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Jason Whitlock: Everything Stephen A. Smith Says is a Negotiating Tactic

“He’s looking for $25 mil a year. Wonder if Fox Sports (in conjunction with Fox News) would give it to him?”

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Whitlock-Smith
Jason Whitlock - Courtesy: FOX Sports | Stephen A. Smith - Courtesy: Jevone Moore, Icon Sportswire, The Associated Press

After Stephen A. Smith made public comments about potentially being laid off by ESPN in the future, Blaze Media host and former NFL player Jason Whitlock has fired back via Twitter. In a quote tweet, Whitlock expressed that Smith has been upset since ESPN signed Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Pat McAfee to multiyear, multi-million dollar contracts. While Smith’s salary is unknown and has been reported as being $8 million or $12 million, he has spoken on numerous occasions about the last time he negotiated his contract. In his message, Whitlock stated that Smith is looking for $25 million annually in his next negotiation and that everything he says publicly is a negotiating tactic. He also wondered if FOX Sports would consider signing Smith and also have him contribute to its news content as a multifaceted commentator, although Smith has aspirations to do more acting and, perhaps, host late-night television.

“We’ve got a few people at ESPN getting paid more than me,” Smith said to those people wishing he was laid off. “They don’t have the No. 1 show; they don’t have the top ratings [and] 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.”

In The New York Times bestselling novel “Straight Shooter,” Smith discusses his negotiations over the years with ESPN and how he has assembled a team around him to ensure he thrives. From Rushion McDonald to his agents Josh Pyatt and Jon Rosen, along with former ESPN executive Mark Shapiro leading his representation, Smith has the team around him he believes will allow him to continue to thrive.

Earlier this week on The Stephen A. Smith Show, Smith expressed his sentiments towards ESPN laying off several members of its on-air talent roster ahead of the entity reporting its own earnings for the first time this November. As it pertains to his former First Take co-host Max Kellerman, Smith was disappointed to see him let go and said that if he ever needed his assistance, he would not hesitate to do so.

Although Smith has been labeled by many media reporters as being safe from layoffs, Smith does not assume he will always be safe and is grateful for every day he has on the air.

“You shouldn’t blame Disney, and you shouldn’t blame ESPN,” Smith said of the layoffs. “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.”

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Sports TV News

NBA Finals Game 5 Averages 12.2 Million Viewers on ABC

‘Game 5 of the 2024 NBA Finals averaged 12.2 million viewers on ABC while also attaining the largest share of audience among People 18-34.”

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Graphic for the NBA Finals
Courtesy: National Basketball Association

The Boston Celtics secured their 18th NBA Championship with a win over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night. Boston now has the most championships in the history of the NBA. Game 5 was especially a hit on ABC television as the game broadcast averaged 12.22 million viewers. That represented the most-watched game of the NBA Finals. Viewership of the matchup peaked at 13.28 million viewers on the night and also set a record for the largest share of audience within the People 18-34 demographic ever.

Total viewership of the NBA Finals on ABC averaged 11.315 million viewers across the five-game series, according to Anthony Crupi of Sportico in a post on X. The NBA Finals matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat also went five games last year and averaged 13.08 million viewers. The NBA Countdown program, which featured host Malika Andrews and analysts Stephen A. Smith, Michael Wilbon and Bob Myers, along with guest analysts Josh Hart (games 1-2), Paul George (games 3-4) and Julius Randle (Game 5) averaged 4.02 million viewers through the series.

The Walt Disney Company (ESPN/ABC) is entering its final season within its existing media rights agreement with the National Basketball Association. The league is reportedly formalizing new media rights contracts with Disney, NBCUniversal and Amazon’s Prime Video with a collective value of $76 billion over the term of the deal.

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Final Round of U.S. Open Averages 5.9 Million Viewers on NBC, Peacock

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NBC Golf Logo
(Illustration) | NBC Golf Logo – Courtesy: NBCUniversal

The final round between Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy during the 124th U.S. Open from Pinehurst Resort and Country Club highlighted Sunday at the golf tournament in which the network attained a total audience delivery of 5.9 million viewers on NBC and Peacock. The seven-hour window ranks as the most-watched East Coast final round of the event since 2013 and is up 9% over the last U.S. Open to be held on the East Coast from Brookline, according to data from Nielsen Media Research and Adobe Analytics.

Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch reported that the presentation had a 2.8 rating and that Nielsen measurements of the consumption equated to an average of 5.55 million viewers. Ratings were down by 11% from the final round of the U.S. Open last year from the Los Angeles Country Club in Los Angeles, Calif.

Viewership of the competition peaked at 11.4 million viewers from 6:15 to 6:30 p.m. EST and 11.3 million viewers from 6:30 to 6:45 p.m. EST. When excluding streaming-based viewership, the audiences peaked at 10.8 million and 10.7 million viewers, respectively, during those same aforementioned quarter hours. The total peak audience of 11.4 million viewers is the highest peak audience for any U.S. Open competition since 2015. DeChambeau ended up defeating McIlroy by one shot, highlighted by his emerging out of a bunker for par on the 18th hole of Pinehurst course No. 2.

