With a largely captive audience thanks to a decades-long death grip on major sports league broadcast rights, ESPN rarely moves to introduce original programming that does anything but please its league broadcast partners. (And Roger Goodell always stays on 16.)
Hence, ESPN2 has long been a venue reserved for inconsequential game re-airs, production-free radio show simulcasts and cliche-worn, league-themed shows. Though if what I’ve been told in the past week is any indication, ESPN may actually be taking legitimate steps to reduce such programmed pablum. (Reduce, not eliminate.)
From multiple sources inside and outside ESPN, I’m hearing that the ratings success of ESPN2’s First Take and SportsNation has emboldened network executives to consider more substantial show concepts.
The most intriguing of those ideas is adding a daily, afternoon ESPN2 show hosted by Dan Le Batard - with the production originating from Miami.
ESPN has actually been in talks with the PTI fill-in host and Miami radio personality for a year about fronting some manner of ESPN2-aired endeavor. Though those talks are at a standstill at the moment as Le Batard negotiates a re-up with 790 The Ticket in Miami. (His WAXY-AM radio deal expires in April.)
Today I was told by sports business and media sources that the former MIAMI HERALD columnist has all but been offered his own daily ESPN2 afternoon show. But when I later asked a Bristol-based ESPN source about such a deal, they disputed that the network had made any such commitment.
Regardless, a resolution on whether or not Le Batard will be a daily ESPN2 invader will be resolved sooner than later.
I’ve also been told that in May ESPN will launch a spinoff on ESPN2 of its current afternoon SportsNation show hosted by Colin Cowherd and Michelle Beadle. The new show was described to me by a source as “being inspired by the SportsNation brand.”
The production, executive produced by Jamie Horowitz, will originate from Bristol. Like SportsNation, the spinoff show will include a single male and female co-host. Casting is currently underway with Horowitz looking to find a female host who reminds of Beadle and a male host who is like Cowherd or, as I’ve been told, Mike Golic.
Looking at the current ESPN2 afternoon lineup, there’s certainly room for the network to take a stab at creating shows with more compelling, original content. (Wait, isn’t there always?) A SportsNation-reminiscent production is a relatively safe play while gifting Le Batard 30 minutes every day entails more risk.
I’d love to see the latter as Le Batard would instantly become the most unpredictable personality in ESPN’s daily stable of television talent. Whether ESPN executives can stomach a Le Batard-launched rollercoaster weekdays is a whole ‘nother matter.
Though I don’t think the shot-callers bunkered in Bristol would even consider handing the ESPN keys to Le Batard if they didn’t believe, deep down, that Dan was anything other than a company man.
Follow Brooks on Twitter for real-time updates.