By Jim Weber
The contract for ESPN’s Erin Andrews expires on July 1 and the speculation in media circles about whether America’s most famous sideline reporter will stay with The Worldwide Leader is rivaling the gossip normally associated with the contracts of big-time athletes (see here, here and here). I’m half-expecting a TV special next month hosted by Jim Gray in which Andrews announces where she is taking her talents.
It’s the most coverage I’ve seen about a sideline reporter’s contract since, well, Andrews dragged out her decision to stay at ESPN just two years ago after becoming a full-fledged A-list celebrity following the Peeping Tom video and a third-place finish on “Dancing With the Stars.”
With her free agency just two weeks away, Deadspin wrote last Friday that ESPN and Andrews are stuck together because no one else wants to hire her. I’m not buying it.
Hear me out as I explain why Andrews leaving ESPN for FOX Sports makes so much sense for all three (full disclosure: Lost Lettermen is a part of the Yardbarker network that is owned by FOXSports.com. If you think that I in some way would benefit from Andrews working at FOX, you have no idea how ad networks work and greatly overestimate my importance):
Andrews has been at ESPN since 2004 and she’s arguably the network’s most famous broadcaster despite the fact she’s only a sideline reporter for college football and basketball.
The suits in Bristol clearly realize that Andrews moves the needle for the network and that there are countless warm-blooded males that watch her every move on fall Saturdays. The network gushed when they re-signed her in 2010 and recently brought Andrews to ESPN’s advertising upfronts, which is a good indication of how much they value her.
And yet, Andrews’ contract status is becoming a Dwight Howard-like distraction. Is ESPN really going to drag on negotiations with her every two years when she and her agent decide they want more money and responsibility? Andrews certainly didn’t justify a higher salary and a role at “Good Morning America” with her 2010 contract as Deadspin correctly pointed out.
ESPN has consistently proven that no talent is bigger than the network and that it will keep on ticking after big names put Bristol in their rearview mirror. Look no further than Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Rich Eisen, Craig Kilborn and the recently departed Michelle Beadle.
And despite all her fame, Andrews is no different. Even without her, people aren’t going to stop watching College GameDay or ABC’s Saturday night broadcasts in which she’s on camera for all of two minutes.
Andrews’ contract talk is a distraction for the network and, as a complete outsider, I get the strong sense that Michelle Beadle is one of many who roll their eyes every time Andrews decides to hit the red carpet or tweet pictures of her and the self-proclaimed “Wolfpack” of super model friends Brooklyn Decker and Chrissy Teigen. There are a lot of people at ESPN who make far less and work a hell of a lot harder than Andrews and then watch her glamming it up in New York City and jet-setting to places like South Beach and Australia while they slave away in Bristol.
Just like ESPN replaced Beadle with Charissa Thompson before you could say “SportsNation,” I would argue that Jenn Brown taking over for Andrews would actually increase ESPN’s ratings in the short run as people tune in to see how Brown fares in Andrews’ shoes and drool over the new “it” girl in sideline reporting. Brown is not as good as Andrews but she’s solid and plenty ready to take over the lead sideline reporter role.
After being irrelevant in college football for years, FOX has gone all-in on the sport as part of a $3 billion contract with the Pac-12 that it’s splitting with ESPN. FOX followed that up by plucking Gus Johnson away from CBS to be the lead play-by-play man and recently announced it will broadcast an insane 165 college football games across all its networks this fall.
FOX got an incredible amount of publicity by landing Johnson, a cult hero among sports fans, and would receive much more press if it landed Andrews because everyone from Sports Illustrated to US Weekly would report on it. That’s exactly the kind of thing FOX needs to do if it wants viewers to tune in on Saturday nights after years of ignoring the network on the day of the week.
And if FOX is willing to be part of a $3 billion contract with the Pac-12, Andrews’ salary will seem like peanuts in comparison. A source I know in the industry estimated that Andrews makes around $350,000 a year. I know that seems low, but keep in mind how much Andrews is actually on the air.
