16 July 2015

Colin Cowherd is leaving ESPN, officially headed to Fox

Colin Cowherd, as expected, is leaving ESPN. The Big Lead broke the story this morning and they also report that Cowherd appears poised to jump to Fox Sports (this is now official per Jim Miller and The Hollywood Reporter). This comes one week after ESPN parting ways with Keith Olbermann a second time and a couple of months after they parted ways with Bill Simmons.

In the wake of yet another high-profile ESPN departure, what is next?

What is interesting is that unlike in the case of Simmons and Olbermann, according to the TBL report, ESPN did make "an aggressive bid" to keep Cowherd. Also interesting in the wake of reports that Disney is pushing ESPN to cut costs, comes this from the always-connected Jim Miller:
So then why is Cowherd leaving ESPN for Fox? At Fox, he would be reunited with Jamie Horowitz, the new president of Fox Sports 1 and the producer and creator of SportsNation when Cowherd hosted it with Michelle Beadle. Horowitz has been expected to bring strong personalities to FS1 as it attempts to compete with ESPN given his background as the father of the "Embrace Debate" movement. You can see his fingerprints all over the new deal with Clay Travis and certainly over this deal currently in the works.

While the deal is not official yet with Fox Sports, it has been reported that it appears likely that Cowherd will have a daily show on FS1, perhaps his own Sunday morning football show like the one he has right now on ESPN as well as regular appearances on Fox NFL Sunday.

It seems that this deal has more to do with the television side than the radio side because wherever Cowherd goes with his radio show, whether it be with Sirius XM, Premiere (which runs Fox Sports Radio) or somewhere else, it is not going to get the same kind of distribution that it had at ESPN Radio. That's because ESPN Radio has so many affiliates, particularly in smaller markets, that run ESPN's schedule completely with minimal preemptions, if any at all. Not to mention that there may not be room at the inn at Fox Sports Radio, which has Dan Patrick and then Rich Eisen in his timeslot, and while Sirius XM could find a slot for him on one of their many channels, that would be a nice drop in visibility. But of course, Cowherd realizes that the future is not long for radio and certainly on AM radio.

And as for the simulcast of his show, FS1 would give him greater channel distribution than ESPNU did, something he wants, and depending on his timeslot, he could fit right before Mike Francesa. But does FS1 want a good chunk of their schedule to be of radio simulcasts?

Now I'll be honest in that I am far from a fan of Cowherd at all. I'm not a particularly big fan of his "I am much smarter than you" shtick and I don't find him to be the kind of talent that others make him out to be. But where I will give him credit is for being polarizing and for being good at it and given that in media that it is better to be hated than ignored, there is viability in that realm. FS1 has struggled to grow their audience outside of live events and it could certainly use a little bit of a lightning, to pull from a Jeff Zucker quote about Don Lemon.

As noted already, ESPN did make a big push to keep Cowherd in Bristol but ESPN Radio should be able to move on. Cowherd does have a following but the following of his show, in my opinion, is not fully independent of the network. ESPN Radio tinkers its lineup every once in a while and largely does so without missing a beat because it has so much clearance across the country. So while Cowherd would leave a bigger void than most for the network, it is not a void that cannot be filled.

If you read Those Guys Have All The Fun, one of the key themes was that ESPN made sure that the brands of its employees were not bigger than the brand of ESPN itself, save for some exceptions. It may be important to keep that in mind as we are talking about another high-profile departure from the "Worldwide Leader."

UPDATE: As noted already, the move is now official. Miller reports that Cowherd will have a syndicated radio program with Premiere with a simulcast on FS1 that will launch September 8th. THR reports that he will have a role on Fox NFL Kickoff and will debut during the Michigan-Utah pregame coverage on FS1 on September 3rd.

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