NBA scoopmaster Adrian Wojnarowski is close to an agreement to leave Yahoo and join ESPN, according to multiple sources, a huge shakeup in the basketball reporting world that will have a wider-reaching effects beyond where you get your news. And according to one source, Wojnarowski isn’t the only Yahoo basketball journalist that will move to ESPN.
Wojnarowski has spent a decade at Yahoo, where he evolved from a fairly traditional sports columnist into the NBA’s foremost newsbreaker and most venomous columnist. A year-and-a-half ago Wojnarowski had talks with a number of sports media organizations—most prominently Sports Illustrated—about starting a personality-driven basketball site. He eventually stuck with Yahoo, and a year ago launched The Vertical, poaching reporters from outlets like the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, and Real GM. At the time Wojnarowski and Yahoo signed a four-year contract worth over $6 million. According to a source, Wojnarowski’s exit from Yahoo is complicated, and will likely take months to fully sort out. It isn’t clear if the contract has an escape clause, or if ESPN or Wojnarowski is paying Yahoo a buyout, or something else.
Wojnarowski has a long, competitive, and antagonistic history with ESPN, which I documented at length at the New Republic two years ago. For a number of years in the early 2000s, while he was a reporter at The Record (Bergen County, N.J.), Wojnarowski wrote columns for ESPN.com, but that relationship ended with his hiring by Yahoo. Thereafter he competed with ESPN’s basketball reporters for scoops, winning pretty frequently considering the amount of reporters he was up against. Over the years, a number of people have used the word “jihad” to describe Wojnarowski’s mindset toward beating ESPN.
But ESPN has never been blinded to the fact that Wojnarowski is a scoop machine, and Wojnarowski knows that ESPN is the biggest, most prominent, and richest operation in sports media. In 2012 his contract expired unexpectedly when Yahoo forgot to exercise an option, and there were exploratory conversations between Wojnarowski and ESPN, but Wojnarowski stuck with Yahoo. ESPN’s NBA reporters will likely have mixed feelings about the move, glad to hear fewer questions from their bosses about why ESPN got out-scooped on some story, but now competing with Wojnarowski internally.
Between writers, editors, podcasts, video, and freelancers, The Vertical has a dozen or so journalists. According to a source, some of them—it isn’t clear who—are expected to join Wojnarowski at ESPN.
While ESPN is confronted with declining subscriber rates that are putting and will continue to put a strain on the business, the problems facing Yahoo are much more dire and immediate. Last summer Verizon agreed to buy Yahoo’s web assets for $4.8 billion, but Yahoo has since disclosed two massive hacks that compromised 500 million and a billion email accounts, respectively, and Verizon is attempting to re-negotiate the terms of the agreement.
Wojnarowski and his agent didn’t respond to phone calls requesting comment. ESPN declined to comment. Yahoo PR had not finished “looking into it” by press time.