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Sharpe’s Impact Propels ‘First Take’ to Soaring Viewership in Just Six Weeks

  • Since teaming with Stephen A. Smith, the former Fox Sports personality co-starred in three of the four most-watched shows.
  • Three-time Super Bowl winner joined the ESPN show part-time on September 4.
ESPN vs. Fox Sports battle
ESPN Images/Fox Sports

Stephen A. Smith’s recruitment of Shannon Sharpe to ESPN is shaping to be one of the biggest sports media talent coups in years.

After being courted by Smith, Sharpe joined “First Take” on a part-time basis on Sep. 4. But in only six weeks on the air, the Pro Football Hall of Famer has already co-starred in three of the four most-watched “First Take” episodes this year, said sources.

Monday’s top-rated “First Take” edition with Smith, Sharpe, and Molly Qerim drew 852,000 viewers. 

That’s behind only the 892,000 viewers who tuned in to “First Take” the morning after Damar Hamlin’s on-field heart attack on Jan. 2. 

And nearly five times the 172,000 viewers for Skip Bayless’ “Undisputed” on Monday.

Despite a rusty Sharpe inadvertently calling Smith “Skip,” his “First Take” debut on Sep. 4 averaged 727,000 viewers. 

And his Tuesday morning appearance after Aaron Rodgers’s season-ending injury on “Monday Night Football” pulled 726,000 viewers.

According to sources, several factors are at play here as the NFL enters Week 6. 

First, ESPN’s “First Take” and “Get Up” morning shows have become the def facto agenda-setters for the week’s football storylines. Sharpe’s timing was perfect as he joined ESPN at the kickoff of the NFL’s 2023 regular season.

Second, Smith plays the chief Dallas Cowboys hater role while rival Bayless waves the pom-poms for “America’s Team.” 

So many viewers enjoy tuning in to watch Smith’s reaction after a Cowboys win or loss. But especially after a brutal loss like the Cowboys’ 42-10 dismantling by the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

Decked out in a black cowboy and adopting a broad Texas accent, “Southern Stephen” taunted miserable Cowboys fans on Monday’s show. These appearances are comparable to a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

“‘First Take’ is the place to be – because evidently the Big D is not the place to go,” Smith cackled.

Former ESPNer Dan Le Batard has clashed with Smith over the years. But even he’s impressed by “First Take,” pulling nearly 900,000 viewers this week.

“That is a monster number. When all numbers are declining, that is a giant number to have stationary in daytime. It represents twice as much as what that show has always done at its best,” noted Le Batard on his show Wednesday. 

Sharpe Boosts ‘First Take’ Ratings, Leaving Bayless Behind

ESPN’s “First Take” continues to dwarf Fox’s “Undisputed” in ratings.
September 14, 2023

Smith and Sharpe have traveled via private jet to Deion Sanders’s Colorado football games with their bromance in full swing. They’ve also appeared on each other’s independent podcasts.

Their chemistry positions Sharpe as Smith’s heir apparent should Smith leave “First Take” for late-night TV, entertainment, or politics. 

Sharpe appears on “First Take” roughly two or sometimes three days a week along with a rotating list of guest debaters, including Ryan Clark, Marcus Spears, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, and Dan Orlovsky.

The three-time Super Bowl champion left Bayless’ “Undisputed” this June after nearly seven years together on the air at Fox Sports’ FS1 cable network.

During an appearance on “The Stephen A. Smith Show,” Sharpe warned Bayless and his revamped “Undisputed” cast, including Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, Keyshawn Johnson, and Richard Sherman, they’ll never beat “First Take.” Even if Smith leaves the show.

“Y’all not going to be better than me and Stephen A. That’s not going to happen. I promise you, that is not going to happen. Ever. EVER,” Sharpe declared. 

“Now, if Stephen A. says, ‘Shannon, I want to go in a different direction,’ you all are still not (going to beat us). Because Stephen A. is that dude. If Stephen A. ever decides to leave and turn the reins over to me, you all know I’m that dude. I’m him. Now the problem y’all got is you got two hims to go up against.”

Sharpe also tweeted he will fill in for Smith on Friday’s “First Take.”

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