Colin Cowherd thinks the problem with ESPN, which is about to lay off a ton of front-facing talent, is that no one wants to work there.
The former ESPN voice and now Fox Sports talker tried to pull back the curtain on the Worldwide Leader’s apparent decline Saturday, offering his biased explanation for the departure of top talent: People don’t want to work and live in a small town in northern Connecticut.
ESPN has called Bristol home since its founding in 1979, and the network’s college-like campus has appealed to rising sports media stars for decades. But the expansion of ESPN’s competitors to more marketable cities, most notably Cowherd’s Fox Sports claiming turf in sports hubs from New York and Charlotte to Chicago and Los Angeles, has damaged ESPN’s once supreme influence, Cowherd insists. What he seems to have overlooked is ESPN, as a brand, remains a main destination for media talent, and those who have exited Bristol did so by Bristol’s choice.
Names like Cowherd, Skip Bayless and Chris Broussard thought the grass (and money) was greener on Fox Sports’ side. Apart from Fox Sports’ money trucks, it has been rare for ESPN to be jilted by an employee. Still, Cowherd has his theories to spout.
“You and I grew up in a culture of major TV network sports departments: ABC, NBC, CBS. ESPN arrived and they were mocked for years,” the veteran radio host said on his podcast, FS1’s “Speak for Yourself,” with fellow ex-ESPNer Jason Whitlock on Saturday. “And all of a sudden, they owned the sports world, and they owned it for about 20 years … but the world has changed. There are now 31 sports networks. The advantage for ESPN has dried up, as now people have options.
“What is undoing ESPN and is not spoken about, is no one wants to live in rural Connecticut.”
Cowherd, who left ESPN in 2015 after 12 years to launch his new show with the enemy, dropped the names of a few other high-profile sports personalities who shared his distaste for building a career and a life in Bristol. Names that ESPN allowed to leave — not necessarily that ESPN lost.
“[Keith] Olbermann didn’t want to live there. [Bill] Simmons didn’t want to live there. You didn’t want to live there. I didn’t want to live there,” Cowherd said. “The seven bosses that worked for us at FOX didn’t want to live there. It has become a huge unspoken disadvantage. … Anybody we want, we get. Why? They don’t want to live there.”
Cowherd did follow up his Fox Sports boast with a concrete example of a popular ESPN host, Mike Greenberg, who Cowherd says felt blindsided by his employer for its decision to keep “Mike & Mike” based in Bristol, after originally telling Greenberg and co-host Mike Golic they were relocating to New York City. Greenberg has been rumored to be splitting with Golic in the coming months to host a new morning television show in the Big Apple.
“Mike Greenberg is going to quit ‘Mike and Mike’ before Thanksgiving. He’ll be off the show,” he said. “Why? Because he was furious. They were going to move it to New York and they pulled the rug out from under him. Because he doesn’t want to live there. He wants to go to the city and live an urban life. I don’t blame him.”
ESPN’s location may be an easy target for Fox Sports rivals like Cowherd, but the 53-year-old offered insight into the rift between the two networks that only a person who has worked at both — and currently works at Fox Sports — can offer.
“There’s been so much discussion about the battle between our former employer and FS1 and FOX. And, of the many things discussed, I have always felt like we’re both facing different battles,” he said. “They’re two different cultures. Disney hovers over every decision at ESPN. … I do think we’re rivals, but even that I think is overstated.”