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Stephen A. Smith on ESPN Layoffs: I Could Be Next

“When Disney announced 7,000 layoffs were coming, everybody associated with ESPN knew this day would arrive.”

Jordan Bondurant

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ESPN’s recent layoffs have created a ton of conversation across the media industry. So much so that one of the network’s top stars felt it was important to weigh in on what transpired.

On his podcast The Stephen A. Smith Show, Smith talked about the number of on-camera personalities he considered friends losing their jobs. He said the cuts were long-anticipated.

“When Disney announced that 7,000 layoffs were coming, everybody associated with ESPN knew this day would arrive,” Stephen A. said. “Folks as individuals were just hoping it wasn’t them.”

Stephen A. recognized NBA contributor Jalen Rose for doing an outstanding job covering the league for the network. He did the same for Jeff Van Gundy, adding that he considered him a hall of fame analyst who wouldn’t be out of work very long.

After offering praise for Keyshawn Johnson, a friend of his for 20 years, Smith talked about his former First Take partner Max Kellerman. He said the way the two worked together on First Take is well-documented, but he has no ill-will towards Kellerman.

“I am not happy that he is gone. We all know what history we had,” Smith said. “We all know what happened with he and I parting ways on First Take. I don’t want the brother unemployed. I want the brother gainfully employed.”

“Although I sincerely doubt he ever will, if he ever called me needing my help, I would not hesitate to help him,” Stephen A. added. “Just because I don’t want to work with you directly in a debate show doesn’t mean I couldn’t have worked with him covering a boxing match or doing a SportsCenter segment.”

While this latest round of layoffs is a bit shocking, Stephen A. circled back to the fact that he may not be safe either.

“This ain’t the end. More is coming. And yes, ladies and gentlemen, I could be next,” he said. “Let me tell you something. Don’t ever, ever, ever in your life as a Black person, take anything for granted.”

“My eyes are always wide open. I’m never comfortable,” he continued. “I never take anything for granted, and I never assume that I am safe. And First Take‘s number one and been number one for 11 and a half plus years.”

Stephen A. did have a message for the haters who questioned why ESPN let certain personalities go and allowed him to stay.

“Y’all can kiss my ass twice. And I’m talking directly to the people in the industry who’ve sat up there and said, ‘Why isn’t Stephen A. gone?. Ladies and gentlemen, we got a few people at ESPN getting paid more than me. They don’t have the number one show. They don’t have the top ratings. They don’t generate more revenue. How come y’all didn’t bring their names up? And by the way none of them are black. How come you didn’t bring their names up? I wonder why!”

But not ruling out that he could be let go in the future, Smith said people shouldn’t get mad at the company making a business decision.

“You shouldn’t blame Disney, and you shouldn’t blame ESPN,” Smith remarked. “This isn’t some corporate lackey taking the whole corporate line. I’m paying attention, and I’m reading the tea leaves and I’m telling you what it is. You can either listen or not.”

“It’s a numbers game. It’s about revenue and ratings. Revenue being paramount at Disney. Why? COVID-19, ladies and gentlemen,”

He further explained, “Don’t you remember the parks being closed? You don’t know how much money is generated from the parks in Anaheim and Florida and France and Shanghai, Tokyo. COVID-19, the coronavirus pandemic, was not just in the United States of America. It was worldwide. Do you have any idea how much money was lost?”

Stephen A. finished by acknowledging that Disney is still trying to climb out of a financial hole. He pointed out that billions of lost dollars can’t be made up overnight.

“If Disney didn’t lose five and a half billion dollars, Jeff Van Gundy wouldn’t be gone,” he said. “David Pollack wouldn’t be gone. Todd McShay, Jalen Rose, and Neil Everett and others wouldn’t be gone. More cuts wouldn’t be on the way.”

“Following the cuts behind the scenes, I didn’t bring up the producers and the editors, and all these wonderful people that I work with that lost their jobs,” he added. “Or those who are still there that are worried as hell that they’re going to lose theirs. Because they see the climate.”

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Charles Barkley Announces He Will Retire From TV After Next Season

“Next year, I am just going to retire after 25 years, and I just wanted to say thank you and I wanted y’all to hear it from me first.”

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Screenbrad from NBA TV with Charles Barkley
Screengrab: NBA TV

Charles Barkley is not waiting. After voicing his frustration several times with the way the media rights negotiations have been handled by his current employer, Warner Bros. Discovery/TNT, Barkley is no longer waiting for them to make a decision, he has announced his own decision.

After Game 4 of the NBA Finals concluded between the Dallas Mavericks and the Boston Celtics, Barkley took time on the postgame show on NBA TV to announce no matter what happens, he will retire as an NBA commentator after next season, which will be his 25th with TNT.

