It looks like one of ESPN’s most prominent basketball voices is sticking around. According to Deadspin’s Kevin Draper, Zach Lowe has elected to sign a new multi-year deal with the Worldwide Leader despite strong pursuit from other suitors:
ESPN has re-signed superstar basketball reporter Zach Lowe to a multi-year contract, according to multiple industry sources. Lowe joined Grantland from Sports Illustrated in October 2012 and spent three years there before transitioning to ESPN.com, after ESPN pulled the plug on Grantland. His contract was up this fall.
ESPN wasn’t the only suitor for Lowe, who Slate’s Josh Levin called “America’s best sports writer” earlier this year. Since at least the NBA Finals, the big rumor within basketball media circles was that Lowe would follow former Grantland coworker Jonathan Abrams to Bleacher Report—one source confirmed Bleacher Report’s offer as “aggressive.” Numerous people told me they’d heard Bleacher Report offered Lowe one million dollars annually, though they were almost as quick to add that that seemed ridiculous. For comparison, the New York Post reported that Yahoo is paying Adrian Wojnarowski $8 million over four years to run The Vertical, though an informed source told me the deal was closer to $6 million for four years, plus stock options.
Despite their budgetary issues, it makes sense that ESPN would step up to retain Lowe, given both his popularity with fans and his versatility. Lowe has been famed for his ability to mix reporting, analytics and commentary, and he appeals to both those who used to read him over at Grantland and the more mainstream ESPN.com audience. He’s also shown potential in TV roles, and may receive more airtime there going forward. It’s also not really surprising that Turner/Bleacher Report made a big run at him, given their desire to have top-tier NBA content to go along with their TV rights, but it’s notable that ESPN considered Lowe worth paying a substantial price to retain.
Draper’s piece adds that sources say there has been some behind-the-scenes resentment of Lowe at ESPN given his ties to Bill Simmons and how he’s perceived as not working through the same structures as others. That makes some sense, but ESPN has always had special treatment and special circumstances for top talents, as Simmons’ career, their inconsistent disciplinary policies, and other elements show. ESPN seems to have decided it’s worth stepping up to keep Lowe, and we’ll see how they elect to use him going forward.