Jason Fitz has seen many parts of the world while touring with The Band Perry. He’ll now get much more familiar with Bristol, CT after landing a huge opportunity with ESPN. Jason is set to co-host a national show with Sarah Spain weeknights from 6p-9p ET. Spain and Fitz debuts on ESPN Radio Tuesday January 2, 2018, and Jason can also be seen hosting SportsCenter on Snapchat.
During our recent conversation, Jason touched on many things including his approach to the sports industry and his love for girlie drinks. Although he just got called up to “The Show” (shout-out to Kevin Costner in Bull Durham) Jason still has very high goals. You’ll find that his mindset is the opposite of complacent even after receiving a giant promotion. By the way, can you believe Bull Durham came out in 1988? Good Lord. Enjoy.
BN: So, you’re packing your bags and heading to Bristol. How excited are you to start this new gig?
JF: It’s all a little surreal. You set out life to have huge dreams, and then they start to come true and you’re like, “Oh, man. There’s like actual consequence I have to start to figure out now and deal with.” It’s kind of funny. We laugh about it a lot I think in our heads. We thought in a few years I might get this chance, not so quick — kind of a first world complaint that I’m like, “Oh, wow. It’s all happening too fast.” We’re figuring it out and it’s really cool. It’s really exciting.
BN: What was your first gig in the radio business?
JF: I started with a podcast. I was touring with The Band Perry and in our busiest year we were gone 300 days. I came home to my wife one day and I said, “You know what? I realize I’ve worked my whole life to be here and I’m successful. I’m really thankful for that, but I don’t love what I do.” So, she said, “If I ask 100 of your friends what you love, what would the answer be?” I said sports. So she said, “Alright well, find a way to talk about sports.”
I took my microphone that I used for my fiddle part of the string section and I sat in my car because I felt like such an idiot. I didn’t even know what a podcast was at that time. I sat in the car and I recorded a 10-minute ‘here’s me talking about sports.’ I put it up on Facebook for my friends, and everybody was like, “Oh my God, this is great.” Me being me, I sort of ripped it apart and said okay, how can I build a business plan and what’s the next step?
I did the podcast a little over four or five years ago and eventually CBS Sports liked it and we tried a partnership for a little bit. In that process SiriusXM actually took note. They gave me my first shot a couple of years ago doing a one off in the middle of summer, solo hosting for four hours on the NFL channel. I did four hours by myself on NFL radio the first time I ever hosted on radio.
They liked my work and eventually gave me a little bit of a run as a fill in during the holidays on Mad Dog Radio. I think they looked at it like, “Hey, if you’re home and you’re not on the road, and you want to do some shows, then come sit in.” I just kept using that to try to get better, and eventually ESPN noticed. My first TV show with ESPN was almost a year and a half ago. My first ever radio show with ESPN was January of 2017, which is now about a year later. I’m about to have my name on a national show, which is very humbling.
BN: What do you remember from that first experience of doing four hours on the NFL?
JF: Man, the funny thing is, I’ve always been sort of a prep freak anyway, but I think I got to the studio — no kidding — probably six hours before the show. I brought in all these different marker boards and paper and I story boarded it like they do a movie or a music video. I looked at it and I said okay, I’ve got four hours. Four blocks per hour, so I have to have 16 topics. I had a buddy that helped me a lot on the podcast and he actually came into the studio with me and just helped me flesh out ‘okay, here’s what we want this to be.’ I tried to find topics and then research it. I’m not kidding, I think I was in there six hours for a four-hour radio show.
And I’ll be honest, I was scared out of my mind. I didn’t even know how to take a phone call. A lot of people don’t realize this at Sirius, you’re not in the room with anybody. I was at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville where there’s a Sirius studio. I was in a room with a mic and a computer in front of me and that’s it. My producer, who I’d never met, was in New York. He hopped on my headphones three minutes before we went live and said, “Okay, here we go.” I didn’t even know how to press the button to answer a phone call. That’s how crazy it was.
BN: Was your heart beating out of your chest?
JF: Yeah, I think I was amped up more than anything. The weirdest part of it was a bunch of my friends had a listening party at one of my buddy’s places in Nashville. They were all listening to it and they were going to throw a big party afterwards.
