If you mistake Mike Salk for a dumb guy, you’re the one who’s lacking intelligence. He’s had quite the range of experiences in his career — from Seattle to Boston mixed with a side of Bristol — and has formulated many wise and helpful observations about the sports radio industry along the way.
It’s funny, just the other day I read about Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. blaming his former employer. He said the New York Giants held him back. Never mind the times Odell got in Odell’s own way by melting down on the sideline, getting suspended for going psycho on Josh Norman, and stinking up the joint in his only playoff appearance against the Packers. In many ways Mike Salk is the anti-OBJ. Instead of pointing the finger at WEEI in Boston for a relationship that didn’t work out, Mike points the finger at himself. It’s refreshing when men act like men by owning their shortcomings.
Mike made his way back to Seattle in 2014 where he doubles as a host and PD at 710 ESPN. He makes one of the most brilliant observations I’ve ever heard about working with an ex-athlete. He also describes how jealousy can limit the growth of hosts, and that viewing a rival sports station as the only competition is shortsighted. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: Over the 10 years that you and Brock Huard have done a show together, what area has your show gelled the most?
Mike Salk: In order to answer that you have to understand how little things gelled when we first started. I mean really, the show was troubled. I was from the Northeast and trying to make my way as a first time talk show host in a completely foreign city. Brock, who’s the nicest human being in the world, had never done talk either. In the first couple of weeks on the air, rather than saying something he once nodded on the air, which didn’t make for great radio.
The more Brock didn’t say much, didn’t offer a ton of opinion, the more over the top I was. I don’t want to quite call it hot take radio, but just the more opinionated and sort of east coast I would be, which didn’t fit the market at all. It took us a long time to meet in the middle.
I’m sure there are still times where we’re not perfect, but I think over those first couple of years he learned how to give an opinion on things — now he’s unbelievable at it — and I learned how to tone it down a little bit in order to kind of grow up and understand the market that I was talking to every day.
Noe: How difficult was it for you to adjust to the Northwest?
Salk: Hard. At first, really hard. I spent probably the first two years not understanding it at all. Then finally the next two years I started to grasp it a whole lot better. Maybe I even took it for granted when I went to Boston for the year because I think I had sort of become much more northwest at heart by the time I attempted that.
Noe: For anybody who hasn’t done radio in the Northwest, how would you describe some of the ways it differs from the Northeast?
Salk: It differs a lot. Seattle is known for being passive-aggressive. That sort of its M.O. It’s not an aggressive city. People don’t respond well to daily bashing of the teams, daily bashing of your fellow hosts, daily bashing of much of anything. They generally want an honest but friendly and sometimes positive take on the world. It’s not always my natural inclination, so I think maybe at times I stand out in that regard. I think generally Seattle’s a pretty happy place and people want to be pretty happy here.
Noe: What area of being a manager do you think you’ve grown the most?
Salk: I think unfortunately you’d probably have to ask the people I manage. I have really tried to grow the most in terms of putting the growth of their careers first. Putting aside my own show, my own hosting desires. Taking a backseat to what the hosts, producers, board operators, and everybody else on our team want to accomplish in their careers. That’s generally what I find most rewarding is seeing them succeed.
Noe: Parents sometimes learn from their kids. Do you find yourself learning how to be a better host through the talent you oversee as a manager?
Salk: 100 percent. Yes. Everyone does this differently, right? There’s no one right way to do radio. There’s not even any common thread that runs through every host or every show on any station, including ours. I think every day I’m either listening to shows on our station or other stations around the country.
I find myself learning from people all the time. It’s so easy as a radio host to be jealous of other talk shows that sound good. Rather than give into the jealousy part of it, I try to just incorporate and use it to remind myself of the things that can help make our show better at times.
Noe: Can you walk me through the timeline of you joining 710 and then going back to WEEI? How did that unfold?
Salk: Timeline wise? I moved out here in April of ‘09. I did (2) two-year contracts here in Seattle. Then I went to WEEI in March of 2013. I left there just under a year later. I’ve been back here as the PD and host since.
Noe: What was it like for you to adapt while doing radio in two very different cities — Boston and Seattle?
