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ESPN couldn’t recruit Skip Bayless for a Stephen A. Smith reunion show, and the Undisputed host will continue with Fox Sports for $8 million a year.
Fox Sports will keep Bayless with a four-year, $32 million contract, the New York Post reports.
Smith and Bayless would have done a daily ESPN+ show together, which would be splashed over ESPN, including weekly spots on Monday Night Football’s halftime show.
Smith and Bayless would have appeared on ESPN on a variety of programs in an effort to drive viewers to watch and subscribe to ESPN+.
Undisputed, Bayless’ daily morning sports debate show with Shannon Sharpe on FS1, will continue, and a second daily show with Bayless as the solo act is possible in the afternoons.
The aggressive push for Bayless occurred despite ESPN’s elimination of 500 positions and laying off 300 employees.
OutKick’s Bobby Burack discussed Bayless’ value just yesterday, noting his previous $6.5 million a year contract:
Let us first look at why Bayless makes more than double Sharpe. When FS1 originally signed Bayless in 2016, it had to outbid ESPN, which was making Bayless aggressive offers to stay. Bayless’ annual salary came in around the same range as the salaries agreed to for Colin Cowherd (at Fox) and Mike Greenberg (at ESPN), both of whom inked those deals around the same time. At the time, the industry viewed Bayless, Cowherd, and Greenberg in the same echelon.
FS1 was building from the ground up and needed to make a splash after an unsuccessful first iteration. Though there’s an argument that FS1 did slightly overpay for Bayless, they feel it was worth it to them. After Bayless left First Take, its ratings with Stephen A. Smith fell, at one point, as much as 35%. It got so alarming, ESPN moved First Take from ESPN2 to the main channel, subsequently killing ESPN2, which has never recovered. Losing Bayless hurt ESPN in that regard, and it elevated FS1 to over 100,000-150,000 viewers in key timeslots. While that may not be a massive range, it’s about as high as it can go on that channel. I’ve followed daily studio TV ratings as close as anyone, and there are two people in sports media who definitively raise the viewership well above a slot’s base audience: Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith. (You can add the duo of Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon in there too.)
Smith, who makes close to $8 million per year, was a driving force in ESPN’s recruitment of Bayless — who previously worked at ESPN before leaving for Fox Sports — but ultimately, the cross corporation setup between Fox and ESPN broadcasters proved to be unfeasible.