Colin Cowherd, a prominent national voice on ESPN radio since 2003, is leaving the network, multiple industry sources tell The Big Lead. While no destination is finalized, talks are progressing towards a deal with Fox Sports. The move away from the Mothership does not come as much of a surprise for anyone who follows these things closely, or has been listening to Cowherd’s show for the past few months.
But, the timing will leave a gaping hole in ESPN Radio’s weekday lineup and has broader implications about where some things are going both in Bristol — few will forget the great talent exodus of 2015 at ESPN, which has seen the network lose other outspoken voices in Bill Simmons and Keith Olbermann — and in general sports media. The difference here was that ESPN did make an aggressive bid to keep Cowherd, but was upstaged by Fox, who are clearly looking to make a big splash.
“We’ve enjoyed a mutually beneficial run with Colin for over a decade,” ESPN president John Skipper told TBL in a statement. “He came to national prominence on ESPN with his unique perspective on sports and society. Endings also bring new beginnings, for ESPN and Colin, and we thank him and wish him the best.”
So why leave ESPN now?
Near the top of the list would be a reunion with Jamie Horowitz, the new President of Fox Sports, who produced SportsNation with Cowherd and Michelle Beadle, as well as Cowherd’s Sunday morning football show a couple years ago. Perhaps Fox has a multi-faceted plan that may include a Cowherd-driven Sunday morning football pregame show on Fox that airs before the Sunday NFL pregame show?
It’s not currently known what Cowherd would do for FS1. One potential idea is to put him at 6pm and attempt to better compete with SportsCenter with a talk-driven show, which Horowitz previously had a lot of success (depending on how you define the word) with at ESPN2.
At ESPN, Cowherd wanted to be simulcast on a network with better distribution than ESPNU, but there wasn’t any way he was going to supplant SportsCenter (ESPN) or First Take (ESPN2). As far as simulcasting goes, if Cowherd’s radio show lands at FS1 – industry sources say Sirius and DirecTV a la Rich Eisen are in play – will he have the same issues as Mike Francesa, who often gripes about being preempted?
Cowherd recently expressed some of his thoughts about the future of radio on the About Sports Radio podcast with Zach McCrite, which could give a hint as to where his show will land, and how it could change his pay structure: “In the next 5-10 years, I don’t even think they’ll have radios in cars. I think podcast and digital and Sirius is the future. I think terrestrial — AM especially — is done in five years.”
On that podcast, Cowherd estimated that his show makes $18-20 million a year on radio alone, but speculated within two or three years that his program would go from radio show simulcast on television to vice versa.
For Cowherd, it’s undeniable that his reach would dwindle in a move from ESPN to any radio outlet, whether it’s Direct TV, Sirius, or Premiere Networks (which distributes content to Fox). But, perhaps he’s calculated that he’d rather have a bigger piece of a smaller pie, with massive upside if podcasts are indeed better-monetized in the near future. The less-is-more move worked for Glenn Beck when he left Fox News, though he also had a website and streaming digital channel in addition to his radio show. And, all on-air radio talent has taken note of the way Howard Stern has handled business, opting for the biggest payday and unconditional freedom of speech on satellite radio rather than the biggest audience.
Credit to The Big Lead who originally published this article.