As the hourglass in Skip Bayless’s tenure at First Take dwindles to its final specs of sand, The Big Lead has learned that ESPN has whittled its succession plan down to three names: Max Kellerman, Jorge Sedano, and Will Cain. An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment.
Kellerman appears to be management’s first choice and the job is therefore his to turn down. However, Kellerman has good gigs – SportsNation with Michelle Beadle and Marcellus Wiley, a local radio show with Wiley, and HBO boxing (which is usually a quick to commute to Vegas) – in Los Angeles. Though he grew up on the East Coast, it goes without saying that the weather is nicer where he is now.
(One thing to keep an eye on is maybe First Take moves from Bristol to New York in a year or two? Filming in New York instead of Connecticut would presumably make the job more enticing for Kellerman, Stephen A., and many others.)
Furthermore, jumping to First Take from where he’s at is a little bit risky. Right this second, First Take is a higher profile property than SportsNation. However, SportsNation has a pretty well-defined viewership floor in the afternoon block of the main network. It’s not an absolute certainty that First Take maintains its entire audience on ESPN2 when Skip Bayless is not only gone, but programmed directly against it on FS1. (No, Bayless will not come close to competing with First Take’s metrics at least in the near term, but concern about him chipping away at the margins would be justified.)
If you watch ESPN with regularity, you know Stephen A. Smith is Everywhere. He’s embedded in all sorts of programming directly attached to the network’s core NBA and NFL coverage. While this is probably a net positive for First Take viewership because it boosts his Q Rating, it also means that a lot of the heavy lifting in show preparation falls on the co-host. This eventually grew onerous for Skip Bayless.
It’s been well-documented that ESPN is in Moneyball mode. The list of exits, whether for money or other reasons, includes Bayless, Keith Olbermann, Bill Simmons, Colin Cowherd, Mike Tirico, Jason Whitlock, and soon Chris Berman. Can the salary Kellerman would require to take the risk/reward and the climate downgrade to move back East mesh with Bristol’s budgetary constraints?
And so there’s a contingency plan. Jorge Sedano and Will Cain will both have what are essentially tryout dates opposite Stephen A. Smith in July. Smith will otherwise mostly be off the program in between Skip’s last date, which is either tomorrow or Monday Tuesday pending NBA Finals results, and Labor Day; the show will air in the interim with a rotating cast of guest hosts. Richard Deitsch had Kellerman and Cain pegged as candidates the day ESPN announced Bayless was gone.
Currently, Sedano co-hosts a national ESPN radio show with Israel Gutierrez; he’s been appearing on SportsCenter a decent bit recently and has pinch hit on many of the network’s radio and television programs when regular hosts are out. Cain joined ESPN from CNN in March of last year, hosts the Will & Kate Show with Kate Fagan on ESPN Radio on Sunday mornings, and has previously appeared on First Take and His & Hers.