Sports media's meme machine is about to become a money machine.
Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith is "in line" for a contract extension that could pay him $10 million per year. That would make him ESPN's highest-paid employee and give him the largest known salary of any personality in sports media.
Smith, 51, is in his second tenure at ESPN and rejoined the company on a full-time basis in 2012. Once the foil to Skip Bayless on First Take, Smith remained the co-star of the show following Bayless' departure in 2016 and helped take it to new ratings heights with Max Kellerman.
Smith also contributes to ESPN's coverage of the NBA, boxing, UFC and various other sports. He also makes consistent appearances on flagship shows like SportsCenter.
Much of Smith's continued rise can be attributed to social media. His bombastic style and transcendent ability to churn out short, sharable clips has turned him into a Twitter star—even if it's not all of his own creation. His television appearances are clipped and regurgitated around the web on a viral level almost daily, a role Smith's fully embraced.
Stephen A literally has his own Know Your Meme page that's just...him. There may be no better sports media personality better suited for virality.
Few can question Smith's work ethic, either, which has become a running social media joke. Ben Strauss of the Washington Post reported Smith is making a push to join NBA Countdown next season, though it's unclear if ESPN plans to make those changes.
That said, Smith is not without his critics. He's been lambasted multiple times in recent months for forgetting or mistaking the names of players, most notably waxing poetic about Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry despite Henry having been injured the entire year.
ESPN does not appear all that bothered by those mistakes, and it appears the meme machine will be chugging along as planned going forward.