ESPN announced earlier this week that hot-take enthusiast Skip Bayless would be leaving the network when his contract is up in August, with Deadspin’s Kevin Draper and Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch both reporting that Bayless would be heading for Fox Sports. It’s not yet known what Bayless’s role will be at Fox, but Deitsch has an inkling as to what the network will pay him.
From a reliable source: Fox Sports is paying Skip Bayless in neighborhood of $5.5 million per for four years, plus a $4M signing bonus.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) April 28, 2016
That’s close to what Fox Sports reportedly is paying fellow ESPN defector Colin Cowherd — upwards of $6 million annually, according to Deitsch — though Cowherd also does a daily radio show that’s simulcast on Fox Sports 1 and also took part in the big network’s NFL pregame coverage on Sunday mornings.
But is Bayless worth anywhere near that amount?
Consider Cowherd. Here, via an Awful Announcing screengrab, are the average TV ratings for his radio-show simulcast during his final weeks at ESPN last year (the show was televised on ESPNU, a fact that galled Cowherd):
Fast forward about nine months and one network, and “The Herd” garnered just 76,000 viewers for its Fox Sports 1 broadcast on Tuesday, according to SportsTVRatings.com. Monday’s show was even worse, at 56,000 viewers. More people watched live college softball (on ESPNU, even) and taped poker.
“First Take,” meanwhile, drew 389,000 viewers on Monday and 437,000 viewers on Tuesday for ESPN2, which is right around its usual numbers (the show averages around 400,000 viewers during NFL season and 300,000 viewers during the offseason, Deitsch says). Those are great numbers for daytime non-event sports television and Fox Sports President Jamie Horowitz knows this, especially considering he formerly headed up the show during his time at ESPN and is trying to replicate the “embrace debate” concept at Fox Sports. He also knows that such shows can be cash cows, considering the comparatively good ratings and how little it costs to have two guys yakking at each other in a studio.
But based on the money Fox Sports reportedly is throwing at Bayless — not long after the company reportedly went through a round of layoffs, no less — it sure seems like it expects a sizable chunk of that audience to jump ship to Fox Sports 1 whenever Bayless’s show gets off the ground. Will it, though? Viewers certainly aren’t flocking to Cowherd in great numbers, and anything on Fox Sports that isn’t a live event draws crickets. Throwing another log on the hot-take fire doesn’t seem likely to change that.
There’s also the not insubstantial matter of Bayless’s rapport with “First Take” co-host Stephen A. Smith. You may love or loathe the concept of the show, but there was something to the pairing that got people to watch and will be hard to re-create no matter how FS1 uses Bayless.
I didn't enjoy First Take but Skip and SAS had real chemistry and I don't think you can just throw someone else in there. Won't be the same.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) April 28, 2016
According to Deitsch, ESPN was offering Bayless somewhere in the area of $4 million to stay. Fox Sports reportedly offered more, and likely will get less.