03 April 2020 - Article
Recent reports indicate that Mike Francesa, considered by many to be a sports talk radio icon, will return to New York-based sports radio station WFAN to replace, at least in part, the station's current afternoon radio program. Multiple news outlets suggest that Francesa will occupy a four-hour programming block in the afternoon, which likely would relegate the current hosts of WFAN's “Afternoon Drive” show — Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott — to a shorter time slot in the middle of the day. Apparently, the three “Afternoon Drive” hosts signed two-year contracts in late 2017 or early 2018. Carlin, Gray and Scott were hired to succeed Francesa following his December 2017 retirement, and the latest talk of Francesa's return had us thinking about certain provisions that should be considered when drafting and negotiating contracts on behalf of talent. We have not reviewed the actual contracts in this matter, and below is a short list of our questions:
1. Do the contracts provide for fixed employment terms (i.e., no “at-will” employment)? As noted above, reports indicate that Carlin, Gray and Scott successfully negotiated two-year deals.
2. Under the contract, is the employer only permitted to terminate the talent's employment for “Cause”?
3. If there is a “Cause” concept in the agreement, what is the scope of its definition? “Cause” typically covers concepts such as willful misconduct, conviction or plea of not guilty to a felony, etc.
4. Does the definition of “Cause” cover ratings-based criteria? This question strikes us as especially important in this context as the talent was tasked with succeeding a host who set the bar extremely high for a new show.
5. Does the contract give the talent a right to terminate for “Good Reason”? An example of a traditional “Good Reason” trigger is the reduction of an employee's role or responsibilities without the employee's prior consent (i.e., shortening the new program or changing its air time slot).