Salk: I think the problem was that I didn’t adapt very well. I’d like to tell you that I did, but I didn’t. I didn’t adapt very well to what Boston needed. I wasn’t a very good fit there. I didn’t handle that situation particularly well.
It’s a hard question for me to answer because I just didn’t do it very well. I didn’t make enough of an adjustment. I was pretty relieved to come back to a town that really had become home, meaning Seattle.
Noe: What did you learn the most throughout that whole experience?
Salk: I think I started to learn even more the differences between the way radio is done in the Northeast versus the Northwest. I don’t think I understood it particularly well even though I probably should have. I thought there was a market in Boston for doing things differently and there wasn’t really. There didn’t need to be.
I also learned a lot about how to enter new into a situation. I didn’t handle myself particularly well in Boston at WEEI. There were some issues with what I was told versus what ended up happening.
Overall I’m the one who showed up and I think I probably approached that job with far too much confidence — talking too much, not listening enough — and ultimately it led to a massive failure. I tried to learn from it. That’s been my goal.
Noe: What advice would you give to a host that’s trying to adapt after moving to an unfamiliar area?
Salk: I think it’s a really tricky balance of maintaining who you are while still listening, understanding, and coming to learn about the city that you’re moving to. It’s easy to learn the sports history of a town. It’s easy to learn the sports issues that you’re going to be dealing with on a day-to-day basis, but it’s hard to learn the style and personality of a region.
I think trying to ask as many people as possible about it — immerse yourself in whatever the local culture is. That’s enormous. Wherever you are, I think immersing yourself, doing the types of things people in that region do is pretty important to feeling like you truly belong there. There’s no substitute for time either.
Noe: Which do you think is more important — is it knowing the sports history, or understanding the vibe of a new place?
Salk: Oh, I think it’s the vibe. The internet can tell you anything. You can always look something up. You can always rely on your co-host for that part of it. But actually understanding what people are looking for and just the personality of a city, I don’t know that you can substitute for that. That’s why it takes shows — especially ones with people coming from out of town — it can take them a little bit longer to succeed because the sound may be different and it may be evolving. That takes some patience on the part of a program director.
Noe: As a host, if you went back and listened to one of your old shows from years ago, you would absolutely hear how much progress you’ve made. How do you gauge the improvements you’ve made as a manager?
Salk: Good question. I think in an alternate world in which we taped all of the behind-the-scenes conversations that we have and you played the ones from five years ago versus the ones now, I think they’d be pretty different.
I think that being a first-time manager is hard. Doing it while you’re doing a radio show every day is complicated. I hope they’d sound different. I hope that they’d show more improvement. I hope that I’m doing a better job of listening to people instead of spouting my mouth off. I think that’s — I’m learning — more and more important to management.
Noe: As a host or manager, what area have you changed your approach the most?
Salk: The management job is really divided up into a couple of different parts. On one hand you have the upward and outward facing elements of strategy. Trying to determine what a radio station should sound like, and what digital should look like, and what the interplay between them should be like moving forward. The other side of it is the true managing of people.
They’re completely different skills and completely different parts of the day other than that nexus point of trying to translate, here’s the plan for where we’re going, into managing the people who are actually going to be executing that vision. They are two very different skills. You’ve got to find a way to put them together while handling all of the day-to-day parts of running a radio station — things that just have to be done every day.
I will say for me — and especially given that I have the other part of my job — the team I have working on those things, they’re incredible. I have an APD in Kyle Brown who is top-notch. I have a social engagement, imaging, and digital team with James Osborn and Taylor Jacobs who are incredible. They are creative every day. Executive producer Jessamyn McIntyre takes care of so many little details. Then just all the way through with producers and hosts. It’s a really incredible team that makes it so much easier to do all of those things.
Noe: How closely do you pay attention to your competition in Seattle?
Salk: I just try to focus on what we’re doing. It’s not that they’re doing anything good or bad. We try to pay attention to what we’re doing. If we are doing our job right, that should be the only thing that matters. I want all stations to succeed. A rising tide would lift all boats. The more people interested in sports in Seattle, the better for me, but I really try not to think of any specific station as our competition.
