The biggest question in sports media — where will the Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz end up? — now has an answer.
It came Tuesday afternoon with the announcement that Meadowlark Media and DraftKings have formed a multiplatform partnership for the popular Miami Beach-based show.
Meadowlark Media is the content company Le Batard and former ESPN president John Skipper formed in January, the Le Batard Show its flagship entity.
Starting in June or by early July, DraftKings, the daily fantasy sports and sports betting operator, will distribute the Le Batard Show on any and all platforms including radio, television, podcast and social media. The Miami Herald was told DraftKings is spending about $40 million in a three-year deal. The Wall Street Journal reported the deal as $50 million.
Sirius XM, Peacock and iHeart Radio were among a half dozen entities in a bidding war to land the Le Batard Show. An industry source said Sirius was pushing hard, offering tens of millions in money and pitching the Le Batard Show as the sports heir to that network’s megapopular Howard Stern Show.
Sirius XM was a tempting offer because of Le Batard’s oft-stated love of live radio, but he did not want a situation that would have put his listeners behind a paywall or force them to subscribe to listen.
“We didn’t want to do that to our listeners,” Le Batard told the Miami Herald. “The thing that I chose was freedom. Every time I’ve negotiated anywhere was for freedom, not money.”
“This allows Meadowlark to be profitable from the start, and have total freedom to do what we want,” he said. “We can go forward and appear everywhere. We can make partnerships anywhere we want. We don’t have any corporate overlord. Our partner is our sponsor and what they are sponsoring is our freedom.
”The media landscape is changing very rapidly, and this shows how much power and value individuals can exert in breaking free from the corporate machine.”
Evidently, leaving ESPN pays. It has for Bill Simmons, Dan Patrick and others. Here, with the DraftKings deal, Le Batard has attracted an annual sponsorship that easily exceeds the $8 million annual salary paid Stephen A. Smith, ESPN’s highest-paid on-air personality.
“This is the biggest win in the history of our show. We just cashed a bet we made on ourselves and our audience,” Le Batard said. “While talking to traditional media partners, we quickly realized we are the traditional media partner. DraftKings is literally banking on us helping them change how all this is done. They’re sponsors in the purest supporting sense. They’re financially funding our fight for freedom, rewarding us for leaving the corporate confines.”
The new-era Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz — with DraftKings as title sponsor — will continue for the next several weeks to be available as a podcast — as it has been since Le Batard and ESPN mutually ended their long association on Jan. 4. Beginning this summer the show is expected to be televised on platforms such as YouTube, Twitch and DraftKings’ own channel, which it is starting.
DraftKings will distribute all programs in the Le Batard And Friends network, including the flagship show with Dan, Jon Weiner (Stugotz) and the Shipping Container, along with Stupodity, the Jim Brockmire Show, Mystery Crate and others. DraftKings will be responsible for finding partners and platforms on satellite and terrestrial radio, TV and digital and social channels.
“We’re thrilled to find a partner in DraftKings that shares our vision to continue to grow Dan Le Batard’s already wildly popular network of shows,” said Skipper, the Meadowlark CEO. “We’ll be able to reach the largest possible audience and provide incredible value to DraftKings.”
DraftKings calls the partnership with Meadowlark “a first-of-its-kind content distribution, monetization and sponsorship agreement.”
Said Le Batard: “I’m overjoyed to team with a fearless creative partner who sees the future and wants to help us change it. DraftKings believed in us, our principles and our mission enough to give us a freedom no scared corporation or traditional media partner ever could or ever would. To our fans, know that DraftKings is the reason you aren’t behind a paywall.”
With customary self-deprecation, Le Batard added: “I’m promising you the money won’t change the show or corrupt us in any way. Sincerely, Draft Le Batard.”
Le Batard, the former Miami Herald sports columnist, announced in early December that his long tenure at ESPN was ending Jan. 4, in what both sides called a mutual agreement although Le Batard’s growing disenchantment with ESPN management became obvious even to listeners.
For the past three-plus months the Le Batard Show has been a self-described “pirate ship” as it played free agency and awaited its new home — while its post-ESPN popularity has soared. Monday the Le Batard Show was the No. 3-ranked sports podcast in the entire country by Apple Podcasts, and the new Brockmire podcast starring the character created by actor Hank Azaria ranked No. 5.
In addition to Azaria, Meadowlark and Le Batard have brought aboard former ESPN personalities Jemele Hill, Adnan Virk and Amin Elhassan, as well as producer Michael Schur (“The Office,” “Parks And Recreation”), director Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “The Big Short”) and others.
The partnership will include DraftKings commissioning content projects and original programming that Meadowlark will develop and produce, including sports documentaries, as DraftKings broadens its sports entertainment footprint.
Twenty-two states now have legalized sports betting and most others have bills that have passed or been introduced — all of it good for DraftKings’ business. The state of Florida and Seminole Tribe last week reached an agreement that puts before the state Legislature a proposal to introduce legalized sports wagering in the state.
A source indicated the anticipation of legal betting in Florida was one more reason DraftKings was eager to partner with a major South Florida-based entity like the Le Batard Show.