The funniest thing is I spent my whole life in music. When you finish a show in music you have a crowd and hopefully applause. You walk off the stage, and with your buddies, you can sort of high five and say, “Heck yeah, good show.” Instead, I was in a studio by myself.
The weirdest part was we finished the show and they have to immediately connect the next show, so it was just a, “Great job, man. Hope to talk to you soon.” And they hang up and you’re like, “Oh, okay?” So I was just sitting there in the studio by myself — self high fiving saying “good job.”
BN: Did sports fill you up a little bit more than music or was there something about music that contributed to your feeling unfulfilled?
JF: I started playing the violin when I was four. It was eight hours a day most of my life growing up being a classical musician that I had to practice. I just turned 40 this year. I played the violin for 38 years and you can say I did it as a full-time job for about 32, 33 of them. That’s a long time for anybody in any career.
When I was a little kid — my dad is a big Raiders fan — Sunday, his rule was that was the one day I didn’t practice. It’s not because we were religious. It’s because my dad didn’t want to listen to it while we watched the Raiders game. He would go get a dozen donuts and we would sit down and we’d watch the Raiders game together.
I think somebody smart in psychology could pinpoint why that was always a release for me, but sports were my release. Even as a kid sometimes when you’re practicing, you’ll mute a game and you’ll watch it. You can have a game on in the background while you’re working on scales and stuff. Rudimentary music stuff was always there with the enjoyment of sports.
As I got older, I think the passion just grew for sports because it was my release. It’s always been my escape and that’s what I love about it. What music is for most people — an escape — it’d become a job for me. Sports has always been my escape, so I just followed that escape passion.
BN: Are there still times when you hear a song and you’re like, man, I wish I was onstage right now?
JF: There’s been a couple of times that I’ve seen buddies play and I’m like, “Oh, it’d be fun.” You always hear athletes say they don’t miss the game as much as they miss the locker room. The comradery of musicians on the road is a very special and unique thing. There’s a part of me that will always miss that. At the same time, no one’s ever going to stop me from picking up a violin when I feel like it, or sitting down at the piano with a bottle of whiskey and writing a song. Nobody’s going to stop me from still having music. It’s just part of who I am.
It’s really nice to not have to worry about — is my song three minutes and 20 seconds? Does it get to the chorus in the first 45 seconds? Will radio play it? What demographic wants it? All the behind-the-scenes business stuff that makes music the music business. I’m so glad to not be a part of, that I haven’t really had that missing-it moment.
BN: Is whiskey your go-to song writing drink?
JF: Well, everything kinda girlie for me, I’m a girlie drinker. Canadian like Crown — I drink a lot of Crown — so Canadian whiskey. There’s always flavored cherry vodka. I get made fun of all the time when I sit down. Most guys, you’ve got this image of a country guy sitting down who’s got the scratchy voice, so he’s going to drink the Jack. I’m the guy that walks in and I’m like, “Oh, do you have a cherry vodka in diet I can drink?” It’s always nice to have that drink now and just sort of relax and try to get in a flow and see what you can write.
BN: What from your history and experiences in music do you apply to your approach in radio?
JF: Everything. I mean literally everything. From the day that I started, I think back to my influences growing up in sports talk radio because it’s all I listened to. Colin was a huge influence. Dan Patrick was a huge influence. Rich Eisen. Stuart Scott. Guys like that were huge influences. Then, when I started piecing together a podcast, my original goal was to — just like in music where you hear something and you say, “Okay, how can I emulate that sound?” — my thing was how can I let those inspirations affect things?
When I solo host especially, taking a look at what guys like Colin do and where they take their pauses at and how they approach their show. That immediately became ingrained in me. Anyone that listens for a little bit knows there are a lot of analogies from me. I’ve always been that guy.
The music business is very similar in a lot of ways. I think it’s why I’ve become fast friends with so many athletes and so many sports broadcasting people. There’s similarities to what that life is and how the connection between guys and the work you put in. Like I just said, the locker room sort of love that you have for everybody.
You think about how all the guys in the NBA seem like they’re friends. Well, I cut my teeth at the same time with the guys that play for Jason Aldean, the guys that play for Rascal Flatts, the guys that play for Florida Georgia Line. We were all sort of coming up together. There’s a special connection and I think that transfers over whether you’re talking about music or you’re talking about sports. I think that’s a huge part. It’s part of what I think makes me different as a host, but it’s a huge part of what is wired into me for sure.
