First Take

ESPN Suspends Rob Parker for 30 Days

ESPN today announced that it has suspended ESPN2 First Take analyst Rob Parker 30 days for comments he made last week about Redskins QB Robert Griffin III.

Here is the official statement from ESPN:

Marcia Keegan is a Vice President of Production for ESPN, who oversees First Take:

“ESPN has decided to suspend Rob Parker for 30 days for his comments made on last Thursday’s episode ofFirst Take. Our review of the preparation for the show and the re-air has established that mistakes both in judgment and communication were made. As a direct result, clearly inappropriate content was aired and then re-aired without editing. Both were errors on our part.

“To address this, we have enhanced the editorial oversight of the show and have taken appropriate disciplinary measures with the personnel responsible for these failures. We will continue to discuss important issues in sports on First Take, including race. Debate is an integral part of sports and we will continue to engage in it onFirst Take. However, we believe what we have learned here and the steps we have taken will help us do all that better.”

Many have speculated that Parker would lose his job over the statements.  I’m sure the leash will be extra sort when he returns.

It is also interesting what types of “editorial oversight” the network and producers will take to ensure these events do not happen again.

It is clear ESPN has taken to being more debate-driven, given that sports news does not get generated on a level to keep up with our 24/7 lifestyles.  SportsCenter is stale after it first airs.  This will be a big issue facing ESPN in the coming months as it struggles to find an information niche to fit into its multiple platforms.

Stephen A. Smith to Play Prominent Role in Revamped ESPN First Take

ESPN has announced that its morning show on ESPN2, First Take, will be undergoing some changes effective June 4th. Along with a new logo, graphics, and set design, analyst Stephen A. Smith will become a full time contributor.

Smith, who has been a frequent part of First Take, will now join Skip Bayless as a featured commentator at the debate desk, with the first hour of the program focusing on their one-on-one discussion of the day’s sports headlines.  Jay Crawford will remain as host.

Smith has been with ESPN on and off since 2003.  He hosts a daily afternoon radio program from 1:00p.m. to 3:00p.m. ET on ESPN Radio’s New York affiliate.

“We tweaked the show format last year to focus more on debate and specifically on presenting and challenging Skip’s opinions and we saw our viewers respond to that change,” said Jamie Horowitz, ESPN’s vice president of original programming and production in a press release. “Given the response we’ve seen on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook, we dug a bit deeper into the ratings data and know that the riveting combination of Stephen A. and Skip debating their views resonates with our viewers.  Our plan with this relaunch is to give them even more of the show elements they like best.”

First Take has seen a spike in ratings so far this year, with numbers year-to-date up 34% over 2011.  First Take is up 58% over Q2 2011 and is up even more among the coveted male 18-34 demographic with a 63% quarter-over-quarter increase.

Five Years of Cold Pizza

Today marked the fifth anniversary of ESPN’s First Take, nee Cold Pizza. Apparently ratings for the show have been very good, according to TWWL itself:

Today is the fifth anniversary of First Take on ESPN2 (weekdays, 10 a.m. – noon) and in that time, every year the show (originally called Cold Pizza) has delivered steady growth in viewership. In the last 12 months, the show has averaged 203,000 households, up 26% from the previous year (161,000 for October 2006 – September 2007. Comparing the first year (October 2003 – September 2004) to the most recent 12 months, First Take has seen its audience grow by more than triple (217%, from 64,000 homes to 203,000). In addition, it’s strongest demographic group, Men 18-34, has seen an increase of more than four times from year one to year five: from 19,000 impressions to 87,000.

Here is a clip when the show was still called Cold Pizza featuring, what else, pizza…

I still contend that the concept of First Take is a good one, and should take the spot of the morning versions of Sportscenter on ESPN. The Deuce should go back to the days when it was the place to replay games telecast on the network from the previous night…or weekend. Wouldn’t that be nice?

SportsCenter On Overdrive

It is with much confusion that I read the news release from ESPN promoting the expansion of SportsCenter.  According to the announcement, SportsCenter will begin airing live each weekday morning beginning at 9:00am ET.  The show will feature three sets of anchors and remain live until 3:00pm.  The main anchor will be former CNN, NBC, and CBS personality Hannah Storm.

The announcement itself is not revolutionary.  SportsCenter is the network’s signature product and it’s expansion to being live every morning makes sense.  It should do very well within the male demographic looking for fresh sports news content each morning.

What doesn’t make sense is the apparent duplication of services across the ESPN family of networks.  In making the announcement ESPN indicated it had no plans to scratch ESPN First Take, a sports morning show that airs on ESPN2 right after the telecast of the Mike & Mike Morning.  It seems to me that the revamped morning SportsCenter and First Take will have a similar format…highlights combined with more interviews mixed in with commentary.  Why duplicate yourself?  And what about the content already found on ESPN News?  What will be different?

I’m sure we’ll see how this move will benefit viewers as the August launch of the new SportsCenter will coincide with the Beijing Olympics.  Much will be happening overseas to keep the content fresh.  Once that is over then SportsCenter, First Take, and ESPN News may be sounding very much alike.

I think ESPN should rethink the way they should handle these morning shows and use their networks differently.  Remember in the 1990’s when ESPN used to replay their sporting events early the next morning?  Why not do that again on ESPN2 while the new version of SportsCenter and ESPN News do their reporting?  Unless the network is hamstrung through their broadcast agreements with the leagues, I think that would be a great move to make.  Those who want news can find it on SportsCenter or ESPN News.  Those who missed the game have their chance to see it as it was first telecast.

Apparently ESPN feels these news programs will each find their niche and be a successful product on their own.  Time will tell.