The buzziest nugget in sports media on Thursday came in a THR story about ESPN’s upcoming TV show, Get Up. The length story disclosed its hosts’ salaries: Mike Greenberg at $6.5 million, Michelle Beadle at $5 million, and Jalen Rose at $3 million. It doesn’t happen too often that we get to see numbers like this, so there was a lot of reaction. On his daily Periscope show, Clay Travis took the angle that Beadle in particular is vastly overpaid:
Clay, a persistent thorn in the side of ESPN, said that he has zero issue with talents being paid millions of dollars if this is what is dictated by the market, but that “I’m not sure that there has ever been a more overpaid member of the sports media, in the history of sports on television, than Michelle Beadle who is going to make $5 million a year to do this morning show.”
He continued: “There are going to be a lot of ESPN personalities that watch this show, and they’re gonna say, ‘Wait a minute. They fired hundreds of people at this company. How many of them could they have kept, and let Michelle Beadle go?'”
Clay did not think Greenberg is overpaid at $6.5 million because he did nearly two decades on a wildly profitable radio show: “I don’t know that anyone else would’ve paid Mike Greenberg $6.5 million a year, but I’m not sure that anyone else would’ve paid Michelle Beadle $500,000 a year. In other words, I believe in markets. But in order for you to have market value, there has to be someone else out there who’s offering you more money.”
“Michelle Beadle already left ESPN. She went to NBC Sports Network and nobody watched her show. Do you remember that she had her Crossover show?” he asked. “She was gone for like two years. Literally nobody followed her. There was nobody watching that show. I think it averaged like 40,000 viewers a day on NBCSN. They made a big show of it. They were like, ‘Hey we’re gonna challenge ESPN.’ They paid Michelle Beadle a lot of money, and then she came running back to ESPN.”
He went on to say that it’s unlikely there would be a market for Beadle at NBC, CBS, or Fox, essentially insinuating that ESPN was playing a high stakes game of poker with itself.
While Clay is correct about Beadle not having reasonable leverage of other options right now, there were two spots in the last couple of years where she really did have a considerable amount of it as it pertains to her role with the company.
The first instance was last basketball season. Sage Steele had been the host of NBA Countdown for several years, but began the 2016-2017 season splitting shows with Beadle. It had been about a year since ESPN had successfully installed Scott Van Pelt as host of midnight SportsCenter. The network really wanted its anchors to be individualist personalities in addition to steering the conversation. Almost immediately, there was a sense that Beadle was much more adept at improvising in discussions than Steele, and right before the playoffs there was an abrupt announcement that Beadle was the full-time host of the show.
Now, you can say that there are certainly other people at ESPN who could do a good job hosting Countdown. Rachel Nichols is great hosting The Jump, has active communication with many of the sport’s star players and coaches, and generally has her finger on the pulse of NBA conversation. There are also people at the company who think that Cassidy Hubbarth would be a great host.
Nevertheless, last season the ESPN decision-makers were head over heels for Beadle compared to Sage Steele, and when they made her the full-time host — which includes NBA Finals coverage on ABC — it came with a sticker price of several million dollars a year. (Also, in 2016, perhaps ESPN was concerned about the possibility of losing her to an HBO collaboration with her friend Bill Simmons?)
And then those same decision-makers were in a bind with the Greeny show. Get Up is finally less than two weeks away, but it was all the way back in September 2016 when Richard Deitsch first reported that ESPN was exploring the program. At first this show was billed as GREENY (and friends) but once the plans became public and there was a lot of skepticism about his ability to carry all that tonnage with disparate contributors they opted to bring in permanent co-hosts.
Former ESPN president John Skipper prioritized having a woman on this show who was not just an anchor host, but an opinionist as well. There were murmurs that they would have liked Katie Nolan to be on the show, but discussions in that direction never got very serious. Their first choice was to lure Charissa Thompson — who acknowledged on the Dan Patrick Show that she had “conversations” — but she opted to remain at FOX Sports.
While Clay Travis says that it’s his opinion that a ton of women could be put in Beadle’s place (one of his suggestions was Good Morning Football’s Kay Adams) and ratings wouldn’t suffer, Beadle’s been doing daily, opinion-driven, non-specialized sports television since SportsNation launched with Colin Cowherd in 2009. The same ESPN executives who felt bailed out by her on Countdown wanted someone they were sure of, and they had to pay her an extra $1-2 million to add a three-hour morning show to her NBA Countdown workload.
You could argue that there are many women — Mina Kimes? Laura Rutledge? Any number of people outside of ESPN? — who Bristol brass could/should have put in this spot, but their logic was based on a lot of confidence in Beadle and being so far invested already in terms of money and buzz that they were terrified to take a risk. Beadle easily could’ve turned the gig down and continued with a life of great weather and no 4:30 am alarm in Los Angeles. Thus, she had internal leverage again and makes $5 million a year even though right now there may not be many other suitors.