First Take Stephen A. Smith Sports commentator Stephen A. Smith speaks during a live taping of ESPN’s “First Take” at Florida A&M University’s new Will Packer Performing Arts Amphitheater as part of the school’s homecoming festivities Friday, Oct. 29, 2021.

While ESPN’s First Take has never truly been threatened on the morning debate show scene, FS1’s Undisputed has proven to be the most viable challenger.

But following Shannon Sharpe’s departure from the show over the summer, viewership for Undisputed has slid backwards, while First Take‘s has continued to grow.

Sharpe joined First Take at the end of August, while Undisputed welcomed in Michael Irvin, Keyshawn Johnson, and Richard Sherman, among others. The Skip Bayless-led show also bailed on the “embrace debate” format for a more panel-based show.

The changes have had an impact on viewership for each show. Undisputed took much of the summer off following Sharpe’s departure, while First Take kept plugging along. That led to Stephen A. Smith’s debate show having its best August since 2017. Viewership for the new-look Undisputed started slow, and were three times lower than that of First Take in its first week. But come the start of football season, the gap was widened even further.

Per Front Office SportsFirst Take was beating Undisputed head-to-head by more than 400,000 viewers from September to November. The Smith-led show averaged 554,000 viewers on ESPN over those months, compared to just 120,000 for Bayless and his panel.

Over the two-week period from November 27 to December 8, the gap widened even further. First Take quintupled Undisputed‘s audience, averaging 581,000 viewers to 105,000. That capped off a record month for First Take, which averaged a stunning 614,000 viewers in November.

The growing divide between the two shows, and their standing on their respective networks, might be encapsulated by viewership data from Monday. The day after Bayless’ beloved Dallas Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles in primetime, Undisputed averaged 170,000 viewers, fewer than The Herd (243,000), First Things First (227,000), and Speak (190,000) over the rest of the day. Over on ESPN, First Take averaged 815,000 viewers, better than all of ESPN’s regular daily lineup aside from Pardon the Interruption (879,000).

Comparing the two shows doesn’t even seem like a fair fight anymore. Maybe it would be better to compare Undisputed to the First Take re-air on ESPN2 at noon each day, which averaged 223,000 viewers on Monday.

[Front Office Sports]

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.