ESPN’s First Take Struggling After Losing Skip Bayless

By Nick Hession,
Sports Business Writer

Following commentator Skip Bayless’s departure from ESPN2’s notorious debate show First Take, the show will be moving to the main ESPN channel effective January 3, 2017. The show’s ratings have dropped since Bayless’s departure and ESPN hopes moving it to the main channel will boost viewership, according to The Washington Post.

Bayless’s departure left a hole in ESPN’s controversial debate program. ESPN eventually decided to replace Bayless with Max Kellerman, who will host alongside Bayless’ former costar Stephen A. Smith and moderator Molly Qerim.

Bayless left First Take in order to pursue a show on rival network Fox Sports One called Undisputed. The show is a debate program, similar to First Take, and features Bayless alongside NFL Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe and Joy Taylor, according to Fox Sports.

Following Bayless’s departure, First Take’s ratings took a major hit. In the weeks following Labor Day, the show averaged around 300,000 viewers per day. At the same time last year, the show averaged about 500,000 viewers per day, according to Business Insider. This big loss in viewership has given the network some cause for concern, however they were not surprised by the result after Bayless’ departure.

ESPN’s executive vice president for programming and scheduling Burke Magnus told The Washington Post that the company expected the show’s ratings to go down.

“We knew there would be an impact with Skip and Stephen A. splitting up. It would be naive and disingenuous to believe or say otherwise,” Magnus said. “We believe the ratings impact has settled down now, and we’re seeing our numbers start to grow.”

Undisputed opened to even lower ratings than First Take. The show premiered on September 6, and opened to about 80,000 viewers. In the following weeks, its viewership rose to around 100,000 viewers, according to Business Insider.

ESPN plans to take two hours of its popular program SportsCenter and give them to First Take. The show will fill SportsCenter’s 10 a.m. to noon slot, which will in turn be moved to ESPN2. Sports Center Face to Face will air from 10 a.m. and Sports Center Coast to Coast will air from 11 a.m. to noon. This comes as one of many changes to ESPN’s lineup, specifically regarding SportsCenter, according to Variety.

Other changes to SportsCenter include changes in hosting staff and time slots. ESPN recently added a midnight version of the show that features light humor from host Scott Van Pelt. They also gave the hosts of popular talk show His and Hers, Jemele Hill and Michael Smith, their own timeslot on the program, according to Variety.

Following the loss of one of their most outspoken television hosts, ESPN hopes to bring ratings back to where they once were with their many scheduling changes.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 22nd print edition.

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