Bill Simmons is gone from ESPN. Now so is Keith Olbermann, for a second time. Is it because, as has been trotted out lately, both became too expensive for a network that is ever-so-slightly less profitable than it used to be.
Or is it because both were highly critical of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, with the league giving ESPN a lousy slate of “Monday Night Football” games in retaliation?
Some in Bristol apparently think so.
The first inkling of this popped up July 1 in a Hollywood Reporter story about Olbermann’s negotiations with ESPN and the network’s desire for him to stop with the “commentary” on his ESPN2 program, especially when it pertained to Goodell:
And while NFL schedulers have historically worked to spread marquee matchups among its TV partners, the upcoming MNF schedule is viewed as one pointedly lacking in high-interest games, with multiple sources inside ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters believing the “terrible” schedule is “pay back for Simmons and Olbermann,” as one source put it.
On Wednesday, Ben Koo of Awful Announcing echoed that with similar reporting:
It was reported that ESPN’s lackluster upcoming slate of Monday Night games was believed to be retribution for Bill Simmons and Olbermann’s criticism of the league and Goodell. To that end, we’re hearing there are some ESPN folks who think the league denied a request for a Monday Night Football matchup featuring the Cowboys against a specific opponent due to Simmons and Olbermann’s vocal criticism this past year. ESPN does have one Cowboys game on this year’s schedule but comes late in the season and on the road versus a Redskins team that went 4-12 last season.
If this indeed is the thinking in Bristol, removing Simmons and Olbermann could be classified as “business decisions” and not editorial policing as improved quality of games would certainly help drive higher ratings and revenue and improve the quality of the Monday Night Football schedule.
The NFL has denied that it ever pressured ESPN to rein in Olbermann.
“Keith Olbermann has never been told any topic is off limits for his commentary nor has continuation of it been part of any conversation about his future at the company,” the network said in response to the Hollywood Reporter story.
And Thursday, ESPN oral history author James Andrew Miller made a fairly salient point in Vanity Fair:
In recent weeks, rumor had it that ESPN executives were increasingly concerned about Olbermann’s commentaries and his strafing of Goodell, whose league has a lucrative partnership with the network to broadcast Monday Night Football through 2021. ESPN is quick to counter that Bob Ley, Hannah Storm, and other on-air personalities have been equally if not more critical of the commissioner (Ley just received a new multi-year extension on his contract). But even if they were irked at Olbermann’s Roger Rants, that still leaves open the better and more obvious opportunity: putting Olbermann back on highlight-fueled and (mostly) commentary-free SportsCenter.
That didn’t happen, though, and now Olbermann is gone for ESPN, once again.
Here’s the “Monday Night Football” schedule for this season. What do you think? Bad slate?
Week 1: Eagles at Falcons, Vikings at 49ers (I would watch both of those games, even if it weren’t opening weekend)
Week 2: Jets at Colts
Week 3: Chiefs at Packers
Week 4: Lions at Seahawks (could have been last year’s NFC title game, had some calls gone Detroit’s way)
Week 5: Steelers at Chargers
Week 6: Giants at Eagles
Week 7: Ravens at Cardinals
Week 8: Colts at Panthers
Week 9: Bears at Chargers
Week 10: Texans at Bengals
Week 11: Bills at Patriots
Week 12: Ravens at Browns
Week 13: Cowboys at Redskins
Week 14: Giants at Dolphins
Week 15: Lions at Saints
Week 16: Bengals at Broncos
So that’s 12 of 17 games featuring playoff teams from last season, with five games featuring two playoff teams. Obviously, some of those teams won’t be as good, just like some of the non-playoff teams will improve. But still, on paper that isn’t a dreadful slate of games.
The Thursday night schedule, on the other hand. Woof.