If our demo was men 25-54, our competition is any station that is registering ratings in men 25-54. I think the radio industry is constantly focused inward on itself. Really, I think Jason has done a great job of this trying to unite parts of the industry, trying to find ways to say, no, television is the competition in some ways. XM might be part of the competition and part of the solution. Same with podcasts. Same with Pandora and anything else.
Noe: What’s important for a host to be aware of when working with an ex-athlete as a partner?
Salk: They’re much better athletes than you realize. I didn’t find that out until about a year or so in when Brock and I went to spring training and we worked out together one day. I was like, “Oh, he’s not just this chump backup quarterback.” He’s just throwing weight around and running like it’s nothing. It’s just totally different than I realized.
It’s a couple of things. One, in terms of the management side of it, ex-athletes are generally really coachable. They’ve been coached their entire life. They’re looking for feedback. They’re looking for help getting better and they genuinely want to improve. In terms of being a co-host, they have so many stories. They have such a unique ability to relate to professional athletes in a way that the rest of us simply can’t.
They just gather so much immediate respect. The whole you-can’t-talk-about-it-because-you’ve-never-played-it crowd that’s out there, they do want to hear from those ex-athletes who have the experience and have played at that highest level. You’ve got to find a way to tap into all of that. At the same time, and Brock has been incredible at this, the ex-athlete has to find a way to legitimize their co-host. The best ones don’t just revel in the fact that they’re the experts. They do that and they handled that, but they also throw questions back to their co-host and even if they disagree with the position, they don’t kill the position. They don’t illegitimize the position.
It’s something that I know is important to me and probably a lot of other hosts who’ve never played the game at a level above high school. We want to argue but that ability goes away if the ex-athlete is just saying, “Well you didn’t play so your opinion doesn’t matter.” Nobody wants to then start fighting about whose opinion matters. That’s bad radio. You just want to be able to dig into the whole thing. Brock’s been fantastic at that and I think nowadays most everybody seems to understand that thankfully.
Noe: That’s a great point. When Brock continues to grow in terms of play-by-play on a national stage, how does that affect your show?
Salk: It’s generally been really positive. First of all Brock’s access to premium guests that just want to go on with him is incredible. Just the number of national play-by-play and color commentators we’ve had on the show in the last few years, I think we’ve had each of the number one teams for all four NFL top broadcasting teams. At least before Romo replaced Phil. It’s not me. It’s not our producers. It’s Brock and just the reputation that he has. They respect him for how great he is.
I don’t think people truly understand how hard Brock works at both our job and at his college football gig. He is so well prepared every single week for that. I listen to a lot of guys around the country when I’m watching games. There are a lot of people who are really good at it. I don’t think there’s anyone in the country who prepares any harder than Brock does for those games. That’s the work during the week preparing at home, but then the amount of time he spends really thinking about the questions and taking stuff out of the in-person interviews they do leading up to it, he’s incredible at it.
Noe: If some major network lured him away, what would be your next step?
Salk: I’m probably not interested in starting another new radio show. So, I don’t know. Thankfully, I don’t have that situation. The real answer is just working with Brock every day — it’s one of my favorite parts about my job. I just love that relationship and that conversation. I’ve not spent a ton of time thinking about what the world would look like if he were lured away somewhere else.
Noe: If you think back to the time when you needed to tone it down and Brock needed to be more talkative, did you guys have a breakthrough where you thought, “Okay, we’ve finally gotten over the hump?”
Salk: I think it was just over a year in, we went to spring training together. We had a chance to get away. I think we went out for sushi one night and we just really talked about it. We’re really different people — politically, religiously, we come from completely different ends of the Earth. I think at that point we just kind of made a deal that the one thing we had in common was our desire to make this thing work. We wanted to win. That day we just sort of — I don’t want to call it quite a pact — but it was like, “Hey, we’re going to do everything we can to make this work.” Since then that seemed to kind of bind us together instead of apart.
Noe: When it comes to career goals, do you think about what you’d like to accomplish, or are you more of a day-to-day thinker based on your day-to-day workload?
