Nate Silver Heads to ESPN

Nate Silver will be moving from the New York Times to ESPN this fall.  Silver, whose FiveThirtyEight blog gained national notoriety for his accurate predictions in the 2008 and 2012 presidential races, will reportedly be given a significant digital platform for statistical sports analysis as well as airtime on a number of ESPN programs.  FiveThirtyEight, whose three year lease agreement with the Times expires this August, will revert to its pre-NYT independence.

The move seems like a coup for ESPN.  Sabermetric analysis has become increasingly prevalent in sports coverage, and it makes sense that the network would seek to give statistical assessment a more prominent place in its program lineup.   There are few people better to lead this charge than Silver.  I would imagine he’ll fill a role similar to recently-departed NBA columnist and Player Efficiency Rating mastermind John Hollinger, albeit on a greater scale across all four major sports.

The move indicates that Silver will expand his coverage beyond politics and will more frequently cover a wider range of topics, as was the case with his recent book, The Signal and the NoisePolitico (via NYM) also reports that Silver will work for ABC News during prominent political cycles and will also cover entertainment events such as the Oscars.  (I share Matt’s skepticism of Politico and I’ll emphasize that these are only rumors at the moment.)

I was surprised to learn that Silver was leaving the Times after achieving such notoriety with his political predictions, but after reading about the potential plans he has in store, his rationale makes sense.  It will be disappointing if he stops writing about politics as frequently as he is now, but it will be fascinating to see his methods applied to a greater scope of current events.  I’m also hoping this represents a small step in the direction of better discussing cultural issues that surround sports in a broader context, which I argued for in my previous post on ESPN.  Silver could show how statistical sports analysis can be applied to other, broader contexts (health care, business, etc.) and thereby introduce fans to easily understandable ways in which a “sports framework” can be of even greater consequence.

If Silver can successfully cover the politics-sports-entertainment trifecta, he’ll become a crossover superstar that contemporary culture rarely sees.  I wonder if he could subsequently launch a “pop-statistics” movement in which swathes of people would gain new appreciation for statistical methods and sabermetric applications for their daily lives.  The potential is enormous and I’m looking forward to seeing if he succeeds.

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