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Who Replaces Cowherd At ESPN?

Jason Barrett

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Traug Keller says ESPN did everything it could to retain Colin Cowherd. When the radio host suggested he wanted to move his base of operations from Bristol, Ct. to Los Angeles, ESPN management greenlit the proposal. Extra television opportunities? You bet, the company said. Keller, a longtime ESPN executive, would know the details of such contractual negotiations. The senior vice president of production business divisions oversees all aspects of the ESPN’s audio business including talent, staffing, national programming content, scheduling and event production. He’s also enjoyed a good relationship with Cowherd since hiring the host in 2003 to replace Tony Kornheiser for the late morning time slot on ESPN Radio.
But while ESPN’s offer was aggressive, it was not enough. Last week The Big Lead’s Ryan Glasspiegel broke the story that Cowherd was leaving ESPN at the end of his current contract.
“I’m close to Colin and I think he’s a unique talent,” said Keller by phone from Gleaneagles, Scotland, where he is attending The Open Championship. “But I think he was playing this around in his mind, ‘Is there something bigger and better out there for me?’ This was also, and make no mistake about it, this was about the bids that were put in. We put in an aggressive bid for Colin and I think he got a better one from Fox. As you know, that’s life.”
While an official contract has yet to be signed as of this writing, Cowherd is heading for Fox Sports as Keller’s quote above indicates. Negotiations are currently finalizing between that network’s brass and Cowherd’s reps. One of the questions remaining for Fox was whether ESPN would let Cowherd out of his contract early, keep him on air until the end of his contract, or pay him to sit on a California beach until his contract’s end. Keller would not confirm an end date for Cowherd but he did say it would be an amicable parting. I’m told Cowherd’s ESPN contract ends in December but he’ll be off ESPN well before that.
If you are looking for a starting date for Cowherd at Fox Sports, keep this in mind: Cowherd has a book coming out Oct. 1 and I’d guess he’d want to be at his new employer to promote that (as well as having his new employer promote the heck out of the book). Based on multiple industry sources I spoke with, the Fox Sports salary they anticipated for Cowherd was north of $6 million annually when you include radio and television work.
As for Cowherd’s replacement, multiple sources told SI.com that The Dan Le Batard Show, which currently airs on ESPN Radio from 4-7 p.m. ET, is thefrontrunner to take over Cowherd’s morning 10-1 p.m. spot. That would cause an opening in Le Batard’s current spot, with multiple in-house candidates being kicked around including Bomani Jones, who currently hosts an ESPN Radio show from 9-11 p.m.
The choice of Le Batard makes a lot of sense internally for a number of reasons. First, ESPN president John Skipper is personally fond of Le Batard and has said so in interviews with this column. Second, Le Batard is key talent figure in Rydholm Projects group, the company led by producer Erik Rydholm that produces Highly Questionable, Around The Horn and Pardon The Interruption in partnership with ESPN. Rydholm’s shows build on each other to funnel into what ESPN management considers its most important property in SportsCenter and whether he wants to admit it or not, Rydholm is the most powerful producer at ESPN. If you regularly appear on Rydholm shows, you can feel comfortable buying, as opposed to renting, that two bedroom loft in Brooklyn or Miami.
But just because ESPN management thinks Le Batard is a good fit by no means assures it will happen. Le Batard and Jones work on Highly Questionable, which tapes at 12:30 p.m. ET (the slot Cowherd currently hosts). That show is very important to Le Batard and Rydholm, not to mention ESPN’s TV side. Also, keep in mind Le Batard and his radio show have spent years establishing an audience during the drive-time hours in Miami. That’s something that group might not want to screw around with. It also seems inconceivable that Le Batard would make any move that has a negative impact on the television show he does with his father, Gonzalo. As for Jones, he does a lot of spots on Around The Horn (which tapes at 1:30 p.m.) so that’s also a factor with him. I believe Keller when he says nothing has been finalized.
Asked where ESPN Radio stood on a new lineup, Keller said, “We have a deep bench. There are great network programs. We have a guy named Le Batard in Miami who is doing a great radio show.”
Keller then rolled off a number of additional ESPN Radio names from Jones to the L.A.-based Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley to the Chicago-based duo of Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman to the New York-based ESPN Radio show featuring Michael Kay and Don La Greca to Michael Smith and Jemele Hill, the hosts of ESPN2’s His and Hers.
So file those names away, too, as part of a radio chessboard. “We have strong ideas but I am not ready to talk about it right now,” Keller said.
For those who think ESPN Radio is going to fall off a cliff from 10-1 without Cowherd, guess again. The person or persons who replace Cowherd will essentially be given a Wonka Golden Ticket.
Cowherd’s show airs on 400 terrestrial radio stations, Sirius XM, iTunes, Slacker, Tune-in and is simulcast on TV.
“I think about ‘Who is next?’ and that’s the fun part of my job, taking folks, putting them on, and watching it happen,” Keller said. “Look, you and I both know that after a 10- or 15-year run, people get the itch. Maybe it’s better over there. I get that and that happens. But the part that keeps me going and what I love that we have is this ability to take people and let them loose to see what they can do.”
To read the rest of this story, visit Richard Deitsch’s column on SI

