There was an opportunity out there for Fox Sports to actually make good on president of national networks Mark Silverman’s May 2019 claims that they’ve “grown past embrace debate” at FS1 and “are a more mature network now,” but it appears that they’re going to do what most observers expected and extend Skip Bayless anyway. This comes after Bayless’ September 10 on-air attack on Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott for publicly revealing that he battled depression around COVID-19 lockdowns and his brother’s suicide, which was followed by an unsigned statement from Fox and a non-apology from Bayless. And while that led to massive condemnation for Bayless, it apparently hasn’t put much of a crimp in Fox’s plans to extend his contract (expiring at the end of September). That deal is now “nearing the finish line,” as per Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports:
Skip Bayless is nearing the finish line on a contract extension with Fox Sports, sources tell Front Office Sports.
…Bayless’ new deal is not finalized yet, but he’s expected to get a slight raise on his $6 million annual salary in a new contract extension.
…Still, nothing is finalized yet. The negotiations between 68-year-old Bayless and Fox are going right down to the wire since his current contract is set to expire this month, said sources.
As McCarthy notes there, nothing is finalized yet, and when a deal isn’t yet finalized, there’s always a chance that it won’t be. And that’s perhaps especially true when the expiry of that deal is so close; with so many sports TV talents signed to contract extensions long before their deals come up, it’s notable to see one that isn’t done with just over a week left. But it is interesting to see that Fox reportedly still plans to bring Bayless back, and at a boosted salary, even, so while the Prescott comments may have put a “major bump” in the talks, that bump looks set to be smoothed over.
If this extension does come to pass, though, it will be interesting to see just how long it’s for. As mentioned above, Bayless is 68, and it’s unclear how long he wants to continue yelling about LeBron James and other athletes on TV and getting up at 2 a.m. every weekday morning to do so. And the plan of building a debating network around Bayless really hasn’t paid off for FS1. And Jamie Horowitz, the architect of that strategy, is long gone from Fox. And if this extension is for a relatively short term, that could suggest that yet another large-scale makeover of FS1 could be coming down the road.
Of course, there’s maybe some value for Fox in keeping Bayless and bearing the criticism (which is attention, which they often don’t mind) for the viewership he does bring. That viewership is better than most of their other non-game programming (even if it’s often not great overall, and even if they’re paying Bayless a ton for it).
And there really don’t seem to be a lot of other options for Bayless. Yes, an ESPN reunion with Stephen A. Smith has been floated (including by McCarthy last year), but there hasn’t been a lot to confirm that interest on the ESPN side, and once-floated streaming options like DAZN (which does employ Horowitz) have their own issues and don’t necessarily seem like a great fit for a debate show. And if he wants to stay in LA in particular (which McCarthy’s piece mentions), Fox Sports feels like the logical place; he’s probably not going to NFL Network, or to ESPN’s LA operation.
For now, though, McCarthy’s reporting makes it seem like Bayless will be staying with Fox for at least a little while. And that makes it seem like FS1 will be sticking with their current programming plans. So if this deal does cross the finish line, the vision of “a more mature network” that’s “grown past embrace debate” will remain a vision unfulfilled for the moment.