In May, Kenny Mayne left ESPN after 27 years and a month there, calling himself a “salary-cap casualty” and saying they offered him a 61 percent pay cut with no room to negotiate, and “I just feel I can do better elsewhere.” Around that, Mayne wrote a first-person piece on his exit for The Los Angeles Times, and discussed it on plenty of podcasts; in September, he offered some further interesting context about the backlash he sometimes got from ESPN executives for tweets that were perceived as political.
Six months later now, Mayne does seem to be doing “better elsewhere.” He signed a brand ambassador deal with Caesars in September, which will involve a lot of different content, he hosted an Olympics show (alongside fellow ex-ESPNer Cari Champion) for Peacock this summer and has more projects coming there (including a dog show project alongside fellow ex-ESPNer Katie Nolan), and he has more still in the works. Mayne spoke to Jimmy Traina this week for the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast, and said he’s happy with his decision to exit ESPN and do other projects rather than take that paycut.
The whole Mayne-Traina interview is interesting. It includes some discussion of how Mayne doesn’t have an agent (which he says is part of why he’s made so many media appearances; he likes to say yes, and he wants to keep his name out there), how that LA Times piece came about (it was through John Walsh, the famed long-time ESPN executive who retired from that company in 2015), and talk about his various current projects. But the part around 18:47 is a particularly notable discussion of how Mayne feels looking back at that ESPN exit now. Here’s a transcription of Mayne’s comments there:
“I think I feel better about leaving because I know that it all turned out okay for me and my family. At the time, I was kind of running on high energy, Gretchen called it the Kenny Mayne Ego Tour as I was getting all these podcast requests and all that, and she’s probably right, there was probably some of that. But I didn’t invite it, I wasn’t out ‘Hey, put me on.’ ”
“Like I said, I don’t have anyone fronting for me; maybe I’d be smarter if I did. But I feel fine with it. And my story remains the same; truly, there’s no malice. I have so many friends, I stay in touch with most to all of the same ones, I play golf with them still, I’m still in Connecticut. And I wish them well. I watch Monday Night Football. I’m not boycotting ESPN.”
“They’d have to explain their side. I can’t explain their side, I can only explain my side, which was that they made an offer for me to stay, and said all the right things, ‘You’re valuable, and we want you to stay, and it would be tough if you left,’ all that kind of stuff. But they set up a scenario that I think they knew, my personality was going to be ‘There’s no middle ground to this, it’s this or leave?'”
“So I left. And I don’t regret it. They made a business decision that they needed to cut back and make more money for Disney, and I was one of the casualties of the salary cap situation. Oh well.”
“I’m not here to bash ESPN, I’m not. They decided, whoever ‘they’ are, I assume it was Jimmy [Pitaro, president) and Norby [Williamson, EVP, Studio and Event Production], the top people, ‘Alright, here’s our budget, here’s what we’re paying different people to do different things. Oh god, he’s making this much? Let’s cut him by 61 percent and have him keep doing late night, you know, Cubs-Marlins games. ‘ Or, come to the middle if there’s a middle ground.”
“But they asked ‘You’re definitely saying no? You’re not accepting this offer?’ I said ‘Well, not as it stands.’ That’s kind of an open door; I would have maybe, maybe not listened to something. But I’m glad I didn’t; what if they had offered a 28 percent [cut] or something? I might have stayed, because that was a lot of money.”
“I’ve got four daughters, I got remarried, and we’ve got two each, so four together, two in college, one graduated, one’s going to go. We’ve got overhead still. And I don’t feel that old, I feel I can still do more things. I’m not ready to retire.”
“It was the right move for everybody. They saved some money, I replaced it with Caesars and the other things I’m doing. Everybody did okay.”
In response to a follow-up question from Traina, Mayne says he was hopeful at the time that leaving ESPN would work out for him, but he wasn’t sure until the calls started coming in.
“I didn’t know. I had a good amount of confidence. And the incoming calls quickly led me to believe ‘Oh, it’s going to be okay.’ I had no idea that many people would care, period.”
Well, it seems plenty of people do still care about Mayne, and about getting him to do projects for them. And it’s good to hear that he’s fine with how this has ended up.