The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz graphic Photos via Meadowlark Media. Edit by Liam McGuire, Comeback Media.

When Meadowlark Media launched in 2021, bigwig Hollywood producer and Meadowlark adviser Mike Schur said it would take three years before anyone could properly evaluate the sports content house founded by John Skipper and Dan Le Batard.

As that three-year mark hits, many things remain unclear about Meadowlark.

The broader network and production company still lack clear connective tissue, but one thing is certain: Under the Meadowlark banner, Le Batard can finally satisfy his long-running urge to move beyond the confines of sports talk.

It is proving to be easier said than done.

This should come as no surprise. The political run-ins got the most attention, but Le Batard frequently chafed against ESPN’s insistence on straight sports talk. When Meadowlark launched, Le Batard issued quite a vague directive. “We will do high and low and cast a wide net,” the host said, adding that Skipper’s job as CEO would be to “monetize a hugely interesting dinner party.” Skipper was hardly more specific. The former ESPN president told the Post that Meadowlark would not be “reprehensible” like Barstool Sports, or deliver fluff like reality television.

Meadowlark has not yet produced enough audio and documentary projects to fully evaluate its strategy. Newspaper traditionalists like Howard Bryant and Kate Fagan are gone, replaced with a tangential deal to coproduce the All the Smoke network of basketball content and a variety talk show from Pablo Torre.

Meanwhile, the central Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz has as little shape as ever. Where Le Batard’s large cast of Dannettes South (often the only reason sports talk comes up on the show at all) and vast scope set it apart at ESPN, the main show’s Meadowlark freedom has proven to be challenging, not liberating.

The NFL season brings a comfortable meter to the sports media schedule, and without it, the Le Batard Show has really let loose. In the past month, beyond Le Batard’s determination to chime in on every sports media story like an addendum to the Awful Announcing homepage, the show has welcomed conservative political journalist Tim Miller, an AI expert, multiple viral video sensations, and several comedians. TV liberals Jemele Hill and Stan Van Gundy are on call for political chatter at a moment’s notice. The show’s many voices have recapped Love Is Blind, the Kate Middleton saga, and every Tyreek Hill tabloid rumor they can find.

It can often feel like the only thing recognizable about the Le Batard Show these days is its name.

It was predictable that without The Man breathing down their necks at ESPN, the Le Batard Show would evolve and expand. But there is a vast gap between squeezing in social commentary under your breath and crafting an all-encompassing variety talk show.

Sometimes it’s easier to be in trouble than in control.

The desire to expand beyond sports is nothing new in sports media. The power of live sports in the media industry has intensified the celebrity of our biggest talking heads, which can make it feel as if they are more famous than ever. Still, despite earning the freedom he constantly demanded, pinpointing how and where Le Batard is iterating on sports content is difficult. The lack of clarity around Meadowlark’s mission from day zero may be holding its signature show back where being part of the ESPN Radio lineup at least gave it a raison d’etre.

The Le Batard Show today is not one thing. Its mess has long been part of its charm, but today the show is looser, broader and more meandering than ever. Given that Le Batard has frequently apologized to his fans since the founding of Meadowlark and during overlapping family hardship (not to mention a remarkably slow-growing YouTube channel), the audience is likely down. One could look at Le Batard’s constant commentary on juicier tabloid fodder and media beef as evidence of desperation to be in the headlines as well. But deals with DraftKings (Meadowlark did not respond to a request to confirm an extension of the original three-year, $50 million contract with DraftKings) and Max — where the first hour of the Le Batard Show streams each morning — indicate a continued appetite for it.

One challenge facing the Le Batard Show may be the YouTube algorithm. Selective viewing online means delivering what computers and programmers think a platform’s audience wants. While Le Batard has often referred to Meadowlark’s offerings as a buffet, YouTube wants channels to be one thing. Blame the overlords in Google C-suites.

Beyond YouTube, the barrier to audience entry gets substantially higher when the audience cannot pin down what they are getting. You have to really love Le Batard and voices such as clown prince Jon “Stugotz” Weiner, new executive producer Chris Cote or rotating host Amin El-Hassan to consistently tune in, regardless of what they talk about. Even Stephen A. Smith is using gonzo mailbag questions to generate attention for his new broad talk show. Teaching the audience to expect something different takes time.

Years of audience loyalty, demonstrated by huge ad billing rates, give Meadowlark a leg to stand on here. They infamously started their ESPN radio show the Monday after the 2020 Super Bowl near their Miami studio with a recap of The Masked Singer, and stubbornly welcomed a zoo PR guy to talk about animals every week. But there is a point at which something becomes broad to the point of being unclassifiable. Because nobody has really tried to find that point from within sports, the Le Batard Show becomes an interesting test case.

Le Batard and Co. have an easy retort for criticisms like this: “You don’t get the show.” Certainly fair. Losing a few thousand listeners out of a base in the six figures is a natural byproduct of evolution and the chase for broad appeal.

This is where I must dip into the first person and acknowledge that I am a longtime listener whose head is spinning as the show chases its tail. Given that the Le Batard Show is trying for something with no real roadmap, for the first time in forever, it’s OK to wonder who, exactly, does get the show.

The Le Batard Show is betting it can be something different and still thrive. The first three years of the experiment show just how hard that can be to pull off.

Update: Howard Bryant and Kate Fagan are still employed by Meadowlark Media, working on documentary projects.

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.