BN: You just mentioned the pausing that you will hear from certain hosts — is there anything along those lines when you heard yourself early on and thought, “Oh gosh, I have to work on that. I didn’t even know I sounded like that.”
JF: I think slowing down was my biggest challenge in the beginning. One thing that I will say is that as I reached out to people in life. I never reached out for people to help me. I always reached out for people to try and make friendships. That was always my goal. Then, eventually as people become your friend and they say, “Hey, you want me to come on your pod? I’d be happy to.” That was sort of my process.
A lot of times I would have people — talent guys or behind-the-scenes guys — that would say, “Hey, if you want me to give your podcast a listen, I’d be happy to.” The biggest thing for me is I took every ounce of coaching I could get.
Early on, I remember one of the pieces of advice I got from a coach was always give people time to catch up. You just said something, you think it makes a ton of sense, but you gotta give it a beat. You gotta let people catch up with what you said. Process it. Agree with you or disagree with you, and then move forward. Stuff like that. Once you hear it, then you know to listen for it in the future.
I think that it wasn’t so much a weirdness of hearing my voice as much as it was, am I applying all of the coaching I’m getting? I looked at every single pod as a demo. Does this sound so good that if I ran ESPN, I would say, “This guy’s got potential.” That was always my approach.
BN: How would you describe your style in radio?
JF: I never want to shy away from saying anything big and important. I have no problem with that, but I also really understand there’s a big part of this that’s entertainment. I’m the guy that is looking at it saying, “What are we doing here? Are we having fun? Is there big energy to it?” Those are all keys for me.
I think when you get in the car especially, and you’re listening to radio — I always said this when I was hosting the morning show in Nashville — you get into the car in the morning. You’re already in a bad mood. You’re going to work. You’re stuck in traffic. And you’re angry because your favorite team is not as good as you think they should be. So how do we have that difficult conversation but still make you smile and laugh along the way? That’s sort of always been my approach. I’m not going to shy away from telling you that your team stinks, but I hope that I can do it in way where we can laugh about it through the process and we can have a good time.
BN: There are players in the NFL that have their welcome-to-the-NFL moment when they’re like, “Oh gosh, I’m not in college anymore. This is a different level.” Have you had your welcome-to-ESPN moment yet?
JF: I’ve had a bunch of them. I think even the first time I actually hosted on ESPN Radio, it was January of 2017. It was a two-hour show. I was flying solo. I was in a remote studio connecting with people in Bristol. I think that when you first hear the voice that everybody knows — the this-is-SportsCenter guy — but he actually says your name. That’s a very holy cow, this-is-real moment.
I’ll even go back to the much talked about talent meeting last week that happened in Bristol, where they brought in everybody that works for ESPN. Walking through the halls and seeing the studios filled with every person you’ve watched for a generation, and you’ve listened to for a generation, all working their butts off. That was a holy cow, I’m not watching this, I’m a part of it. It’s a very inspiring moment.
I’ll give you one more cheesy one. My first TV show with ESPN was College Football Daily with Mike Golic Jr. and Elika Sadeghi. We’d been into that maybe a couple of months. I was walking through the halls of ESPN. I had gone up there to meet with a few people. I didn’t have anything going other than the TV show at the time, but Mike Golic Sr. was in the hallway. He stopped me and he was like, “Hey, Fitz. You’re doing a good job on the TV show. Really like it.” I realize his son is on it and that’s why he’s watching, but the fact that he knew who I was, it was a very kid-in-a-candy-store, man-I’m-making-it moment.
BN: Can you give me an idea of what the process has been like for you over the past few months leading up to this weekday opportunity with ESPN?
JF: Man, it flew by. I did my first solo hosting last January. Then they gave me a Sunday night show with Jordan Rodgers for part of the winter, Jordan & Fitz, that we did in I think February and March. That was sort of the end of my contract. We knew that was going to be the end of contract one. The question was what were they going to do for contract two. They made me another offer, which took me to the next level. In July, my first eligible day to work back, they put me and Golic Jr. together on Mike & Mike, which was another sort of what-the-heck-am-I-doing, how-am-I-already-in-this-chair moment? That was July 3rd this year.
