It was a fairly normal day (for 2020) at the Clevelander hotel. All five daily episodes of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, ESPN’s most downloaded and highest rated podcast, went on as scheduled. There were funny jokes about Alvin Kamara, Dan Le Batard did his normal soapbox kind of thing about college sports, Stugotz gave a false promise to boycott the College Football Playoff if a 4-0 Ohio State makes it. Billy Gil ran the useless sound montage. And Chris Cote tried to get Victor Cruz to admit he pours cans of Pringles into his mouth. You know, the normal sports radio things. Ok, normal Dan Le Batard with Stugotz things… if you get the show.
A few hours after the show ended, while most of us were wrapping up work, getting ready to put Le Batard’s Postgame Show episode on the drive home, sports media news broke. It wasn’t a WojBomb or a Schefty signal… It was a Traina tweet.
ESPN has announced that Dan Le Batard is leaving the company in January.— Jimmy Traina (@JimmyTraina) December 3, 2020
The news sent shockwaves through Twitter and Reddit. The Le Batard community was shocked at the timing and the source. Though, the news also had a tinge of “it’s been a long time coming”. Le Batard later, kind of, confirmed the news:
Holy shit! The mighty Stugotz is a FREE AGENT! How ‘bout THAT?— Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz (@LeBatardShow) December 3, 2020
So What Is “The Show?”
Dan Le Batard’s show quickly rose to national prominence when his show was moved to ESPN Radio in 2013, but the Le Batard Show with Stugotz has been on the radio in some form or fashion since 2004. In his radio career, as well as his writing career, Dan Le Batard has become the name that everyone associates with “race talk”. Le Batard has a history of asking tough questions about social issues, and has never been scared of pressing a guest, host, or company’s buttons to be a social advocate. On the show, the schtick is usually that after Dan finishes talking about something more important than sports, Stugotz contributes that “it’s an important conversation,” and that he’s “glad [they’re] having it.”
While Dan will always have that to his name, the legacy of his show is the diverse cast of names it gave a platform. Le Batard himself identifies as a child of Cuban refugee. The show’s cast and content both demonstrate the Cuban influence in South Florida. But the Le Batard show has been instrumental in the rise of a cast of different and unique ESPN personalities.
Many of the ESPN personalities you see today, like Bomani Jones, Pablo Torre, Mina Kimes, and Dominique Foxworth were each regular guests with Dan. Now, Jones is a podcaster and regular on shows like Around the Horn. Pablo Torre runs The Daily podcast for ESPN after he took over for Mina Kimes. Kimes moved on to become an NFL analyst on ESPN’s NFL Live. Foxworth is a regular on ESPN’s Get Up! Recently, ESPN personalities Malika Andrews and Elle Duncan have used Le Batard’s show as a place for them to help introduce themselves to the world as well. The Le Batard with Stugotz show has simultaneously been an introduction, proving ground, and safe space for ESPN personalities that were new and different from voices on the normal sports show.
While several sports media personalities thank Dan for some part of their success, Dan probably owes a big portion of his own to LeBron James. In a viral bit, Dan Le Batard and Stugotz’s respective reactions to The Decision on ESPN sent shockwaves through sports media. It was hilarious. It was the perfect combination of a trash-talking fan and a writer giddy for content. A couple of years later, while the Heat were running the NBA, Le Batard went from an ESPN clip to an ESPN employee.
The nation may have known of Dan’s writing from his work on the Miami Hurricanes, but The Decision led to the nation hearing his voice. And once we heard his, he continued to elevate others.
While Dan Le Batard is certainly the most successful voice leaving ESPN, his show is not the first that tackles issues outside of sports to get the boot. Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre landed within the company, but they saw their own show High Noon suddenly canceled just weeks after it’s midday ratings moved it to primetime. Last summer, Mike Golic Sr. was let go while recording from his own home. Years ago, ESPN made a conscious effort to make the prime time 6:00 ET Sportscenter more entertaining with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith. ESPN canceled SC6 shortly thereafter. Cari Champion, another Sportscenter host, left the network to work with Hill at Vice. Together, they host Cari & Jemele (Won’t) Stick to Sports.
Sticking to sports, and just raw, plain sports, appears to be the only arena ESPN is operating in. Bill Simmons left ESPN and began The Ringer to cover both sports and pop culture how he wanted. Barstool seems to combine sports talk and frat house lifestyle. You’re reading this on BellyUp.com, a place that “is what they aren’t.” Every sports outlet makes choices about what kind of a voice they have… ESPN is making their choices in the voices they don’t. So much so that they just, mutually, agreed to part ways with their biggest voice in both radio and podcasting mediums.
