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Dan Le Batard: Stephen A. Smith Can Make $18 Million Per Year on His Own

“He’s going to want power and a bunch of other things because he is the modern-day Howard Cosell whether you like it or not…”

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Stephen A. Smith
Courtesy: David M. Russell, Disney

Stephen A. Smith is reportedly in contract negotiations with ESPN ahead of the expiration of his deal next year, according to John Ourand of Puck. Ourand reported that Smith had been presented with an initial offer of $18 million per year for five years at the network, making him the highest-paid talent at ESPN.

Smith, however, is reportedly looking for $25 million per year, and his agents replied by asking the network to look at the deal Pat McAfee received that pays him nearly $30 million per year with his eponymous program, The Pat McAfee Show, and appearing on College GameDay. Another comparison that Ourand reports was made is the nine-year multiplatform media rights extension between ESPN and Omaha Productions worth $700 million, which includes the continuation of Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli and expanded original content collaboration.

Dan Le Batard discussed the report on Smith and the contract negotiations on Friday’s edition of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, prefacing his opinion by stating that show contributor JuJu Gotti had informed him that no one wanted to hear how much money those in the media were making. Le Batard finds it interesting though that Smith is reportedly being offered the highest salary in the history of the network for a talent.

“It used to be for Jon Gruden at $6.5 million, but the explosion of everything that’s happened has made everyone realize, ‘Oh, all these talent are super undervalued,’” Le Batard explained, “even though everyone listening to this would say, ‘It’s ridiculous for anybody to be making the kind of money doing this nonsense that people can make.’”

As he continued, Le Batard conveyed that Monday Night Football play-by-play announcer Joe Buck is currently the highest-paid employee at ESPN (although reportedly Troy Aikman is paid more than Buck), but he does not have to do as much as Smith. Aside from reportedly looking for $25 million per year, Le Batard believes there is more than just money involved in the negotiations.

“He’s going to want power and a bunch of other things because he is the modern-day Howard Cosell whether you like it or not, and beyond sports, he’s got conquering ambitions because he is casting a wide net going on FOX, making sure the audience is as large as it can be as he heads into the leverage of negotiations because he can do this for $18 million a year on his own. He doesn’t need ESPN.”

Smith is the executive producer and a featured commentator on ESPN’s First Take, the morning debate show that has garnered 22 consecutive months of year-over-year growth. He also recently completed his second season on NBA Countdown on which he covered several marquee matchups during the year, including the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks. Outside of ESPN though, Smith has built Mr. SAS Productions, through which he recently produced a docuseries on debate-format television and also hosts his own program, The Stephen A. Smith Show, at least three times per week. Smith joined the iHeartPodcast Network this past February within a distribution deal for his independent program after initially working with Audacy’s Cadence13.

“He sets a table for all the rights that [ESPN has] unless it’s the Stanley Cup,” producer Mike Ryan said, “so what I would do if I’m ESPN is I would pay him $10 million for every sport he can actually cover because the daytime programming on [Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final,] a game that they have – their coverage was Mike Greenberg asking Udonis Haslem about what he thought about tonight.”

Ryan emphasized that when the United States hosts the World Cup in 2026, it is more likely that the ESPN show will be discussing quarterback Dak Prescott than the international soccer tournament. As a steadfast Florida Panthers fan with a keen interest in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, he opined that the network needs to follow the model it has in growing other entities. For example, Ryan stated that Smith has shown everyone what he can do with the National Football League and that Pat McAfee has discussed the National Hockey League on his program.

“What has happened with hockey and the ratings with ESPN now engaged has been an explosion of people realizing how wonderful these playoffs actually are because elsewhere on the network, they are better partners to hockey than they are to baseball by a lot,” Le Batard said. “The baseball people are dying at ESPN because they clearly do not care about the sport, but they care about hockey more and believe in the future of hockey more and spend as if they believe in the future of hockey more, but the morning shows aren’t equipped to talk about this well.”

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Austin Karp: Combining the Expertise of ‘New Paramount’ Bodes Well for the Future of CBS Sports

“CBS has long relied on sports…and with Jeff Shell coming in as President, we are talking about former NBCUniversal Jeff Shell, sports aren’t going anywhere.

