The Worldwide Leader strikes back.
ESPN is trying to turn Fox Sports’ brightest star, Katie Nolan, into a turncoat and bring her entertaining, irreverent act to the sports media behemoth.
According to a Sporting News report, ESPN has begun courting Nolan, holding a meeting with the star of “Garbage Time.” Included in the sitdown were ESPN president John Skipper, senior VP Connor Schell and, notably, Erik Rydholm, a producer who’s generated original broadcasting like “Around the Horn,” “Pardon the Interruption” and “Highly Questionable.”
How ESPN would use her persona — a down-to-earth, snarky, unashamed Boston fan who won an Emmy for “Garbage Time” — is unknown, but including Rydholm, with whom Nolan is clearly friendly, in the meeting is a signal that ESPN would make significant plans for her.
Nolan, though, is one of Fox Sports’ rising stars, a rare talent who has risen with the network, whereas many other faces were plucked from ESPN. She’s also the future of Fox Sports: Sporting News reported last week that FS1 plans to retool her late-night show and incorporate her into more of the network’s offerings. In the sports cable TV wars, Fox Sports has planned to rebuild its programming around her — unless ESPN can poach her first, reversing the flow of talent from Bristol to Fox.
Fox Sports has tried to make its name by taking ESPN pundits — Skip Bayless, Jason Whitlock, Colin Cowherd, Cris Carter, Chris Broussard — and giving them a shouting platform. Now ESPN, which has seen its dominance of the market shrink (though not as much as Fox Sports would like), may be firing back in concrete form.
Last month, ESPN execs first betrayed their anxiety over the Fox Sports pest by delivering “Anatomy of a Moving Target,” a PR hit designed to show how Fox Sports has constantly redefined its head-to-head success. It was a passive-aggressive slap — but stealing Nolan, ESPN might hope, would be a significant blow.