I was working my tail off. I’m not going to deny that, but I think you have to have a little bit of right place, right time in life to make it. In July, everybody was on vacation. I was doing my four hour Braden and Fitz show on ESPN Radio in Nashville. Then I would go home long enough to maybe take a nap or grab a bite. Then I would come back to the studio.
There were a lot of days for six to eight weeks where I was in solo hosting on Jalen & Jacoby, and then filling in with somebody on Izzy and Spain. There were weeks and weeks and weeks of four hours of national at night, and four hours of local in the morning. A lot of times I would just sleep in the studio and then wake up the next morning and do it the next day.
I spent July and August grinding with no idea where that was going to lead me, but I just knew that if I said yes to everything and I worked my ass off, that’s all I could do. You have to trust that process. I said yes to everything. I just kept my head down and did all the work I could, but once football season starts, as you well know, that’s the primetime, the most important time for the sports talk world.
When football season started my ESPN assignments sort of went away because that’s when they want all of the regular hosts in — to be there and make sure that fans are getting the voices they’re used to hearing at the right times. So my work just sort of went away. I just wasn’t sure what was going to happen. You hear rumblings. You hear rumors, but after all the years in the music business I know not to count any chickens before they’re hatched. Again, I just sort of kept my head down and said, well whatever happens happens.
It was really kind of out of the blue. I was up there doing some screen testing for what I now get to do — the SportsCenter Snapchat that I do on Thursday nights and launches on Friday mornings. I got called in to meet with some of the big wigs and thought nothing of it. A couple of days later I got a call and they said, “Hey, we know you’ve worked with Sarah. We know you and Sarah get along. Sarah likes you and you like her. We think it’s a good pairing. What would your level of interest be?” Within days it went from not working all that much and we’ll see what’s going to happen, to by the way, you need to move to Bristol and we’re going to give you a bunch of opportunities.
BN: Your general vibe seems to work really well in radio in terms of a two-person show. Do you find that you have a natural chemistry with whomever you’re working with and it can be even better depending specifically on who you’re working with?
JF: To a certain extent. I spent a lot of the summer hosting solo. I love hosting solo because it’s the Colin in all of us — you get to give a monologue, make a big statement, there’s a lot of nice things to hosting solo. The great thing about the co-hosting in general — I’ve always felt like — as long as I know my role, things are going to go really well. My role in co-hosting is to make it fun and conversational and to facilitate. I feel like I’m at my best in that role when I’m acting as a point guard.
For example, hosting with Jordan. Jordan played football. He played in the NFL. If I can find a way to get a great tidbit, a great story, a great moment out of Jordan, then I’ve done my job. If we’re talking about what quarterbacks we do or don’t believe in in the NFC, of course I have an opinion. I’m going to give you that opinion, but then I’m also going to make sure that Jordan gets his opinion out. His opinion comes with weight because he played in the NFL. I’ve looked at it that way with everybody I’ve hosted with.
I’ve been really lucky at ESPN. They’ve put me with great people and the biggest thing that I find at ESPN that’s sort of empowering, is there’s so much freaking mutual respect for everybody. They believe that because you’re in the room, you belong in the room. I was afraid it was going to be this super cutthroat, I hate you, get off my radio show environment like the music industry can be at times. When you’re sitting in with somebody and they’re like, “Get out of my way. Don’t play on my song. I want my solos.” ESPN’s much different than that.
I look at it and say my job is to make it conversational. That’s why I love working with guys like Golic. Golic Jr. and I have become really good friends. Jordan and I have become really good friends. When you can do that, and you can talk to somebody about sports, that’s when I think you’re giving the world hopefully the most entertaining product. When it can be smart, but it still sounds like a bunch of buddies sitting at the bar having a conversation. That’s when I know I’m doing my job.
BN: I know you just got this major opportunity and it probably sounds strange to ask you about your career goals, but is this it or are there other things that you eventually want to achieve?
JF: Heck no. That’s the thing, the first day I walked into ESPN and actually met with anybody years ago when I was just a podcaster, I had to convince people that they should let me have some sort of a format on air. They asked me what my goal was. My answer to them was quite simply to be the face of the network for a generation. I know that that sounds just as obnoxious as it is.
