Looking to bolster “First Take” ratings that reportedly have fallen by a third in two months, ESPN will move the high-profile sports debate show from ESPN2 to ESPN early next year, the network announced Friday.
According to SportsBusiness Daily, which was first to report the move, ESPN executives had expected the 10-year-old show’s rating to take a hit when co-host Skip Bayless left — not because of competition from FS1 but because of the breakup of the Bayless-Stephen A. Smith pairing.
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“Skip could have left to work on a lobster boat and ratings would have suffered,” ESPN executive vice president Burke Magnus told SportsBusiness Daily. “We knew there would be an impact with Skip and Stephen A. splitting up. It would be naive and disingenuous to believe or say otherwise.”
The show — now featuring Smith and Max Kellerman — will move to the 10 a.m.-noon ET weekdays slot Jan. 3, bumping “SportsCenter Face to Face” and “SportsCenter Coast to Coast” to ESPN2 from ESPN.
According to SportsTVRatings.com, since Sept. 5 — when FS1 launched “Undisputed,” featuring Bayless and Shannon Sharpe — “First Take” has seen its viewership fall by 33 percent.
Magnus, however, said ESPN had been considering the move “for a long time,” well before Bayless announced his departure.