Stephen A. Smith is poised to become ESPN’s highest-paid on-air talent and could fetch up to $10 million annually, according to the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand. That would be nearly double his current reported salary. This possibility has been floated before.
With two more years remaining on his deal, serious talks have yet to begin, per the report. ESPN is believed to be very motivated to keep one of its biggest stars but there’s always the possibility of Smith exploring other opportunities. Writes Marchand:
Smith has aspirations outside of sports. Smith could do a syndicated daily talk show, a game show, or — and this would be more risky — venture into politics. He also may want to be a producer of something to go along with his on-air work. These days, agents always point to digital players with deep pockets as potential alternatives. A place like DAZN, run by Smith’s former ESPN boss, John Skipper, could try to blow ESPN out of the water to see if Smith would leave for a walled-off, subscription-model world, but one that could possibly be insanely lucrative.
Other potential landing places include Fox Sports, Apple, and Amazon. And, look, I don’t have a crystal ball. But none of these seem to make a ton of sense.
Smith is a rare talent and could succeed doing a daily talk or political show. He could host some sort of quiz game. DAZN would likely open such a name with open arms, but runs into the same problem as the other streaming services.
It’s not television television. Count me among the camp that Smith wants to be on a place where people can flip on the set and see him work. FS1 qualifies, but such a move would mean even more football discussion, which is not where Smith shines. Plus, Colin Cowherd has been the epicenter of that content sphere, and Smith would get equal if not greater billing.
With that in mind, an unmentioned player in all this could be AT&T. There he could talk more basketball and be leveraged with Inside the NBA. Smith has a good relationship with Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley, and contemporaries Dan Patrick and Rich Eisen, who had existing shows on AT&T platforms, have been recently brought into the fold in the form of their shows getting streamed on the Turner Sports Bleacher Report app. New sports boss Jeff Zucker is on the record as having drawn inspiration for CNN from First Take.
All of this speculation will probably prove to be a waste of breath. Both sides seem to be optimistic that a suitable payday to keep Smith at ESPN can be reached.