To me, the goal has always been very simple — I want to combine the things that I love the most about guys like Colin Cowherd, Rich Eisen, and even Jimmy Fallon. They’re so damn likable in what they do, and it’s so much fun to watch them perform, that you feel connected to them. You feel like you are hanging out with a friend. That’s what ESPN offers on all of their platforms.
The radio piece was a huge part of my first step, but there’s also a desire to have a daily presence on TV. I also want to make sure that I’m involved in all the social media things that we’re doing now. I’m really excited by the brand’s focus on Twitter and Snapchat and the things that they’re letting me be a part of.
Mike Golic Jr. and I did a college football playoff rankings reaction show through the course of the fall. The last episode that we did after the final four came out got 3.3 million views on Twitter. I think that we’ve got a format that’s averaging over 1.5 million views for episodes of SportsCenter on Snapchat. There’s a big piece of the future of the network that I’m working hard to try and be a part of.
I think as generations of fans grow up, I want to be to a generation, what the Rich Eisen’s of the world were to me.
Marty Smith Loves The ‘Pinch Me’ Moments
“I don’t look at it as a talent-based platform. I don’t look at it as a results-based platform. I look at it as a platform that was built and sustained through the way I treat other people, through the work ethic that I believe that I have and through the passion that I know I have.”
I tell this story all the time. It is told for laughs, but it is absolutely true. Marty Smith once gave me a giant box of beef jerky.
I was in Charlotte visiting him and Ryan McGee on the set of Marty & McGee as part of a larger feature I was doing on the SEC Network. We spent probably 3 hours together that day. It was a lot of fun. The last thing I watched the duo shoot was a promo for Old Trapper Beef Jerky, the presenting sponsor of their show.
As they finished, I shook their hands and told them I had to get on the road. That is when Smith presented me with a box of twelve bags of Old Trapper and told me, in as sincere a voice as you can imagine, that he wanted me to have it.
“I mean, listen, if you give a man beef jerky, by God, you like him,” Smith said to me when I reminded him of that story earlier this week. “That’s redneck currency right there, bud.”
There just aren’t a lot of people in this business like Marty Smith. ESPN definitely knows it too. That is why the network finds every opportunity it can to use him to tell the stories of the events and people it covers.
Last week, he spent Monday and Tuesday with the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens. He got a day back home in Charlotte before he headed to Atlanta for the SEC Network’s coverage of the SEC Championship Game on Thursday. Saturday, after his duties for SEC Nation and College GameDay were done, he hit the road for Tuscaloosa to interview Nick Saban and be ready for ESPN’s coverage of the reveal of the final College Football Playoff rankings.
As if that isn’t enough, this week he heads to New York. It will be the second time ESPN will use him to conduct interviews and tell stories during the telecast of the Heisman Trophy presentation. It’s an assignment that Marty Smith still cannot believe is his.
“I’ve had a ton of pinch-me moments, but in the last five, six years, seven years, there are two that kind of stand out above the rest. One was when Mike McQuaid asked me to be part of his team to cover The Masters. The other was last year when my dear longtime friend Kate Jackson, who is the coordinating producer over the Heisman broadcast, asked me to be a part of her Heisman broadcast team and interview the coaches, players and families of the finalists,” Smith says. “You know, brother, I’ve been watching the Heisman Trophy my whole life.”
We talk about what the broadcast around the Heisman Trophy presentation is and how it differs from being on the sideline for a game. He is quick to point out that on a game day, the old adage “brevity is king” is a reality. In New York though, he will have more time to work with. He plans not to just fill it, but to use it.
Marty’s interest in his subjects’ backgrounds and their emotions is sincere. It is part of a larger philosophy. He respects that everyone has a story to tell and appreciates the opportunity to be the one that gets to tell it, so he is going to do all he can to make sure the people he is talking to know it and know that they matter to him. That means putting in the time to be respectful of his subject’s time.
“When I’m interviewing these players or coaches before a game, I want to interview them, and I’m saying not on camera, but when I’m doing the record. I want to get as thorough as I can get. Then you take all of that and you try to pare it down into a very small window. It’s not easy. I mean, look, most of the time you come home with reams of notes that never even sniff air.”
Marty Smith has always been a unique presence. As his profile has grown and he shows up on TV more often and in more places, more people question who this guy really is.
That is par for the course though, right? Someone with a unique presence sees their star rise and out come the naysayers ready to question how authentic the new object of our affections really is.
