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Colin Cowherd is the next high-profile sports personality to leave ESPN. The host of the popular ESPN Radio program The Herd With Colin Cowherd will exit before the conclusion of his contract for a job at Fox Sports. ESPN made an aggressive bid to keep Cowherd, sources say. But ultimately lost out to Fox Sports, which has been on a spending spree since the launch of its cable networks two years ago. The deal with Fox Sports has not been finalized, but sources say Cowherd is likely to have a daily TV show and also appear on Fox Sports’ Sunday NFL program.
“We’ve enjoyed a mutually beneficial run with Colin for over a decade. He came to national prominence on ESPN with his unique perspective on sports and society. Endings also bring new beginnings, for ESPN and Colin, and we thank him and wish him the best,” ESPN president John Skipper said in a statement.
Cowherd has been at ESPN Radio since 2003, when he was tapped to replace Tony Kornheiser in the prime morning slot. His show also is simulcast on ESPNU. A former host of ESPN’s SportsNation, Cowherd, 51, is another among ESPN’s outspoken personalities — he recently picked a fight with former ESPN personality Dan Patrick — and a frequent target of Deadspin.
Cowherd follows Bill Simmons and Keith Olbermann out the door at ESPN. On his radio program, Cowherd lamented the loss of Simmons. “I will miss him professionally, but envy him to some degree as well,” said Cowherd, explaining that Simmons is likely to find more “creative freedom” away from ESPN.
Simmons was cut loose in May after nearly 15 years at ESPN, during which he built the popular vertical Grantland and helped to create the documentary franchise 30 for 30. Olbermann is finishing out a two-year deal that saw him return to ESPN after an earlier stint that put the network’s SportsCenter on the map but also featured legendary clashes with management. By all accounts, Olbermann has been well-behaved during his soon-to-end second stint. His final ESPN2 show will air July 24.
Both Simmons and Olbermann engaged in pointed criticism of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell‘s handling of the spate of domestic abuse incidents that rocked the league last year, prompting many to cite ESPN’s rich licensing deals with the league as a reason for their exits. Simmons called Goodell a “liar” in a profane rant on his podcast that earned him a suspension. And Olbermann demanded Goodell resign over his handling of the Ray Rice scandal. Cowherd regularly spouts opinions that earn him the ire of the Twitter-verse, including an assertion that African-Americans do not watch hockey and a running critique of Washington Wizards star John Wall for what Cowherd views as showboating behavior.
But ESPN also is facing a cost-cutting mandate from owner Disney amid cord-cutting and unbundling, which threaten to eat into the network’s ability to collect lucrative subscriber fees from cable and satellite providers. ESPN has shed more than 3 million subscribers over the past year. At the same time, rights fees for its most important programming (including the NFL and NBA) are rising exponentially. ESPN pays the NFL close to $2 billion annually for Monday Night Football, and beginning in the 2016-17 season will be shelling out $1.4 billion a year to the NBA.
The network also has been divesting some of its smaller rights deals, including NASCAR, which now airs on NBC and Fox. And ESPN recently announced that it would end its deal with the National Hot Rod Association at the conclusion of the 2015 season. The 2016 season was to be the final year of a five-year extension that began in 2012. Fox Sports will now air NHRA events.
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