At ESPN, ‘SportsCenter’ Swings Into TV’s Morning Wars

SportsCenter: ESPN Will Launch Morning Edition
Courtesy of ESPN

ESPN is joining TV’s morning fray, hoping a new take on offering viewers stats and analysis of games will provide competition in the early hours of the day against Matt Lauer, Norah O’Donnell and Joe Scarborough.

SportsCenter:AM” launches on the Walt Disney-controlled cable network on February 8, the day after the Super Bowl, at 7 a.m. – the earliest ESPN has ever aired an original hour of the program. Over the course of three hours, hosts Jay Harris, Kevin Negandhi and Jaymee Sire, along with contributor Sarina Morales, will deliver a new take on sports news that is tailored to the behavior of the early-morning viewer.

“We are zeroing in now how ‘SportsCenter’ can distinguish itself throughout the day,” said Rob King, ESPN’s senior vice president of “SportsCenter” and news. “We are really trying to differentiate the hours of ‘SportsCenter’ that are on the air.”

At the heart of ESPN’s play is an interesting realization by media companies and advertisers that in order to keep audience attention, they have to do more to match content to the moment in which it is being watched. Already, ESPN  launched a late-night version of its flagship program, with host Scott Van Pelt offering a more spirited take on the plays and match-ups of the day, and took steps to keep the overnight version of the program steady, re-upping Stan Verrett and Neil Everett to anchor the program from Los Angeles. All daytime versions of “SportsCenter” that run through 1:30 p.m. will be tweaked and debut in new versions the week “AM” debuts.

The dynamic is becoming increasingly common in the world of advertising, where marketers are crafting commercials suited to a particular moment in time. TV viewers who watch “The Walking Dead” have been shown commercials featuring zombies, the undead creatures who are also the subjects of the show. Pepsi recently worked with the producers of Fox’s “Empire” to make the company’s flagship soda part of the storyline – then ran an ad that completed the plot arc. At a time when new technology has given viewers so much more power over what content they choose and how they gain access to it, making programming more timely and relevant is seen as way to keep viewers from exercising their right to switch to something else.

ESPN has reason to make “SportsCenter” more memorable. The program is nearly ubiquitous on the network, taking up nearly 15 hours each day across various ESPN outlets, according to King. If executives at the sports-media juggernaut aren’t careful, the whole enterprise can become video wallpaper for armchair athletes.

“SportsCenter” will work to make the new A.M. effort specifically for the early bird, said King, including aggressively informing viewers what segments are coming up and when they will air.  If the show is going to focus on basketball, the anchors will tell you when that is going to happen.  “A lot of our fans are in transit. They are moving around. They are feeding kids and getting ready for work, or they are commuting,” he said.

As such, the anchors will have a more conversational tone than they might at other hours of the day, he said. In its first hour, the show will focus on game highlights in rapid-fire fashion, with hosts able to do more than just narrate the action. As the show progresses, anchors will start to “parse the night in different ways,” said King, looking at best and worst plays and more. In the show’s third and final hour, there will be some emphasis on news breaking that morning.

ESPN has gone after the oatmeal-and-eggs crowd in the past. Between 2003 and 2007, ESPN2 aired a sports-themed morning talk program, “Cold Pizza,” that was produced out of New York City. It eventually morphed into “First Take,” and relocated to ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn. King said the new “SportsCenter” did not represent an attempt to thaw out “Pizza,” and would remain true to its mission of keeping viewers updated about the latest sports news.

The new version of “Sports Center” will share some resources with “Good Morning America” on ESPN’s sister, ABC, said King, as well as “Mike & Mike,” the long-running ESPN Radio program that is simulcast on ESPN2. “Mike & Mike” will also get a new look, enhanced set and new theme on February 8, with Molly Qerim of “First Take” coming aboard to provide news updates, discussions of trending topics and a short segment late in the show highlighting “First Take.” Last year, ESPN and ABC sounded advertisers out on a package deal involving “GMA” and “Mike & Mike.”

Jus as Harris, Negandhi, Sire and Morales work on a morning agenda, so too will other “Sports Center” hosts have new missions depending on the time of day they are on screen. At 10 a.m., Hannah Storm will emphasize interviews with newsmakers and athletes. At 11 a.m., Chris McKendry and Jay Crawford will focus on analysis and deeper looks at the day’s big stories. A 90-minute midday show at noon hosted by Cari Champion and David Lloyd will be more conversational in tone, and run 90 minutes.

With so many hours to juggle, things may seem a little chaotic, but King has his finger on at least one detail. He has a pretty good idea of what the A.M. edition will focus on when it debuts, since the biggest game of all – Super Bowl 50 – will have been played the night before. “You kind of know what your lead story is going to be,” he said.

