Scott Van Pelt and Laura Rutledge are considered the leading candidates to be ESPN’s new “Monday Night Football” pre-game host, The Post has learned.
The “Monday Night Countdown” opening comes in the wake of longtime former host Suzy Kolber being let go as part of the massive layoffs of on-air talent conducted by ESPN a little more than two weeks ago.
ESPN declined comment.
Van Pelt is already the host of what is essentially the Monday Night Football post-game show with his late-night “SportsCenter.”
Rutledge has proven to be a top NFL host as the point guard on ESPN’s daily “NFL Live” program. She also leads the Saturday morning pre-game on SEC Network.
There are logistical factors to consider with both Van Pelt and Rutledge because “Countdown” is on-site. Van Pelt is expected to continue his post-game “SportsCenter” and Rutledge is expected to stay on “NFL Live” whether they get the MNF pre-game assignment or not.
ESPN will consider other candidates, but Van Pelt or Rutledge have the inside track.
Spending on top production comes through when you have a classic match such as Sunday’s Wimbledon final between Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic. While the ratings figure to be immense for the thriller, it is a shame for the sport that ESPN didn’t have its own behind-the-scenes folks on the broadcast and instead used the World Feed. No more so than after Alcaraz won and sought out analyst John McEnroe and the ESPN booth to acknowledge them. McEnroe said it was the first time in 30 years of calling these matches that had ever happened. It would have been a memorable moment, had it been in the moment. Showing it later is not the same thing. Meanwhile, ESPN’s broadcast, led by play-by-player Chris Fowler, frequently did not identify faces in the crowd. The shots were incessant, but Fowler needed to identify the notable onlookers more often as the match progressed. Again, this is more difficult with the world feed, but it needed to be done, especially as the audience (in theory) grew as the match stretched to five sets. It was a great day for tennis, but cutbacks have an impact – and not having a full production crew showed up in big moments. …
As choices go, Richard Sherman as Skip Bayless’ verbal combatant on “Undisputed” could be a good one. Why? These shows are designed to get attention. Though I’m not sure if Bayless-Sherman would fully work — I don’t know how Sherman is on non-NFL topics such as basketball and how his relationship with Bayless would develop — the program will generate sparks, which, like it or not, is what these shows are about. I did hear their meeting last week in Beverly Hills went well. … Derek Jeter continues to be pretty solid as a Fox Sports analyst, a role that continued on the All-Star Game last Tuesday. Jeter has more personality on TV than he showed as a player. The one aspect that is so weird to see is Jeter asking players questions and offering hot takes. After the All-Star Game, Jeter went all WFAN caller, pontificating he would like to see the Yankees trade for Juan Soto. It made waves because it’s Jeter and the Yankees, which is a win for Fox Sports, even though it seems unlikely such a deal will transpire. …
Craig Carton leaving FAN makes the sports radio war with ESPN less fun. While it will be interesting to see whether ESPN New York’s “The Michael Kay Show” can make inroads again facing FAN’s new afternoon combo of Tiki Barber and Evan Roberts, the Mike Francesa-like antagonizing factor that Carton brought will be missing. Carton relished the battle, and rubbed it in Kay’s face when he was ahead, especially with his “winners and losers” rant. It’s not classy, but some radio folks look at WFAN as similar to WWE, so it is all part of the production. Francesa had the all-time line when he boasted ESPN New York needed to bring more than peashooters. Kay eventually beat Francesa, which gave the diss some infamy. I don’t see Roberts or Barber stirring it up the way that Carton and Francesa did.
Memo: What needs to change at ESPN
One of the aspects that always annoys me when Disney or ESPN has layoffs is the hypocrisy of the term “Cast Member” and the notion of the company just being one happy family. Cast Member is what Disney and, by extension, ESPN, calls its employees. I was once one.
To be clear, I mostly enjoyed my 11 years at ESPN. I was treated well and respected. I had the good luck of leaving on my own before they told me to. But there is a lot of luck involved there.
And that is what ESPN is going to have to figure out if it wants to improve morale.
But it is not in good shape because for the past several months, the ground has been shaking. This is after the several years of layoff earthquakes. It is impossible for the average employee to feel safe.
What ESPN needs to do is to try to figure out how to make the system more merit-based, behind the cameras and in front of it, and make luck less of a factor. Because there has been so much turmoil, there have been hiring freezes and pay freezes. If it’s the wrong time, even if you are perceived to be excelling, tough luck.
ESPN nearly severed ties with Steve Young last year, but re-signed him and now they let him go. They re-signed Keyshawn Johnson a year ago to a five-year, roughly $18 million deal. Now, they cut him loose.
The rank and file have to be concerned about the next round of cuts, but without the benefit of million-dollar cushions.
Too many times at ESPN, it is luck that determines one’s future. The layoffs can hit when your department isn’t valued or you just happen to have the wrong boss. I look back at my time there and know if a ball had bounced a different way at a different time, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to walk on my own.
Now, on some of these points, you may be reading and saying, “That’s unsolvable. If your boss doesn’t like you, what can you or ESPN do to change that?” Maybe so, but if I’m ESPN, I’m trying to figure out how I’m keeping my best people, which means rewarding them for doing a good job and weeding out people who don’t do as much.
Because, right now, when the ground shakes and shakes, your best people start to look at the place as a stop and not a destination. I don’t have a fancy business degree, but that can’t be good.
The Times’ disregard for expertise
One of the problems with The New York Times’ decision to shutter its sports section and use reporters from its $550 million purchase of The Athletic — the changes will take effect in two months — was its utter disregard for expertise.
The Times seemed to make a wholesale decision without seemingly much, if any, thought given to having some special talents — including soccer’s Rory Smith, baseball’s Tyler Kepner and dogged reporter (and former Postie) David Waldstein.
Times management’s desire to go around its union and use the writers from The Athletic makes it a little messy to just move Smith, Kepner, Waldstein and a few others to the subscription. But, like Disney, The Times likes to act as if it is different, better.
The presentation of its new plan was so poorly rolled out. They could have said they are adding 400 sports writers to The Times’ staff, which is essentially what they are doing by outsourcing the sports section to The Athletic. The problem is they don’t want Athletic writers in the union, which might get a little fishy since the 35 soon-to-be former Times sports writers are in the union. Those sports writers are expected to work in other departments. For example, Kepner is scheduled to join the National news desk.
All of this makes no sense, except if the decision is just about money and trying to justify what may have been an overpayment for The Athletic.
At the end of the day, The Times has informed valuable longtime employees that what they have done, what they continue to do and what they could do in the future is unimportant. It all doesn’t feel right.
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