“I’ve been thinking guys,” Barkley said “I want to say this, because you guys are my family. I really love TNT, all the people who work here, NBA Television. You guys have been great to me for 24 years and I just want to say thank you to my entire NBA family. I love you guys.

“There’s been a lot of noise the last few months and I just want to say, I’ve talked to all of the other networks, but I ain’t going nowhere other than TNT, but I have made the decision myself, no matter what happens, next year is going to be my last year on television. And I just want to say thank you to my NBA family, you guys have been great to me, my heart is full with joy and gratitude.

“But I am going to pass the baton at the end of next year. I hope the NBA stays with TNT, but for me personally, I wanted you guys to hear it from me, because I am not doing any more interviews, don’t y’all be calling me, nobody calling me, I am not talking about this again. But I wanted to tell my NBA TV and TNT family that I am not going to another network, but I am going to pass the baton to either Jamal Crawford, Vince Carter or you Steve [Smith]. Next year, I am just going to retire after 25 years, and I just wanted to say thank you and I wanted y’all to hear it from me first.”

The NBA’s current media rights agreements with Disney/ESPN and WBD/TNT expire after next season. Many reports have said the NBA will soon sign agreements with Disney, NBCUniversal and Amazon to be the league’s new broadcasting partners beginning with the 2025-26 season. The Wall Street Journal has reported the total value of the new media rights packages is expected to be $76 billion over 11 years.

Rumors of a possible fourth media package being made in order for the NBA to keep its 40-year relationship with Turner Sports going have surfaced, but it looks like either way there will be changes coming to Inside the NBA, the award-winning show Barkley is a part of along with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal.

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FOX Sports Moving UFL Games to Friday Nights in 2025

“The regular season average television audience of 816,000 was more than 30% higher than the pace from the previous year.”

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FOX Sports CEO Eric Shanks recently confirmed a report from Deadline last month that said United Football League games would move to Friday nights in 2025. The Deadline report had said FOX planned to replace WWE Smackdown with sports coverage from college football and basketball as well as games from the UFL.

Shanks’ comments were made during a Zoom with reporters about the news of their new agreement with the NTT IndyCar Series. SI’s Mike Mitchell reported that the UFL worked with FOX to move the games so they could complete their auto racing deal.

Shanks said many of FOX’s UFL games would be moved to Friday night when asked about the change but did not provide more detail.

The UFL was split between FOX and ABC/ESPN this season. The regular season average television audience of 816,000 was more than 30% higher than the pace from the previous year and the recent conference championship games were up 57% over the averages from the USFL and XFL last season. According to Mitchell, the league saw a large increase in the 18-49 demographic on FOX compared to USFL programming in 2023.

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Report: WNBA Could Quadruple Media Rights Fees

Under the current structure, the WNBA makes a reported $60 million annually from its media rights deals with The Walt Disney Company, Amazon’s Prime Video, CBS and Ion.

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(Illustration) | Courtesy: Women's National Basketball Association

The NBA is reportedly in the process of formalizing new media rights deals with The Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal and Amazon’s Prime Video expected to be worth a collective $76 billion over the course of the deal. At the same time, the NBA is also negotiating media rights for the WNBA in which it has an ownership stake of approximately 60%. The WNBA could quadruple its annual media rights fee within these negotiations, according to a new report from Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports.

Under the current structure, the WNBA makes a reported $60 million annually from its media rights deals with The Walt Disney Company, Amazon’s Prime Video, CBS and Ion. Throughout the season thus far, the WNBA has seen its ratings increase, drawing more than 1 million viewers across several matchups throughout the regular season. Moreover, discussion surrounding the league is further assimilating into the sports vernacular surrounding stars such as Caitlin Clark, A’ja Wilson, Sabrina Ionescu and Breanna Stewart.

Ben Strauss of The Washington Post outlined how the NBA is in the process of considering one total bid from media companies that combines the value of media rights for the NBA and WNBA. With the league itself determining the value of media rights for the WNBA, he argues that it could either be “rocket fuel” for the league or that its augmented popularity “is more of an afterthought.” The possibility exists that it could be a combination of both extremes as well, but by having the league negotiate its media rights deal, quantifying the true value could be a more difficult task.

In a report from earlier in the year, McCarthy stated that the WNBA is likely to negotiate its own separate media rights deal if it is not receiving the remuneration that it wants. The WNBA attained its most-watched opening month in league history, averaging 1.32 million viewers for games across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, CBS, Ion and NBA TV. Moreover, the league had its most-attended opening month in its 26-year history with 400,000 fans at games through the end of May and a rise in sales of WNBA-branded merchandise by 236% year-over-year.

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