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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

ESPN Extension Could Set Up Shannon Sharpe As Stephen A. Smith’s Successor

  • Sharpe scores a long-term contract extension from ESPN.
  • He could succeed Smith on top-rated ‘First Take.’
Mar 16, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Shannon Sharpe during the second quarter between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

Shannon Sharpe is writing one of the great career comebacks in sports TV history.  

On Monday’s edition of First Take, ESPN announced a multiyear contract extension that will keep the 55-year-old Sharpe on the top-rated weekday morning debate show, and extend his commentary to other programs to be announced later. 

“Shannon Sharpe has been an incredible addition to the First Take team, enhancing the show’s dynamic with his engaging presence and insightful commentary,” said David Roberts, ESPN’s head of event and studio production, in a statement​. “Shannon’s chemistry with Stephen A. Smith has elevated our debates and been another key reason First Take is the premier destination for morning sports discussion.”

Today’s announcement came less than a year after Smith recruited the Pro Football Hall of Famer to join him, Molly Qerim, and their rotating team of guest debaters on First Take, and only a year after Skip Bayless pushed Sharpe out the door at Fox Sports 1’s Undisputed. Sharpe and Bayless had worked as TV partners for six years. But Sharpe felt Bayless disrespected him on the air. After several on-air blowups, the three-time Super Bowl champion had enough, taking a buyout from FS1.

On Monday’s show, Sharpe personally thanked Smith for reaching out at a time when he was perceived as damaged goods. “I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me when I was at my lowest. I didn’t know where I was going to go. You called me and said, ‘Bro, everything’s going to be O.K. I got you,’” said Sharpe.

The top-rated First Take recently posted its most-watched May ever, averaging 513,000 viewers. That was up 6% year over year from 2023. It marked the show’s 22nd consecutive month of year-over-year growth.

As I previously reported, Smith is clearly grooming Sharpe—the owner/host of the Club Shay Shay podcast—as his successor if he leaves ESPN. Smith’s ESPN contract expires next year. He’s been crystal clear he wants to be the highest-paid employee at ESPN, with his salary possibly reaching $20 million per year.

If he doesn’t get it, Smith could pursue a new career as Jimmy Kimmel’s possible successor on ABC’s late-night comedy show. He could enter politics as he’s discussed with Fox’s Sean Hannity and elsewhere. Or he could go the independent route with his new podcast/YouTube show and production company.

Monday was the latest chapter in the three-way soap opera between the former TV partners. Don’t forget Bayless previously plucked Smith off the unemployment line to join him on First Take in 2012. Now Smith has done the same thing for Sharpe, Bayless’s former partner turned TV rival. Bayless also pushed for Sharpe’s hiring at FS1 in ’16 when he was at loose ends in the sports media business.

Even if Smith leaves First Take, Sharpe has vowed Bayless’s revamped Undisputed will never beat the show. 

“Y’all not going to be better than me and Stephen A. That’s not going to happen. I promise you, that is not going to happen. Ever. EVER,” Sharpe promised in September.

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