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Sharpe Boosts ‘First Take’ Ratings, Leaving Bayless Behind

  • ‘First Take’ averaged 717K viewers Tuesday to 118K for ‘Undisputed.’
  • Smith says Sharpe was ‘pushed out’ by FS1.
Melissa Rawlins / ESPN Images

Stephen A. Smith’s recruitment of Shannon Sharpe to “First Take” continues to pay dividends for ESPN.

The three-time Super Bowl champ returned to “First Take” earlier this week with Smith and Molly Qerim. 

For the second week in a row, their audiences dwarfed those of Skip Bayless’ rival “Undisputed Live” on FS1.

On Monday, after the first weekend of the NFL season, “First Take” posted 626,000 viewers to 185,000 for “Undisputed.”

On Tuesday, the day after Aaron Rodgers’ season-ending injury, “First Take” drew 717,000 viewers compared to 118,000 for “Undisputed.” 

That was the third-biggest audience for “First Take” this year, behind only Sharpe’s Labor Day debut and the Feb. 13 episode after Super Bowl 57.

Sharpe appears on “First Take” Mondays-Tuesday. The two-day average for his shows this week was up 22% from comparable episodes last season. The numbers also nearly doubled the show’s average audience of 363,000 viewers in July.

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With New York Jets superfan Mike Greenberg in mourning over Rodgers’ injury, “Get Up” also had a huge Tuesday, averaging 658,000 viewers for a 59% increase.

Bayless and FS1 have fought back by landing Colorado coach Deion Sanders, the hottest name in sports, two weeks in a row on “Undisputed.” 

After a shaky start, the on-air chemistry looks to be improving between Bayless and his revamped cast, including Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, Keyshawn Johnson, Richard Sherman, Josina Anderson, and Rachel Nichols.

Still, two straight weeks of big numbers must be satisfying for Sharpe. 

The NFL Hall of Famer left “Undisputed” in June after nearly seven years of on-air partnership with Bayless. 

During their last few months together, Sharpe and Bayless clashed several times on the air.

Smith believes Sharpe was “pushed out” by FS1. Sharpe’s situation reminded him of his own dilemma in 2009, when ESPN dropped his contract, leaving him for dead career-wise. Instead, it was Bayless who hand-picked Smith to be his partner on “First Take” in 2012, sending his career into overdrive.

“He didn’t want to leave,” Smith said about Sharpe on the Joe Budden podcast. “He was notified that ‘your services will no longer be needed.’”

Smith’s “First Take” has been No. 1 on weekday morning TV for over a decade. As the face and voice of ESPN, Smith also addressed his growing clout within the network.

“I’m at a point in time, where if I don’t want you on ‘First Take,’ you ain’t coming on ‘First Take,’” he noted.

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Smith is one of the highest-paid talents at ESPN, making an estimated $16 million annually. But his contract is up in two years. He’s talked openly about possibly moving on to late-night TV, entertainment, or politics.

Smith’s not going anywhere – for now. But if he does, Sharpe is perfectly positioned to become his successor on “First Take.” 

Both retweeted the Front Office Sports story pegging Sharpe as Smith’s possible successor.

Smith and Sharpe are already acting like partners, jetting out to Boulder to watch Sanders and Colorado beat visiting Nebraska on Saturday.

Sharpe tweeted a picture of him and Smith conferring in front of a private jet. “This just feels good man, I feel right at home,” he noted.

ESPN and Fox declined to comment for this story

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