The last two weeks in the sports media world have been dominated by talk about…a morning show. ESPN’s Get Up launched two Mondays ago, and its disappointing viewership so far has resulted in plenty of takes about why the show is failing.
But one thing remains unclear following the show’s premiere: What the hell do sports fans actually want in the mornings?
There really seem to be four types of morning shows on sports TV: highlights shows (think Quick Pitch, SportsCenter), radio simulcasts (The Dan Patrick Show, Golic & Wingo, and far too many others to list), debate shows (First Take, Undisputed), and the category that Get Up falls into: the hybrid talk show/highlights show/interview show/etc. More and more networks are rolling out their version of this show, which includes First Things First, Good Morning Football, and MLB Central.
The debate shows generate the most viewership, but seem to be the most roundly derided. The radio simulcasts are typically the least watched, but the most “natural” and can seemingly react the quickest to breaking news. The highlights shows give you all of the highlights you want, but are typically pretaped and providing you with hour old information. The hybrid shows fall in the middle of everything – they are typically the most ambitious, the most expensive to create, and the most divisive.
With all of that in mind, we polled our staff: What do you, as a sports fan, want to watch in the morning, and what’s your favorite morning sports show?
Andrew Bucholtz: I think for morning sports TV to work, it really has to be centered around interesting personalities. That’s true for most studio shows, but is maybe even more so in the mornings thanks to the particular challenges of that slot (highlights are old, lots of competition, the challenges of timezones across the country). Personality-driven is where ESPN and FS1 have tried to go with debate shows like First Take and Undisputed, causing people to tune in for a take from Skip or Stephen A., but for me and for many others who hate debate, that’s not the right fit.
To me, ESPN’s Get Up is actually a solid premise of a lighter show with some more humor and pop culture, but the personalities involved don’t necessarily feel like the right fit for me, and the actual execution hasn’t been that interesting so far. But it’s early days, and it could improve.
My current favorite morning sports show is actually NFLN’s Good Morning Football, and I think they do that mix very well. They regularly bring in pop culture and themed segments, and they have chemistry-filled banter between a likable cast of people with interesting approaches. They also don’t take themselves overly seriously.
I think Get Up and others could maybe learn from the GMFB approach, and provide something that’s regularly funny, something that provides videos that will be shared on social media after the show’s airtime, and something that’s more a group of likable people hanging out and making sports jokes. It’s the opposite of embrace debate and hot takes; embrace that sports are fun, and that we can have fun with them.
Phillip Bupp: I always laugh when someone tweets or comments at us that they want a highlight show like we used to have with SportsCenter. Yes, out of what’s out there, I would rather have a highlight show too. But honestly, when was the last time you watched a highlight show? I don’t think I’ve voluntarily watched an episode of SportsCenter in over 10 years.
Sure, some people actually watch highlight shows but the concept of the highlight show is antiquated now because we can access any highlight we want now and don’t need to wait for SportsCenter. NBCSN and FS1 attempted highlight-only shows and were canceled quickly due to low viewership. They tried giving people what they wanted and weren’t rewarded with viewers, so now we have debate shows and radio simulcasts because more people watch those.
So since highlight shows shouldn’t be an option in this modern age of sports media, I would go with a radio simulcast. Find a host that you like and listen to them to get a deeper analysis of what you watched the night before and not just the highlights. I can do without a debate show where two people are just yelling at each other and I can do without a sportsy morning show where all the hosts are unnaturally perky at 7 AM. A radio simulcast is a happy medium.
I usually watch The Dan Patrick Show in the morning. The DP Show is like if we were watching five guys at the bar talking about sports. Dan isn’t a hot take artist, conducts great interviews and is fair but tough when he interviews controversial people. They get into sports but occasionally discuss other non-sports topics like movies or music and gives a variety of things to talk about.
More importantly, it’s not just Dan talking for three hours. It’s a back-and-forth with the Danettes that make the three hours go by quickly. Unlike other radio shows, Dan doesn’t monopolize the conversation and someone who does is usually a turn-off for me. I don’t care who you are, no one is that important to be worth listening to for three hours straight.
Ian Casselberry: I should preface this by saying I watch quite a bit of morning TV — often flipping through Morning Joe, New Day, Good Morning America, and CBS This Morning — as part of my regular routine. So I don’t often give morning sports TV much attention (especially when I’m going to spend most of my day on sports) unless there’s a big story or game from the previous night.
Having said that, I’d prefer a sports-oriented morning show that covers the pertinent stories of the day with some analysis and commentary. (Not debate filled with hot takes, because that fills so much of the rest of the day.) Keep the pace breezy, but not artificially fast like debate shows do.
If some on-site reporting and interviews with athletes and reporters (particularly someone who broke a story or wrote a notable column) are included, even better. An in-depth feature provides a change of pace too.
For me, the show which follows this most closely is NFL Network’s Good Morning Football. The rapport among Kay Adams, Nate Burleson, Kyle Brandt, and Peter Schrager is an easy, comfortable one. The jokes don’t seem forced, nor do the takes. No one’s trying to be the star of the show or acting like their opinion matters more than their co-hosts’.
