Stephen A Smith Credit: The Deal Podcast via Bloomberg

Months before Stephen A Smith has begun contract negotiations with ESPN, his next deal with the worldwide leader is already one of the biggest topics in sports media. In a recent appearance on Bloomberg’s The Deal podcast, Smith explained his perspective on no longer being ESPN’s top-paid talent on why he expects to regain that title in his next contract.

After Pat McAfee, Kirk Herbstreit and the Monday Night Football broadcast duo of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman surpassed him in recent years, Smith believes his ratings dominance on First Take and consistent presence on ESPN’s NBA programming puts him in line to once again get the highest salary at the network.

“Yeah we talk about, I could be the highest paid,” Smith told The Deal cohosts Alex Rodriguez and Jason Kelly. “ESPN has done nothing wrong to me in that regard. When I signed my contract years ago, I was the highest-paid then. They treated me right.

“Things just happened, other folks came down the pike. Pat McAfee’s kicking tail in the YouTube stratosphere, over 2 million followers. Built the show over seven years. He deserved what he got. Troy Aikman and Joe Buck are institutions.

“…Kirk Herbstreit’s been there for years. All these other guys have been there for years. It was their turn. The only reason I ever answered any questions about me being the highest paid, it was me saying, ‘Hello, it’s my turn.'”

Smith doesn’t see at as himself vs. Buck, Aikman or McAfee (though he reportedly was on the receiving end of a tirade from McAfee earlier this year). The First Take host clearly just knows his value to ESPN and Disney and is ready to ask for it.

“The biggest thing for me is that people try to act, and they’ll try to pit it like it’s going to be some kind of negotiating war,” Smith added. “No, it’s not. This is what I bring to the table. Do you value and appreciate me enough to give me what I think I deserve, or not? If you don’t, I respect that. I hope you respect the fact that somebody else might, and we go from there.”

Smith became executive producer of First Take after the departure of Max Kellerman in 2022. He self-funded a studio and production company around The Stephen A. Smith Show, which moved from Audacy to iHeartMedia earlier this year, as well as other Hollywood projects.

It would not be a surprise to see Smith work to bring that digital show to ESPN as part of a licensing deal and broader partnership with the network similar to McAfee’s.

Smith’s contract at ESPN expires this year. He knows there will be a demand for his talents.

“So many times, people think that I’m talking about ESPN. I’m not talking about ESPN,” Smith said. “I’m talking about the business. I’m talking about everybody.”

Smith continues to set the stage for big changes in his role at ESPN and status in the industry.

[Bloomberg Originals on YouTube]

About Brendon Kleen

Brendon is a Media Commentary staff writer at Awful Announcing. He has also covered basketball and sports business at Front Office Sports, SB Nation, Uproxx and more.