Whether someone is covering sports for ESPN or running a multi-million dollar company, many of the biggest names in sports media make similar money to the athletes they cover. Outkick recently reviewed the most valuable sports media talents, although their methodology might not entirely paint the picture.
Making the list
Founded by mercurial Fox Sports personality Clay Travis, Outkick made a list of 50 names and their value both to their companies and the sports world. Some of the names are play-by-play commentators and color analysts, while others are radio hosts, TV personalities, and podcasters.
To make the list of the 50 most valuable sports media talent, Outkick followed three steps of criteria. First, they gauged how vital the personality was to their employer’s content. Second, they measured how much that person could help a competitor if they left their company.
Third, they measured how vital a personality was for earning an audience and garnering attention, whether in-game or a studio. Travis and his latest high-profile acquisition, Jason Whitlock, were exempt from the list as Outkick members.
Who is on the list?
The backend of the list has several big, albeit not universal names like Will Cain, Shannon Sharpe, Doris Burke, and Chris Russo. Whether they are headlining TV broadcasts or spitting hot takes on weekdays, these names are a smaller but significant part of the biggest networks in sports media.
As the list goes down, however, the names get more prominent. Michael Irvin at 34, Mel Kiper at 31, Dan Le Batard at 27 — the list is an utter who’s who of sports media. The top-20 list is mostly dominated by several of ESPN’s biggest names.
Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon come in at No. 12. The pair have argued on Pardon the Interruption for years. They remain two of the biggest personalities at the worldwide leader in sports. NBA powerhouse Adrian Wojnarowski comes in at 11. While his writing and podcasting are popular, his scoops are unmatched in the sporting world.
Heading to the top 10, the list includes powerhouses like Adam Schefter, Scott Van Pelt, and Charles Barkley — with NBC’s journeyman Mike Tirico surpassing all of them at number six. Where the list gets interesting, however, is where the list gets interesting.
The top five
The five most valuable names in sports media are an eclectic mix. Joe Buck, who came in at number five, is a staple of football and baseball. Stephen A. Smith has made sports punditry a theatrical art form. Tony Romo showed that a recently-retired NFL quarterback could seamlessly move to the television side if he has the right personality.
The top two, however, are all-encompassing names in the industry. Bill Simmons has parlayed his pioneering writing career into a bigger career behind the scenes. From the defunct Grantland to the Ringer, television documentaries, and an ever-growing podcast network, Simmons recently sold his company to Spotify for as much as $196 million.
Dave Portnoy of Barstool came in at No. 1. His company, which started as a free print paper years ago, has evolved into a different type of sports network based on edginess and combative pot-stirring. While it has its detractors, it also has a passionate base. It recently sold for over $400 million. However, putting Portnoy at number one makes little sense, even based on the list’s criteria, as Barstool operates on a different motive.
It should be noted that despite a feud between Travis and Portnoy, Outkick runs a similar business model to Barstool. While Portnoy is undoubtedly a powerhouse and Barstool’s reach is undeniable. However, by putting him at No. 1 over media moguls like Simmons, and even ESPN personalities like Stephen A. Smith, Outkick implies that Barstool is a tier above Disney-owned ESPN and other powerhouses.
Further down the list, there are strange combinations of singular talents and groups. While Wilbon and Kornheiser are grouped, Barkley is put on the list independently of Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith. Furthermore, the list is selective on when money counts and when it doesn’t. By definition, Simmons might have sold The Ringer for less. But Portnoy’s buyer is a gambling company looking to make money differently.
Portnoy has built a media conglomerate, but it has not surpassed ESPN and other powerhouses. While he may be singularly valuable to Barstool, his universal appeal doesn’t touch the other names. Outkick has its reasons for putting Portnoy on the list. But the list struggles to keep a coherent flow when it comes to the names and methods, and the results are murky at best.