Does Bomani Jones have a future at ESPN?
In light of layoffs and departures from the network — the most notable being Dan Le Batard’s recent exit — the commentator and host is wondering if he’s still a fit when personalities are phased out for more SportsCenter, more athletes are hired for on-air roles, and a bombastic, hot take approach is being favored over insightful discussion and analysis.
“I don’t know what the paradigm is going to be for guys on television talking about sports if you’re not Stephen A. Smith,” Jones told the Washington Post‘s Ben Strauss.
Less than three years ago, Jones’s star appeared to be on the rise at ESPN. Following a co-hosting stint on Highly Questionable and a national show on ESPN Radio, Jones scored a showcase with High Noon, a talk show with Pablo Torre that seemingly put the two in position for future stardom. Tony Kornheiser predicted that Jones and Torre would eventually take over Pardon the Interruption from him and Michael Wilbon, and High Noon appeared to be an ideal warm-up for that.
Unfortunately, the show was canceled after less than two years on the air. Format shifts and timeslot changes made it difficult for High Noon to find an audience, though viewers didn’t respond to the show either. For that, Jones blames himself and Torre, telling Strauss that their friendship didn’t translate into on-air chemistry, something with which Kornheiser and Wilbon thrived.
Jones and Torre are still at ESPN, having signed new contracts after High Noon‘s cancellation. Yet while both are still featured on TV and online with appearances on Highly Questionable and Around the Horn, Torre’s place at the network appears to have solidified with his role as host of the ESPN Daily podcast. That show provides the longform content and in-depth analysis previously seen with Outside the Lines, often with a lighter, more fun sensibility.
However, Jones hasn’t found that foothold, that signature platform. Strauss reports that Jones wanted to take over as Highly Questionable host, but ESPN executives opted for a rotating cast. (And without Le Batard, the future of the show, especially in a midday timeslot, is uncertain anyway.) A show on ESPN+ is another possibility, but viewers may only look for live sports on the streaming platform.
— bomani (@bomani_jones) January 25, 2021
Jones is reportedly a personality that Le Batard and John Skipper have targeted for their new content venture, Meadowlark Media. But with the company still trying to figure out exactly what it will be and who fits, Jones will likely wait. He’s still under contract with ESPN into 2022.
Whether or not Jones stays with ESPN and finds the ideal role will also say a lot about what the network wants to be in years to come. Does ESPN want to be a place that features substantive commentators like Jones, even if they’re not stars, or is the preference to push personalities that can possibly break into the mainstream, as Smith has?
For what it’s worth, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro told Strauss that Jones’s “future was bright” at the network. If that’s true, executives and producers will have to follow through and find a showcase for him.