Salk: Somewhere in between I guess. I don’t believe you can think too far down the line. I think I did when I first got into this. Before I got into the management side of it, I think like every young radio host my initial goal was I wanted to be on the air somewhere. I didn’t even care if it was sports radio. I just wanted to get into radio. Once that happened, my next goal was I wanted a steady gig. Then I wanted a drive-time gig.
There was a part of me that wanted to see what it would be like to go back to Boston and try to perform in the city that I had originally grown up in and love sports in. There was a part of me that wondered can I be the next Mike Greenberg? Can I host a big-time national radio show? I think along the way some of those goals fall off. You learn kind of your place in this landscape. I don’t think I’m going be the next Mike Greenberg. I’m not going to host a big-time national show. My goals just sort of shifted.
I’m really focused on the city I live in and my life here — a work-life balance, raising kids, being a good husband, trying to be a good leader for 710 and just push the station forward. The station has been incredible to me. Twice it’s helped me. The first time in 2009 I was unemployed and trying to figure out what the heck I was going to do. I had just gotten married. The station started and I was lucky enough to be invited out to work with Brock. Then when things went wrong in Boston, the station kind of magically was there for me again. I feel an immense sense of debt — a responsibility to a station and to my boss who’s taken a chance on me twice. It’s really important to me to try to pay that off.
Noe: When you think back to just trying to get on the air initially, could you have imagined that you’d have the career you’ve experienced?
Salk: Some of those nights when I was parking cars in the winter outside the John Hancock building in Boston in 20-degree weather, I would have just been happy to have a job inside on some of those nights. Being on the air was a thrill. There’s nothing quite like the exhilaration of starting a radio show every day. It hits you every single day.
I’ll never forget during the first couple of shows I did in Bristol. Louise Cornetta invited me to Bristol to do some shows, and driving back the two hours from Bristol to Boston and just feeling like I was going to drive 1,000 miles an hour home because I was just so amped up from doing those shows.
Working with Jeff Rickard and Freddie Coleman and some of the folks who were doing GameNight at the time who are awesome, and just couldn’t have treated me better, just amazingly easy to work with. Those moments were spectacular. Just the adrenaline rush of it was hard to forget.
Noe: What would you say is the biggest bright spot of your entire career?
Salk: The biggest bright spot? That’s a good question. I don’t know if I’ve ever been asked that question before. I don’t know that I have one. There’s no one moment. I think the first time our ratings turned for me and Brock, the first time we ended up getting good ratings after the first year or so of ratings that were not impressive, we were pretty excited. I wouldn’t say I did like the Merton Hanks, but I mean we were pretty pumped when those ratings turned for the first time.
I think over time ratings stop defining shows, so I’m really proud more for the whole package. I’m really proud of the stuff we’ve done at 710 this year. The station has been around for 10 years and we’ve never had one specific charitable function that we’ve been known for.
Finally this year we worked together as a whole group — and I’m talking everyone from hosts, producers, sales, promotions — everybody kind of got together and decided to work with this group called Coaching Boys Into Men. It’s a local group that does some really cool stuff on teaching high school kids how to respect women, consent, it’s an anti-domestic violence group, a leadership group and that’s been incredibly rewarding to see this group grow as we’ve worked with them.
Noe: When you wake up tomorrow morning, what is the one thing above all else that gives you the most enjoyment and excites you to run into the radio station?
Salk: The real answer is coming home for the nap later in the day.
(Laughs.) Honestly it’s the people. I know that’s sort of a cop-out answer, but it’s been really important to me, to my predecessor Brian Long, to my boss Dave Pridemore. It’s been really important to the people that have run 710 and Bonneville Seattle in general that we have a group of good people.
There are days that I don’t want to leave work. Heather my wife will be like, “Hey when are you coming home?” I’ll say, “I’ll be home soon.” Then I just sort of dawdle on my way out the door because I keep running into people that I want to talk to. It’s the people. It’s far and away that. All of the other stuff — ratings, revenue, digital, coaching, managing, strategy — all of that kind of pales in comparison to just getting to work with fun people.
790 The Ticket Was Something Special And Stugotz Knows It
“I had programmers calling me saying this is the best local lineup that they’ve ever seen, that they’ve ever heard.”
