Earlier this month, ESPN succeeded in its mission to lock up Pat McAfee with a five-year deal and put him close to the epicenter of its most important real estate. This drew strong reactions and a truly incredible amount of thinkpieces, which were all based on the belief it was a nice, juicy contract. Today, New York Post sports media slugger Andrew Marchand supplied empirical numbers, reporting that ESPN will pay McAfee $17 million per year.
Neither McAfee or ESPN confirmed the figures but given that the source has been on top of every twist and turn of this story, there's more than good reason to believe they are accurate. Obviously the large number is going to raise eyebrows, especially at a time when Disney is cutting costs and cutting employees. On a human level, it's easy to understand the frustration. But from a dollars and sense perspective, it's important to understand that the network would not be doing this if it didn't truly believe that the shiny new hire will pay for himself and then some as bottom-line interests will remain at the top of their priority list.
To this point, we've been the only sports-adjacent outlet to try and fail to come up with a global brain take on what this all means. And the primary reason for that is because it all seems sort of simple. McAfee, as Marchand points out, is going to be workhorse like Mike Greenberg or Stephen A. Smith, with a diverse portfolio.
The around $17 million per year deal that ESPN signed with McAfee, includes his weekly spot as an analyst on the iconic “College Football GameDay” and keeping control over all aspects of his show, including if he wants to have guests like NFL Network insider, Ian Rapoport, on. (McAfee did agree to say the F-word less.)
For its $17 million, ESPN will receive 230 fully produced shows a year that it can sell advertising against. It believes McAfee will rate better than SportsCenter and Max Kellerman’s “This Just In,” which currently air on ESPN in the 2-3 p.m. slot. (The network has not officially said what cable network McAfee will be on, but it is hard to imagine it won’t be the mothership, ESPN.
Even if one is dubious that the former punter's show is going to move the needle and buoy what has been a radio side stuck in the mud, the other properties he'll get his hands into have an enormous possibilities.
The price tag is heavy but consider what ESPN is getting. They are getting someone who, at 36-years old, could become the next Lee Corso on College GameDay for three decades. They are getting someone who has a major foothold in the NFL and proven ability to be a game analyst, studio analyst, or, perhaps most importantly, create something entirely new in the alternate broadcast department. They are getting someone who could be involved in Super Bowls.
His agreement is similar to the one ESPN has with Peyton Manning and Omaha Productions, which has yielded a game-changing second option for Monday Night Football. One of the most impressive things about McAfee is that he pushes the envelope and isn't just willing to try new things, he seemingly delights in showing that creativity.
The long-term upside is enormous. Youthful Swiss Army knife-types of his ilk do not grow on trees and they can therefore ask for $17 million per year. It makes all the sense in the world for ESPN to take their swing here knowing that, potentially, they could keep McAfee under their umbrella until he retires.
Now, obviously, the industry and world are both ever-changing and predicting the future is dangerous, but through that lens, devoting this many resources to this person — at this time — does not feel like a major gamble or an overpay.
Optically, the timing and circumstances could be better. But McAfee was willing to come aboard now, clearly with enough leverage to earn such a deal. ESPN, in our opinion, saw the blueprints for something they could build and decided putting shovels in dirt as soon as possible was the way to go.