Sports Radio News

16.9% of All Sports Radio Listeners Are Streaming

The news comes as Nielsen reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.

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Streaming Radio

According to Nielsen, sports radio stations are the third-most streamed spoken word format, just behind Talk/Personality and News/Talk/Info. The trend is continuing to show that streaming is on the uptick.

The survey found that in May 2022, 16.9% of sports talk radio’s audience tunes in via the station’s online stream. That news comes as Nielson reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.

Nielsen notes that in the 45 PPM markets they are grabbing data from and the 4,800+ stations that stream in those markets, just 30% of them are encoded. That encoding allows for Nielsen to accurately measure the streams. They used the listener data from 1,500 stations across the U.S., in their latest report, AM/FM Radio Streaming Growth in PPM Markets

The survey also showed that streaming levels differ widely by radio format. Spoken word formats display strong streaming listenership (Talk/Personality: 31.2%, News/Talk/Info: 19.1%, All Sports: 16.9%). In fact, Nielsen found that 1/3 of all AM/FM streaming in PPM markets is to spoken word formats.

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Sports Radio News

New Study Finds Listeners to MLB on Radio Are Willing to Spend

More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team… 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.

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MLB Radio

When it comes to advertiser’s attempting to reach an affluent and engaged audience, sports talk radio might have a whale on their hands. Major League Baseball play-by-play features an audience that has money and has no problems spending it.

In a recent MRI-Simmons study, data shows that consumers who listen to MLB broadcasts on the radio are the perfect audience for sports marketers. According to the analysis, done by Katz Radio Group, nearly two thirds (62%) of those surveyed consider themselves “super fans” of baseball. That number is 58% higher than the average.

Radio Listeners to MLB

Those “super fans” are willing to spend to support their team, as well. More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team. Those fans are also far more willing to make the trip to see their team. The study found that 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.

The news continues getting better for advertisers. Continued analysis reveals that 66% of listeners are currently employed and have a median household income greater than $106,000.

Listeners to MLB games on the radio are also 34% more likely to place a sports bet and 106% more likely to be a participant in fantasy baseball.

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Sports Radio News

Jeff Dean Signs Off At ESPN Tucson for The Final Time

Dean said on Facebook: “…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”

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Jeff Dean Show

Fans will no longer be able to tune into ESPN Tucson and hear Jeff Dean hosting his show. Friday morning was his last show, according to his Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Jeff Dean Show had been airing from 7-9a MT weekday mornings. Dean took to social media to relay the news and the reason behind him stepping away from the microphone. Dean said on Facebook:

“This morning I signed off from my radio show on ESPN Tucson for the final time. I have been devoting too much of my life and my time to working multiple jobs…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”

Jeff Dean Facebook

Dean went on to emphasize that he isn’t stepping away from ESPN Tucson, he’s just taking himself off the air. He also added that “gladly, I will be continuing my position as PA announcer of University of Arizona Football and Men’s basketball.”

Dean would also go onto Twitter to add even further context for his self-removal from the ESPN Tucson airwaves. He added, “It’s not a decision I arrived at hastily, as it’s been a 6 month mental grind to make the ultimate decision that had to be made, and I’m not particularly happy about it, but I have to put my health first, we all do, and make sure we’re around long enough to enjoy life”.

Dean had been ESPN Tucson’s morning host since November 2019.

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