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  1. Mark says:

    ESPN lives on only because they have so many broadcasts of different sport events. And all these female sportscasters has really sunk the ship! You can’t get away from their annoying, squealing,
    boob showing, “sex apparel”…even though they say they’re not attempting to be sexy.

    Oh, then why do all the women tend to show as much boobs and skin as possible. Is there a reason why they MUST wear sleeveless dresses and show CLEAVAGE? Why the cleavage? Are they suggesting that there are no wardrobe attire available to them that doesn’t show cleavage and sleeveless. Why don’t the guys sit there in a tank top 2-sizes too small when they do their broadcasts? Also the dresses are always short…no pants outfits…always dresses to continuously cross their legs. Guys don’t sit there in lycra sport shorts showing their bulge. But all the women want to show cleavage and legs. Then they say…the boob are part of their physical attributes! Cute! Men have physical attributes too, but they don’t show it for the camera! And it’s part of a man’s body too!

    Of course, for them…it’s a “fashion choice.” And who cares about that big put-on of having
    guys read the insulting emails/posts or whatever they were and have the guy cry and break down while they (woman sportscaster) put their strong, “I can take it face” on for sympathy!

    And with that annoying k-zone for baseball, the ratings for ESPN will continue a decline. People have voiced their displeasure for the k-zone box for years. But, ESPN doesn’t care because if you want
    to watch the game…you’ll have to do it watching ESPN….wrong! I turn it off and just wait for the
    updates online. Better than seeing that crappy box.

  2. rc jones says:

    The absolute worst thing on tv nowadays. Every single SC sucks. It’s almost laughable – which is sad considering where this program used to stand. Thank Jon Skipper (ceo) for the total decline. His “black only” strategy is not paying off and he has lost the show. Too bad.

  3. Stephanie Lauf says:

    Sarina Morales is horrible, plain and simple. She acts as if she knows it all and clearly she doesn’t. Her smugness is not cute and takes away from an already shaky show. We don’t watch anywhere near as much as we used to. When Sarina does a segment, we frequently switch to HLN and Robin Meade!!

  4. R Smith says:

    The new format in the early morning sucks!!! Getting dressed in the locker room is an all male thing!!! Bring back the all male anchors.

  5. Ken Pechumer says:

    I can’t watch this new morning show and I don’t. It’s a joke. It’s no longer sports reporting and it’s not entertaining. All it is, is a format for noise and mindless chatter. Your attempt to incorporate women has failed them and the show. Bring back Stan and Neil.

  6. Dale Rooks says:

    I am no longer watching 7 am Sportscaster. It is like watching the View for sports…
    Stan and Neil, where are you….

  7. Cynthia Bowles says:

    Tired of the nonsense on the new Sports Center. I have listened and watched Sports Center for years while getting ready for work. Enjoyed catching up on highlights of what I missed the night before. Now I’m subjected to giggles, silliness, stupid comments, and questionable sports authorities. To watch and listen to these new hosts is uncomfortable at best. Neil, Stan, Barry, Kenny where are you? I used to turn up the volume and laugh out loud with you guys, now I’m cringing and turning the channel. ESPN you’ve ruined a good thing. Loyal fans are bailing on you and you NEED us. Social media junkies aren’t watching you, they’re too busy with their heads and hands buried in their phones.

  8. Julie Govan says:

    WHAT the heck – why is this new format still on? This is disastrous. I watched Sports Center every morning for years as I got ready for work; caught up on all the night’s games. Not all of your viewers are on Twitter, Vine and other Social media sites 24/7, Sports Center. Some of us have real lives. Maybe that’s the problem – obviously I am no longer your demographic. I enjoyed Sports Center so much for the witty and often laugh out loud commentary and no-nonsense highlights. I don’t know what this new crap is. I gave it another try this morning to see the highlights of the Warriors losing another game at home – now they have to win out to beat the Bulls record. I had to sit through 25 minutes of agonizing nonsense, including stupid videos with Morales over-explaining again and again what i was looking at. And were they of anything pertinent? Of course not. This is the same thing that happened to “Inside the NBA” once Shaq joined the line-up; no more witty comments with Charles, Kenny and EJ – just Shaq saying “you dummy” over and over.

    Ah, Sports Center. Sad to say, you are no longer as “Cool as the other side of the Pillow”. Miss you, Stuart Scott.

  9. Tom says:

    I am done with Sports Center after many years of regular watching. If I wanted Social Media coverage of sports related tidbits, I’d go straight to Twitter. Trash TV has come to ESPN…Goodbye

  10. Doug says:

    Ugh, the new Sportscenter stinks. Actually chased me to FS1, and at least it was funny. But then they pulled their morning show off of the air. Bring back Stan and Neil. PLEASE! I have moved on to the news channels now. I do check back from time to time, but it still isn’t watchable.

