Wee-hours viewers of ESPN have for the last six years counted on Neil Everett and Stan Verrett to get them through the night. And while some other mainstays at the Walt Disney sports-media outlet have departed, this duo won’t be one of them.
Verrett and Everett, who host the 1 a.m. eastern edition of the network’s flagship “SportsCenter,” will stick with the outlet under new “multi-year” deals, ESPN is expected to unveil Friday. “I signed first,” Verrett recounted in an interview, and immediately told his partner, “I’m done. Don’t leave me!:”
ESPN likely hopes the announcement will quell the notion that top employees are leaving the network for other opportunities as its executives navigate a new playing field of sorts: maintaining cost controls as the rights fees it must pay for live-sports content escalate. ESPN has appeared in recent months to take a harder look at deals with talent, cutting ties with personality and “Grantland” founder Bill Simmons and then parting ways with Keith Olbermann after his ESPN2 program didn’t notch the ratings executives had wanted. ESPN Radio personality Colin Cowherd has also exited, though the network is said to have initially tried to keep him on board.
Verrett and Everett may not have achieved Simmons’ level of fame, but their presence at the network is an important one. They hold forth from Los Angeles, not the network’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters. As such, they lend a West Coast sensibility to their programming – which also happens to stand as the network’s last live news dispatch of the night for most of its viewers (their edition of “SportsCenter” airs several more times during overnights and into early morning).
“In Bristol, there’s a huge pool of people to pick from. On Monday, I might be announcing with this guy, with that guy directing and that person producing, and I wouldn’t even know the graphics guy,” Everett explained. “On Tuesday, I might be anchoring with her, she’s producing. You don’’ know until you go to your team meeting or your show meeting. Our show has succeeded because our collective group is in it.” Viewers understand, he added, there’s a certain bunch that handles the latenight program. “There’s a lot of us here who have been there since day one.”
ESPN launched the West Coast effort in 2009, opening a production center near L.A.’s Staples Center, in hopes of adding some geographic balance to a schedule that originated largely from the East.”It seems like we have a relationship with viewers and it’s something that we want to continue,” Verrett said.
Both anchors joined ESPN in 2000 within months of each other: Everett in July, Verrett in September.
Verrett had been a weekend sports anchor and reporter at WDSU-TV, an NBC affiliate, in his hometown of New Orleans. He has also worked as sports anchor and reporter in Norfolk, Va., at ABC affiliate WVEC-TV and NBC affiliate WAVY-TV, and was a morning show personality at several radio stations in Washington, D.C., Charleston, S.C., and Norfolk.
Everett came to ESPN after working for 15 years for various affiliates in Honolulu, most recently KGMB-TV, the CBS affiliate where he was the sports director and weekday anchor. Prior to his TV news career, Everett served as an assistant athletic director and sports information director at Hawaii Pacific University.
“The on-air chemistry Neil and Stan have can’t be manufactured,” said Rob King, ESPN’s senior vice president of “SportsCenter” and News, in a prepared statement. “It’s as authentic as it gets, and we look forward to having them as part of our team for years to come.”
The anchors know they speak to a unique group of viewers. “On the West Coast we’ve got the group that hasn’t gone to bed yet, and on the East Coast, we’ve got the group that should go to bed,” said Everett. As time passes, he said, the repeats then get watched my West Coast night owls and East Coast early birds who might get up to work out before their day gets into full swing.
Beginning next year, the pair might get something of a break. ESPN intends in February to start running live “SportsCenter” broadcasts before 9 a.m. in the East, meaning Everett and Verrett can hand off to another team – at least figuratively – as the sun starts to rise on a new day.