see the numbers. I see that the audience that consumes us over the air on 790 pales in comparison to the people that consume that hour digitally, so we decided we need to keep this going. We need to keep our audience. By then, the writing was on the wall with Skipper and ESPN parting ways.”

Bomani Jones left Le Batard’s side on Highly Questionable in 2018, as did Le Batard’s father Gonzalo “Papi” Le Batard the next fall. With his show a shell of itself and his friend in a high place in Skipper gone, the relationship between Le Batard and ESPN became even more fraught until the network fired producer Chris Cote in late 2020.

Ryan & Co. were able to negotiate to keep the rights to their RSS podcast feed as well as their YouTube channel when they left ESPN. That opened the door to a big deal with DraftKings to sponsor and coproduce the show, as the Le Batard Show brought over its monster audience from ESPN Radio to the digital world.

Perhaps in a different world, the Le Batard Show became a top dog in ESPN’s new digital dominance. Instead, they went it alone and grew a business around their hit podcast.

[Nothing Personal with David Samson on YouTube]

About Brendon Kleen

Brendon is a Media Commentary staff writer at Awful Announcing. He has also covered basketball and sports business at Front Office Sports, SB Nation, Uproxx and more.