ESPN reportedly wanted to lure Skip Bayless back, but all that did was make the pundit an even richer man with Fox Sports.
Bayless has signed a four-year, $32 million deal to remain at Fox despite a similar offer from ESPN. Per Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, ESPN offered Bayless somewhere in the range of $26.5 million to $31 million as part of a planned reunion with former "First Take" partner Stephen A. Smith.
Bayless famously left ESPN back in 2016 when Fox Sports, as part of a new strategy targeting the kind of sports debate content that ESPN struck rich with, offered him a reported four-year, $24 million deal. Since then, Bayless has hosted "Skip and Shannon: Undisputed" with NFL Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe and Jenny Taft on Fox Sports 1.
ESPN and Fox Sports have both changed management since that move, but the demand for Bayless seems to have continued unabated.
What ESPN wanted to do with Skip Bayless
According to the Post, ESPN pursued a Bayless return as part of a strategy to bolster its new ESPN+ streaming platform.
The reported plan was to reunite Bayless and Smith, who reportedly remain good friends, but not on "First Take," which Smith now hosts with Max Kellerman. Instead, the pair would have hosted a daily show on ESPN+ which would have promoted across the ESPN umbrella, including weekly appearances during halftime of "Monday Night Football."
ESPN was reportedly desperate enough to get that project off the ground that even after Bayless chose to stay with Fox, ESPN executives proposed an idea in which Bayless and Smith would still host the ESPN+ host while they still respectively hosted "Undisputed" and "First Take." The idea was turned down.
What Fox Sports is actually going to do with Skip Bayless
Compared to ESPN's master plan, Fox's reported plan for the next four years sounds pretty straight-forward: a lot more Skip Bayless.
In addition to "Undisputed," the Post reports that Bayless and Fox Sports 1 are in the early planning stage of a second daily show for Bayless in the afternoon. Bayless would be the solo host in this show.
While Bayless' ratings struggled early during his tenure with Fox, they seem to have steadily increased over time. Or are at least showing enough promise that Fox wants to keep him for four more years and give him another show. The ratings of "Undisputed" still likely lag behind "First Take," but just getting close would be a victory for Fox Sports 1.
Curious timing for both Bayless and ESPN
According to the Post, ESPN's pursuit of Bayless reportedly occurred back in August. Bayless was later reported to be nearing a deal with Fox in September by Front Office Sports.
That is curious timing for everyone involved. In Bayless' case, his deal with Fox came right after the man went an idiotic opinion too far when he criticized Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott for admitting he struggles with depression in the wake of the suicide of his brother Jace, saying it was a sign of weakness.
Bayless received a mountain of criticism for that take, including responses from the quarterback and his bosses at Fox, who tried to distance the network from the controversy. A month later, it was giving Bayless $32 million.
In ESPN's case, it was offering Bayless nearly as much money amid the coronavirus pandemic, which the network would later point to as it was laying off 500 employees in November.
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