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For over four months, Maria Taylor’s expiring contract has been one of the most talked-about stories inside sports media circles. Taylor is a valuable asset to ESPN, but she has made an unreasonable salary request.
The New York Post reported some of the numbers on Wednesday, citing sources that say Taylor was offered $5 million a year last year, nearly a $4 million salary bump from her current rate. Taylor turned that offer down. It wasn’t enough. She wants $8 million a year.
Sources tell OutKick that though ESPN has reduced the offer, they still have some flexibility. Regardless of ESPN’s final offer, I want to reiterate that Taylor, 34, turned down $5 million a year. Think about that.
Taylor is a talented, versatile broadcaster. In a hypothetical media draft, she’d likely go in the top 20-30. Taylor will have a long career in the business. All that is true and yet she still isn’t worth $8 million a year, even if she thinks she is.
In Taylor’s mind, she is worth as much to ESPN as Stephen A. Smith and Mike Greenberg, the network’s two highest-paid on-air personalities. Greenberg makes around $6.5 million, while sources tell OutKick that Smith’s salary is around $10 million.
I ask — and I sincerely hope Taylor or her manager answer — how did they draw that conclusion?
In fact, everyone at ESPN who feels they too should make Stephen A/Greenberg money — aside from Scott Van Pelt and Kirk Herbstreit — should submit their answers as well. They know how to get a hold of me.
Michael Wilbon is phenomenal and is irreplaceable. Wilbon is worth a lot to ESPN, but he’s not worth $8 million a year, which is why he doesn’t make that.
I have a second question: has another industry made Taylor an offer? Perhaps tech? Because unless you are Bomani Jones, media personalities are paid based on market value, the money other networks have offered..
For example, CBS signed Tony Romo to a near $20 million a year deal to outpace ESPN’s aggressive offers.
Unless Taylor takes over the Tonight Show, she’s not getting $8 million a year elsewhere. She’s not even getting $5 million.
Furthermore, Taylor is asking for athlete money at a time when her colleagues are asked to take 30% pay cuts. ESPN stalwart Kenny Mayne was told: take this 61% reduction or get out.
Fourth question: why does Taylor feel she is so much more valuable than everyone who had to take a cut during the pandemic?
Anyway, despite the climate, Taylor feels $7 million more a year is fair.
Taylor appears interested in Stephen A. Smith’s contract. However, it’s unclear how Smith’s number is relevant.
Smith is one of the few people who routinely increases ESPN’s base audience. He’s an outlier. Most on-air commentators are interchangeable. They don’t move viewership up or down.
Had ESPN lost Smith, its ratings would have taken a nosedive. When Skip Bayless left for FS1 in 2016, First Take‘s viewership dipped 30% at one point. In response, ESPN moved First Take to the main channel.
Taylor is an NBA host and a college football sideline reporter. The number of viewers a pregame host and sideline reporter are responsible for is zero. That’s true for Erin Andrews, Curt Menefee, and James Brown.
If Taylor has her way, her salary will eclipse the following:
- Scott Van Pelt
- Michael Wilbon
- Tony Kornheiser
- Adam Schefter
- Adrian Wojnarowski
- Sage Steele
- Mike Greenberg
- Paul Finebaum
- Rachel Nichols
- Max Kellerman
- Kirk Herbstreit
- Steve Levy
- Matthew Berry
- Jalen Rose
- Mike Breen
- Doris Burke
- Chris Fowler
- Keyshawn Johnson
- Rece Davis
How could ESPN even justify paying Maria Taylor around $5 million a year? As I explained two weeks ago, ESPN pays people out of fear. ESPN pays talents to avoid leaks that could encourage Jemele Hill and Richard Deitsch to call the network racist.
This, of course, is absurd. Most of the talents that ESPN let go of are white males, who I’m told are privileged.
Just look at how Maria Taylor responded to Doug Gottlieb’s criticism last summer. ESPN is afraid. Make no mistake, ESPN’s fear bodes well for Taylor.
Taylor will even call out her employer while negotiating a contract:
ESPN's Maria Taylor tried hard to claim her employer's Twitter account diminished women, but fails hilariously.
A rough moment for Maria Taylor:https://t.co/m45o74ZE1c
The question is simple: do Taylor’s bosses have the spines to pay her just a few million dollars a year more than her market value? If not, all the money ESPN has saved on other personalities will go directly to Maria Taylor.
I bet Taylor wins.