Radio and TV sports personalities are used to reporting on the salaries of players and coaches, but the details of their contracts are often kept under wraps and not made public, so their salaries usually aren’t known to viewers. But Samantha Ponder’s salary became a topic of conversation in 2017 when she replaced the legendary Chris Berman as host of ESPN’s popular Sunday NFL Countdown pregame show. The topic of gender pay equality in the industry came up in an interview Variety with Ponder and she wasn’t afraid to speak candidly on the topic.
Samantha Ponder’s ascent to the studio
The Phoenix native began her on-air career at ESPN — then known by her maiden name, Samantha Steele — in 2011, when he was just 25 years old. She was one of the first three hires for ESPN’s upstart Longhorn Network, where she was a reporter on events, as well as doing feature stories and working on the network’s studio shows. Ponder explained to Variety, she knew always knew she didn’t want to be a sideline reporter.
“Frankly, I didn’t want that job. My dad was a high school and college coach, and in my house my dad muted sideline reporters because he wasn’t interested in what they had to say,” she said to Variety.
But she also went on to say that she wasn’t going to to turn down an opportunity to get her foot in the door, so she didn’t.
In 2012, she moved on to ESPN itself and became as a sideline reporter for the network’s coverage of college football games on Thursday nights, a role she held until 2014. She continued working as a sideline reporter on college football and basketball games, as well as contributing to College Football Live and College GameDay through 2016.
In March 2017, ESPN announced she would be Berman’s replacement on Countdown starting that fall, a position she currently holds. Despite her success, Ponder said said making that transition was “awkward” for her because, “the attitude around it was always ‘You’re just lucky to be here’.”
Ponder went on to explain that the atmosphere people created around her made her feel as if she would just accept the first offer made to her because she was simply happy to be in that position. She explained that she thinks that’s how a lot of women end up earning less than they should, because they feel uncomfortable, “talking about the issue and taking some risks.”
Samantha Ponder’s salary compared to other TV personalities
Ponder reportedly earns $4.9 million per year, which places her around the middle of the pack among other sports TV personalities. That salary is likely a large increase over what she was making as a sideline reporter. For example, Lisa Salters — who roams the sidelines on ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcasts, reportedly has an annual salary of $235,000 despite working on ESPN’s most high-profile property and being with the company for roughly 20 years. How does Ponder’s salary compare to other high-profile sports personalities? Here’s a look.
- Mike Golic has been a staple of ESPN’s programming for nearly 20 years, mainly as an ESPN Radio personality with his shows simulcast on an ESPN TV network for much of that time. He reportedly makes $5 million a year, which isn’t that much more than Ponder considering his tenure with the company and the fact that he works four hours a day, five days a week as opposed to her main job being to host a three-hour show on Sundays during the NFL season.
- Molly Qerim, who hosts ESPN’s weekday morning debate show First Take is reported to earn a $500,000 salary annually for one of the network’s most popular studio shows.
- Pam Oliver was the sideline reporter for Fox’s top NFL broadcast crew for years before being demoted to the No. 2 reporter in 2015 makes $1 million a year, while Erin Andrews — who replaced her on the top NFL on Fox team — makes double that.
- Stephen A. Smith is one of the highest paid people in sports television, if not the highest. The First Take co-host and NBA analyst re-signed with ESPN in 2019, with a multiyear deal that is reportedly worth $10 million a year.
Ponder’s personal life and family
Ponder didn’t have to stray outside of the sports world to find a mate. She started dating former NFL quarterback Christian Ponder, who she married in December 2012; she would begin going by her married name on-air the following month. In 2018, the couple celebrated the birth of their third child, daughter Price, who Ponder introduced to the world on Instagram, saying the Ponders’ “prayer is that she always knows her worth.” The couple’s oldest child is a daughter they call Scout, and their middle child is son Robinson True, who Ponder called “the smiliest, most joyful human” she has ever known, when posting about his first birthday on Instagram.