Amidst all the discussions around The New York Times‘ publication of Rachel Nichols’ 2020 comments about ESPN colleague Maria Taylor, the fallout that’s created within ESPN, the reduced on-air duties that’s led to for Nichols, and the memo from ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro about this and the timeline questions that raises, a key question is if Taylor and/or Nichols will stick with ESPN after all this. Even ahead of that NYT piece, Andrew Marchand of The New York Post wrote that Taylor’s contract expires July 20 (the date of a potential sixth game of the NBA Finals, and two days ahead of a potential seventh game, notable considering that Taylor is now ESPN’s main NBA Countdown pre-game/halftime/post-game host there), that she’d been offered “near $5 million” annually to stay last year but turned that down, and that their current offer to her was in the $2-$3 million range and that she hadn’t agreed to that and might head elsewhere (with NBC and Amazon specifically mentioned as possible landing places).
Now, one and possibly two of those landing places appear to actually be in play. On Wednesday, Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports reported that a NBC-Taylor deal is close, with a source saying it’s “at the half-yard line.” McCarthy also noted that this could be a non-exclusive deal, which would let Taylor also possibly strike a deal with Amazon for Thursday Night Football work. Here’s more from his piece:
ESPN’s Maria Taylor is nearing a possible deal with rival NBC Sports, sources tell Front Office Sports.
The rising star could become the new host of “Football Night in America” as Mike Tirico transitions into the play-by-play post long held by Al Michaels. With her experience on ESPN’s popular “College GameDay,” Taylor could work on NBC’s broadcasts of Notre Dame football. As an added lure, NBC could provide Taylor a global TV stage as an Olympic correspondent.
“The deal’s at the half-yard line. But that can still be a long way in contract negotiations,” said a source. The negotiations could still fall apart or ESPN could raise its offer.
Taylor, who’s currently hosting “NBA Countdown” during the NBA Finals, could also become a news correspondent on NBC’s “Today” morning show, following the trail blazed by former ESPN star Robin Roberts to ABC’s “Good Morning America.” If the deal is not exclusive to NBC, the former University of Georgia athlete could also join Amazon’s “Thursday Night Football” coverage, thus defraying contract costs for NBC.
McCarthy’s source is absolutely correct that a “half-yard line” “can still be a long way in contract negotiations.” It’s far from clear that this will actually lead to Taylor leaving ESPN and signing with NBC. And, if anything, this report might put more pressure on ESPN to significantly up their offer to her. The Taylor-Nichols situation has led to a lot of criticism for ESPN, including around the larger issues of their treatment of Black employees. A recent column from Los Angeles Times deputy sports editor Iliana Limón Romero discussed that in detail, including comments from Black ESPN employees past and present. And if Taylor moves on, that’s one more blow to ESPN’s reputation on that front.
It’s also easy to see why this could be a fit for both NBC and Taylor, though. Taylor has shown strong hosting abilities, including on college football and on the NBA, and she’d be a logical fit to replace Tirico in the Football Night in America host role down the road. They also have Notre Dame games and other things she might be able to work on. And she might be able to contribute to their coverage even as soon as the Tokyo Olympics; there could be challenges there with so many of those plans already in place, but networks have often rejigged things at the last moment to show off a new star.
Regardless of if that happened this year or not, Taylor’s sports background (she played both basketball and volleyball at Georgia) and hosting background (she’s hosted everything from college football to college volleyball to the NBA) might make her a great fit for NBC’s Olympic coverage in future years. And that’s beyond year-in and year-out work on their football properties. And for her, this would be a high-profile landing spot, and a way to move on from this situation at ESPN that wound up being extremely public. We’ll see if this move comes to pass, but it’s definitely interesting to have it reported as being this close. (And if this does come to pass, that could lead to a lot of awkwardness around ESPN’s NBA Finals coverage in the days ahead, especially if the series goes to six or seven games.)