ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro spoke at the SBJ Summit earlier today. To the surprise of no one, he addressed the network’s stand on politics and why he is encouraging hosts to avoid the subject entirely. Pitaro says the move is largely driven by what data says ESPN viewers want.
“What I have heard consistently, from day one of getting this job, is the more we lean into politically charged commentary, the more we are alienating not just our core fan, but our casual fan,” Pitaro said. He went on to say that during divisive times, both fan groups “are tuning in not just because they love sports or love ESPN…They are tuning in for an escape.”
Pitaro called that data “clear and convincing” and says he has “been very vocal” with producers and talent about these facts and about avoiding political commentary. He also noted that there are exceptions that make some political talk on ESPN necessary.
“When Tiger is talking about the President, the anthem controversy, anytime there is an intersection of politics and sports. For those stories, ESPN is the place of record. When you tune into ESPN we need to be, we should be, talking about those stories.” Pitaro said that he hopes the network can strike a balance not just in the way those stories are covered, but in how often those stories appear on the network in a single day.
Stephen A. Smith Details How Kobe Bryant Handled Criticism
“Kobe was a savant. You did not know more basketball than Kobe Bryant.”
We are approaching the three-year anniversary of the untimely and tragic death of former NBA legend Kobe Bryant, and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reminisced about the former Laker during an appearance on The Howard Stern Show Wednesday.
While promoting his book, Straight Shooter, Smith shined a light on his relationship with the five-time champion, saying he knew if he received a phone call from Bryant, the resulting conversation was likely to be contentious.
“Kobe scared the living shit out of me,” Smith said. “Kobe was a savant. You did not know more basketball than Kobe Bryant. So when Kobe called you — I can quote him for you right now. Voicemail: ‘You know who this is, motherf—er. Get your ass up, pick up the f—ing phone and call me back. That bullshit you just said. And don’t keep me waiting for so long, either. Your ass better not go on the air and say some more shit before you talk to me.’ That was Kobe. I would say something along the lines of ‘I don’t like the way he’s playing. It’s selfish basketball…I don’t like this decision.'”
Smith continued by commenting on Bryant rebutting that he would only play “selfish basketball” when the players around him weren’t playing up to their potential, before then saying Bryant was open to criticizing coaches if Smith was critical of the 18-time All-Star.
“‘He don’t know what the f— he’s doing, Steve. He don’t know what the f— he’s doing, so you don’t know what the f— you’re talking about, Stephen A. So you’re gonna bring up all that shit you’re talking about me, but you didn’t bring up that.'”
Smith then concluded by saying Bryant would tell him “I don’t know why I love your ass. I really, really, don’t. But I love you.”
Super Wild Card Weekend Ratings Down Slightly From Last Year
Last year, the six games averaged 30.5 million viewers over linear television and streaming platforms.
Ratings for nearly every Super Wild Card game of the NFL Playoffs opening weekend have been released, and while the numbers are encouraging on a per-game basis, overall, they show a slight dip from last season.
ESPN was first to unveil their ratings, showing Monday’s contest between the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — which aired on both ESPN and ABC — was watched by an average of 30.6 million viewers. That number is the largest NFL audience from the Disney-owned channels since Super Bowl XL in February of 2006. The 30.6 million viewers number is a 32% increase from last season’s game that saw the Los Angeles Rams beat the Arizona Cardinals.
“This exceptional number proves once again that live sports are unequaled in amassing large audiences,” said ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. “The success is also a clear reflection of how ESPN, working alongside the NFL and our colleagues at Disney, can help attract fans, build anticipation, and expand our reach. Even without a dramatic ending, it was an extraordinarily memorable evening.”
When final viewership totals are announced, it is expected that the game will be the largest NFL Playoff broadcast in the history of The Walt Disney Company’s ownership of ABC/ESPN, which began in 1996.
FOX Sports touted the highest viewership total of the weekend, with 33.2 million viewers watching the New York Giants defeat the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. The broadcast peaked at over 40 million viewers in the final minutes of the game.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s San Francisco 49ers win over the Seattle Seahawks saw an average audience of 27.4 million.
An average of 28.6 million watched the Cincinnati Bengals thrilling triumph over the Baltimore Ravens on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. According to the network, the broadcast was the most-watched Sunday primetime program since Super Bowl LVI in February of 2022. Ratings for the Jaguars and Chargers broadcast on Saturday were not made available, but NBC Sports did claim that for the first time since 2021 both of its broadcasts eclipsed an average of 20 million viewers.
Finally, CBS Sports scored it’s most-watched Sunday AFC Wild Card game in nearly a decade as 30.8 million watched the Buffalo Bills defeat the Miami Dolphins. Similar to other broadcasts, the game peaked with nearly 40 million viewers. Coincidentally, the game was the most-streamed Wild Card game in the history of the network’s streaming platform, Paramount+.
Even with several networks experiencing noticeable highs, the numbers are a slight decrease from 2022. Last year, the six games averaged 30.5 million viewers on linear television and streaming platforms.
Mad Dog To Stephen A. Smith: ‘Can We Move On From This Stupid Book?’
“You’ve made a fortune. We get it! The book’s not bad! We can move on!”
Stephen A. Smith is a busy man this week as he hits the interview circuit to promote his new memoir Straight Shooter. Some of those interview obligations have taken the First Take host away from the ESPN show that made him a star. His friend and part-time partner Chris “Mad Dog” Russo wants to make sure Smith has his priorities straight.
“Your meal ticket is here, in that chair,” he said on Wednesday’s edition of First Take. “Your meal ticket is not on these radio shows; not on these TV shows. How dare you miss openings of shows to do radio or TV interviews!”
The segment was clearly done tongue-in-cheek as both men smiled through the interaction, but Mad Dog let Smith have it. He said that he was already sick of the book.
“Enough already! You’ve made a fortune. We get it! The book’s not bad! We can move on! Can we move on from this stupid book? I’ve had enough of Straight Shooter!”
Molly Qerim and Marcus Spears laughed as they looked on. Qerim even added that she hoped Dave Roberts, ESPN’s head of NBA and studio production, who oversees First Take, was watching.
After Mad Dog’s rant was over, Smith had a chance to fire back. He stayed calm and simply pointed out that while Russo may be sick of the promotional tour for the book, he is feeding the beast.
“Where am I appearing on today? You said you’re tired of the book, but you’re talking to me at 4 o’clock.”
Smith and Russo will likely continue the theatrical tete-a-tete on Wednesday afternoon on SiriusXM channel 84.