27 April 2016

By poaching Skip Bayless, the rebranding of FS1 is fully underway

(Wikipedia)
Another day, another high-profile ESPN departure. Whereas yesterday it was the highly-respected Mike Tirico departing for NBC Sports, now it's the polarizing Skip Bayless and he's decamping to FS1, as first reported by Deadspin. And while this move would be significant in a vacuum, it only furthers FS1's rebrand as the sports network for aggressive opinions and hot takes as it tries to pick up ground on the so-called "Worldwide Leader."

The new guy running the show at FS1 is a guy named Jamie Horowitz. Before crashing and burning at the Today Show, he was a higher-up at ESPN that helped to champion the infamous "Embrace Debate" mantra as well as such programming as "Numbers Never Lie," and as relevantly, "First Take." Under his guidance, First Take was transformed from a show that nobody watched to a show drawing very solid numbers to a tough timeslot, as well as what was easily the most polarizing show at the network.

And since he jumped over to Fox Sports, he has sought to remake a network struggling in the ratings for non-live sports programming into a more formidable competitor with his former employer. To do so, Horowitz is taking a page out of the playbook from one of the network's corporate cousins (and my current employer), Fox News.
“Fox News positioned itself as provocative and opinion oriented,” Mr. Horowitz said. “I believe Fox Sports 1 can take a similar tack.”
His recent personnel moves have all centered on bringing in and spotlighting talent that doesn't shy away from voicing opinions that may ruffle some feathers. He brought on Colin Cowherd from ESPN Radio to simulcast his radio show as well as host a yet-to-premiere evening show while he has also tried to get more airtime for guys like Clay Travis and Jason Whitlock. And for how much they are paying Bayless to make the move, expectations are high for him to generate some controversy and some news.

The ultimate question obviously is will this move towards aggressive opinion pay off. I do think that FS1 will see some ratings benefit because people do tune in for hot takes, whether we like it or not, hence why First Take proved to be pretty successful in the ratings. What I am not sold on is how much of an increase it could lead to and also if it a healthy strategy for a network like them to try to be so polarizing. After all, sports is not like politics where there are two relatively clear sides (Democrat/Republican or liberal/conservative) and thus easy for a network to piggyback off of one over the other.

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