For me, there is a moment that defines Marty Smith, at least in this aspect. I cannot remember the year or the situation, but he was on The Dan Le Batard Show, back when it was on ESPN Radio. Smith was telling Dan about friends of his that are stars in the country music world and Dan asked what it is like when they are hanging out backstage before one of these guys goes out to perform.
I cannot remember Smith’s exact answer, but a word he used stood out to me. He said it was just buddies having a cold beer and “fellowshippin'”.
I told Marty about this memory of him and said that I am not accusing him of being inauthentic or his persona on television being an act, but I was curious if he was concious of the words he chooses. Even if the version we get of Marty Smith on TV is the same one we would get if we were part of the fellowshippin’, does he think about how he wants people to think about him?
He is quick to note that is isn’t an act at all. What you see when you see Marty Smith isn’t a persona he cooked up when he decided he was going into television. That is just his personality.
“It is a lifelong field from where I’m from to where I am,” he says of what we see on TV. “It is relationships made that pinched my clay and remolded who I was to who I am and reshaped me as a person.”
Anyone from The South can tell you that there is no one monolithic “South”. The gregarious, larger-than-life personalities in Louisiana may not always feel real to people from the more reserved and anglo-influenced South Carolina. The Southern accent I got from growing up in Alabama sounds nothing like the Southern accents I live near now in North Carolina.
If Marty Smith doesn’t seem authentic to you, maybe it is because his version of “Southern” isn’t one you’re familiar with. Maybe it is a version of “Southern” that only exists in one dude on the entire planet.
Smith is from Pearisburg, Virginia just outside of Blacksburg. Surely that informs who he is, but he is also shaped by the wealth of conversations he has had and the characters he has met from his professional life.
“At our company, you have to work really hard to not only make it, but to sustain it. I try hard to do that every day,” he says. “I’m sure I’ve said it before, man. I don’t look at it as a talent-based platform. I don’t look at it as a results-based platform. I look at it as a platform that was built and sustained through the way I treat other people, through the work ethic that I believe that I have and through the passion that I know I have. You piece all of those different things together, and along with opportunity you can do something special, and I’m trying to do that every day.”
The Marty Smith you see on TV is the guy that will hand you a box of beef jerky just because you had a great conversation. He is the guy you see in that viral video from a few years back giving a young reporter advice and encouragement.
You can be confused by Marty Smith. You can have your questions about him and his motivations. They aren’t going to change him though. It took too long for him to become who he is to start second-guessing it now.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Another World Cup Run Ends And There’s Still No Soccer Fever In The USA
“We get fired up once every four years, sing the anthem, wear American flag t-shirts, then go back to our daily lives, forgetting about the sport that was attached to the patriotism.”
Soccer fever? Hardly. Not in the United States at least. The US Men’s National Team lost in the round of 16 against the Netherlands 3-1 last Saturday. The ratings are in. And the ratings are revealing.
An average of 12.97 million viewers tuned in to see the Netherlands-United States World Cup match on FOX. Before you say, “Hey, not bad,” consider the fact that the ratings are down from eight years ago when 13.44 million viewers watched the USMNT lose to Belgium in the knockout stage on ESPN.
Even more damning are the ratings of the USMNT’s initial match in the 2022 World Cup against Wales, an unhealthy 8.31 million viewers.
Let me get this straight; fans waited, waited, and waited some more to finally see the USMNT in World Cup action, and the first game in eight years drew 8.31 million viewers? Really?
There were 5.5 million viewers across TV and digital that watched the NFL Network’s telecast of the New York Giants-Green Bay Packers game in London. That was a Week 5 game in the NFL compared to the World freaking Cup. Network television (FOX) compared to cable TV (NFL Network). And the ratings are comparable? Come on, US Soccer. Y’all gotta do better than this.
*Mini rant alert — it drives me crazy when soccer in this country is consistently compared to soccer in this country. The promoters of the sport paint an obnoxiously rosy picture of the growing popularity by comparing US soccer now to US soccer then. It’s a joke.
It would be like comparing Nebraska’s 4-8 record in college football this year, to Nebraska’s 3-9 record last year. “Hey, things are looking up!” Never mind the fact that the Cornhuskers are significantly trailing several teams in its conference and many other teams across the country. That’s US soccer in a nutshell. Don’t compare it to other leagues and sports that are crushing it, just say we’re up 10% from last year. Ridiculous.
