Scott Van Pelt is not afraid to give an opinion. It’s part of what makes him a standout talent on ESPN along with his quick wit and ability to transition from one story to the next in flawless fashion. So when the subjects of ESPN dying, SportsCenter failing, and Fox Sports 1 were brought up during a recent conversation with the Washington Post, SVP didn’t hesitate to speak his mind.
When asked about the doom and gloom stories in the press about ESPN being on the decline Van Pelt said:
“I look at it this way. Stories like that are like a Mad Lib. We’re going to reference cord-cutting, we’re going to reference the names of the high-profile talent who have left, then we’re going to mention that a bunch of people were let go, and then we’re going to mention ratings. And the picture that it begins to paint is, ‘we’re in trouble.’ And then you see in the third quarter that ESPN made $5.9 billion dollars. The analogy I would make is, Warren Buffet lost $50 million. He’s still a billionaire and he still has more money than the people he’s in common with that it’s not even close. So my push-back and my fatigue with this, and it’s real fatigue — I’m really tired of being painted as some sort of failing, sinking ship.”
On the topic of ESPN being criticized while Fox Sports receives a free pass, Van Pelt explained why it annoys him:
“I understand the direction things are going, and yet the reality is that our competitors let go of a ton of people as well. We make seven bucks a subscription, they make a dollar. Our ratings are in the millions and the high hundreds of thousands, they can’t crack six figures. And I just wonder at what point the articles about the death of our company are laid side-by-side with our supposed competitors and you take inventory. Because it isn’t close. It’s not close.”
The subject of Fox Sports was one that SVP had even more to add on. As a former colleague of Jamie Horowitz, Colin Cowherd, Skip Bayless and Jason Whitlock, Van Pelt wanted the record to be clear about where each brand stood in the competitive ratings race.
“Jamie Horowitz is a guy that’s a friend, and every article he’s quoted in he mentions ‘SportsCenter’s’ failing ratings. And not one says, ‘Well how about “Speak for Yourself,” which gets 50,000 people. We don’t have a single show that rates that badly. He gets constantly quoted talking about our ratings, and that is an astonishing thing that continues to happen. At some point, if you’re going to talk junk about our ratings, you should be held accountable for yours. They’re not close. And by not close, I mean it’s like Washington to Los Angeles, not Washington to Baltimore. You’re a long, long, long, long flight away.
“I’m competitive. I’m professionally competitive,” Van Pelt continued. “There’s not one person involved in this discussion that I’m not friendly with. Skip Bayless, I don’t know, but Colin, I’m friendly with. Whitlock, I’m friendly with. The higher-ups at Fox, I’m friendly with. There’s no anger in any of this, I’m just professionally competitive. And so I can say, ‘Wait, if you’re going to keep saying that,’ then I’m going to say, ‘What are your ratings?’ I saw one day there were 28,000 people watching that show. That’s the attendance of a Cincinnati Reds game. That’s your audience. ‘SportsCenter,’ on its worst day, gets 300,000 people. But we’re failing. We’re just failing away over here.”
Van Pelt acknowledged that ESPN has challenges to deal with (as do many media companies) when it comes to cord cutting, and monetizing digital assets, but despite those battles, he feels things are going well at the network.
“There are challenges and no one will tell you otherwise. It’s not like we’re losing money, we’re just not making as much. It’s a giant difference. So I believe there are smart people who are trying to steer the ship around the iceberg. No one’s looking around up here and saying, ‘Oh God, I hope we get paid next week.’ That’s not the reality that we’re existing in. We’re still us, and if we were losing everyone and some competitor was closing the gap, then I think you’d look around and say, ‘What do we need to do?’ I don’t know who can show me any evidence of that.”