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Austin Karp and Mollie Cahillane of the Sports Business Journal talked about the merger of David Ellison’s Skydance Media and Paramount on the latest edition of The Sports Media Podcast. While there are many hurdles to clear, the terms of the deal were agreed to and the structure set with Ellison set to become CEO of the new company some are calling ‘New Paramount’ and former NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell coming on as president.

Karp asked Cahillane, “What is the biggest impact on sports for this deal?”

“I do not think the merger of Skydance and Paramount, more of a takeover rather than a merger, is going to have a massive impact on their sports properties,” Cahillane said. “CBS has long relied on sports…and with Jeff Shell coming in as President, we are talking about former NBCUniversal Jeff Shell, sports aren’t going anywhere. I don’t see them as part of any of the offloading that is planned for the Paramount properties.”

“I don’t think that sports is going anywhere, it’s actually going to be helped, if anything,” Karp agreed. “Like you said, Jeff Shell, seasoned sports executive…the guy knows sports in and out and so does David Ellison, the owner of Skydance.

“Skydance Sports, for a couple of years now, has been a marquee partner of the NFL in terms of creating content. They’ve done some of the documentaries, like the Jerry Jones one that was just sold for $50 million to Netflix. They’re the ones that were kind of behind the Kansas City Chiefs doing this movie with Hallmark that’s going to be coming out…If you combine the expertise that RedBird Capital, which is some of the money behind Skydance, has in sports, it really portends well for the future of CBS Sports and Paramount as a player out there in the space.”

According to Variety, Skydance said the deal has an enterprise value of $28 billion, with Skydance itself valued at $4.75 billion. Skydance and its partners will reportedly invest more than $8 billion into the company.

The projected closing date for the sale is by Sept. 30, 2025.

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Chase Daniel and Dianna Russini to Host ‘Scoop City’ Podcast for The Athletic

“We have scoop on football and some scoop on life.”

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Logo for the Athletic and a picture of Scoop City hosts Chase Daniel and Dianna Russini
Graphic Courtesy: The Athletic

Chase Daniel hinted at big things coming up when he talked with BSM a few weeks ago. Now, one of those big things has been revealed. Daniel and The Athletic’s senior NFL Insider Dianna Russini are pairing up for a twice a week podcast, ‘Scoop City.’ The show is described as one where the hosts will “share what they’re hearing about the things that are actually at work in the NFL – and to share a few scoops about life too.”

A trailer for the podcast is up and the first episode is scheduled to drop on July 16 at all major podcast outlets.

“We want to share with you what people inside the NFL are talking about, pass along intel, and talk to big guests,” Russini wrote on her X account. “We have scoop on football and some scoop on life.”

Daniel posted, “Scoop City is here! So pumped to announce I’ll be part of The Athletic’s brand new essential NFL podcast with Dianna Russini [two times] per week.”

Russini had been with ESPN from 2015 until joining The Athletic late in 2023. Daniel, a former star quarterback at Missouri, played 13 years in the NFL and has been providing content for The Athletic and NFL Network in addition to a podcast he co-hosted with Trey Wingo and The Chase Daniel Show which he airs on his YouTube page.

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John Ourand: NFL Sunday Ticket Trial is a ‘Colossal Failure’ By the League

“Once it got in front of a jury, yeah, they just took a big risk, and the big risk blew up in their face.”

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John Ourand

A jury in Los Angeles federal court sided with plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the National Football League last month, leading to an order for the league to pay approximately $4.7 billion in damages. The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of over 2.4 million residential subscribers and more than 48,000 commercial establishments, alleged that the league violated antitrust law through its out-of-market NFL Sunday Ticket product. The jury vote claims that the league colluded with DirecTV, the former primary home of the service, along with broadcast networks CBS and FOX to raise the price of subscriptions in order to watch out-of-market contests.

There could be extensive repercussions and reverberations with this lawsuit depending on what happens within the appeals process. In a statement released shortly after the jury vote was announced, the league stated that it will appeal the decision. Since the class action suit pertains to federal antitrust law, the damages would be tripled and equate to more than $14 billion. The jury ordered the league to pay $96.9 million in damages to the commercial class and $4.61 billion in damages to the residential class within the lawsuit. John Ourand, sports correspondent for Puck News, recently appeared on The Tony Kornheiser Show where he articulated the scenario surrounding the seminal decision.

