Whether you love Colin Cowherd or despise him — there aren’t many who have just a lukewarm opinion of the host — his ESPN radio show was very profitable and his departure leaves a giant hole in ESPN Radio’s weekdays. Cowherd still has several months remaining on his deal, and the date of his final show has not been determined.
This situation did not arise out of nowhere. While ESPN made what they felt was an aggressive bid to keep Cowherd, they’ve known for awhile that losing him was a possibility, and it’s been the case for a little while that Dan Le Batard’s show is management’s first choice to move to 10 am.
An ESPN spokesman declined comment.
Le Batard declined to comment for this story, but when I spoke with him on a podcast a couple months ago he sounded very happy with exactly what he was doing on radio, and on the Highly Questionable television program with his father Gonzalo (who, by the by, is probably my favorite person to watch on ESPN right now) and Bomani Jones.
It’s unclear whether or not Le Batard would move to Cowherd‘s time slot, which has more listeners because it encompasses the morning commute on the West Coast. But, even if he did that would still mean three hours to fill nationally in the late afternoon. Furthermore, Ryen Russillo, who is currently solo in the spot between Cowherd and Le Batard after Scott Van Pelt got the midnight SportsCenter gig, has a deal that’s up in August. Negotiations are ongoing with Russillo, and it’s uncertain whether or not he’ll stay with the network.
Whether they need to fill three hours on weekdays or six, some presumable options would be to move Jorge Sedano, Bomani Jones, and/or Freddie Coleman earlier. Sedano and Jones earned evening solo shows back in March. Sedano, for the second straight summer, has been a fill-in across all ESPN platforms, guest-hosting on Mike and Mike, The Herd, His and Hers, and First Take, in addition to co-hosting the NBA Lockdown podcast. Jones appears daily on Highly Questionable, and regularly on Around the Horn. And, again, if their show(s) are earlier, their own spot(s) still need to be filled. ESPN may also look to the outside. Whatever ends up happening, ESPN Radio is going to look a lot different by the time football season comes around.
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And then there’s the case of the most lucrative ESPN radio show, Mike and Mike. Their contracts are up in 2017. While this may not be the favorite show of many TBL readers, it resonates in middle America and Madison Avenue. In 15 years on-air, neither host has ever said anything that could endanger ESPN’s standing with brands. When you factor that in, as well as radio ratings and the ESPN2 simulcast, the show might as well have a license to print money.
Until recently, their standing inside Bristol was sterling. But, something doesn’t happen like a move to New York City being announced to a summit of advertisers, followed by a “wait, nevermind” soon thereafter, without there being some acrimony behind the scenes. As author Jim Miller alluded to, after touting the move, the hosts asked for a bigger raise than ESPN was ultimately willing to give, and the shift was nullified. While two years is a long time for fences to mend, and really anything can happen between now and then, it’s safe to say that this situation did not sit well with anybody involved and is worth monitoring if you’re into this sort of thing.
Again, this is way too soon to draw anything conclusive. But, rumors have been flying behind-the-scenes about potential replacements for the pair. One duo we heard was the possibility of pairing Jemele Hill and Michael Smith from His and Hers with a third host, be it one of the Mike’s or somebody else. Nevertheless, when combined with the Cowherd block needing to be filled immediately, as well as the possibility of mid-afternoon if Russillo exits, it’s conceivable that there will be major upheaval on ESPN Radio.