Nate Silver, the statistical analyst who confounded many political pundits by accurately forecasting the last two presidential elections, confirmed today that he was leaving the New York Times and taking his award-winning website, FiveThirtyEight.com, to ESPN. In 2008, Silver, who initially established his analytical expertise as a baseball statistician, dug deep into the sea of presidential-election polls and successfully predicted the results in 49 of 50 states. He brought his blog to the Times in 2010, and in 2012, he improved upon his 2008 record, nailing all 50 states.
At ESPN, Silver will be editor-in-chief of a new FiveThirtyEight site, similar to the arrangement that the company has with Bill Simmons and his Grantland website. In fact, Silver himself recently tweeted: “Grantland’s a model for what new 538 will look like. Independent editorial point-of-view. We’ll be doing some hiring, building a great team.”
ESPN is a natural home for the sports-minded Silver, who will also be a valuable resource for ABC during the election season. “This is a dream job for me,” Silver said in a statement. “I’m excited to expand FiveThirtyEight’s data-driven approach into new areas, while also reuniting with my love of sports. I’m thrilled that we’re going to be able to create jobs for a great team of journalists, writers and analysts. And I think that I’ve found the perfect place to do it. The variety and quality of the assets ESPN and ABC News presented to me was compelling and unparalleled. I can’t wait to get started.”
One area of interest that Silver wants to cover more closely is the business of entertainment, including that annual Hollywood “election” known as the Oscars. But as Silver explained in a conference call this afternoon, the lack of raw data about the Academy Awards makes accurate analysis problematic: gossip is no substitute for actual polls. (After picking 4-of-6 of the major Oscar winners in February, Silver wrote “there is [no] magic formula for this.”) As such, Silver said he’d “have fun with [the Oscars],” but the race wouldn’t necessarily be a major focus for the new site.
Though Silver can be expected to appear on ESPN and ABC television, the company shot down a report that being a regular contributor to Keith Olbermann’s new ESPN2 show was part of the deal. The New York Times owns Silver’s site until the end of August, when his three-year contract with the newspaper company officially expires. Silver hinted that an interim blog might debut before his new site (which doesn’t yet have a launch date) is officially unveiled.