*Mini rant continuing alert — the Michigan-Ohio State game drew 17 million viewers last month. The New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving drew 42 million viewers. Those are regular-season matchups compared to the biggest stage soccer has to offer. But go ahead and just compare US soccer to itself.
And no, the edge you might feel in my words isn’t born out of fear that soccer will somehow surpass the popularity of football. That would be like Mike Tyson being scared that the Stanford Tree mascot could beat him up. US soccer isn’t a threat, it’s a light breeze. I just hate a bad argument. And many soccer apologists have been making bad arguments on the behalf of US soccer for years. *Mini rant over
The World Cup didn’t prove that American fans are invested in soccer. It proved that we love a big event. It’s the same recipe every four years with the Olympics.
During the 2016 summer games in Rio, when swimmer Michael Phelps was in the pool for what turned out to be his final outing in an Olympic competition, the ratings peaked at 32.7 million viewers. Phelps helped Team USA win gold in the men’s 100-meter relay and then rode off into the sunset.
We don’t really care about swimming. When’s the last time you asked a friend, “You heading out tonight?” and the response was, “Are you crazy? The Pan Pacific Championships are on.”
Whether it’s the Olympics or World Cup, Americans care about the overall event much more than the individual sport. We get fired up once every four years, sing the anthem, wear American flag t-shirts, then go back to our daily lives, forgetting about the sport that was attached to the patriotism.
Ask yourself this, at the height of US swimming’s popularity, would you have paid $14.99 per month to watch non-Olympic events? Me either. US soccer isn’t exactly on fire following its showing in the 2022 World Cup, so the timing isn’t awesome to introduce a paywall for the sport’s top league in this country.
Apple and Major League Soccer have announced that MLS Season Pass will launch soon. I know you’re excited, but try to stay composed. Yes, MLS Season Pass will launch on February 1, 2023. It’s a 10-year partnership between MLS and Apple that features every live MLS regular-season match, the playoffs, and the League’s Cup.
Have I died and gone to heaven?
It’ll run you $14.99 per month or $99 per season on the Apple TV app. For Apple TV+ subscribers — make sure you’re sitting down for this, you lucky people — it’s $12.99 per month or $79 per season. If you don’t have US soccer fever right now, I doubt you’re running out to throw down cash on a product you aren’t passionate about.
Now if the USMNT won the 2022 World Cup, cha-ching. The popularity of US soccer would definitely grow in a major way. Even if they had a strong showing while reaching the quarterfinals, the momentum would be much greater. But a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands in the group of 16? Nope. This isn’t it. I don’t expect much more than some tumbleweed rolling by instead of cash registers heating up for MLS Season Pass.
Colorado Hiring Deion Sanders Will Be Constant Gift for College Football Media
“If Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers, he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor.”
Deion Sanders quickly made it clear why the University of Colorado chose him to be its next head football coach.
Coming off a weekend in which the four College Football Playoff teams were announced and all of the other bowl-eligible teams accepted their invitations, Colorado — which went 1-11 this past season — made news for hiring Sanders, the former NFL star who was phenomenally successful at Jackson State.
The media that covers college football and sports as a whole should be thrilled that the Buffaloes program decided to take a big leap for attention and notoriety. Sanders is a bold, risky hire. But he’s also been successful in virtually every venture he’s taken. “Primetime” had a Hall of Fame NFL career and also played Major League Baseball. And he’s a master at drawing attention to himself.
During his first meeting with his new team, Sanders made sure to mention that he has Louis Vuitton luggage to make the point that some of his Jackson State players are coming with him to Boulder — including his son, quarterback Shadeur Sanders. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart probably don’t cite luxury fashion when explaining to their players that they’ll have to compete for starting positions.
Coach Prime will not be boring to cover. (That self-appointed “Coach Prime” title, which was on his name plate at his introductory press conference, is a big clue there.) He never has been. This is a man who said during the 1989 NFL Draft, after being selected No. 5 overall by the Atlanta Falcons, that if the Detroit Lions had selected him at No. 3, he “would’ve asked for so much money, they’d have had to put me on layaway.”