“This is a colossal failure by the NFL in that they took a basically $14 billion risk and put it in front of a jury,” Ourand said, “and when you get a jury, specifically in southern California, to decide, ‘Would you rather rule for a small bar or a small business owner or would you rather rule for the big NFL where Roger Goodell came in and was a witness?,’ almost always they’ll side with the NFL.”

The NFL filed a motion last week where the league levied criticism against U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez in permitting a juror to remain within the case who admitted that they had paid for a “household member’s Sunday Ticket subscription.” Moreover, the league conveyed that the jury, including the aforementioned juror who was a foreperson in the deliberations, chose to issue damages representative of “the sum total of discounts that class members received.”

The plaintiffs in the case delineated that the lack of competition between the league’s 32 teams as it pertains to media rights resulted in higher prices for consumers, whereas the league outlined that it guarantees access to games anywhere in the United States and makes them free for local fans.

“It was explained to me by one lawyer,” Ourand said, “[that] it would be akin to like if all the soda companies got together and [went], ‘You know what? We’re going to sell soda at this price,’ and there are antitrust laws that are against pooling those resources like that if they’re competing against each other.”

Once Kornheiser found out that the trial had been going on for nearly a decade, he gave an incredulous reaction and wondered why the league had been “so stupid” that it did not attempt to settle the case before reaching trial. Ourand listened to some of the testimony within the case and gathered that Guttierez was siding with the NFL because it was the way the league had enacted its media business for a long time.

“They’ve pooled their media rights and they’ve sold them to networks exclusively,” Ourand said of the league. “Once it got in front of a jury, yeah, they just took a big risk, and the big risk blew up in their face.”

The appeal for the case, Ourand explained, would likely take a long time because the league would have to go to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and potentially to the United States Supreme Court from there. Gutierrez will hold a hearing on July 31 reviewing the motion filed by the league that could result in deeming the jury’s decision irrational or ordering a new trial altogether. The outcome of this hearing could also result in retaining the verdict but reducing the damages or denying the NFL’s motion altogether. A ruling could either be released that day or issue it through a written filing in the weeks thereafter.

Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League negotiated settlements for class action lawsuits regarding blackouts of games and having to subscribe to a service that included the breadth of regional sports networks within those leagues. Consumers were essentially not given a choice to subscribe to one regional sports network; rather, they were coerced to purchase a package containing games on networks they were not interested in watching.

Both leagues agreed to settlements of their respective cases in providing options to purchase single-team packages at a discount while also retaining blackout policies. Ourand believes the decision in this case could result in a maelstrom of derivative lawsuits pertaining to deals that leagues have agreed on in this regard and is looking into who pushed the NFL to continue its defense in the case rather than settling. Kornheiser presumed that one of the league’s lawyers must have been behind the decision, a sentiment with which Ourand concurred.

“Certainly their lawyers, and ultimately it comes down to Roger Goodell who makes the decision whether to go or not,” Ourand explained, “but who was the real force between saying like, ‘Let’s just draw a hard line here. We’re tired of these class action suits,’ and what this has caused is they’re going to be a billion class action suits filed against every single league and every single deal that they’ve done.”

Kornheiser replied that Ourand was correct in his prognostication about what would happen next. Earlier in the segment, he suggested that all the league had to do was lower the price for bars from $349 to $275 and that they would collectively be content with the outcome. Kornheiser stated that he still subscribes to cable and watches NFL RedZone rather than subscribing to NFL Sunday Ticket during the football season as well.

“If I was the commissioner of hockey, if I was the commissioner of basketball [or] if I was the commissioner of baseball, I’d have my lawyers in there today and I’d say, ‘Let’s get out of these things that we’ve been doing because we don’t want this to happen to us,’ right?,” Kornheiser said.

“And I’d be furious at the NFL for taking such a risk in this case – absolutely, yeah,” Ourand replied.

NFL Sunday Ticket is currently available through YouTube and YouTube TV as part of a media rights deal reportedly valued at $2 billion annually over seven years. The broadcast package was previously distributed by DirecTV since its inception 1994, which is said to have paid $1.5 billion per year. DirecTV is not involved in the NFL Sunday Ticket trial after a judge permitted the company to send customer claims against it into closed-door arbitration.

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