In 2015, when the network was still under John Skipper’s command, ESPN handpicked Bomani Jones to usher in a new era of on-air personalities. This group was far less enthusiastic about sports than Tony Kornheiser, Michael Wilbon, Chris Berman, and Dan Patrick, though they were more popular on Twitter and supposedly appealed to some unknown group of sports fans. This woke, angry, and unpleasant new wave included Pablo Torre, Sarah Spain, Katie Nolan, and its leader, Bomani Jones.
Collectively, they’ve had little success at the network and are dwindling. Last week, Katie Nolan announced her departure from ESPN. Spain is failing on radio, and Torre is hosting an irrelevant podcast. So where does that leave Bomani Jones? Sources tell OutKick Jones’ contract is up in March. And according to the New York Post, industry experts expect him to leave.
Jones went from the groomed heir apparent of Stephen A. Smith to a fill-in host who’s trying to run out the clock on his contract.
Let’s go back to the beginning:
Even though there were clear signs that viewers didn’t want him, ESPN treated Bomani Jones like Stephen A. Smith, Scott Van Pelt, and Mike Greenberg. The network handed Jones the resources, platform, support, and money to elevate him to the next level.
In addition to a seat next to Dan Le Batard on Highly Questionable, the network gave Jones his own afternoon radio show, The Right Time. It turns out, radio wasn’t for Jones. The Right Time recorded the lowest ratings in ESPN Radio history.
But who cares? ESPN didn’t. Following his radio failures, ESPN rewarded Jones with a new contract worth over $2 million a year and a TV show, High Noon with Pablo Torre. Unlike HQ, where he was a sidekick, Jones was the lead on High Noon.
It turns out Jones isn’t a lead TV talent either. ESPN first placed High Noon immediately following First Take, then the move tanked the network’s midday base audience. Not to worry, ESPN quickly moved High Noon to a friendlier 4 pm time slot. After the network had given the show its full support, ESPN eventually had to pull the plug in 2020 after the show could not find an audience and began to sink surrounding programming.
Jones’ previous contract conveniently expired at about the same time that ESPN canceled his TV show. Anyway, ESPN re-signed Jones, this time at around $1.4 million per year. Got that? He got over a million dollars a year for three straight failures.
Now that his second contract is set to lapse, the like-minded sports media bubble has publicly expressed sympathy for Jones and his terrible plight. The Left can’t believe ESPN’s decision-makers haven’t given Jones a fourth or fifth opportunity and that they dared to bring his salary below the $2 million annual mark.
Right on cue, in comes the Washington Post to write a sympathetic, dishonest puff piece about Jones to try and strongarm the network into bringing him back. Headlined “Bomani Jones thrives where race and sports collide. Can he be a star at ESPN?,” the entire article paints Jones as a victim.
To its credit, the network has not caved. Then again, March is still months away. Perhaps ESPN will give Jones First Take with Smith, boot Tony Kornheiser off PTI so that he can take over, or debut SportsCenter with Bomani Jones. Never rule out the possibility that cowards will mess things up again. But for now, ESPN continues to stick to its plan.
Because its executives operate out of fear, they can’t simply release Jones or refuse to offer him a new contract. ESPN daily programming decisions are as much about PR as the bottom line. ESPN’s top executives know that if they let Jones go, Twitter will come after them. Jemele Hill will send out a tweet. So rather than cut Jones’ large salary entirely, the company has to encourage Jones to leave by giving him fewer and smaller platforms. Whenever a network stops promoting a talent, he or she will likely feel underappreciated and underutilized. Should the person then part ways with the company, the departure appears mutual and Keith Olbermann is less likely to comment on it. This is a more strategic approach for ESPN.
Unless ESPN foolishly gives in and goes all-in on Jones for the fourth time, it seems Jones is ready to move on. He will likely head somewhere that requires him to bring or find an audience by himself. A podcast company cannot place Jones behind its biggest star or in a block with PTI. Whether at Meadowlark Media, Spotify, Crooked Media, or some other place — Jones will be on his own.
And that’s challenging. Talents with substantial audiences don’t need network attachments anymore. Dave Portnoy, Bill Simmons, Big Cat, Pat McAfee, PFT Commenter, and Dan Le Batard have proven as much. Meanwhile, others such as Michelle Beadle and Rachel Nichols have departed ESPN only to enter into the abyss.
Bomani Jones is like a wrestler Vince McMahon pushed as a face of WWE yet could never get over as a babyface or a heel. That wrestler must then decide whether he should finish out his career as a mid-card performer in WWE’s locker room or risk recreating his character at a smaller promotion.