Everyone also does a good job of working in social media and pop culture, while also catering to the NFL diehards who tune into NFL Network. Perhaps most impressively, the quartet makes guests fit seamlessly into the setup for interviews. (Maybe producers deserve credit for a great job of picking those guests too.)
Matt Clapp: As long as it’s not a debate show (or a show featuring such hot take artists), I’ll find it watchable, at least.
My ideal kind of show would be what ESPNEWS used to be during the daytime. To-the-point highlights of a lot of games across all of the major leagues, some reasonable analysis mixed in here and there, etc. (you know, not spending 20 minutes on Tim Tebow’s baseball career or doing reports from Brett Favre’s front yard). I’m clearly in the minority here, seeing as how all the networks continue to get rid of such shows and ESPNEWS is being completely changed.
But I find the radio simulcasts like The Rich Eisen Show and The Dan Patrick Show fine, because they’re pretty reasonable, have good guests, and will cover all sorts of topics (while mixing in some interesting pop culture talk).
And MLB Central is a fun morning show if you’re a baseball nut (but I’d still prefer to just watch the highlight-filled Quick Pitch or the nerdy MLB Now).
Ken Fang: The sports morning show formula is a tough nut to crack because there isn’t a program like the Today Show or Good Morning America that has had a history of long-term success. To be honest, the best morning sports show was the constant re-airing of either the 11 p.m. ET SportsCenter or 2 a.m. SportsCenter that ESPN used to air on a loop until noon ET. However, that was a different era and ESPN wouldn’t do that now.
Now, the sports networks are trying to find a formula that works. From Cold Pizza to First Take and now Get Up, ESPN is hoping to throw something against the wall in hopes that it sticks.
Radio simulcasts have worked in the past, but they can only go so far. Good Morning Football on NFL Network seems to have found its niche as has Morning Drive on Golf Channel and even though it’s not airing in the early morning, I have grown to like MLB Central on MLB Network at 10 a.m. ET. The common ground among these shows is that they are all one sport specific and maybe that’s what making these programs work.
Good Morning Football, Morning Drive, and MLB Central don’t veer off course and they stay on topic and report news that are important to each sport.
I feel a broad morning sports show isn’t going to draw a big audience because people are usually looking to find the bus stop weather, some news headlines and maybe a feature on the Royal Family, something that Get Up or a debate show like First Things First With Cris Carter and Nick Wright aren’t going to provide.
Ben Koo: I think given the amount of action that happens late night when the east coast is asleep, highlights still has some value in the early hours. I get that debate has its place and certain viewers enjoy but it’s certainly a turnoff to a lot of fans. I’m not a ratings guru but I somewhat wonder what ratings would look like if they just reaired SVP’s SC early in the AM compared to paying for new programming.
ESPN might end up taking a bath with Get Up! and I somewhat wonder if they’d ever consider trying to bring back Dan Patrick and giving him a morning block to more or less do a more polished version of his popular Dan Patrick radio show and simulcast. You’d think his audience would follow him over and you wouldn’t have to deal with issues like chemistry or plugging holes in your talent lineup from whatever gaps were created by starting a new show. Every new TV show concept is more or less following the Jamie Horowitz ESPN2 gameplan that worked nearly a decade ago. I’m not sure that recipe works that well anymore.
Joe Lucia: I think a sports fan’s morning viewing preferences depends on three things: what they do, what sports they like, and where they live. When I was on the east coast, I was always a fan of highlight shows in the mornings so I could catch up on west coast action that I missed. Now that I’m on the west coast, all those late games are typically over by the time I go to bed, and I don’t need morning highlights — I need news, because the news cycle is almost always cranking into high gear when I’m dragging myself out of bed.
Those who work traditional 9-5 jobs would probably prefer radio simulcasts — they can listen during their commute, listen (or stream the simulcast itself) at their desk, and they won’t have to worry about paying too much attention to the visual component of things. If you have a more flexible schedule, maybe you can sit in front of the TV for two hours or so and watch a debate or hybrid show. But if you only care about certain sports, you’re probably not going to indulge shows on national networks that spend significant portions of time talking about those sports you don’t like.
There is no “ideal” show, which is why I think Get Up is a show that has a huge target on its back. The goals for the show were set so high by those at ESPN that it was bound to alienate and disappoint at least one group of fans. No show is everything to everyone, and trying to cater to everyone will just satisfy no one.
As for my favorite morning show, I was a big Quick Pitch guy from April through September when I lived on the east coast. Now that I’m about 3,000 miles to the west, an hour or so of Quick Pitch is a nice nightcap before bed, and MLB Central is typically my morning go-to. Well, it’s my go-to when I’m not clearing out my DVR from the night before.
Alex Putterman: I don’t watch much TV in the mornings, but when I do, I like it to be something I can throw on in the background and look up at once in a while. With that in mind, I’m really looking for a basic highlight show that will catch me up on the night before and get me ready for the day ahead. I understand why others prefer more talk or extra acouterements, but that’s not what I need.
With that in mind, I’ll stick with a traditional SportsCenter as my go-to.