The Stephen A. Plot Thickens

stephen a. smith
Despite McAfee’s proclivity for causing trouble and grabbing attention, ESPN is already Stephen A.’s network. Photo: Justin Casterline/Getty Images
John Ourand
June 24, 2024

Say what you will about Norby Williamson, ESPN’s recently defenestrated jack-of-all-trades who helped revolutionize the network during the past two decades until he ran into the Pat McAfee buzz saw. Williamson was a renowned talent whisperer who was known for making unpopular decisions and cleaning up Bristol micro-scandals, like the SC6 drama involving Jemele Hill and Michael Smith. But it’s hard to imagine that even Norby would have had the special sauce to manage the latest mushrooming talent challenge at ESPN.

As I reported last week, Stephen A. Smith, the network’s top talent, appears unwilling to countenance its recent five-year, $90 million offer, which would pay the voluble star $18 million per year. Instead, Smith covets the blockbuster deal that the network used to persuade McAfee to decamp last year from FanDuel. Notably, ESPN pays McAfee’s production company, which operates his talk show, $25 million a year—a fee that covers all its operating costs: salaries, insurance, fixed costs, etcetera. ESPN has also offered him about $5 million a year to appear on College GameDay, sources told me. (McAfee has yet to sign the deal.)