There is at least one high-profile sports pundit who’s thrilled about Skip Bayless’ massive payday with Fox Sports. On his radio show Friday, former Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee rejoiced at the news for one reason: YouTube.
McAfee’s program, which is also simulcast on SiriusXM, is the most-watched sports show on YouTube, bringing in about 54 million monthly views. Bayless’ debate show with Shannon Sharpe, Undisputed, attracts about 42 million monthly views — good for second overall.
“With Skip being a part of the second-largest sports show every single day, behind one other show, if you look at basically all analytics,” McAfee said on his show Friday, per the New York Post. “This is great f–king news.”
At first glance, Fox Sports’ decision to shower Bayless with $32 million over four years seems curious, considering Undisputed usually attracts just 130,000 to 150,000 viewers per day on TV. But cable is becoming an increasingly smaller part of the equation, even for a TV network. The media industry just suffered its worst year ever for cord-cutting, with only 60% of occupied households now paying for TV. Cable and satellite combined for 1.4 million canceled subscriptions in Q4 alone.
The future is streaming, which is why ESPN was reportedly pursuing Bayless so strongly. The WorldWide Leader wanted to reunite Bayless with Stephen A. Smith for a daily show on its streaming service, ESPN+, reports Andrew Marchand of the Post. ESPN was apparently still interested in adding Bayless even after he had agreed to his deal with Fox Sports.
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When Bayless signed his first deal with Fox Sports in 2016, it would’ve been unfathomable to imagine him, or any other personality, pulling double duty. But nowadays, that’s less of a concern. Disney is fully invested in streaming.
Per Disney’s last earnings call, Disney+ is now up to 94.9 million subscribers, with ESPN+ drawing 12.1 million. One year ago, ESPN+ had 7.6 million subscribers. That’s more than a 50% increase over one year.
Undoubtedly, Disney’s bundle package of Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu for one fee has been a boon for subscription numbers. But either way, ESPN must be thrilled with its newfound streaming reach. In 2013, the network was in 100 million homes; now, it’s in just 83 million. Last year, ESPN announced it was laying off an additional 300 people, and not filling 200 more positions.
ESPN’s reported pursuit of Bayless—Marchand says Bayless was offered four years in the $30 million range— illustrates its current priorities.
Years ago, it was believed that personalities who left ESPN were sacrificing visibility and capital. Bayless shows that’s no longer the case, along with Jemele Hill. The latter has recently partnered with Spotify to develop a podcast network to uplift Black women. There are so many more platforms today.
Enter McAfee, whose show has ascended without the support of a traditional network or rights agreements. While Bayless returned to Fox Sports for $8 million annually, McAfee would probably hold out for a lot more before selling his program to another entity. Look at Bayless: his TV audience is a minimal component of his value. It’s about his exposure on YouTube and other social platforms, where his rants go viral — even when they’re wildly offensive.
At 69 years old, it’s unlikely Bayless felt compelled to start his own media company, and produce his own content. But it’s clear his reach is not tied to Fox Sports. In today’s democratized content world, personalities can cultivate their own followings without the aid of traditional media. TV is not nearly as important as it used to be.
Over the last two decades, we’ve seen newspaper brands act like digital-first operations that also happen to publish a print editions. It’s easy to imagine TV networks soon viewing themselves as streaming networks that also happen to own a cable channel. The chase for Bayless shows that already may be the case.