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The starting salary of an ESPN commentator depends largely on name, personality and experience in the field. Radio and television announcers with more experience but less name recognition or celebrity tend to earn a smaller starting salary than former professional athletes and coaches. This is due to the effect that announcers have on TV ratings, which drive advertisement sales and keep the network in business.
Radio and Television Announcers
ESPN maintains radio broadcasts and television analyst teams across the country to cover the multitude of major sporting events taking place at any one time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2010, ESPN and other networks across the country employed 32,520 radio and television announcers. The mean annual wage of these professionals was $39,910, or a mean hourly wage of $19.19. These financial figures show a 1.8 percent increase from 2009.
ESPN Sports Commentators
A sports commentator's starting salary at ESPN depends on a number of factors, including the experience a commentator brings to the position. A seasoned commentator may earn much more annually than a new commentator without any experience on the radio or in front of television cameras. These professionals are television personalities just as they're commentators, so the network expects a verbose personality and a certain degree of acting skill to excel as an ESPN commentator. A commentator with little experience could earn an annual salary in the tens of thousands of dollars, while an experienced commentator could easily earn a six-figure salary.
Former Professional Athletes
The starting salary of a professional athlete working as a commentator with ESPN is much higher than a traditional commentator or radio personality. Former athletes receive this higher salary because of the instant notoriety and ratings boost that athletes' names bring to television programs or game commentaries. Former professional athletes who develop into successful commentators can earn extended contracts valued in the millions of dollars. ESPN uses former professional athletes for game analysis for a number of professional sports, including basketball, baseball and football.
Former Professional Coaches
Former professional coaches bring both an air of celebrity and instant authority to a television or radio broadcast. The knowledge these professionals possess often surpasses existing ESPN commentators who may have not played the game they're commenting on. The salary for former professional coaches is regularly in the millions of dollars, especially if coaches have won championships at the professional or college level. For example, in 2009, former Super Bowl winning head coach Jon Gruden signed a three-year contract with ESPN that was lucrative enough to keep the former coach in the press box and away from taking a new head coaching job at Notre Dame or the University of Miami. As of July 2011, ESPN hasn't disclosed the terms of the agreement to the public, though the "USA Today" website states the contract's total value is comparable to an NFL head coach's salary. According to ABC News, as of January 2011, the salary of NFL head coaches ranges from $2.5 million with the Tennessee Titans to $7 million with the New England Patriots.
- "The New York Times"; ESPN Rewards Jon Gruden Despite Flaws; Richard Sandomir; November 2009
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Radio and Television Announcers
- NBC Sports; Gruden Signs 'Exclusive' Extension with ESPN; Gregg Rosenthal; November 2009
- "USA Today"; No Going Back (For Now): ESPN Locks Up Gruden With Contract Extension; Nate Davis; November 2009
- ABC News; The Highest-Paid NFL Coaches; Tom Van Riper; January 2011
- NBC Sports; Bud Adams Wants to Hire New Titans Coach on the Cheap; Michael David Smith; February 2011
Jonathan Lister has been a writer and content marketer since 2003. His latest book publication, "Bullet, a Demos City Novel" is forthcoming from J Taylor Publishing in June 2014. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Shippensburg University and a Master of Fine Arts in writing and poetics from Naropa University.
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