When I was making the transition from the rock world to talk radio, there was one show I looked at as a guide. I got laid off from 96 Rock in Raleigh, NC in the summer of 2011. That was the beginning of my flirtations with streaming and podcasts, which is how I stumbled onto The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on 790 The Ticket out of Miami.
Coming from a format that I felt out of place in at times, I instantly latched onto a show that reveled in pointing out how out of place it was in its own format. It became a daily listen for me, which opened me up to hearing other voices on the station like Jonathan Zaslow, Joy Taylor, Brian London, Brendan Tobin, Brett Romberg and others.
There were unique thinkers and passionate sports fans in every day part on 790 The Ticket. What set the station apart though is that I never heard anyone that sounded uncomfortable when the conversation turned to something that wasn’t a Dolphins’ loss or LeBron’s stat line. They talked sports the way normal human beings talk about sports. It was part of their lives, not the only thing they paid attention to.
Look at the outpouring of love for the station on Thursday. Hosts, producers and programmers from across the country took to social media to eulogize the station when the news broke that it would cease to exist the following week.
I can’t say for sure that all of those people felt the same way I did about the station and I cannot say whether or not it was for the same reasons. What I can say is 790 The Ticket had an influence that stretched far beyond South Florida.
Jon Weiner, better known as “Stugotz” to fans of the The Dan Le Batard Show, helped start the station in 2004. He told me that it didn’t take long for him to learn just how much The Ticket’s approach was making an impression on everyone in sports radio.
“I had programmers calling me saying this is the best local lineup that they’ve ever seen or heard,” he said in a phone call on Sunday. “I had people from out of market who had secure jobs at places that weren’t startups sending resumes and tapes because they wanted to be part of it. So yeah, we were aware and it is what we were going for. We got there pretty quickly and we were aware of the impact, not just in South Florida, but throughout the country.”
Last week, Brian “The Beast” London said his internal alarm bells first went off when he heard the Miami Heat were giving up their relationship with 790 the Ticket. The station and the team had been partners since 2008. He said in a YouTube video that it was hard to imagine the team’s games being heard anywhere else.
I asked Stugotz if he had the same feeling when he heard that news. He said in hindsight, he realized it was the beginning of the end, but he didn’t really get a sense something was up until Jonathan Zaslow was let go.
“[Zaslow] had been there since basically day one with us. And so I just kind of figured, yeah, between the Heat and then that I felt, okay, you don’t make a move like that unless there’s going to be some sort of seismic change. Otherwise, there’d be no reason to let him go. That was the moment I was like ‘okay, 790 is likely going away.'”
His feelings are no secret. He took to social media immediately on Thursday and said that the news that 790 The Ticket would soon be going away filled him with both sadness and pride. What Stugotz told me in our phone call was that he realizes that the station lasted about 15 years longer than it should have.
When the station was sold to Lincoln Financial Media, he was not expecting that company to want to keep a sports station. Senior Vice President Dennis Collins surprised him.
“The company saw so much potential in what we had built, both from a lineup and a sales perspective that they kept it going and that’s why it lasted all the way to 2022. We got it up and going and were responsible for the first three or four years, but Dennis saw the growth potential with the lineup we put together. That made me feel great because I had a pit in my stomach like ‘Oh, man, this thing we started is going to go away. It’s going to be three, four years and gone.’ And he said, ‘No, we love it. We want to keep it going’. So that was a huge compliment to everyone.”
Stugotz described the original owner of 790 The Ticket as a “young, good looking real estate mogul driving around in Lamborghinis.” That certainly helped the image of the station when it launched, but it is also a phenomenon that was very of the moment. It’s not 2004 anymore. Lamborghini-owning real estate moguls aren’t chomping at the bit to pour money into radio stations.
The conditions may be similar to what Stugotz and his partners saw in 2004. You could look at the radio landscape in Miami and see a way that a new challenger could fit in the sports radio scene. But what are the chances it actually happens?
“It’s a great question,” Stugotz said. “So just to go back to that time, two sports radio stations were popping up in every market. I’m not certain if that’s still the case anymore just because of podcasting and the way the way younger people are consuming media through Tik Tok, Snapchat, and other things that aren’t AM radio.”
