This is going to be a busy week for Stephen A. Smith, a former Inquirer columnist who is one of ESPN’s most popular and controversial talents.
Faced with declining ratings since former co-host Skip Bayless took his hot takes to Fox Sports 1, ESPN is moving Smith and new co-host Max Kellerman from ESPN2 to the main network, where First Take is airing starting today from 10 a.m. to noon.
But it's not the only move Smith is making.
On Tuesday, Smith confirmed a report on The Big Lead that he'll host his last show on Mad Dog Radio on Sirius XM on Friday, and bring his weekday talk show back to ESPN. His new show, which could begin as soon as the end of the month, would be broadcast on ESPN radio affiliates 98.7 FM in New York and 710 AM in Los Angeles. It would also run on the network’s Sirius XM channels.
The move comes as Mike Francesa, the popular afternoon host at ESPN competitor WFAN, is expected to leave the station when his contract expires at the end of 2017.
A spokeswoman for ESPN declined to comment on the report, and a request for comment from Sirius XM wasn't immediately returned. No word yet who would replace Smith in Mad Dog Radio's lineup.
The move would mark Smith’s third stint with ESPN radio. He previously hosted shows on the network from April 2005 to April 2008, then later from February 2011 to April 2013 before moving to Sirius XM Radio.
ESPN is investing a lot in Smith. But that comes amid ratings challenges for First Take since the departure of Bayless.
Through the end of November, First Take viewership is down nearly 35 percent versus last year, according to the website SportsTVRatings.com. ESPN execs have said all along they fully expected to take a ratings hit when Bayless left, but not because he was heading to a competitor.
“Skip could have left to work on a lobster boat and ratings would have suffered,” ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus told Sports Business Daily. “We knew there would be an impact with Skip and Stephen A. splitting up. It would be naïve and disingenuous to believe or say otherwise.”
Despite the ratings decline, First Take continues to dominate Fox Sports 1’s Undisputed, hosted by Bayless and former Denver Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe.
Tuesday (post Cowboys MNF) First Take vs Undisputed: 291K vs 157K. Another good day for Speak for Yourself (155K)
— Sports TV Ratings (@SportsTVRatings) December 29, 2016
Monday in First Take vs Undisputed: 397K vs 148K.
— Sports TV Ratings (@SportsTVRatings) December 28, 2016
First Take: 253K
Mike & Mike simulcast*: 224K
*4-hr average. 1st Take = 2 hours, Undisputed 2.5 hrs. https://t.co/a53q5YhkA1
— Sports TV Ratings (@SportsTVRatings) December 16, 2016