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July 23, 2013

ESPN Scores Statistician Nate Silver

Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight.com (hosted by the New York Times) and renowned statistician who correctly predicted the presidential and 2008 Senate races, revealed in a conference call on Thursday that he is joining ESPN. The network topped other potential suitors to seal the deal, he said. As part of the agreement, FiveThirtyEight will return to its original URL as part of ESPN and Silver will build a team of journalists, editors, analysts and contributors for the refashioned site.

The move to join ESPN is “a multi-way decision,” according to Silver. He noted one thing that’s been misreported is that ESPN and the New York Times are the only bidders. “It’s not true… We had a lot of intriguing offers.” Sports will be an important part of the new FiveThirtyEight as Silver is “getting back to his sports roots,” said ESPN president John Skipper on the call. Having said that, the range of topics covered will be “quite wide,” he said. When it comes to political topics, ABC News will be a partner and a platform for Silver, especially during election years, according to Skipper. As for Silver, he did not hide his excitement: “This is really kind of a dream job for me, and the more we thought about it, the more excited that I became and I think ESPN became, as well.”

Will the new site cover the Oscars? Maybe. The reality is, according to Silver, “there is no one who has a very successful track record at the Oscars… And a lot of the insider gossip is also wrong.” Unlike in politics where statisticians can avoid the insider gossip by looking at the polls, “there is not a great system to predict the Oscars,” Silver said. However, “that doesn’t mean we are not going to try and have some fun with it…” At the end of the day, “one word we tossed around here at ESPN is just the ‘F’ word, which is fun,” he said.

When it comes to what the new site would look like, ESPN-owned online magazine Grantland “is a pretty good precedent for roughly the size we might be looking at,” Silver said. A model for the new site’s homepage would probably be USA Today, which has four sections, including news, sports, money and life, according to Silver. “You can kind of fit most things we want to cover into one of those four bundles.” On the news side, election will be the focus, though there will be various types of news. Silver emphasized that “we are not pulling back from politics” though his interests might be slightly more divided. The new site will provide “data-driven” ways to look at politics, he said. “It’s been a very successful product for us and will continue to be an emphasis.”
 
 







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