He is quick to commend Audacy, the current owners of the 790 AM frequency. Dan Le Batard and Jorge Sedano were part of his early lineups at 790 The Ticket because Stugotz recognized the Cuban-American community in Miami was not being served in the sports space in 2004, just like it isn’t being properly served in the news/talk space right now. That’s why there’s room for the conservative-leaning brand Radio Libre in Miami and other markets are likely paying attention.
“It seems like a good plan, and I know it’s something that the Spanish population should have and deserves to have and probably was not being catered to correctly. So, yeah, I could see there’s a warning sign to some other sports radio stations or news stations in other markets where the Hispanic population is great. Absolutely!”
It is a shame that 790 The Ticket is no more and it is concerning that a station with its legacy and influence can simply disappear. But if we are being real, it isn’t the first station of its kind to suffer that fate and it won’t be the last.
As the media business changes and leaves sports stations vulnerable to something cheaper and with broader appeal, 790 The Ticket and stations like it should be touted as examples of how to rise above the noise and make an impact. Stugotz and his partners looked around in 2004 and said “we can be different and we can do this better” and that’s exactly what they did.
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.
Chris Simms And His Self-Professed ‘Big Mouth’ Enjoying Life At NBC
“One of the things that I worried about was that I came from Bleacher Report and is NBC going to try to curtail my personality a little bit…sometimes I like to swear on my podcast and do stuff like that and they’ve really allowed me to be me which I really appreciate.”
To be a good football analyst, one certainly has to know and love the sport but you also can’t be afraid to use the most important tool that you have to do the job. Chris Simms has all of those attributes and NBC lets him use them to the best of his abilities.
“I love football and I love X’s and O’s and I got a big mouth so it’s a great combination,” said Simms. “Between my podcast, Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio, and Sunday Night Football, I get plenty of time to talk and get my studies out there.”
There’s no doubt that Chris inherited that self-professed big mouth from his father, former NFL quarterback and longtime NFL on CBS analyst, Phil Simms.
So, the question had to be asked…does Chris have a bigger mouth than his father?
“Yeah, I probably do,” admitted the younger Simms. “That’s a big mouth to overcome, but I think I probably got him beat in that department.”
Chris Simms set out to follow in his father’s footsteps on the field and played quarterback for Ramapo High School in New Jersey where he earned a pair of All-State honors. After graduating high school in 1999, Simms moved on to play quarterback at the University of Texas where he posted a 26-6 career record as a starter and was the team MVP during his senior season in 2002.
Simms was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft and he would guide the Bucs to a playoff berth in 2005. He would also go on to play for the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos completing a seven-year NFL playing career. He spent one season as an assistant coach with the New England Patriots before taking his talents to the world of broadcasting.
He started with FOX Sports as a college football announcer in 2013 and then joined Bleacher Report in 2014 while also serving as a color commentator for the NFL on CBS.
And then in 2017, Simms joined NBC Sports where he has certainly found a home.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Simms. “It’s a great company to work for. Just good people all around. They’ve given me the platform to be me. One of the things that I worried about was that I came from Bleacher Report and is NBC going to try to curtail my personality a little bit…sometimes I like to swear on my podcast and do stuff like that and they’ve really allowed me to be me which I really appreciate.”
Simms wears many different suits at NBC Sports, most notably his role as a studio analyst on Football Night in America leading into Sunday Night Football. He’s also a part of the SNF post-game show Sunday Night Football Final on Peacock, Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio, and Chris Simms Unbuttoned, a streaming/digital show that is also a podcast multiple days a week.
But the most eyeballs are on him during Football Night in America, the most watched studio show in sports.
“I grew up wanting to play in these games more than be the guy in the studio but this is like the second-best thing,” said Simms. “I was kind of that kid at 4 or 5 (years old) who could tell you every player in the NFL, their number and all that type of stuff. It’s the NFL on the biggest stage. It’s such a well-done show. I get to be there with Maria Taylor along with Tony Dungy, and Jason Garrett, and Mike Florio, and Matthew Berry. We got a great team and it makes Sunday fun.”
