Former ESPN president on Fox paying Tom Brady $375M: ‘He’s a very expensive trophy’

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Much has been made of Tom Brady’s unprecedented $375-million broadcasting deal with Fox, which, remarkably, is more than he’s made in his entire 22-year career as an NFL quarterback ($302.96 million in career earnings). It’s debatable how qualified Brady is for such a role. Outside of some amusing social media posts, the 44-year-old has never been seen as a particularly vibrant or charismatic presence, though you could reasonably argue that’s because he spent much of his career in Foxboro adhering to the “Patriot Way,” discouraging coaches and players from showing any semblance of a personality.

Of course, with the ungodly amount of money being poured into sports broadcasting, rationalizing Brady’s insane salary may be a fool’s errand. Former ESPN president John Skipper, now of Meadowlark Media, understands Fox wanting to pay for Brady’s name, but thought his contract was excessive, feeling that money would have been better spent on live programming.

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“There’s very little economic value. He’s a very, very expensive trophy,” said Skipper on Thursday’s “local hour” of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. “I think he’ll probably be okay on the game. It doesn’t really matter that much other than for pride and I guess he’ll shake advertisers’ hands.”

At Fox, Brady will make more than double what ESPN is paying Troy Aikman, a broadcast veteran with over 20 years of experience. “They seem to have been bidding against themselves,” noted Skipper, who served as president of ESPN from 2012-17, preceded by a seven-year tenure as executive vice president of content. “I think for Tom Brady’s pride, he had to be paid the most money because he is the greatest of all-time.”

One of the more fascinating elements of the recent media arms race between Fox, ESPN, Amazon, NBC and CBS (Apple is also said to be fighting for a seat at the table), is how much networks are willing to pay for talent, spending exorbitant sums on Brady and Aikman when, realistically, television audiences couldn’t care less. Whether it’s Tony Romo or Greg Olsen calling games, fans will tune in either way. For a nation that lives and breathes football, the product practically sells itself. Looking at it through that lens, Skipper sees Brady as little more than window dressing, a gold necklace Fox wanted but didn’t need.

“I don’t think that’s necessary or a good use of $37.5 million. At about $100,000 a pop, we could hire 370 employees for that,” opined Skipper. “For $375 million, you could have bought some live event rights, which would actually make a significant difference.”

The media landscape has changed drastically since Skipper’s departure from ESPN with a new emphasis on broadcast rights and streaming content. But even in today’s climate, with A-list announcers routinely commanding eight-figure salaries, Skipper doesn’t see Fox getting much bang for its buck with Brady, wasting valuable company resources on a $375-million luxury.

“I put Mike Tirico in the booth and thought he did an outstanding job,” said Skipper, who promoted Tirico to ESPN’s Monday Night booth in 2006. “But I would not have paid any ex-player $15, $20 or $25 million to sit next to him.”

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