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Katie Nolan is overrated

03.01.17 at 12:37 pm ET
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Katie Nolan is reportedly on the cusp of receiving a major push at FS1. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

Katie Nolan is reportedly being wooed by ESPN. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

Katie Nolan is a superstar within the echo chamber of Twitter. But outside the cozy confines of social media, she’s a relative non-factor.

With 18 months left on her exclusive deal with Fox Sports, Nolan is reportedly being groomed for a larger role at the network. An unnamed FS1 executive told Sporting News last week the Framingham native’s TV exposure is going to increase “five-fold” following the cancellation of “Garbage Time,” her irreverent and lowly rated late-night talk show. But FS1 may have some competition for Nolan going forward. According to Sporting News’ Michael McCarthy, ESPN is wooing her for a role at the WorldWide Leader, perhaps to take part in a new national morning program with Mike Greenberg. The “Mike and Mike” co-host inked a new mega-contract with ESPN last year that will reportedly pay him $6.5 million annually.

Nolan, 30, first rose to prominence three years ago when she released an introspective commentary about the NFL’s gross mishandling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case. In it, she recounts her decision to pull back from asking Roger Goodell about the leniency of Rice’s original two-game suspension at a Fox Sports event, out of fear it would anger her superiors. Nolan chides herself for staying silent, and vows to be a leading opinionated female sports voice.

“It’s time for women to have a seat at the big boy table,” she says. “And not where their presence is a gimmick or a concept. Just a person who happens to have breasts offering their opinion on the sports they love and the topics they know. Because the truth is, the NFL will never respect women and their opinions as long as the media it answers to doesn’t. I’m ready when you are, Fox.”

Roughly six months after the Rice video, which has been viewed nearly 388,000 times on YouTube, Nolan launched “Garbage Time” in March 2015. But outside of a blistering rant about the media’s coverage of Greg Hardy’s return to the NFL, she failed to make noise on her weekly show. Last spring, SportsTVRatings calculated that “First Take,” the often mocked shout fest on ESPN, was nearly 14 times more popular than “Garbage Time.” Nolan averaged roughly 32,666 viewers per episode for her first three shows this year, drawing about one-third of the audience that Skip Bayless’ Undisputed attracted last week –– during the doldrums of the sports calendar. (More recent “Garbage Time” viewership data isn’t available.)

Nolan’s abysmal ratings may be more of a commentary on FS1 than her. The network also cancelled “Fox Sports Live” last week, after the highlight-centric show with Canadian anchors Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole couldn’t attract an audience in four years. FS1’s lack of live game coverage at night gives it a dramatic disadvantage against ESPN, which owns rights agreements with almost every major sports league. With the absence of a strong lead-in, it’s difficult for FS1 studio shows to gain traction. This was evident last fall, when the station fell from first to 60th among cable networks in primetime ratings after the World Series had started airing exclusively on Fox.

It’s apparent that Nolan is talented and deserves the opportunity to have a bigger platform. Fox Sports missed a chance to do that at the Super Bowl, when it relegated her to social media segments during pregame coverage.

But make no mistake: Nolan is far from a TV star. As she demonstrated with her viral videos about Rice and Hardy, it’s possible to gain traction with a limited platform. As long as the content is good, people will generally find it. But it’s been more than one year since Nolan has factored into the news cycle. Perhaps her most recent notable bit was a crowdfunding effort last summer to buy David Ortiz a bench to put in Central Park –– a lame gimmick that doesn’t seem befitting for somebody who says she wants be a leading female sports voice.

It’s probably tempting for ESPN to throw millions at Nolan and thrust her into a leading role. She’s shown flashes of brilliance, willing to buck conventional wisdom and condemn the usually staid sports media industry. But right now, outside of the insulated world of social media, Nolan is a fringe player. She’s more notable in theory than reality.

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