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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

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Westwood One Releases Study of NFL Fans Following Playoffs on Radio

“The study also found that 82% of those surveyed who said they listen to the NFL on AM/FM radio consider themselves extremely/very passionate about the NFL.”

Jordan Bondurant

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The NFL will be one step closer to determining who will play in this year’s Super Bowl after this weekend, and one thing is for certain, football fans will follow the games any way they can. That includes listening to games on the radio.

Westwood One, which is the official network radio partner of the NFL, revealed just how strong listenership of the NFL on the radio is thanks to a recent study.

According to Westwood One’s Audio Active Group, which unveiled the data compiled by Nielsen Scarborough USA+ and MRI Simmons USA, NFL playoff listeners on AM/FM radio are more likely to work full-time and have higher disposable income compared to TV viewers.

Additionally, MRI Simmons found that radio listeners are keener to attend sporting events, look up sports information on their phones more frequently and be more active in fantasy sports than their TV watching counterparts.

The study also found that 82% of those surveyed who said they listen to the NFL on AM/FM radio consider themselves extremely/very passionate about the NFL.

The average age of radio listeners is younger than the average TV watcher. The study found that the average age of people who listen to the playoffs/Super Bowl on the radio is 46, while the average age of folks who watch on TV is 53.

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Eli Manning: The ManningCast Is Not Supposed To Be Scripted & Polished

“It’s kind of off the wall, off the fly, let’s go wing it like we’re sitting on our coach at home.”

Jordan Bondurant

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Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli on ESPN2 has been a major success for the network the last two seasons, and one of the big things that everyone points out about what makes the show between the Manning brothers work is how organically things flow.

Eli was a guest on The Anthony Gargano Show on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia ahead of Saturday night’s Eagles/Giants NFC divisional playoff game, and Gargano said he was a huge fan of the ManningCast.

“I wish they would do it and replay it during the week, because it’s so much fun,” Gargano said. “I never would’ve guessed that you guys would be this great at it.”

Eli said it took some tweaking to really hammer out kinks from the first season of the MNF alternate feed, but he and Peyton both really enjoy getting the chance to put on a show for fans.

“We have a blast, and that was the idea of it to not make it like the normal telecast of a football game,” he said. “To make it very different and where you can just be very relaxed, you can take shots at each other, you can talk over each other. There’s still just a rawness to it we don’t want to lose.”

Eli said there’s never any real organization to the show, like putting together a rundown of topics ahead of time. That’s one of the things that makes the ManningCast unique, and Eli wants to keep it that way.

“It’s not scripted,” he said. “It’s kind of off the wall, off the fly, let’s go wing it like we’re sitting on our coach at home.”

Manning added that this past week for the season finale, he and Peyton were chatting a couple minutes before air time figuring out who was going to open the show and who was going to talk about which team. They book guests ahead of time, but often there’s never a set list of questions they want to ask.

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Mike and The Mad Dog Reunion Set For First Take on February 1

“I can tell you this, no other people, the three of us for two hours. Think about that.”

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It’s not a rumor or a wishful thought anymore. According to Chris Russo, we are getting the long-awaited Mike and the Mad Dog reunion. Russo and Stephen A. Smith will be joined by Mike Francesa for the entire two hours of First Take on February 1.

Russo made the announcement on his SiriusXM show Thursday afternoon. It is possible that it was a mistake though.

“Did anybody catch the reunion we’re going to have on February 1?” he said. “Did everybody see that? Stevie did say it on Howard, didn’t he?”

Stephen A. Smith told Howard Stern earlier this week that he intends to reunite Mike and the Mad Dog, but he did not set an official date. Russo acknowledged that he may not have been authorized to say it yet, but now that the cat was out of the bag, he gave more details.

“It sounds like the big guy will return and we’ll have the three of us in there,” he told the audience. “I can tell you this, no other people, the three of us for two hours. Think about that. You talk about me being a fraud, Mike hated ESPN for 100 years!”

If Russo is correct, that means no rotating analysts and no Molly Qerim. If the goal is to give the audience more Mike and the Mad Dog, then ESPN is making sure nothing gets in the way.

An interesting question now is what is Stephen A. Smith’s role in the reunion. He likely played a pivotal role in closing the deal to get Francesa on ESPN for a day, but what will he do on camera on February 1?

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