The addition of Silver will “really extend our leadership in using analytics in our storytelling,” noted ESPN prexy John Skipper, who emphasized that Silver will maintain significant independence while under the ESPN umbrella. While ESPN did not disclose the financial details of the deal, Skipper dubbed the pact a “more all-in partnership” than Silver’s stint at The New York Times, which Skipper billed as a “pure licensing deal” on a conference call with journos.
Silver, who first came to national prominence as a statistician and analyst for sports site Baseball Prospectus, will incorporate his political and sports background in his new role, which will include online and television work.
Skipper played down speculation about Silver taking part in Keith Olbermann’s ESPN2 program, noting that no decisions have been made.
A revamped version of FiveThirtyEight, hosted by the New York Times since 2010, will find a new home at ESPN and be modeled after Bill Simmons’ Grantland operation, with a sensibility distinct from ESPN.com.
Silver said his new site “will still provide plenty of elections coverage at ESPN (including forecasts of the 2014 and 2016 elections). There will be more sports than before, but the site will have a broad focus.”
In addition, Silver and his team will explore economics, culture, science, meteorology and technology, and other topics. A role in ESPN sister network ABC’s Oscar coverage has also been speculated upon, and Silver sees potential in predicting TV ratings, as well.
Silver’s current focus is staffing up FiveThirtyEight. He expects to hire roughly a few dozen for the property, and launch the site in the coming months. Staffing the site with scribes across FiveThirtyEight’s range of verticals will be a challenge, Silver admitted, since those brought on board will have to be talented scribes, leaders in their field and strong at math in order to bring statistical analytics to their writing.
An interim blog — likely Tumblr — will serve as a platform for Silver to write on in the meantime.
“Nate is one of the country’s brightest talents and his insight, journalistic integrity and creativity — all traits essential for creating compelling, quality content — have awed and entertained diverse audiences,” Skipper said. “Nate brings a unique fan base to ESPN, where he will curate a cross-platform, cross-discipline experience with a fresh take on the intersection of sports, culture, technology, economics and politics that will be provocative and completely different than anything else in the marketplace today.”
Added ABC News prexy Ben Sherwood: “We predict with 100 percent confidence that his unique voice and penetrating insights will contribute mightily to ABC News coverage of politics and many topics.”
During his time at Baseball Prospectus, Silver developed the PECOTA system of predicting player performance, then migrated into data-driven political analysis. He predicted the results of the 2008 presidential election in 49 of 50 states, then followed that by nailing all 50 states in the 2012 race. A book, The Signal and The Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t, became a New York Times bestseller.