We hear that Stephen A. Smith, who just four years ago soared to incredible sports media heights – simultaneously juggling a sports column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, an ESPN radio show, and a TV show on ESPN – will be actively looking for work this summer after his ESPN contract expires following the NBA playoffs.
Within the last month, a source says that ESPN and Smith went to the negotiating table and couldn’t reach an agreement. Apparently, ESPN’s offer was considerably lower than Smith’s previous contracts – which were multi-media faceted – and Smith passed. He was then offered the decision to work through the remainder of his contract, or walk away and still get paid, and a source says Smith decided to work.
“Stephen A. Smith moves the needle on ratings,” says Mark Shapiro, executive vice president of programming and production at ESPN. “Is he more liked or disliked? Who knows? Who cares? He leaves an imprint. People might come back because they hate him. The bottom line is, they come back.”
That’s a quote from this 2005 profile in Sports Illustrated. He was also profiled by the New York Times at the height of his stardom, when he was so busy across so many mediums that he once famously filed a column to the Inquirer via Blackberry.
As the blogosphere emerged in 2006, Smith’s screaming antics were well-chronicled – this heckling at the NBA draft was a popular one – and his downward spiral picked up as the year progressed. In 2007 it began to unravel – his TV show was cancelled – and that accelerated in 2008 when he lost his column and his radio show. Though Smith’s screaming has been dialed back significantly in the last six months – Skip Bayless remains as loud and annoying as possible – one wonders if it was too little, too late.
This season, Smith hasn’t been out front on ESPN for the sport he knows best, basketball – replaced by guys like Avery Johnson, Tim Legler and JA Adande – but his front-of-the-book column in ESPN the Magazine seems to be well-received.
What’s up next for Smith? Writing gigs in this down economy are difficult to come by, but perhaps if he were only writing and not pontificating across multiple mediums, he could find work at a newspaper or magazine. And he seems to enjoy the political/social commentary.
An ESPN spokesman had no comment.