From the “it takes one to know one” category, Simms has also made a name for himself with his ranking of NFL quarterbacks. He’s very diligent when it comes to watching the live action and also in his film study and his top-40 rankings have become a hot topic within the business and around the office coolers.
Simms is well aware that his rankings have become a lightning rod of discussion.
“It all kind of started organically just because I would make statements,” said Simms. “People were like ‘Why don’t you start making a list?’ It’s a really hard thing to do. It offends a lot of people and I hate that. I root for all of these guys and I say on my podcast all the time I hope this guy proves me wrong. I hope he shits on me and shows me that I was wrong. It’s certainly not personal. One of the things I pride myself on is studying and immersing myself in the game all of the time.”
Simms became a full-time employee of NBC Sports in 2019, but his first role with the network came in 2017 when he became a studio analyst for Notre Dame Football.
Here’s a kid that grew up in North Jersey where there’s a ton of Notre Dame alumni and he’s standing on the sidelines at South Bend as part of Fighting Irish telecasts.
“Another special entity,” said Simms. “I used to get chills being out on the field every Saturday there. It gave me great experience in a different way with the halftime show and the pre-game show. One of the years I was kind of the third man in the booth but I was on the sideline. It gave me some reps on in-game stuff as well. I think most importantly what that did for me more than anything is that it opened up more eyes at NBC about me.”
And now Simms’ work has him in the discussion for a new potential opportunity down the road.
NBC, alongside FOX and CBS, has secured a seven-year media rights deal with the Big Ten Conference that will commence next season. NBC will air Big Ten Saturday Night, the first time that Big Ten Football will have a dedicated primetime broadcast on a national broadcast network. Peacock will stream an additional eight Big Ten games each season and NBC/Peacock will air the 2026 Big Ten Championship Game.
There have been rumblings that Simms could be involved in the coverage. Is he interested?
“I’m intrigued by it,” admitted Simms. “I’m very all NFL right now but broadcasting game is fun. It’s definitely something on my radar for sure. I do have some producers here in the building that are like ‘I’m going to tell the boss I want you to do some of the Big 10 games this year and what do you think about announcing?’ I’ve already had some people in my ear talking about it. It’s awesome for the company regardless. It just expands our football world. As far as me being involved, we’ll see.”
In a relatively short amount of time, Chris Simms has built up quite the broadcasting portfolio. From FOX to Bleacher Report and CBS to his current expanded role with NBC, Simms has established himself as one of the premier NFL analysts in the business and his podcast has given him the freedom to do something that he loves to do. Including putting his money where his mouth is.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
The Pat McAfee Alternate Broadcast Presents Unique Challenges
Alternate broadcasts are all the rage these days, and ESPN, in conjunction with Omaha Productions, debuted a new one this weekend as The Pat McAfee Show aired an alternate broadcast of the Clemson and North Carolina State game Saturday evening.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that Manningcast copy-cats were destined for failure. And while I don’t believe McAfee’s debut was a failure by any stretch of the imagination, I couldn’t help but notice it brings its own set of challenges.
First and foremost, College Football Primetime with The Pat McAfee Show — the world’s most convoluted way to say “The McAfeecast” — doesn’t really resemble the Manningcast. And rightfully so. I’m not sure there are two more polar opposite sports media brands than the Mannings and McAfee. The Mannings are funny, but not too funny and never “blue”, while often concerned about how finely quaffed their hair looks and whether the button-down shirt color matches with the Nordstrom quarter-zip they’ve donned. Meanwhile, McAfee wears his black tank-top, like usual, and put his best Pittsburgh-ese foot forward.
Even though the Mannings and McAfee are opposites doesn’t mean they can’t work together, however. The alternate broadcast was a win for Manning, a win for McAfee, a win for ESPN, and a win for viewers.
People love Pat McAfee. Plain and simple. For a multitude of reasons that we can get into in a later story, but let’s focus on that for a moment. It was a big portion of my column a few weeks ago. The Manningcast works because people like Peyton and Eli. The KayRodcast doesn’t work because people hate Michael Kay and Alex Rodriguez. It’s honestly, truly, that simple.
