There’s been chatter around the future of current ESPN personality Mina Kimes, whose contract is set to expire this year. During Super Bowl week, her agent reportedly fielded conversations with competing networks, which will likely create a bidding war for her services. While few could have seen this coming almost a decade ago when she joined ESPN – perhaps least of all, Kimes herself – the reality is that she would be one of the most interesting additions to any network’s NFL coverage in recent memory.
Now, hedging our bets slightly, we’re not mind readers. No matter where she ends up, Mina Kimes is going to maximize the opportunities given as she has already done since joining ESPN in 2014. Yet because there is speculation, we at Awful Announcing have decided to rank her best possible destinations in ascending order.
5) The Ringer
Say what you will about Bill Simmons (and this site has said plenty), but one thing that he’s done remarkably well is provide a runway for seemingly nontraditional talent to find their voices in the online sports media landscape. Much of that comes from building his own name largely in the blogger era where writers who weren’t embedded in a media beat were able to cultivate their voices for fans that were looking beyond box scores and trade rumors. Even those that were in traditional media roles would have found outlets for other arenas where they could share their passion and working knowledge.
Yet while The Ringer somewhat holds on to the spirit of the blogger era, its reach is exceedingly limited in 2023. As a podcasting brand for Spotify, it’s a solid performer in the incredibly crowded sports podcast market. Yet podcasting as a format has gone through, well, the ringer in recent years through a decline in “dumb money and an overall plateauing of the market. Football analysis may sound good through your speakers, but it doesn’t connect at all if you can’t see what’s being analyzed – after all, the late John Madden’s use of the telestrator revolutionized how we see the game.
The Ringer doesn’t have a significant association with a TV/video platform, meaning that Mina Kimes would have a sliver of the reach towards the NFL audience she enjoys now.
4) Meadowlark Media
Much of the same applies for Meadowlark, though it could be more alluring because Dan Le Batard, arguably more than Bill Simmons, has supported and cultivated talents who can create interesting television. Whatever the future holds for Meadowlark’s multimedia aspirations, there are plenty of people involved who are as comfortable in front of a camera as they are in a radio booth. Yet not having a wide-reaching TV/video platform means the same limitations as would exist with The Ringer.
3) NFL Network
This would be a fascinating option as Mina Kimes would have the multimedia operation that’s 100% football – and not just NFL football, but even down to the high school level of the game.
Working for the league itself could have major perks in terms of having perhaps even closer access to teams because they’re all under the auspices of ‘the shield.’ Kimes would not only be an ideal addition for studio shows but could be a host for any documentary program the network produces. She has also called live games for ESPN, adding one more feather to her cap. While NFLN gave up exclusivity of Thursday Night Football, it still broadcasts the international games in the early part of the season and some Saturday games in its final stretch.
Now, despite being a league network, the viewership isn’t as large as any NFL-themed property on ESPN or the three over-the-air partners. Does that matter as much if being fully embedded in football media holds more weight? Or is it a concern if she still doesn’t reach as many viewers as she does now with NFL Live?
Separately, there’s always one looming question for reporters and writers who end up working for the entity they once covered: can they still look at the subject with a critical eye without fear of repercussions? Maybe this isn’t a massive concern for Kimes as multiple former beat reporters are under the NFLN umbrella.
2) The NFL’s non-ESPN broadcast partners: CBS, FOX and NBC
There may be only one pro – albeit a massive one – of joining one of the league’s broadcast partners that’s not ESPN, and that’s having the relative freedom to add other commitments that wouldn’t have worked while at The Worldwide Leader. Having previously proven her investigative chops with ESPN and elsewhere, perhaps she could chase certain stories that she couldn’t in Bristol, assuming that’s still an interest of hers after years of fully committing to her passion for football. And with the football work alone, there won’t be a drop off in eyeballs for Kimes’ televised analysis as broadcast still reaches more viewers than cable.
The cons, however, are hard to ignore. There’s more reach, but far fewer programming hours that can be devoted to the wall-to-wall coverage fans crave. Stability with their shows and play-by-play teams are crucial and executives tend to be hesitant to make changes unless someone that seems undeniable hits the market. (See: CBS bumping Phil Simms into the studio in favor of pairing Tony Romo with Jim Nantz in 2017.)
Despite the camaraderie and chemistry of everyone on the set, FOX NFL Sunday is rather large as is, even before considering what the network’s coverage will look like once Tom Brady joins for the 2024 season. Someone of Mina Kimes’ talents would rightfully earn her keep on Sunday, but because of its crowded set, you’d bet that she’d have a fairly limited role. That could be complimented with a bigger role on Fox NFL Kickoff, which airs an hour prior, but has a lesser profile compared to what Kimes currently does with ESPN.
CBS’s pregame coverage has a similar build to FOX, with That Other Pregame Show on the lower profile CBS Sports Network complimenting The NFL Today on the main channel.
NBC just made sweeping changes in back-to-back seasons with the addition of Maria Taylor and Drew Brees to its Sunday pregame in 2021 and having Mike Tirico take the play-by-play chair from Al Michaels this past season. (And yes, Brees was effectively let go after one not-so-good season.) Though there could be a little more room for Kimes for NBC’s pregame than with CBS or FOX, there aren’t additional spaces for her except for Peacock, which is reportedly still falling short of Comcast’s expectations.
ESPN, for better or worse, is the star-making network. There haven’t been many sports media personalities who have had the same or greater national cache after Bristol, with the exceptions of Rich Eisen (NFL Network, radio) and Dan Patrick (radio, NBC Sports). In fairness, success is and should be measured differently person-to-person – surely, those with acrimonious departures such as Jemele Hill, Bill Simmons and Dan Le Batard are all pretty content with life away from ESPN.
With Mina Kimes, the network has made an incredible investment that continues to pay off for both sides. Outside of Stephen A. Smith, Kimes may still be the most recognizable non-athlete personality at the company because of how different she is versus her contemporaries – a star on TV who has proven she can sit alongside former players and coaches in analyzing the game, but also comfortable and witty enough on social media to not come off as a try-hard (which absolutely matters). She’s got that “it factor,” the Nielsen Q rating if sports media types have such things, the pre-Elon Musk Twitter buzz that’s not so easy to duplicate. And right now, ESPN doesn’t have too many of those types outside of Smith and whichever NBA or NFL analyst makes you mad today.
It’s not to say that there aren’t cons with staying in Bristol. The desire to do something else could take a lot of red tape. The occasional double duty if there’s another scandal that needs her investigative reporting experience. Finally, the seemingly unending culture war that ESPN remains in the middle of has to be draining. Yet it’s because she’s at ESPN that she was able to move away from investigative journalism and fully show her talents as a football analyst. And it may just be the best place for her future career as well.