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ESPN Considering Skip Bayless Return to First Take

“Skip’s replacement, Max Kellerman has helped First Take reach new audience records alongside Smith, but if ESPN believes Bayless can bring the show to another level they will explore that potential.”

Brandon Contes

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Less than one week after ESPN made Stephen A. Smith their highest paid employee with an annual salary of nearly $8 million, the network might still have room in their budget to target another prominent sports talker. 

According to a report by Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports, ESPN is interested in reuniting Stephen A. Smith and his ex-First Take partner, Skip Bayless. Stephen A. and Bayless worked together on First Take from 2012 – 2016, before Skip made the move to FOX. The current host of Undisputed with former NFL tight-end Shannon Sharpe on FS1 is set to see his 4-year $25million deal with FOX expire in 2020. 

One source told McCarthy, “They both want to make it happen. I’m just not sure ESPN will hit FOX’s number.” FOX will most likely be interested in retaining Bayless, which could lead to a bidding war between the networks. FOX could also potentially re-sign Bayless before he becomes a free agent.

As one television executive warned McCarthy, “The era of modern sports talent is here. The top 1% will make the big money. The middle will go away. And low paying talent will fill out the grid.” 

While ESPN has shown a willingness to invest large sums of money in talent, it wasn’t long ago when cost cutting strategies resulted in two substantial rounds of layoffs in 2017, eliminating hundreds of employees.

Skip’s replacement, Max Kellerman has helped First Take reach new audience records alongside Smith, but if ESPN believes Bayless can bring the show to another level they will explore that potential. First Take currently averages between 400,000 and 500,000 daily viewers with Stephen A, Kellerman and Molly Qerim Rose on the show. FS1’s Undisputed featuring Skip, Shannon and Jenny Taft regularly garners audience numbers between 150,000 and 180,000 per day.

Stephen A. Smith’s new ESPN contract includes responsibility changes, led by giving up his daily radio show. Max Kellerman has since been publicly considered as a possible successor. It’s possible ESPN could look to utilize all three personalities as full-time contributors to First Take, but it would seem more likely that if Bayless returns, it would be as a replacement for Kellerman, who signed a multi-year extension with ESPN last December.

Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.

Sports TV News

The NFL Still Considering Multiple Offers For Sunday Ticket

The NFL has had the respective bids of Disney, Apple and Amazon for weeks now. DirecTV has not bid for the package but has stated it is willing to partner with the new rightsholder for a potential deal.

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Sunday Ticket Negotiations

DirecTV currently has the rights to Sunday Ticket. That deal expires at the end of this upcoming football season. The NFL is expected to make a boatload of cash when they decide which media organization gets the next rights to the package. The only question is… who will that be?

Alex Sherman of CNBC reports that the NFL has had the respective bids of Disney, Apple and Amazon for weeks now. DirecTV has decided not bid for the package. However, they are interested in partnering with the new rightsholder for a potential deal. DirecTV knows that Sunday Ticket is a staple in bars and restaurants and is interested in maintaining those relationships.

Outside of the bar/restaurant industry, success has been limited for the satellite provider with the football package. Fewer than two million subscribers signed up for Sunday Ticket each year which made the package a money-loser for the satellite TV provider.

According to the report, the NFL wants more than $2 billion for the rights and a stake in NFL Media, which is being packaged with Sunday Ticket. Also on the table is the NFL’s mobile rights. The league’s previous mobile agreement with Verizon has ended.

An interesting piece of the negotiations is Sunday Ticket price. According to the report, a buyer would have limited flexibility on pricing. The NFL signed contracts with CBS and Fox and within the framework of those deals, language mandates Sunday Ticket have a premium price. That’s to prevent loss of viewers from the networks that feature local market Sunday afternoon games. So essentially, the price is the price for the consumer.

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Sports TV News

F1 Renews With ESPN For U.S. Media Rights

ESPN was reportedly in a three-way bidding battle with Amazon and Comcast. According to the report, F1 told both Amazon and Comcast on Friday that they had decline to accept either one’s offer.

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F1 ESPN

The racing series F1 has decided to stick with ESPN through 2025.

ESPN was reportedly in a three-way bidding battle with Amazon and Comcast. According to the report, F1 told both Amazon and Comcast on Friday that they had decline to accept either one’s offer.

The reported value of the three-year contract is set to pay F1 $75-90M per year for the U.S. media rights. Amazon had offered to pay roughly $100M per year, with the right to sublicense to a linear broadcast network. Comcast’s offer was similar to ESPN’s in terms of value and the structure. They also wanted to put select races on it’s streaming service, Peacock.

Netflix was in on the negotiations, as well. The makers of Drive to Survive, the streaming series that many credit with the sport’s explosion in popularity in recent years, wasn’t close on on their financial offer. Also, it seems F1 executives were not ready to put all of its races on a streaming service just yet.

Currently, F1 receives $5M per year for ESPN to broadcast it’s races. ESPN has grabbed about 1.0 million viewers per race. That makes F1 a more than viable option for the network to invest into again. ESPN will be able to put a small number of races on its ESPN+ streaming service exclusively. The vast majority being on ABC or ESPN.

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Sports TV News

Skip Bayless Says He And Stephen A. Smith ‘Sorted Out’ Their Disagreement

“Brothers fight. We have fought before. I’m assuming we will fight again.”

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Skip Bayless

Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless were locked in a war of words last week following the First Take host’s appearance on JJ Redick’s Old Man and the Three podcast.

The origins of their partnership were discussed and Bayless admitted he did not like the way Smith characterized the state of First Take before he arrived on set. Smith insisted that Bayless simply misunderstood what he meant by saying that he was told the show needed him.

Over the weekend, Skip Bayless says he and Stephen A. Smith got together at the Bayless home in California to talk things out in private.

“He was in LA, he came over, we sat by the pool,” he said on the latest episode of The Skip Bayless Show. “It wasn’t the easiest conversation for a while, but we slowly but surely sorted it out. We got through it, and we have been through so much together.”

Bayless reiterated that he considers Smith a brother. They love each other. That doesn’t mean they are always going to remember events the same way or see eye-to-eye all the time.

“Brothers fight. We have fought before. I’m assuming we will fight again.”

Fighting doesn’t mean the relationship is fractured. In fact, Skip Bayless was adamant that he remains closer to Smith than he is to most people in his life.

“I don’t trust easily because of the way I was raised, but I do trust Stephen Anthony Smith. Trust him with my life. Always have and always will. I trust he will always be there for me, and you better believe I will always be there for him.”

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