I think it benefitted the McAfeecast to debut with a smaller game, which seems counterintuitive because it was a matchup of top ten teams in primetime. But let’s be realistic, a number five versus number ten ACC game doesn’t hold the same weight as a number five versus number ten Big Ten or SEC game. And it helped McAfee and crew, because there are obvious kinks to work out.
Firstly, there are entirely too many people on the screen. I’m going to have nice words to say about BostonConnr than the eight-and-a-half-year-old that went viral earlier this summer, but god love ya, your time to shine likely isn’t on primetime on ESPN. In my opinion, for the McAfeecast to really work in the future, a similar setup to the Manningcast with McAfee and A.J. Hawk being the prominent figures on screen is the best solution to the problem. I know McAfee believes in his boys. It’s one of his more endearing qualities, and is frankly part of the reason his show is so successful. But you’re reaching a different audience on ESPN2 on Saturday nights, and the reason the either tuned in or will stay is because of McAfee’s presence.
I didn’t get a great feel for McAfee’s thoughts or reactions on the game simply because you didn’t get a closeup of his face. The best moments of the Manningcast, outside of Eli flipping the double birds or Peyton saying “I can’t hear shit”, have been when the pair have been absolutely disgusted by a decision made by a coach or player and their face shows it without any words following up their reactions. And McAfee definitely holds that ability, and I wish I would have gotten a better sense of his facial reactions on-screen.
Also, and I know this is something McAfee can’t actually control, he had to be a bit more reserved on cable television. Part of the allure of The Pat McAfee Show is the — let’s call it extreme candor — with which he speaks. I believe that’s the scholarly way to write “he says f*** frequently”. And believe me, I subscribe to the theory that the FCC should allow hosts the ability to say obscenities 15 times per week, so I’m down for McAfee’s swearing. But you’re just simply never going to get that on ESPN2. You’re likely never going to get that if the broadcast aired on ESPN+, either. For a “family friendly” company Disney, those cards are just flat out never going to be on the table for McAfee.
One of the things McAfee is known for is his boundless energy, which felt lacking at times on Saturday, but it’s understandable. The man was on College GameDay earlier in the day, flew back to the studio to do the alternate broadcast after travelling the day before to get to Clemson to be on GameDay. I’m sure that takes a toll. On top of that, you’re doing something new for the first time, while trying to, essentially, heard cats on the screen, and you can be a little wiped out by the end of the night.
However, the goodwill McAfee has bought with fans over his extreme generosity was on display as the alternate broadcast donated more than $100,000 to Dabo Swinney’s charity, The Jimmy V Foundation, and the American Red Cross. It was a brilliant move for a debut broadcast, because it acts as a slight shield for criticism. How can you complain about something that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity?
The alternate broadcast, for the most part, avoided the biggest problem I have with the Manningcast. The interviews. I’ve never been watching Monday Night Football, or the Manningcast for that matter, and thought “Man, I wish they were talking to Tracy Morgan right now!” McAfee brought on Peyton Manning, for obvious reasons, and former NC State quarterback Phillip Rivers. That’s it. They didn’t rely on guests to carry them through down periods. The eight folks on screen did most of the heavy lifting, and for that, I thank them.
The McAfeecast was certainly different than any other alternate broadcast I’ve consumed. The crew shooting hoops for extra donations to charity during stoppages of play definitely kept things light and interesting. I couldn’t help but be invested in whether or not someone would bury three out of five threes during an injury timeout for more money for charity.
Speaking of injury timeouts, McAfee planned a giveaway and told fans to use a certain hashtag and when to screenshot or take a picture of their TV. Immediately following him saying “now!”, an injured player appeared on the screen, and he instantly shouted “No! Not now! No! We don’t want that, and we hope he’s ok”. It was a light-hearted, nearly hilarious moment that brought levity to the situation.
The highlight of the cast, however, was — in true McAfee style — picking up on things other broadcasters wouldn’t, like an angry fan. The entire crew shouting at the same time in this specific moment was spectacular television.
Overall, I thought the McAfeecast got off on the right foot. There is undeniably a market for an alternate broadcast based around the former NFL punter’s personality, and I look forward to seeing where the show goes from here.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio.