Stephen A. Smith might have to write a new ending to his autobiography.
The “end game” for Smith and his “brother from another mother,” Skip Bayless, could be to launch their own show on a platform like YouTube, sources told Front Office Sports.
All of the major talents in sports media have taken note of the way Pat McAfee has created his own empire via his eponymous show on Google’s YouTube and wide-ranging content deal with FanDuel.
The entrepreneurial McAfee is his own on-air talent, boss, and owner in one package. By his own admission, he pockets an “absurd” amount of money from his estimated $120 million, four-year exclusive content partnership with FanDuel.
Apart from his part-time gigs with ESPN and WWE, the former NFL punter gets to operate independently of the corporate giants that dominate sports like the Walt Disney Co., Fox Corp., and Comcast.
While going independent is difficult, McAfee has shown it can be done. If Shams Charania’s figures are correct, McAfee — at age 35 — is making double or triple what Smith and Bayless are pulling down annually.
A new show starring the reigning kings of morning sports TV could draw big interest from advertisers and sponsors, whether it was on traditional TV or a streaming platform.
“What if Skip and Stephen A. did a show together on YouTube?” said one source. “Would it make them more money than staying at their networks?”
Smith and Bayless previously served as debate partners on ESPN’s “First Take” from 2012-2016.
Despite Bayless jumping to rival FS1 in 2016, the dueling hosts of “First Take” and “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed” remain close friends. They’ve spoken publicly about reuniting.
During his last contract negotiation, Bayless admitted Smith pushed his ESPN bosses to reunite the duo on the ESPN+ streaming platform before returning to linear TV.
It didn’t work out. Instead, according to Bayless, his bosses at FS1 matched ESPN’s written offer — and even sweetened the pot. But there’s always next time.
“I still love you Stephen A. Smith. And I always will. Who knows? Maybe somehow, maybe someday? You never know,” Bayless told his audience last year.
Someday could come sooner than you think.
With ESPN looking to hire him back, Bayless negotiated a four-year, $32 million deal with Fox Sports in 2021 per the New York Post. That could make him a free agent in 2025, too.
ESPN and Fox would likely fight hard to retain their two weekday superstars. But a reunion could mark a fitting coda to the careers of the 55-year-old Smith and 71-year-old Bayless. And bring their friendship, and partnership, full-circle.
Aside from the money they could make as independent contractors, going independent would give them the freedom to pursue outside projects as Smith just did with his “K[no]w Mercy” podcast for Audacy’s Cadence13.
If Smith wanted to talk politics on his podcast, or rip Donald Trump, he wouldn’t have to leave his main show to do it. Then there’s loyalty.
Sports is a relationships business. When Bayless brought his friend to “First Take,” Smith had been wandering in the ESPN wilderness for three years. Now it’s Bayless who needs help after becoming a national pariah for his controversial Damar Hamlin comments.
Tellingly, Smith was the only personality to publicly defend Bayless inside or outside of Fox.
Smith has a long memory. That could have been payback for Bayless loyally walking off the set of “First Take” over ESPN suspending Smith in 2014 for his controversial Ray Rice comments.
“From that moment on, we were brothers for life,” writes Smith in his new book “Straight Shooter: A Memoir of Second Chances and First Takes.”