  11. Paul Latella says:

    New format is horrible, you are alienating your long time viewers, who want to actually see the highlights of what happened the night before in sports. This new show is like Good Morning America for sports. I understand wanting to try and expand your audience but at the risk of losing a loyal fan base? Horrible decision, and someone at the top at ESPN needs to reverse this course. I have always liked Kevin, and Harris is OK. Sire has been decent as a co-anchor at times but I can’t even believe that Morales is on, albeit in a limited way. It’s like the execs knew that she wasn’t that good so they just give her fluff pieces sprinkled in during the show. She doesn’t speak fluidly and her voice is a little annoying. She brings absolutely nothing to the table. Stan and Neil weren’t perfect but the format worked and they interacted well together and were actually a little funny. Please bring them back or at the very least, bring the original format back.

  12. Jason says:

    Soon as the new show comes on at 7 am, I turn ESPN off now. Watching the Neil and Stan show over and over was much more entertaining. The writing and the delivery isn’t that good. It should be clever and humorous, like it always has been. Also does Jay always have to bring up Dan is wearing? Who cares about your threads on a sport show? Your loosing me.

  13. Fritz says:

    Complete garbage. Espn know your demographics better. You are pushing your airheaded worthless babble of social media on to us is degrading and demeaning. I can honestly tell you I feel more stupid after watching 10 minutes of your SportsCenter AM. If I wanted to watch worthless tv I would watch the Today show or Good Morning America.

  14. Chuck Conti says:

    SC I have been watching you since your inception. Are you joking with this format and stage setting? It might as well be a game show “come on down” Lets make a deal. Now for your host….Keven Negondhi the only one who has talent and your wasting it in this format, Jay Harris why is here,,,to make goofy faces and oh yes his very important roll to direct you with his hand jestures to “the left side of your screen” I think even pre-schoolers know left from right. Jaymee Sire talks a lot and says nothing,,,,,I guess that’s your answer to your competition. I have seen Jaymee on other SC segments and she is not as bad. I guess it’s just misuse of talent, Finally the grand finally da da,,,,,,Sirina Morales, are you serious ! She has nothing of substance to add to this show, Oh wait I know why she is on the set, She must be replacing the laughing audio they used in sitcoms, right? Live on Niel and Stan I guess I will have to wake up earlier to watch real sports reporting. SC you dropped the ball big time. I assure you will audience not gain.

    • Clint says:

      Completely agree! Been watching it every day while I get ready for many years. Very disappointing!!! I guess I’m going to venture to FS1 and hope they are closer to what SC used to be.

      • Eric says:

        I’ve switched to watching On the Fly in the morning for hockey highlights. It’s sports highlights without the fluff…what Sports Center used to be.

      • Gary Knight says:

        Completely agree! I miss Neil & Stan the most, but Sirina Morales is the most pathetic anchor you’ve ever come up with. She so doesn’t belong there. I’m sure she is a very nice woman, but she’s way out of her element in this format. She must be related to one of the big wig producers or owners to land this prestigious spot….or something else?

  15. Eric says:

    I’ve watched Sports Center for years in the morning…not anymore. Give me the highlights and interesting commentary and that’s it. Sports Center…stop trying to be something you are not.

  16. Tom says:

    I have a 1/2 hour in the morning to catch up on the previous night sporting activities. This new format sucks….nothing but laughing and fluff. And very boring…..

  17. Dunstan says:

    ESPN is already the most overpriced, boring network on television. This “morning show” is nothing but an act of desperation..While there are women on the show, and I’m glad ESPN has female sportscasters, the plain truth is these shows are mostly about guys in ties engaged in mental masturbation about sports news that’s already old by the time they talk about it.

    What a waste of bandwidth.

    • dicknasty says:

      This network is a 5 alarm dumpster fire. I only watch it for few live sporting events like College sports,MNF, MLB ,NBA and the occasional golf tournaments like the Masters. Everything else is just cheap, contrived, inane trash now.

      • Steve says:

        This new version absolutely SUCKS!!! As many of the previous folks who commented, I too used to watch Sport Center before going to work, but now it is a disaster of mega proportions! ESPN seems more concerned with hitting all the demographics to please their sponsors and it’s all about the $$$!! And what is it with every sports show you have now, has to have a woman trying to sound believable, when she obviously doesn’t! Ahh… yes.. Advertisers want to see more females! You’ve got a white woman, black man, Hispanic woman and an Indian. None which seems to have much of a clue about sports (especially the Indian and the Hispanic woman)! They’re just sitting up there reading teleprompters; and not doing that very well! What the hell does Sarina Gomez know about talking baseball!! Just give me the scores and highlights and quit being a slave to your advertisers!

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