Skip Bayless has been one of the most polarizing figures on ESPN for years. However, his time at the Worldwide Leader in Sports Entertainment is coming to an end. Sporting News reported that ESPN announced Bayless will leave the network in August when his contract comes to an end. The new destination of Bayless might be Fox Sports 1, although that has yet to be announced.
Bayless has been one of the most controversial talking heads on ESPN, as he and Stephen A. Smith have debated sports on First Take since 2007. The two have butted heads over everything from Bayless’ love for the Dallas Cowboys to Bayless’ views on the Philadelphia Eagles. It was in 2011 that the show developed into an actual debate format between Bayless and Smith, something that has really led the show to its greatest popularity.
First Take is one of the highest rated shows week-after-week on ESPN, and much of that is the chemistry and conflicting opinions between Bayless and Smith. Even when one or the other went overboard, such as when Bayless mocked LeBron James for weeks on end, ESPN lets them get away with just about anything. The series brought in between 300,000 or 400,000 viewers per episode, numbers that might be hard to reach without Skip onboard.
ESPN made the actual announcement of Skip Bayless leaving the network in a short three-sentence press release. The release simply said that Bayless made the decision to leave and his final appearance on First Take will be on the final day of the NBA Finals. They then thanked him for his contributions. ESPN vice president of production Norby Williamson made a statement about the decision.
“We wanted Skip to stay and we had discussions with him, but he ended making the decision. I respect his decision. His contract was coming up, and he decided to go in another direction.”
Skip is the latest of a number of big names to leave ESPN. Mike Tirico, Bill Simmons, and Colin Cowherd have all left. Curt Schilling was also fired after making a social network post that demeaned transgender individuals. Rumors had ESPN offering up to $4 million a year to retain Bayless.
Despite Bayless leaving, ESPN is confident that First Take will continue to be a successful show. Stephen A. Smith remains on board, providing almost as many colorful and controversial statements at Bayless did. While there are many people who do not appreciate this type of commentary spouted as fact, fans have spoken with their allegiance over the years. Williamson pointed out why he felt the show worked under Bayless and Smith’s leadership.
“I appreciate the fact whatever opinion you want to have about this show, and that’s why there are different flavors of ice cream. Fans clearly have a connection to this show and what we offer with it. That’s going to continue, and we are here to serve fans. We have a big tent to do a lot of different sports and studio shows.”
Bayless has been with ESPN for 12 years now, and his contract ends in August. This move has been in the works for a while, as Bayless has been in talks with Fox Sports. CNN reported that Fox Sports 1 is the likely destination and said that network programming Chief Jamie Horowitz said he is interested in having Skip at Fox as a host. He said that they are looking for “opinionists” for the network, which Bayless fits the description of.
Regardless, this is the end of an era for ESPN. Whether Skip Bayless finds a partner that he can develop the same chemistry with as he did with Stephen A Smith will determine if his Fox 1 stint will match his ESPN levels of success.
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