Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith on First Take, ESPN, 2014. Photo credit: ESPN

Stephen A. Smith wants to beat Skip Bayless. But even with his opponent on the ropes, he’s not necessarily gearing up to deliver the knockout punch.

ESPN’s First Take has never really been in danger of losing a ratings battle to FS1’s Undisputed. But in recent months, viewership for both shows have been trending in drastically different directions. Bayless’s Undisputed has floundered since moving on from Shannon Sharpe last summer, while Smith’s version of First Take continues to grow.

Appearing on a recent episode of Bloomberg’s The Deal with Alex Rodriguez and Jason Kelly, Smith expressed appreciation for Bayless making him a full-time co-host of First Take, while also noting his addition took the show to new heights. The discussion about Bayless prompted Rodriguez to ask, “Who’s winning now?”

“Me,” Smith answered definitively, before Rodriguez questioned if the ratings are close.

“Not even close,” Smith said. “And I don’t say that with joy, believe it or not, because I want to win. I want to be No. 1. But I think a couple of weeks ago, we won by a 10-to-1 margin.

“It’s been very, very lopsided. And I take no joy in saying that, because I want Skip to be successful. I’m going to always be grateful for what he did to me.

“Keyshawn Johnson is a friend of mine. Michael Irvin is a friend of mine. Richard Sherman is a friend of mine. I’m not rooting against these guys. I just want to be No. 1.

“But First Take is definitely it, this is at a time when linear television is dwindling, shows are getting canceled. We’re going up in the ratings. I literally had a conversation with the bosses like, ‘Look, if I’m going to continue to do this show, it can’t be about that because now I’m competing against myself.’ I’m proud to say that I wake up every day with two thoughts in my mind. How do I make my bosses more money, and how do I get some of it?”

Bayless attempted to rebuild Undisputed without Sharpe last summer, bringing on the notable additions of Keyshawn Johnson, Michael Irvin and Richard Sherman that Smith mentioned. And since giving the show a refresh, Undisputed’s ratings have tanked.

On the morning of the NFL Draft last month, Undisputed averaged 45,000 viewers. First Take, meanwhile, averaged 482,000 viewers for the month of April, a more than 10-to-1 margin. Bayless, who wants to win just as much as Smith does, has not commented on the show being a ratings disaster in recent months.

Like Smith, Bayless is in the last year of his current contract. But Smith’s contract is ending at a time where his value is peaking, Bayless’s contract is ending at a time where it appears his value has diminished. Smith might not be looking to deliver the knockout punch on his former partner, but it may have already happened.


About Brandon Contes

Brandon Contes is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously helped carve the sports vertical for Mediaite and spent more than three years with Barrett Sports Media. Send tips/comments/complaints to