DAZN continues to make noise in the sports world with lucrative investments in boxing, interest in live sports, and creating a studio program around Pat McAfee. While the still relatively-new streaming service is in the process of finding an identity, a blockbuster move will be in play: Paul Finebaum.
According to sources around the industry, the current radio/simulcast model that DAZN has with Westwood One airing McAfee's show is a style the service wants to mimic and build around. And by doing so, they would look to find radio shows with existing dedicated listeners who would follow over. Finebaum fits that bill and there are a several other reasons why this partnership would make sense.
Finebaum has a relationship with DAZN executive chairman John Skipper, who was his former boss at ESPN. The Big Lead has learned that Finebaum and Skipper had dinner together last month in New York City, and that this is a relationship that goes beyond a former boss and employee staying in touch. Before Skipper's abrupt departure from ESPN, he was deep in contract negotiations with Finebaum. During the meetings, Skipper expressed Finebaum's value to ESPN and what he does for the network's partnership with the SEC. The extension Skipper was working on with Finebaum was centered around a yearly salary that was north of $3 million per year, and could have reached up to $4 million.
Time passed, Skipper was gone, and ESPN's new regime got into a long, dragged-out contract negotiation with Finebaum. This led to reports and speculation around the industry that Finebaum's run with ESPN could be ending. While Finebaum ultimately re-signed, the change of management at ESPN resulted in Finebaum's new contract being significantly less than what was discussed under Skipper. Finebaum's current deal averages around $2 million per year, and requires him to be away from home five nights a week during the football season. Furthermore, he is not on the network's prestigious GameDay show, but the much less watched -- and promoted -- SEC Nation.
Speaking with sources, the belief is that Skipper-led DAZN would make Finebaum an offer that not only increases his salary, but would give him more freedom and the choice to broadcast where he chooses (the SEC Network is based in Charlotte, North Carolina) upon Finebaum becoming a free agent. Finebaum's current contract does not expire imminently, but perhaps it's possible, under his agent, Nick Khan of CAA, that he could be let out early.
When reached by phone, Finebaum declined to comment. As did an ESPN spokesperson.
Finebaum's agent of seven years is another key part of this equation. Khan, like Finebaum, has a relationship with Skipper, and the executives around him. DAZN's executive vice president of content, Jamie Horowitz, has done groundbreaking deals with Khan that included both Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd leaving ESPN for FS1 for an excessive of $6 million per year. DAZN's talent executive Josh Santry worked under Khan as an agent at CAA for almost three years. And most importantly, Khan is working on the SEC's live rights deal.
Finebaum's value to a company working with the SEC is self-evident, as Skipper well knows. Earlier today, John Talty of AL.com, gave an inside look into what is next for the valuable SEC rights. Talty mentioned the possibility of DAZN placing a bid. At the moment, DAZN has no upper hand against other streaming services that could be in the running. But if the platform can lure Finebaum, it makes sense for a bevy of reasons -- even if it winds up being a very segmented piece. CAA did the deal with Turner to air the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson showdown on B/R Live last year.
Combining all of this together, both DAZN making a serious play for Finebaum, and the long-time radio host being intrigued, are logical. This would be an addition that puts DAZN on the map in the talk-media space. In which case, it may not stop there. Would anyone be astounded if Skipper's close friend Dan Le Batard is interested in a DAZN/Westwood One model? Or perhaps DAZN/Sirius XM? Under this scenario, DAZN could look at other national radio hosts to build a lineup around. Will Cain's time on radio has been a massive success for ESPN and he has a contract expiring early next year. If Cain does not take over nationally at 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio, this would be a logical fit for him, as well.
Connecting the dots, a Finebuam-DAZN partnership not only makes sense, but could be in play sooner rather than later. Thus, you can bet that this won't be the last time the idea is brought to attention.