So, What’s Next?
ESPN’s decision left a weird feeling in the gut of many fans who “get the show”. This has been building. The Le Batard Show with Stugotz has butted heads with ESPN since the relationship was created. The advocate in Dan never meshed with the corporation of Mickey Mouse. However, both needed each other for a long time. ESPN didn’t want a show that talked about race and the NBA Draft with Jay Bilas. But they needed the audience with a growing audio presence. Dan didn’t want ESPN rules and regulations. But needed the airwaves to build his show from Miami to Los Angeles to Ft. Wayne, Indiana.
ESPN has whittled at The Le Batard Show with Stugotz for years. It was evident more recently during contract negotiations with Greg Cote and Papi Le Batard. In moving the show from ESPN News (also known as ESPN EWS) to ESPN+, the network recently cut the national show from three hours to two. At the same time, they tried to sneakily cut producer Chris Cote just last month. Dan’s response? He hired Chris as his personal assistant and is paying his full salary. And gave him a raise. And then argued with Chris’ dad about it on national radio.
Amidst it all, Dan Le Batard’s presence has grown. In the last two years, Le Batard has launched the Le Batard And Friends (Le Batard AF) podcast series. Dan, who always loves a good buffet, has created a one of a kind buffet for his listeners. Daily, in addition to the ESPN show, Le Batard and his producers are pushing new and creative content with outside personalities like Mina Kimes, Sarah Spain, and Marty Smith. They cover sports topics, sports adjacent topics, and sports by the skin of their teeth. Marty Smith’s America sits in the same audio buffet as The Mina Kimes Show with Lenny, Mystery Crate, and -Tom Brady’s favorite- STUPodity!
And when ESPN cut down time from the national show? Le Batard and his team, “the shipping container,” put out more daily Le Batard Show content in the show’s content feed. And now that the show is being cut entirely?
Here is Dan Le Batard’s statement on leaving ESPN in early January. pic.twitter.com/v8DcjGwuzG— Jimmy Traina (@JimmyTraina) December 3, 2020
“To our loyal army of concerned fans, and to everyone who walked along and played an instrument in our Marching Band to Nowhere, knows that t is a very exciting time for us, not a sad one. And that you’ll be hearing our laughter again soon enough.” So for now, as Le Batard fans always have, we aimlessly march.
Like his coworker Bill Simmons, Le Batard is set to leave ESPN and set up his own podcasting empire. The fandom and following are there. There is even a bi-weekly podcast made by more than a dozen fans of Dan Le Batard. His popularity is massive on platforms like Twitter and Reddit, both of which have unique, strong Le Batard fanbases. The Lour After Hours specializes in pulling in regular Le Batard Show guests (that they book using DM’s) and hosting a show on Zoom. The fans are from as close as Miami, as remote as Ft. Wayne, and as far as Australia.
If anything, there is a weird feeling of “finally” within the Le Batard community. Finally, Dan can escape the Disney corporate lawyers (and hopefully Mike Ryan can, too) and create whatever he wants.
Simultaneously, there’s this gut punch that The Le Batard Show with Stugotz is ending as we know it. If excitement is the yin, fear of the unknown is the yang. More than 15-years of fun ends when the 2020 nightmare is in our rearview mirror. There’s no Autozone battery that can charge it back up, and the Stephen A. Smith birthdays are numbered. Who knows if we even get to finally hear Dan’s favorite color?
The end of The Le Batard Show with Stugotz feels like upcoming graduation. Yes, you know there is a great opportunity on the other side. “Finally” we’re all done and graduating to whatever’s next for the Le Batard crew. The freedom that is coming is exciting, new, and scary all at the same time.
For so many, The Le Batard Show with Stugotz offered a humorous outlet through a tough time. Sports offer a great escape, but the fun conversations about them are where we escape to. Le Batard and his crew brought that into our cars and onto our phones. In need of a change of the voices in our heads, Le Batard and his crew were there to offer theirs. Dan always said that was the most rewarding part of the job, giving that escape to people across the world. We may not know what comes next for Dan and the crew, but we know it’s going to be an attempt to keep giving to us.
Thank you Dan, thank You Dan… Thank you, Dan.