Tue. Apr 23rd, 2019

If ESPN Is Going To Pay Big Money To Talent, Stephen A. Smith Should Get Plenty!

“Stephen A. Smith is not a middle of the pack talent who executives would need to be convinced to hire. If ESPN doesn’t give him a lucrative deal, someone else will.”

If there’s one pet peeve of mine in the sports media industry it’s that people can get way too jealous and nasty over other people’s success. Rather than focusing on their own situations and ignoring the outside noise, many waste energy bitching and moaning about things beyond their control. This is especially true when money is involved.

If you want to see what that looks like scroll thru Twitter or Facebook and look at the sea of negativity directed at ESPN for reportedly being willing to pay their franchise player Stephen A. Smith 8-10 million dollars per year as part of a new contract. It’s the same type of public outcry from fans and media members whenever a professional sports team signs a major superstar to a rich and lengthy contract.

The story which was first reported by Andrew Marchand of the NY Post has created a lot of buzz over the past 24 hours. ‘Why would ESPN pay someone that much money?’ ‘They’re going to pay a guy who doesn’t keep up with the sports he covers?’ ‘For all the mistakes Stephen A. makes on the air they reward him like this?’ And my personal favorite ‘I work my tail off and this guy gets paid this? What a joke.’

First Take

I’m not sure why high dollar amounts for celebrity figures trigger such negative reactions but they do. It doesn’t seem to matter that the company which agreed to the deal was comfortable with it, only that the public decided the number was too high. Making the matter more amusing is how many people say they don’t watch, listen or care about an individual yet can recite numerous examples of what they’re about.

As far as Stephen A. Smith’s contract drama is concerned, fans aren’t the only ones worked up over it. A number of media people were too. I saw a barrage of negative comments on social media, many displeased by what the reported salary was, and who’d be earning it.

It made me wonder ‘why do media people care?’ It’s not like the situation impacted their paychecks, or limited their company’s ability to make future investments. If it’s doing neither then what’s the big deal?

The reality of this situation is simple. Stephen A. Smith is a high profile personality who commands a lot of your attention. Whether you hate him or love him doesn’t matter. He has an innate ability to lure eyeballs to the screen and create instant chatter. He’s not a middle of the pack talent who industry executives would need to be convinced to hire. If ESPN doesn’t give him a lucrative deal, someone else will.

Is 10 million per year excessive for a television and radio personality? Perhaps. But how can you say it is or isn’t worth it to ESPN? Do you know what they generate financially off of Stephen A. Smith? Do you know what they’d lose from a revenue standpoint if he wasn’t on radio and television? Do you think the company hasn’t studied how his presence on First Take, SportsCenter, NBA programming, and other shows improves their ratings? We seem to forget that the company knows this information better than anyone else. If they didn’t think it made business sense, they wouldn’t do it.

What I don’t understand is why so many in our business get bothered by it. You should be thankful that ESPN is willing to invest that type of freight in top people. It makes the market better for everybody else who’s trying to earn a better living as an on-air talent. Isn’t that a good thing? The only ones who should hate it are the companies themselves who’d rather not spend a fortune on talent, and advertisers who will eventually be asked to spend bigger dollars to be associated with the network’s top talent.

Over the past few years these type of headlines have become a more frequent occurrence. People took exception to ESPN paying big money to Mike Greenberg. The same occurred when FOX Sports lightened their bank account to sign Colin Cowherd and Skip Bayless. Were those guys supposed to apologize for agreeing to deals that would pay them well? Did their prior performances for their employers not show they could consistently deliver results? If you were in the exact same situation you would be rushing to your agent’s office to sign the contract before the company reconsidered.

What’s interesting is that I don’t hear a lot of people lose their minds over the annual earnings of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or Howard Stern. All are making more than 10 million a year and they should be. Whether you like them or not doesn’t matter. They’ve built brands, produced results, and would have no shortage of suitors waiting with enticing offers if they hit the open market. Smith is no different.

Say what you want about Stephen A’s loud aggressive style and his recent struggles with presenting facts (that issue does deserves criticism) but you’re not going to win an argument trying to convince me that he hasn’t performed. He’s had a lot of success at ESPN for a long time, and if you polled most sports fans across the country asking them to name the 3 most recognized personalities on ESPN he’d be on the list.

There’s also something to be said about when your contract comes up and if it’s a buyer or sellers market. Right now, it’s a sellers market. If Stephen A. were to hit free agency, it wouldn’t take long for him to land a record contract. Do you think it’d be smart business for ESPN to allow one of their franchise talents to hit free agency when brands like DAZN, FOX Sports, Turner/Bleacher Report, and possibly Amazon and Facebook could be ready to pounce and spend silly money to get him?

Too often people get bent out of shape over what someone’s pay check is instead of stepping back and assessing the situation logically. They look at the individual and the dollar figure attached to their name, and start trying to poke holes in that person’s success. They’ll also rip the company for what they consider a poor financial decision simply because they don’t like this person.

In this particular case, if ESPN decides to fatten Stephen A’s wallet, I’m pretty sure they’ll have plenty of cash left to continue running their empire. So I’ll ask you again, why exactly do you care if the nation’s top sports media outlet opens up their wallet to pay a man who they consider a prime asset? If it’s about production, consistency, brand, and buzz, Stephen A. checks all those boxes. He’s worked hard to ascend to the highest level and ESPN understands his value to their company.

You don’t have to like Stephen A. Smith or agree with him, but you’re not the one signing his paycheck. ESPN is. If you really want to render him extinct from your life, don’t watch his show, listen to his radio program or follow him on social media. But if you did that, you wouldn’t have anything to bitch about when his next contract comes up.