Kenny Mayne Was Too Smart for ESPN Even Before He Started Working There

Besides being too expensive for ESPN, Kenny Mayne was too clever for the cable sports network. Talent like his should be skewering corrupt public officials in front of a jury, not wasted on the voiceover for highlights from a hockey game at 2 a.m.

Mayne is leaving ESPN after the sides could not agree on salary terms for a new contract. The news broke the same day ESPN announced that Chris Berman had signed a new deal.

Kenny Mayne had a long run at ESPN

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Tributes to Mayne are pouring in from across the country, with many coming from past and present colleagues on SportsCenter and ESPN’s other productions.

“A legendary run, Kenny,” NFL reporter Adam Schefter wrote on Twitter. “Much respect for all you did and all you built, More greatness ahead.”

That legendary run began in May 1994, when he joined ESPN and ESPN2, providing five-minute news updates every half-hour. He moved into anchoring auto racing shows the following year, as well as occasionally doing SportsCenter before assuming that full-time role in August 1997.

That lasted a decade, and Mayne returned to SportsCenter in June 2017, according to ESPN. His last appearance will be May 24.

Mayne began his television career in 1982 at network affiliates in Las Vegas and then the Tacoma/Seattle market. He freelanced for ESPN from 1990-94.

“I had the ESPN 800-number and called all the time with story ideas,” he said, according to his ESPN profile page. “I guess they finally decided it was less expensive to hire me than to keep paying for my phone calls.”

There is irony in those words. In announcing his departure, Mayne termed himself a “salary cap casualty.” The New York Post reported that the cable network did offer Mayne a new contract but at less money.

His on-air style is unique

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Before the internet became the go-to medium to find scores, highlights, and news, sports fans turned to ESPN’s SportsCenter. The show made stars of anchors such as Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, and Berman. Each had a unique style and could be as entertaining as the highlights that they were showing.

Technology has loosened ESPN’s grip on its audience, which can go to a variety of websites for the same information. But at a time when the network should be relying upon personalities to attract and retain viewership, ESPN has been cutting anchors loose. Mayne joins a list that includes Adnan Virk, Jay Crawford, and Michael Smith from just the past few years.

Mayne’s style has been described as offbeat with a dry sense of humor. There is a gentleness to his sarcasm, which tickles rather than stings.

“So many people use sarcasm as a crutch to be mean,” ESPN’s Rachel Nichols wrote on Twitter. “@Kenny_Mayne’s secret sauce is sarcasm as a weapon for compassion, brilliant observations mixed with a sense of wonder & appreciation for the good (while still being the most clever guy in the room). I can’t wait for what’s next.”

Mayne used his ‘A’ game to land at ESPN

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While working as a weekend sports anchor for West Coast network affiliates in the 1980s, Mayne used his dog to help deliver baseball scores to the audience. It was that kind of quirky approach that endeared him to ESPN executives as he pestered them for job opportunities.

He finally wore them down, doing so in under 60 words with a March 1994 letter to John Walsh:

“Dear John,

“Please mark the appropriate box and return as I am in the process of planning my future.

  • “It just hit us – we love your work. Contract is on the way. Stand by the mailbox.
  • “Keep up the field producing. We’ll call you when we need you.
  • “We’ll consider hiring you about the time ESPN5 hits the air.”

That’s how they do it in the big leagues, where Mayne played for the last 27 years.

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