ESPN Has Complicated Decision With Mike Greenberg, Michelle Beadle, and NBA Countdown Dynamics


The Mike Greenberg show debuts less than four months from now, and the final pieces are still getting put into place. Earlier today, Michael McCarthy reported for Sporting News that Michelle Beadle is “emerging as a contender” to join the program (Beadle did not respond to an email from The Big Lead about this on Aug. 10th). There are a myriad of financial, logistical, and programmatic issues that would have to be sorted out for Beadle to join the show:

1. ESPN would have to back up the Brinks truck. Greenberg reportedly earns over $6.5 million per year. Why would Beadle, well aware that Charissa Thompson was the network’s first choice to join this show, leave sunny Los Angeles – where she effectively runs the agenda for SportsNation and hosts NBA Countdown – to get up before 4:00 a.m. for a dollar less than that? If ESPN really needs her for the show, and she continues to host one or two Countdown programs per week during NBA season, wouldn’t she arguably deserve to make even more than Greenberg?

2. This show would already be very expensive even before that. ESPN is breaking up Mike & Mike, which has been a cash cow for 15 years. They are taking Mike & Mike off ESPN2, and running a morning SportsCenter hosted by Sage Steele there. The Greenberg show is going to be in New York, which means expensive studio space and union production costs. They gave Greenberg that big raise. It was already a nebulous math equation to figure out how many more viewers/sponsors ESPN needed beyond what they’re drawing for SportsCenter, as well as to counteract attrition from losses for Mike & Mike, before this.

3. There are still more additions to the show. Over the past few weeks, there have been murmurs that Jalen Rose and Damien Woody are under consideration for regular roles.

4. What happens with NBA Countdown? Beadle became sole host of NBA Countdown right before the playoffs last season. That show has been a revolving carousel of talents for years now, and when ESPN made that decision they really felt like they had solidified it. If she (and Jalen?) are moving to New York, what do they do?

To ask Beadle to get up at 4 a.m. to prep for and co-host the morning show and then host Countdown later that evening would seem to be untenable. Also keep in mind that NBA games end after midnight on the East Coast. While DVR exists, highlights abound, and producers are helpful at filling in the blanks, when you’re on one of these shows there is no total substitute for watching the games as they air and absorbing the live reactions.

The initial educated guess here is that Rachel Nichols would be ESPN’s first choice to become primary host of Countdown if Beadle abdicated the role to join Greenberg’s show. She hosts The Jump, which was launched by ESPN NBA studio head Kevin Wildes, in Los Angeles, where ESPN could keep the Wednesday and Friday shows. Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups would likely be the analysts on those shows. Other potential hosts include Cassidy Hubbarth, who ESPN is very high on for the future but lives in New York, and Cari Champion, who lives in Los Angeles. (Also, don’t be astonished if Champion were to replace Beadle on SportsNation if all these dominos fall.)

In January, Countdown expands to four shows a week, including Saturday and Sunday. Maybe Beadle could keep one of those shows, and also host Countdown during the conference finals and NBA Finals. Still, that would would mean she’s working six days a week for six months out of the year. It would also mean more New York production costs (or maybe a commute to Bristol, which wouldn’t be particularly palatable for Beadle/Jalen given the aforementioned workload).

5. ESPN really wants to squash First Things First and FS1 like a bug. You might have read this and asked This all seems like a ton of work and money! Why didn’t they just put Mike and Mike on the primary ESPN and call it a day? One answer to that is that the Mikes’ relationship went downhill after ESPN announced it was going to move the show to New York before they’d finalized the contracts, cord-cutting came way faster than anyone envisioned, and the Mikes stayed in Bristol. Another is that they frankly do not want FS1 to creep closer in daytime studio viewership. (And here’s where we provide the necessary disclosure that The Big Lead’s editor-in-chief Jason McIntyre is an on-air personality on FS1.)

ESPN, which had a 30-year head start, still has a pretty big lead over FS1 with these studio shows. Undisputed and The Herd might’ve taken a 15-20 percent bite of ESPN viewership during their hours, but that still puts them at a 3- or 4-1 deficit. However, if First Things First with Cris Carter, Nick Wright, and Jenna Wolfe were to get a big enough audience, it could conceivably provide a lead-in where Undisputed vs. First Take is way closer than anyone in ESPN is comfortable with by this time next year. Also, this is the first season where FS1 has the Big Ten. And don’t say ESPN doesn’t care; if they didn’t, these PR wars wouldn’t be happening.

Not only is FS1 a factor, it is a pretty competitive landscape in general for eyeballs in the mornings. You’ve got traditional daytime talk shows like the Today show and Good Morning America, and cable news competition that shows no signs of slowing down so long as Donald Trump is in office.

As McCarthy noted in his story, the Greenberg show is Connor Schell’s first major initiative as new ESPN content czar. It’s a program the network desperately needs to get right, even if that means eating prodigious costs in an era of cost-cutting, and gambling with the chemistry of a Countdown show that bookends actual games that far more people actually watch than weekday programming. Is Beadle and Greenberg in the morning even the solution to these issues? ESPN brass appears to hope so.

There are lots of logical and logistical reasons why Michelle Beadle shouldn’t want this job, and if ESPN really wants her to take it they will have to provide her with millions of reasons to the contrary.