The source also estimated that Beadle received $750,000 from NBC for her new variety of roles spanning from the Olympics to Access Hollywood.
As I already explained, there’s no way Andrews is worth that much to ESPN. But she’d be worth at least that much to FOX, as this fall will go a long way in determining whether the massive Pac-12 deal will be worth FOX’s investment. If I’m FOX, I offer Andrews whatever Beadle is making to be the lead sideline reporter for FOX college football and basketball (she could also do college basketball work for the Big Ten Network), the No. 2 NFL sideline reporter behind Pam Oliver (if that sounds preposterous, keep in mind that the position is currently held by Tony Siragusa) and throw in a role on Major League Baseball broadcasts that she already has experience with.
ESPN could match a big offer from FOX out of fear over competition in the college football space, but I don’t think it’s worth it for ESPN considering the other reasons I listed; Andrews and the network are better off separating at this point. And while I don’t think people would stop watching ESPN and ABC college football without Andrews, they would also now flip over to FOX to check out the blockbuster pairing of Gus Johnson and Erin Andrews.
And Andrews is not just a pretty face.
Go ahead and rip Andrews’ hosting ability and work on “Good Morning America” all you want, but her sideline reporting is really good. If you think Andrews is bad at her job, go work at a sports network where you will witness a parade of men and women with great head shots but know nothing about sports, can’t perform on live air or can’t even fluidly read a teleprompter that’s written for them – or all three. Trust me, I witnessed plenty of cringe-worthy on-air talent while working at CSTV (now CBS Sports Network).
Andrews knows and follows college football, nails her interviews and obviously has the invaluable “it” factor that makes people tune in to watch her.
Between her polish as a sideline reporter, the publicity her hiring would garner and the eyeballs she would draw to television sets, making her a big offer is a no-brainer for FOX in my opinion.
Andrews clearly knows she has one of the best jobs in broadcasting. She is the princess of college football who works for the network that dominates the sport and then parlays her celebrity into motivational speeches and endorsement deals. She’s always squarely in the public eye, as her trip to Miami recently proved, which reaps big benefits for Andrews and the network she works for in our reality TV world.
Name the last time you heard about Lisa Salters, Pam Oliver, Lesley Visser or Tracy Wolfson going to the beach or, for that matter, doing anything off camera? That’s what I thought.
And as long as Andrews is at ESPN, nothing will jeopardize that. Moving to any other sports network where she could potentially have less visibility is a big risk and bolting for entertainment news is an even bigger gamble. For every success story about heading to Hollywood like Kevin Frazier (left “SportsCenter” for “Entertainment Tonight” in 2004) there is a cautionary tale like Thea Andrews (left ESPN for “ET” in ’06 but no longer works there). And Erin Andrews will be just another pretty blonde while reporting on celebrities.
Those jobs are also a lot more demanding as broadcasters like Maria Menounos are on the air five days a week. Plus, I don’t picture Andrews picking up and moving from New York to Los Angeles within a year of arriving in The Big Apple or leaving her BFFs Decker and Teigen.
Andrews would surely like to stay with ESPN for the right price and you can bet that her agent, IMG’s Babette Perry, is trying to convince Bristol that letting two of the network’s most-popular broadcasters in Andrews and Beadle both walk would be disastrous – but that’s clearly not true as ESPN has shown for years.
After flopping on “GMA,” Andrews simply doesn’t have the leverage she had in 2010 coming off “Dancing With The Stars” – and ESPN knows it.
If offered, the aforementioned role at FOX would give her a huge pay bump, increased visibility while sticking to a job she thrives at and allow her to keep a similar schedule on top of her NYC residence. From Andrews’ point of view, what’s left to ponder?
In a span of eight years, Andrews has gone from a complete no-name 26-year-old to America’s most famous sideline reporter and a bona fide celebrity beyond sports at ESPN. But her time at the network has run its course and I think it’s clearly in the best interest of ESPN, FOX and Andrews for her to finally leave The Worldwide Leader.
Jim Weber is the founder of LostLettermen.com. His column appears Mondays and Wednesdays.