by Julian Spivey
ESPN is the worldwide leader in sports and it seems it probably always will be due to years of being able to build up a brand with virtually no cable competition whatsoever. As long as the network has multiple channels dedicated to broadcasting and commentating on news it’ll be king, no matter what. But, that doesn’t mean its product will always be what it could be.
There are a few high profile ESPN personalities coming up for new contracts soon and it looks like the network might rather let them go than pay them what they probably deserve, even though it’ll be a detriment to the network to potentially lose them.
Author James Andrew Miller, who co-wrote the ESPN anthology Those Boys Have All The Fun with Tom Shales, seemingly keeps track of all things ESPN and has been very vocal on Twitter recently about the future of the network. According to Miller the contracts of high profile ESPN personalities Keith Olbermann and Colin Cowherd are coming up for renegotiation and the network might not want to pay them what they could potentially make after recent negotiations with other network talent have irritated ESPN President John Skipper due to rising prices. This comes just over a month after news broke that ESPN would not be re-upping with high profile columnist and Grantland.com creator Bill Simmons, who always had a contentious relationship with network executives, as well. Simmons could end up at ESPN’s main cable sports rival Fox Sports 1 or with HBO Sports. Those networks could also prove to be future destinations for Olbermann (likely not Fox though as he’s burned that bridge before) and Cowherd.
Miller reported that certain ESPN personalities were looking for contracts in the north of $7 million a year range and that Skipper wouldn’t have any part of that.
The only issue with Skipper and ESPN not being willing to pay talent what they think they can get elsewhere is it could easily lead to a downward spiral in the network’s product. Sure, people will watch no matter what, but the network should continue to worry about fielding both entertaining and informative programming, not just stuff that brings in viewers. If the network loses both Olbermann (who hosts a daily 30-minute show for ESPN2) and Cowherd (who hosts a daily sports talk radio show for ESPNRadio that is simulcast on ESPNU) they would effectively be losing two of their most unique personalities. Olbermann is, by far, the smartest personality on the ESPN family of networks and his show has proven to boost ESPN’s smarts and quality particularly with his informative, witty and passionate monologues that he begins each show with. Cowherd, almost the exact opposite in style from Olbermann, is unique in his own right as a highly energetic, sarcastic, voice of the everyday sports fan who seems to take entertaining glee in voicing his loud, but often unique opinions.
It’s understandable that ESPN might not want to shell out major bucks for talent when viewers would likely tune in for anybody in a suit to get their sports news and commentary, but the network would be served well by keeping big personalities like Olbermann and Cowherd, especially Olbermann, to give fans another alternative to the splitting headaches caused by cancerous broadcasters like Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith.