At one point in negotiations with NBA Finals host and College Football national championship sideline reporter Maria Taylor, ESPN offered her a raise from her current salary of nearly $1 million per year that would eventually reach almost $5 million, according to sources.
Taylor turned it down.
Taylor, sources said, was hoping to be in the “Stephen A. Smith money” neighborhood, which is near $8 million annually.
But since the initial near $5 million offer was made during last year’s pandemic, the world at ESPN has changed even further. With Disney closely watching the network’s pocketbook, the majority of big earners at ESPN are being asked to take pay cuts.
Some are accepting them, while others, like Kenny Mayne and Ariel Helwani, are leaving. This evolution has quickly become perhaps the biggest current story in sports media.
ESPN looks at its reduction in salary as a market correction. Others in the industry see ESPN devaluing its place as the marquee platform for content creators and hosts.
But, in Taylor, ESPN sees someone it wants to keep. The near $5 million offer was made when ESPN was beginning its reduction of salaries across the board.
Today, ESPN wants to keep Taylor, but the initial offer is not on the table, according to sources. What she is being offered right now is not known, but it is believed to be in the $2 million-$3 million range.
It is a substantial raise, but there is another staring contest going on, and the idea that Taylor and ESPN could divorce cannot be counted out.
Adding to the intrigue, Taylor’s contract is set to expire on or around July 20, and the NBA Finals, if it goes seven games, ends on July 22.
Besides “NBA Countdown” and her college football work, Taylor is the host of the NCAA Women’s Tournament. She also does some NFL work.
ESPN declined comment. Taylor did not return a message.
Taylor, 34, has risen through ESPN, becoming a star at the network. Her ultimate goal, according to sources, is to be the “next Robin Roberts.” A new deal with ESPN could include some appearances on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
However, it is not clear that Disney — which owns ABC and ESPN — looks upon her as the future of mornings.
Taylor is no doubt talented, but is there another suitor who would value her as much as ESPN/ABC/Disney currently does? Amazon does like Taylor, according to sources, while NBC could potentially be creative. Both could have NFL hosting opportunities in the future, though nothing is currently available and it is unknown if there are any advanced talks.
At a time when ESPN is cutting salaries and letting on-air people go, it is offering her a raise. Will it be enough, especially if it continues to be less than what was once on the table?