USA Today Sports

ESPN 'SportsCenter' ratings have skyrocketed since cancellation of 'SC6'

Alex Reimer
December 07, 2018 - 11:12 am

It’s been nearly one year since ESPN’s new management decided to cancel “SC6” and once again make the sports network’s marquee program more highlight-based. Ratings have only increased since then.

The Washington Post recently published a feature story about ESPN’s effort to Make “SportsCenter” Great Again, which is led by the executive vice president of studio production, Norby Williamson. He returned to Bristol in September 2017, after previously serving as the head producer for the iconic 11 p.m. “SportsCenter” hosted by Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann. Williamson has pushed to bring Olbermann back to the network and use him in a more prominent role, alongside Chris Berman,

“Keith Olbermann is the best to ever do ‘SportsCenter,’ ” Williamson told the Washington Post’s Ben Strauss. “Chris Berman is the best at highlights. Why would we not want them here doing those things? If growing ratings are a homage to the past, I guess I’m guilty. But I don’t see it that way. I see it as catering to our customers.”

The biggest programming change that’s occurred under Williamson’s watch is the format of the 6 p.m. “SportsCenter.” Hosts Sage Steele and Kevin Neghandi took the reins from Jemele Hill and Michael Smith last year, putting an emphasis back on highlights and more traditional sports analysis. Though Hill and Smith seldom discussed politics on the show –– contrary to popular belief –– there were several personality-driven segments littered throughout the hour. Those have been scaled back, and it seems like viewers are responding. The show averaged 508,000 viewers in October compared to 493,000 last fall.

In addition to the changes with the 6 p.m. SportsCenter, Williamson has added daily 7 a.m. and noon editions of the program. He’s also shortened “Get Up” and “High Noon,” the new talk show hosted by Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre. Ratings for the new “SportsCenter” time slots are up as well, though it’s worth mentioning the lowly rated “Outside the Lines” used to air at noon. 

Under previous president John Skipper, ESPN emphasized its diverse collection of commentators, building debate and opinion shows. Williamson has gone in the opposite direction, and so far, his back to the future approach has proven to be correct.