ESPN’s Sensational Bid to Reunite Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith Falls Short

Fox was able to retain Bayless with a four-year, $32 million contract, according to "The New York Post"

Skip Bayless Staying With Fox Sports After ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith Reunion Bid Falls Short
ESPN hosts Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless in 2014.
Larry Busacca

ESPN’s shot at reuniting the sports media dream team of Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith was blocked by rival Fox Sports, according to The New York Post.

The Post reports ESPN offered 69-year-old Bayless a four-year deal over the summer that would have paid him somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million in total and that Smith was a “driving force” behind the proposed pact. But Bayless, who used to work alongside Smith on First Take, ultimately turned down the deal and opted to return to Fox on a deal that will pay him $32 million over four years.

Had The Worldwide Leader’s effort to bring Bayless back into the fold alongside Smith been successful, the former partners would have “done a daily ESPN+ show together, while being splashed all over ESPN, including weekly spots on the Monday Night Football halftime show,” according to The Post.

In a twist, ESPN was reportedly even willing to pay Bayless to appear on ESPN+ with Smith after he agreed to return to Fox. “ESPN executives broached the idea of having Bayless stay on FS1 in the mornings, debating on Undisputed with [Shannon] Sharpe, while Smith continued on ESPN’s First Take in the mornings with Max Kellerman,” according to The Post. “Then, in a rare cross-pollination between ESPN and Fox Sports broadcasters, Smith and Bayless would still team up for their ESPN+ program.”

As it stands now, Bayless will be back on Fox with his co-host Shannon Sharpe on Skip & Shannon: Undisputed. Of course, that could change, as Sharpe’s contract reportedly expires over the summer and the network is facing a decision about whether it wants to pay the three-time Super Bowl champion a commensurate amount to what it is paying Bayless. Sharpe’s current deal only pays him about $3 million a year, according to Front Office Sports.

Speaking with The Post, Bayless praised the leadership at Fox Sports and ESPN as well as lauded his relationship with Sharpe, but stopped short of saying his relationship with his current partner is as strong as his bond with Smith.

“Stephen A. Smith is even more of a brother to me than my real brother,” Bayless told The Post. “I love the man, as you know, on and off the air. Since I left First Take for Undisputed back in June of 2016, Stephen A. and I have remained in close touch.”

It will be interesting to see if ESPN’s courting of Bayless on Smith’s request will have any impact on the current supporting cast of Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim on First Take or Sharpe and moderator Jenny Taft on Undisputed.

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