VIEWS: Caitlin Clark and Stephen A. Smith Dominate ESPN's YouTube Channel

Stephen A. Smith is the star of ESPN's YouTube channel.
Stephen A. Smith on First Take.
Stephen A. Smith on First Take. / ESPN

Audience. Ratings. Eyeballs. Attendance. Pageviews. Clicks. These are the things that make the sports world go 'round. How many people are watching something? How many people saw something and where did they see it?

What is or isn't getting engagement? Why are people watching a certain clip or show? These are the things we will investigate with VIEWS as we try to figure out what is and isn't working in the world of sports media. If you've ever wondered about any of this, we will try provide you with answers.

For our first foray into consumed content, we'll look at ESPN's YouTube channel. Did you know that between 12:01 a.m. ET on June 1 and 11:59 a.m. ET on June 13, ESPN uploaded 266 videos to their YouTube channel? Well, it's true and we know that because we counted.

The first video posted in June was a SportsCenter segment about whether or not Kristaps Porzingis would return for the NBA Finals (He did. Briefly). An audience of 176,000 watched that video. The last video posted before writing this was Stephen A. Smith talking about JJ Redick interviewing with the Lakers. Yes, the eyeballs emoji was used in the title and 250,000 people watched the clip in less than a day.

What are you supposed to do with that information? Probably nothing, but we're going to let you know what did and didn't work for ESPN on YouTube so far this month and see if we can unlock any secrets about the media or the universe or society based on what we learn.

The big caveat, of course, is that someone only needs to watch 30 seconds of a video for it to count as a view. Take the Redick video as an example. It teases Stephen A. Smith in the title, but it opens with an Adrian Wojnarowskj tweet narrated by Molly Qerim. Then Brian Windhorst talks about Redick for more than two minutes before Smith even speaks.

Stephen A. Smith, Andraya Carter and Brian Windhorst on First Take.
Stephen A. Smith patiently waits for Brian Windhorst to finish talking. / ESPN

So while a ton of people watched this, we have no clue if anyone actually listened to what Stephen A. said. We do know people heard Windhorst because Awful Announcing clipped part of what he said and put it on X (formerly Twitter) where it accumulated another 670,000 views. That social media site requires you to watch for a few seconds for it to count as a view, but at 23 seconds total, we can be reasonably sure that a lot of people saw Windhorst explain the "Mind the Game" podcast with LeBron James was Redick's actual interview with the Lakers.

And if you've stuck with us this long you should be very excited to see we've reached the Caitlin Clark part of the program. ESPN's three most-watched videos in early June all had to do with Caitlin Clark. They were the only three videos to break the 700,000-view barrier. She was also the subject of the 7th- and 12th-most watched videos of the month.

Obviously, people were interested in the Chennedy Carter incident. While people were shouting about it for a solid week and reacting to the reactions, the most-viewed video of the month was uploaded on June 4th. More than 800,000 people clicked on the "First Take" clip, "Reacting to Chennedy Carter & Angel Reese’s comments on hard foul on Caitlin Clark."

Perhaps so many people checked out the clip of hosts Molly Qerim, Stephen A. Smith, Shannon Sharpe and guests Chiney Ogwumike and Monica McNutt discussing Carter's comments about her hard foul because it was the day after McNutt stunned Smith on-air. Unfortunately, YouTube does not conduct exit interviews when you click away so we may never know.

What we do know is that people were very interested in this incident. The second-most watched video in this timespan was Carter's actual foul on Clark, clocking in at more than 730,000 views. The one thing that sticks out here is that it's a straight highlight. This is why highlights are so valuable. Not only did ESPN broadcast the game, but they also put the clip on YouTube where people watched it.

The same thing happened to a lesser degree when Clark played her best game of the season. "HIGHLIGHTS from Caitlin Clark's HUGE game in win vs. Mystics 😤 30 PTS & 7 3PM 🎯" had 433,000 views and "Caitlin Clark ties WNBA ROOKIE RECORD with 7 3PM in a game 🤯 | SportsCenter" had 217,000 views.

And when she was left off the Olympic team, Stephen A. Smith's "strong RESPONSE" became the third-most watched video with 718,000 views. Though yet again, it's impossible to tell if Stephen A. was ever seen by most people. It starts with Qerim again, who throws it to Chiney Ogwumike. Then Shannon Sharpe and Andraya Carter also chime in and it's more than six minutes into the clip before Stephen A. actually speaks.

Not that this is meant to question Stephen A. Smith's popularity. The man clearly draws eyeballs and drives traffic. There's a reason ESPN is paying him so much. Look no further than the fourth and fifth-most viewed videos of the month so far. "Kyrie Irving was a VIRTUAL NO-SHOW 😳 - Stephen A. reacts to Celtics-Mavericks Game 1" and "Stephen A. thinks Kyrie Irving IS THE REASON the Mavs are down 0-2?!" combined for more than 1.1 million views. Not to mention 300,000 people watched the clip "Stephen A. is SHOCKED Dan Hurley turned down Lakers job 👀 " and he was the first person featured.

Of course, another thing that seems to do well on the ESPN YouTube channel is immediate reactions, like the 26-minute clip from SC with SVP. Nearly half a million people watched this video which served as ESPN's postgame show for Game 2 of the NBA Finals. It has highlights, postgame press conferences, one of ESPN's most beloved hosts and their best basketball analyst in Tim Legler breaking down the game that everyone just watched. And if someone missed the game but wants the most comprehensive explanation of what happened, this video has everything. Similar videos after Game 1 (289,000) and Game 3 (388,000) also performed very well without featuring anything viral or hot take-y.

So what did we learn today? Well, outside of Caitlin Clark videos, people don't seem to go to the ESPN YouTube channel for highlights. The most successful clips generally feature reactions from ESPN personalities, with Stephen A. Smith being overwhelmingly featured. Even when he's buried in a clip, he's the focal point. To whit, Shannon Sharpe, who just signed a big contract extension, didn't find his name featured in a single video title during the first half of June.

The only person to come close to Stephen A. in title recognition so far this month is Pat McAfee, who really only broke through the noise of the endless scroll because of his involvement with Concafa SC, which is involved in the soccer version of The Basketball Tournament.

ESPN highlights don't get much viewership on YouTube unless they are truly viral.
Pat McAfee's soccer club couldn't touch Caitlin Clark highlights in viewership. /

McAfee just isn't connecting on YouTube this month the way that Stephen A. Smith is. Even a segment about Aaron Rodgers missing mini-camp only resulted in 6,000 views. No matter how long people are watching the clips that push SAS, they're definitely clicking in large numbers. He is the face of ESPN for a reason and it is clear they are leaning on him online.

Stephen Douglas


Stephen Douglas is a Senior Writer on the Breaking & Trending News Team at Sports Illustrated. He has been in journalism and media since 2008, and now casts a wide net with coverage across all sports. Stephen spent more than a decade with The Big Lead and has previously written for Uproxx and The Sporting News. He has three children, two degrees and one now unverified Twitter account.