ESPN has a big talent decision coming up. Popular reporter/host Maria Taylor’s contract is up this summer.
As ESPN cuts costs and scrutinizes its talent contracts, the network will have to work hard to re-sign one of its fastest-rising young stars.
The 33-year-old star of “NBA Countdown” and “College GameDay” has experienced a meteoric rise since joining ESPN in 2014.
Starting off as the host of “SEC Nation,” the former University of Georgia athlete became a reporter for “College GameDay” and “ABC Saturday Night Football” in 2017, after Samantha Ponder moved over to “Sunday NFL Countdown.” Two years later, Taylor got another big promotion, succeeding Michelle Beadle as host of “NBA Countdown.”
When the “College GameDay” crew of Taylor, Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler got the call to work the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New York Giants “Monday Night Football” game in 2020, Taylor tweeted: “First NFL game of my career so I think that makes me a rookie.”
Taylor signed her last contract extension in Summer 2018. ESPN declined to comment.
ESPN “strongly” wants to keep her, said a source. Despite a difficult talent market post-pandemic, Taylor will likely have options if she chooses free agency:
- With its growing portfolio of NFL and college sports rights, Taylor would be a natural target for Fox Sports. Fox has been poaching a number of ESPNers, including Tom Rinaldi, Emmanuel Acho, Jonathan Vilma, Mark Schlereth, and Adam Amin.
- Taylor’s also the type of versatile TV talent who can move into news or entertainment reporting, said sources. Think Michael Strahan, Robin Roberts, and Bryant Gumbel.
- Amazon’s expected to land “Thursday Night Football” during current NFL rights negotiations. Taylor’s equally adept at reporting and hosting. It’s only a matter of time before deep-pocketed tech giants start poaching talent from legacy networks, said sources.
Taylor has never been afraid to publicly mix it up.
When Chicago radio host Dan McNeil tweeted that Taylor’s MNF outfit was more appropriate for an adult film awards show, she called him out.
“Well Danny Dearest if you would like to continue making sexist comments about me…please bring your misogyny with you to the NBA Countdown double header I’ll be hosting tomorrow night. Hey ladies remember you can wear whatever you feel confident in!”
Taylor’s colleagues, like Elle Duncan of ESPN, rushed to her defense. “Imagine just crushing your first MNF gig and having a senior age man comment on your outfit as his biggest takeaway,” tweeted Duncan.
McNeil was quickly terminated by Entercom Chicago. He later apologized publicly to Taylor and wished her luck. “You’re terrific,” he tweeted.
When New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees repeatedly backtracked for calling NFL players “disrespectful” for kneeling for racial justice, Taylor was having none of his excuses.
“My patience left my body when I saw George Floyd take his last breath,” she told Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman on “First Take.” Her Brees comments went viral, drawing over 1.5 million views on Twitter.
Still, business is business. A budget-conscious ESPN has either bought or declined to re-sign other hosts such as Beadle, Dan Le Batard, Mike Golic Sr., and Trey Wingo the last couple of years.
If Taylor leaves, ESPN still has a deep bench of up-and-coming talent including Duncan, Cassidy Hubbarth, Malika Andrews, and Monica McNutt. All of them boast a mix of hosting and reporting experience for pro and college sports.