Even if he doesn’t win as much as Colorado hopes, Sanders will pursue top talent — players who want to perform on a larger stage than the FCS-level Jackson State allows — and impact athletes will be attracted to him. He got the No. 1 recruit in the nation, cornerback and wide receiver Travis Hunter, to play for him. (Hunter is following his coach to Boulder.) Now that Sanders is at an FBS school in a Power 5 conference, more stars will surely come.
But if Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers — going 27-5 in three seasons, including a 12-0 campaign in 2022 — he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor. And he’ll get the attention that such figures typically draw from media and fans. According to the Denver Post‘s Sean Keeler, at least 400 people attended what felt more like a celebration than a press conference.
Coach Prime wasn’t going to just win the press conference, which is what any school and fanbase want when a new coach is introduced.
If Colorado wanted someone to sit at a podium, and give platitudes like “We want to win the Pac-12 and get to the College Football Playoff,” “We’re going to build a program with young men you’ll be proud of,” or “It’s time to restore Colorado to the football glory we remember,” Sanders isn’t the guy for that.
“Do I look like a man that worries about anything? Did you see the way I walked in here? Did you see the swagger that was with me?” Sanders said during his introductory presser. “Worry? Baby, I am too blessed to be stressed. I have never been one for peer pressure. I put pressure on peers. I never wanted to worry, I make people worry. I don’t get down like that. I am too darn confident. That is my natural odor.”
To no surprise, Sanders announced his presence in Boulder with authority. He had cameras following him as he met with Colorado players for the first time. How many other coaches would have recorded what many would see as a private moment for posterity and post it online?
Sanders caused a stir by putting his players on notice. He warned them he was coming, telling them they’ll be pushed so hard they might quit. He told them to enter the transfer portal and go someplace else if they don’t like what he and his staff are going to do.
That candor, that brutal honesty surprised many fans and media when they saw it Monday morning. For some, that message might have felt too familiar. How many in media — or many other industries — have worried about their job status when a new boss takes over? What may have seemed secure days earlier is now uncertain.
But how do we know other coaches haven’t said something similar when taking over at a new job and addressing their team? We just hadn’t seen it before. But Sanders has been in the media. He knows social media. He understands controlling his own message and telling his story.
Sanders also knows what kind of value he brings to any venture he takes on. How many people would have left an NFL Network gig for Barstool Sports? But Sanders went to where his star would shine, where he was the main show, where he could be Deion Sanders. Maybe he’ll have to turn that down just a bit at Colorado. But athletic director Rick George knows who he hired.
Colorado could have made a safer choice, including previous head coaches Tom Herman, Bronco Mendenhall, or Gary Patterson. A top assistant from one of this year’s Playoff contenders — such as Georgia’s Todd Monken, USC’s Alex Grinch, Alabama’s Bill O’Brien, or Michigan’s Sherrone Moore — could also have been an option.
But what fun would that have been? What kind of tremor would Colorado have created in the college football news cycle? How much attention would a more conventional hire have received? Yes, Sanders has to recruit and win. However, if the objective was to make Colorado football a talking point again, that’s been accomplished.
There could be some friction too. Sanders has already been criticized for being a champion of HBCUs, only to bolt for a mainstream Power 5 program when the opportunity opened. (To be fair, other columnists have defended the move.)
At Jackson State, Sanders tried to control local media when he didn’t like how reporters were addressing him or covering a story. Last year during Southwestern Athletic Conference Media Day, he balked at a Clarion-Ledger reporter addressing him as “Deion,” not “Coach,” insisting that Nick Saban would’ve been shown that respect. Earlier this season, Sanders admonished a school broadcaster (and assistant athletic director) for speaking to him more formally on camera than he did off-camera.
Will that fly among Boulder and Denver media, or the national college football press? It’s difficult to imagine. Maybe Sanders will ease back on his efforts to control reporters within a larger university environment, metropolitan area, and media market. But we’re also talking about Deion Sanders here. He doesn’t bend to outside forces. He makes them bend to him.
Sanders’ stint in Boulder — whether it lasts the five years of his contract and beyond, or less than that — will not be dull. There could be no better gift for the media covering Colorado football. Or college football, a sport already full of bold personalities, eccentric to unhinged fanbases, and outsized expectations. Coach Prime will fit right in.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.