New ESPN Book 'Those Guys Have All the Fun' Reveals Keith Olbermann Pay Drama; Strife at 'SportsCenter'
According to an excerpt in GQ magazine from Those Guys Have All the Fun, the much-anticipated new oral history of ESPN by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller, the hiring of Keith Olbermann in 1992 was a watershed moment for the network that was destined to end badly. The overall picture of ESPN is at odds with the funny and chummy This Is Sportscenter ad campaign that has done so much to brand the network's image.
Publisher Little Brown has closely guarded the contents of the book, which is said to portray ESPN as a grown-up frat house and difficult place to work. According to sports website Deadspin, ESPN executives are said to be worried about the book's contents. Co-author Miller told the New York Times that several network personalities tried to take back some of their remarks after their interviews. GQ is publishing excerpts May 16, 17 and 18. Those Guys Have All the Fun will be released May 24.
According to the first excerpt, Olbermann was the sport anchor on KCBS-TV in Los Angeles when network executives John Walsh and Steve Anderson decided to hire him in 1992. Anchor Bob Ley unsuccessfully tried to warn them about Olbermann. "I said, 'You're aware of his reputation, aren't you?' They said: 'Oh, it's not going to be like that. He's not making all that much money.' [Reportedly a pay cut from $475,000 to $150,000 for the ESPN job] I said: 'It's not a function of money. Know what you're buying.' When he arrived, Keith had one thing in mind: It was Keith. That's fine. Nothing wrong with that."
The 11 p.m. SportsCenter pairing of Olbermann and Dan Patrick and was an instant hit. Producer Bill Wolff: "The guy who made ESPN a household word, the guy who made ESPN mean something in the market to everyone, was Keith Olbermann. God, he was a genius. He just reinvented sportscasting by being the smartest guy who ever did it."
But Shales and Miller write that Olbermann felt undervalued and underpaid. Olbermann said: "Based on the reported profits of the Today show and the salaries of its key figures, a fair ratio was to pay your talent a total figure of about 10 percent of their show's profits. Working off numbers I had gotten from a sales guy in the N.Y.C. office, I calculated that the correct salaries for Dan and me were about $2,750,000 a year. And a year and a half later, Fox offered me a contract for something like $2,813,000 a year. The top salary paid to anybody doing SportsCenter had been whatever I was getting, which I think topped out around $310,000 a year."
By 1997, ESPN executives had had enough. "I was enraged by Olbermann," ESPN chairman Herb Granath said. "Guys like that just piss me off, you know, because there's no loyalty. It's just me, me, and me. There was no choice but to get rid of him." Executive vp Howard Katz concurred. Olbermann "was tearing the newsroom apart. Keith had to fight management on every single point. So [in 1997] I finally came to the conclusion that despite his brilliance and talent, we would be better off without Keith. I didn't fire Keith; I just chose not to renew his contract. Keith did not respond well — although I'm sure it didn't come as a surprise."
According to the excerpt, anchor Jack Edwards says the fights between Olbermann and network executives were just part of a dysfunctional workplace culture. "The number one thing that surprised me about ESPN was how little team spirit there was for a place that said that its business was sports," remembered Edwards. "A team is where you have your teammate's back regardless of what happens; you defend them and you sort out any dirty laundry quietly behind closed doors. There was almost none of that at ESPN. There was no encouragement, because the atmosphere was one of stick the knife in his back, climb the corporate ladder. It was a very, very negative place to work. Don't believe the mascot promos. Life is not like that at SportsCenter."