Primary broadcast coverage of the U.S. Open garnered a total audience delivery of 3.1 million viewers, which is up 13% from the 2022 iteration of the event. Moreover, it exceeds the previous six U.S. Open events and is now the most-watched East Coast U.S. Open since 2013. The broadcast was also the most-streamed golf event on record for NBC Sports, the second time this record was broken during the tournament following first-round coverage on Thursday. Overall consumption of the event was up 17% year-over-year across all feeds.

Coverage of the U.S. Open as a whole on NBC averaged 3.1 million viewers, which is up 13% compared to the previous year. Additionally, 2.89 million viewers within the aggregate figure watched the tournament on NBC, according to data from Nielsen Media Research and Adobe Analytics.

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Venu Sports Announces Founding Leadership Team

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Venu Sports Leadership Team
Courtesy: Venu Sports

Venu Sports, the new joint streaming venture from ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery, has announced the members of its founding leadership team that will report to Pete Distad, the chief executive officer of the entity. The team will be based in New York and Los Angeles and features executives with vast experiences in entertainment, media, technology, sports and sports betting companies.

Brian Borkowski has been named the chief marketing officer for Venu Sports and will be responsible for marketing, branding and growth strategies to help the brand launch and grow. Borkowski previously worked at FanDuel where he was the senior vice president of marketing for the company as it continued its expansion. Additionally, he has held various leadership roles with Hulu, including vice president of media and acquisition, along with head of subscriber acquisition. Over the years, he worked as the chief marketing officer of analytics firm Verikai and also had marketing leadership roles with Neilson Financial Services and Farmers Insurance.

Jessica Casano-Antonellis will serve as the senior vice president and head of communications for Venu Sports. Casano-Antonellis previously led communications at SiriusXM and also worked as the vice president of communications for Disney+ and Hulu at The Walt Disney Company. Among her responsibilities were overseeing communications initiatives for streaming propositions, including launching and rolling out Disney’s flagship streaming service.

Tim Connolly is the chief business officer of the company, possessing responsibilities pertaining to strategic initiatives for the sports streaming platform. Some of these areas of focus include content rights and licensing, distribution and strategic partnership and subscriber growth and retention strategies. Connolly previously helped lead subscriber growth for Apple TV+ and MLS Season Pass at Apple, along with serving in senior leadership roles at Hulu and The Walt Disney Company.

Amit Dudakia will be responsible for product management and design, along with programming and editorial for Venu Sports in his new role of senior vice president and head of product. Dudakia most recently worked as the senior vice president of product management for Fox Technology and Digital where he led product and design for the FOX Sports division. Dudakia started working with the Fox Corporation at FX Network where he helped launch a variety of entities under its umbrella.

Skarpi Hedinsson has been named the chief technology officer of Venu Sports and will be responsible for technology strategy and execution for the streaming service. Hedinsson was previously the chief technology officer of the Los Angeles Rams and played an integral role leading the team envisioning, designing and implementing technology within SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park. Hedinsson is the former chief technology officer of Disney/ABC Television Group, working in the role amid the launch of the WATCH ABC and WATCH Disney services.

David Hillman will oversee legal matters for Venu Sports in his new role of chief legal officer. Before joining Venu Sports, Hillman worked on the corporate legal executive management team at Paramount Global, recently serving as executive vice president and general counsel for CBS Sports, CBS News and Stations and Broadcast Operations. Within his position, he observed negotiations for strategic content agreements across several genres. Hillman previously held similar positions at Simon & Schuster and Westwood One.

Gautam Ranji will serve as the chief financial officer for Venu Sports, having purview over financial operations for the joint streaming venture. Ranji is the former chief financial officer and treasurer for Sphere Entertainment, involved in fiscal functions and within the management team that launched the Sphere in Las Vegas, Nev. Before this endeavor, he was responsible for strategic planning and business development at CBS and was a co-leader for the integration following the merger between Viacom and CBS, currently known as Paramount Global.

Judy Schwab is the senior vice president and head of people at Venu Sports, overseeing workforce planning, organizational effectiveness and talent acquisition along with the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Schwab previously worked as a leader in human resources within the Apple Services division, and she was also a member of The Walt Disney Company leading human resources for its direct-to-consumer businesses. She was a key member of the leadership team that helped launch Disney+ and integrated Hulu as well.

In addition to the leadership team at Venu Sports, more than 150 engineers and executives are working to build the product that will look to serve sports fans without a traditional cable subscription. The service will combine several linear television networks owned by The Walt Disney Company, Fox Corporation and Warner Bros. Discovery that broadcast sports programming. Pricing and a launch date for the service have not yet been announced.

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