[T]he resources and opportunities the Times can offer Silver are probably dwarfed by those that ESPN/ABC/Disney can. … This isn’t just about money—although since ESPN pays mediocrities Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith well more than $1 million each year combined, it is not difficult to imagine Silver netting seven figures for himself. But consider the possibilities in terms of resources, branding, and things to cover. ESPN has built a magazine around personality Bill Simmons and is building a late-night show around personality Keith Olbermann. Its stars toggle relatively seamlessly from Web-writing to print writing to television to podcasts to radio. Maybe he would prefer to talk more about baseball and other sports? His book, The Signal and the Noise, spent extremely little time on politics. Silver is a noted poker buff; guess which network airs the World Series of Poker? And so on.
It’s a big blow to the NYT, and another sign of how a few highly visible and talented individuals in media can increasingly set their own terms for which ship to attach themselves to, or, at some point, strike out entirely on their own. It makes a lot of sense for Nate to do sports alongside politics. It’s what he cut his teeth on and what he loves. Josh Marshall notes that, during election years, “Nate will do his politics and polling stuff for ABC News,” which is owned by ESPN parent company Disney. In a later post, Josh sees it pretty much as I do:
Two points that stand out to me. First: Silver’s apparent interest in bringing his statistical/probabilistic approach to news to a whole slew of new venues like weather, economics, education and more. Personally, as a news consumer, I find this fascinating. And I’m eager to see it. Numbers aren’t the be all and end all of news or understanding the world we live in. But the way that Nate has used them in sports and politics is a super important check on commentators’ innumeracy, groupthink, nonsense and subjectivity. It is, to use that overused word, highly disruptive in a very positive way.
It also deepens my suspicion that Nate had started to get a little bored with politics, at least as his exclusive realm.
Walter Hickey calculates that Silver has done relatively few sports stories while at the NYT:
Between February 24, 2008 and August 29, 2010 — the 30 months of its run — Silver wrote 43 posts tagged “sports” at his previous independent site, FiveThirtyEight.com. From August 25 to now — the 35 months he’s spent at the Times — Silver has only been able to write 27 posts tagged “sports,” and many of these were videos discussing his own articles. What this means is that when he was flying solo, Silver penned an average of 1.43 sports posts per month. At the Times, he only wrote 0.77 sports posts per month.
Yglesias thinks Silver’s renewed focus on sports is wise because sports “creates a much steadier stream of audience interest” than politics:
There’s a summer lull, but even that comes at a period that’s actually very well-suited to analytics since it means there’s enough baseball season data to start making meaningful assertions about it. So Silver can plug away at sports coverage, and then every four years pivot back to politics for a few months to capture the huge surge in interest in electoral politics that comes right before a presidential election. That’ll be a huge advantage for ABC News’ political team, but since Silver has basically gotten his poll averaging method down already it’s not necessarily a huge drain on his time to do it.