FS1 has made it clear for a while now that their gameplan is to out-ESPN ESPN when it comes to colorful personalities and hot takes. They’ve made gains recently but the day when they’re neck-and-neck with ESPN in the ratings is still years away. But maybe that’s not how they beat ESPN ultimately. Maybe the way FS1 beats ESPN is simply by out-spending them.

The Fox network has already ponied up big dollars for Colin Cowherd and Skip Bayless in order to put a dent in The Worldwide Leader’s ratings. Specifically, they’re making inroads when it comes to taking on ESPN’s new-flagship show First Take.

So the question is, how much would they be willing to pay to destroy First Take as we know it once and for all?

Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal is reporting that Stephen A. Smith has switched agents from Headline Media Management in New York to talent agency CAA in Los Angeles. The point of the move is clear.

SAS wants to get paid.

Smith did sign a multiyear contract extension with ESPN last year that pays between $3.1 and $3.5 million annually, but Sporting News is saying that Stephen A. thinks the game has changed in light of the deal Skip Bayless got from FS1. Bayless reportedly makes $5.5 million annually over four years and also received a $4 million signing bonus.

Smith must be looking at the ratings and saying to himself that if Bayless is getting that much while producing so little, surely I’m worth way more.

It’s worth noting that CAA also represents FS1’s Bayless, Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock. They also rep ESPN’s Mike Greenberg.

After seeing so many high-priced talents walk out the door (or get pushed out the door) in recent years, it’s unlikely ESPN is going to let Smith go without putting up a fight. Still, it’s hard not to see the leverage that FS1 has created for someone like him simply by existing. As for how serious SAS would be about moving to the West Coast to work for the upstart (he’s an East Coast guy through and through), that remains to be seen. Smith is also going to want to cover a lot of NBA games and he’s going to have ample opportunities for that as ESPN that he won’t find with Fox.

There’s also the flip side of the equation that it really isn’t that long since Smith was persona non grata until ESPN welcomed him back into their good graces. And while Bayless and Cowherd are pulling in big bucks, their lack of ratings and audience has pulled them out of the collective consciousness. It’s a trade-off (for now, at least) that Smith might not want to consider. Will Leitch said as much in our oral history of Smith’s rise, fall, and rise.

In a lot of ways, Stephen A. Smith and Jay Mariotti are kind of the same guy. They see the world in a similar kind of way, and SAS… Jay Mariotti is like a morally reprehensible person who hits women. SAS does not do that. Imagine if SAS could just get away from all this for a moment. In his real average life, he’s probably not a terrible person. But he’s terrible on my television. You can see…they both left ESPN, Mariotti more in shame, but they both left, and it’s hard.

You know how it is. People leave ESPN and it’s scary. Even some incredibly talented people have left ESPN — Michelle Beadle being a great example of this — have left ESPN and “OK, I’ll come back.” Leaving ESPN is a big deal. It can be a truly damaging thing for a lot of people’s careers. You’ve seen it with a lot of people. And you see what happened to Mariotti. Who knows what the hell Mariotti is doing? And that could have been SAS. He could have drifted away, but he didn’t. He recognized… he licked his wounds from Quite Frankly and got his act back together. And now he’s slowly worked his way back up.

There’s also the words of ESPN host Dan Le Batard, who thinks people like Bayless (and perhaps Smith) are too concerned about the money and not concerned enough about what happens after.

“The ego of these guys is such that they don’t believe they’re choosing money over winning. They believe they are going to make the difference. It’s happening right now in the sports opinion business. I told Colin Cowherd not to leave this spot. We were having conversations — now I’m revealing private conversations that I shouldn’t be — even though it would have benefited us, I was telling Colin Cowherd I don’t think you leave. You leave, you’re going to get lost, you’re going to do it for money and no one’s going to know where to find you. We don’t do this to have your voices stuffed in a drawer; we do this to be heard.”

Smith might think he’s bigger than ESPN, or at least big enough now to ply his trade anywhere. Depending on how this all goes, we might just find out.

[SBJ/Sporting News]

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.