The political and sports statistician and all-knowing-maths oracle Nate Silver has left the New York Times and is moving to ESPN/ABC, according to New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter. His FiveThirtyEight blog – named for the 538 Electoral College electors in presidential elections – will also be moving to the Disney companies, and will be active politically through ABC News during election seasons. His election predictions for national elections in 2008 and 2012 were staggeringly accurate (in 2012 he correctly predicted the winner in every state in the presidential election), gaining him national attention, but his first interest was – and still is – in sports.
Silver and his blog joined the New York Times family in 2010, after he had written for Baseball Prospectus from 2003 to 2009. During his time at Baseball Prospectus, he invented a system that predicts the career statistics and development of players called PECOTA and plans to make a return to the baseball and sports statistics world with ESPN.
Stelter also reported that not only will Silver join ESPN and ABC, he will “most likely be a regular contributor” on the Mothership’s new “Olbermann” talk show with returning personality Keith Olbermann, which officially debuts Aug. 26 at 11 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
Stelter wrote, “Mr. Silver’s three-year contract with The Times is set to expire in late August and his departure will most likely be interpreted as a blow to the company, which has promoted Mr. Silver and his brand of poll-based projections.”
Marc Tracy of the New Republic wrote that the New York Times’ website almost revolved around Silver and his loss will be deeply felt by the company. “In the run-up to Election Day, one-fifth of visits to nytimes.com included stops at Silver’s 538 blog. In many cases, visitors arrived at the site by searching for him,” Tracy wrote.
ESPN will surely benefit from someone with as much clout as Silver. It will make their stats and information department even better and this move will align Silver’s career interests under one company. But these moves – Silver and Olbermann – make ESPN more stat-centric and maintains their normal, mostly serious approach to content. A Bloomberg BusinessWeek story profiled ESPN’s new national cable sports competitor Fox Sports 1, who say that they plan to be more “fun” than ESPN and hope to become a place for the fans.
FS1, which launches Aug. 17, will compete with ESPN through something they call “jockularity.”
“The plan is for FS1 to be the funny, irreverent, less serious sports channel,” BusinessWeek’s Karl Taro Greenfield reported. Fox has done extensive focus group research, and have come to the conclusion that fans “were growing tired of ESPN’s stat-happy approach and wanted a funnier, more irreverent take.”
“If you look at a show like SportsCenter, there’s a seriousness to it that is reminiscent of old pregame shows. We feel like we can come in and give you the same information, but do it in a way that is so much more entertaining and fun,” says Robert Gottlieb, senior vice president of marketing and on-air promotion at Fox, per BusinessWeek.
With Fox Sports 1 on the horizon, any move made by ESPN is one to combat the hype of their newest competitor. The move to sign Silver just adds more eyeballs to their website and legitimizes their statistical analysis. It also means that somebody may actually watch “Olbermann.” But the risk with adding these two personalities to ESPN is if Fox Sports’ focus groups are correct, ESPN is doing the exact opposite of what the fans want. Silver and Olbermann may draw in fans initially because of their name recognition, they may even satisfy the high-brow audience (You know, smart people), the media critics and others, but if FS1 out-rates ESPN, the moves will not be worth it in the minds of those in power at ESPN.