Who needs Joe Exotic as a badass when we have Adam Schefter, winning what should be a lifetime award for Best Commentary During a Pandemic by a Media Professional? Not once but twice on ESPN, Schefter lambasted the NFL for continuing its multi-billion-dollar business machine amid the coronavirus “carnage’’ — his word — as if the horror wasn’t real and dead bodies weren’t being placed in parking-lot freezers. Scared, proud and nobody’s corporate puppet, Schefter spoke for many of us appalled by the league’s hubris and audacity during an apocalyptic lockdown.
This might be the end of the world as we know it. But before our collective societal demise, as the death toll soars and cloth masks become life-or-death necessities, Roger Goodell still must conduct his NFL Draft this month.
“The draft is happening only through the sheer force and determination and lack of foresight from the NFL, frankly. They are determined to put this on while there is carnage in the streets!’’ raged Schefter, ESPN’s NFL insider, biting the hand of the league that feeds him information and risking the wrath of the employer that pays him handsomely.
It’s a shame President Trump wasn’t listening. For he, too, has returned to the same delusional rabbit hole, recklessly suggesting sports could resume, with fans in stadiums and arenas, as soon as August. This only creates false and baseless hope for major commissioners — and ailing sports media — that games and events will be played “sooner than later.’’ Just last week, Trump described the coronavirus as “the invisible enemy,’’ referring to the crisis as “the worst thing this country has probably ever seen.’’ Now he’s vacillating again, stating the NFL season should start as scheduled in September when anyone who hazards such guesses is lying.
America is losing lives, its economy, its soul. America is losing America.
Trump is ready for some football, baby, ignoring the massacre and misery. “They want to get back. They’ve got to get back. They can’t do this. Their sports weren’t designed for it,’’ he said of the leagues. “I want fans back in the arenas. I think it’s whenever we’re ready. As soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports.”
Never mind that coronavirus is the devil, a continuing venture into the lethal unknown, and that it’s absurd to think Americans suddenly will cram into mass gatherings and competitive spaces anytime soon. Has Trump considered the infection dangers for athletes and fans — all unclear on who among them has tested positive, who is a silent asymptomatic carrier and whether another strain might arrive in the fall, as health experts have forecast? Has he thought about their families, the risk of transmissions and outbreaks? Trump has planted a seed for desperate leagues and sports media to embrace when, in any sane context, all parties should be assuming sports will be shut down for the long term. For commissioners such as Goodell and sports media companies adrift without live sports and relevance, Trump’s words are catnip — a fleeting tease. The voice of reason is California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said bluntly, “I’m not anticipating that happening in this state.’’ If Newsom shuts down the home buildings of 18 major-league franchises in the state, well, the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS can’t resume play without them.
Trump wants to kickstart a broken economy, but he cannot do so at the expense of human fear and grim optics. This is what Schefter was pointing out, magnificently, about the NFL Draft. If only he’d continued to comment on ESPN, a co-conspirator with the league, for merrily agreeing to air the stink bomb over two networks. And while WWE isn’t a legitimate sport, Vince McMahon was borderline criminal in allowing half-naked humans to engage, slam, pounce and sweat on each other during a spectator-less WrestleMania 36. Fox and Fite TV were enablers, charging $59.99 with millions of Americans out of work.
It wasn’t his intention, but Schefter also was making a sweeping statement about his own wobbling and crumbling industry: This is the absolute worst time in history to be sticking to sports. As if trying to speak leagues and events back into existence when they might not return for a very long time, outlets ranging from TV networks to content verticals to talk radio carry on with the day’s usual sports ledger when THERE ARE NO SPORTS. Are they really pretending the coronavirus is someone else’s problem? Did I just hear ESPN’s Rex Ryan refer to Amari Cooper as “a turd?’’ The blinders-on approach is inappropriate and oblivious to the agony outside this false bubble, and it begs for urgent perspective: Stop retreating and surrendering, get out of the sports sandbox and use an extraordinary moment to showcase intelligence and expertise as journalists, voicing opinions and experiences that resonate among the frightened, isolated millions.
Now insignificant in and of itself, the already volatile world of sports media faces an existential crossroads that, much like America and Planet Earth, will leave things eerily unrecognizable when the devil finally lets us come up for air. I see a business that is lost and tanking, in the vernacular, without games and news to disseminate and dissect. The modus operandi is to hang on for dear life in a safe, nothing-but-sports editorial mode as companies plan layoffs, pay cuts, furloughs while hoping Trump is right. When it turns out he’s wrong, the shutdowns will begin. This is the ultimate price when media companies choose to be dependent on the bigger mechanism — the leagues and franchises with which they climb into bed — instead of maintaining a fiercely independent, versatile business model. When a media firm is strictly beholden to that mechanism, it goes down with the entire sports ship as a niche throwaway when coronavirus decides to swallow the planet.
Let’s hope, and maybe pray, that Schefter and other voices of his higher mindset are giving a dying industry some hits of oxygen — and a reminder of our mission. In times of crisis, we are not “sports media people’’ as much as thoughtful human beings, many skilled and resourceful, who should be seizing the pandemic as a tragic but unique opportunity to elevate as reporters, storytellers and robust commentators. All sports media should be covering this epic story en masse, not stepping back from it and lazily letting news networks handle it while filling airtime and sites with trite, useless, avoid-the-elephant fluff. You’d never know the world has stopped amid the uninterrupted coverage of athletes and teams. The movie and music industries no longer receive such attention, but how about those Chicago Bears, creating a competition between Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles?
And we certainly shouldn’t fantasize that the pandemic isn’t happening, as The Athletic has rationalized with content weakened by too many wishy-washy, denial-shaped offerings: “Greatest Game I Covered’’ … “2020 NBA Draft Big Board 4.0’’ … “What If Johnny Cueto didn’t pull his oblique in the 2012 playoffs?’’ … “Grading Bobby Boucher’s legendary tackling in `The Waterboy.’ ‘’ The site has a terrific enterprise reporter, Joe Vardon, who wrote one definitive piece about sports and the coronavirus. Turn him loose! I wish The Athletic, so impressive in breaking baseball’s sign-stealing scandal, was alone in this real-news bailout that treats readers like Santa Claus-robbed kids while insulting a gifted writing staff that should be encouraged to attack the health catastrophe of our lives. But it pretty much reflects the norm: sports outlets succumbing as mindless toy departments amid a global disaster, thinking they need to distract and divert.
This is no time for Dr. Feelgood or charlatans. This is no fairy tale, as the networks like to posit about sports. This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around. This is the coronavirus. And if you’re running a sports media company, you might want to maximize audiences with raw, relevant and deeply human bandwidth, rather than planting wishful-thinking seeds about the resumption of sports. With stay-at-home orders tethering people to homes like never before, sports media have an opportunity to attract more eyeballs and ears with compelling content. But if advertising revenue continues to crash, this ultimately could be extinction time for sites, talk stations and what’s left of dinosaur newspapers.
Some sports media people, including executives, never leave the sandbox. Schefter, who has authored a book about personal loss, left the sandbox long ago. As ESPN’s lead NFL reporter, he’s a front-facing point man for a company that desperately needs Goodell and the billionaire owners for future survival and has been dedicated to repairing its once-prickly relationship with the league. With Disney Co. preparing a massive bid for a more prominent ABC/ESPN place in the NFL’s broadcast pecking order, ESPN chief Jimmy Pitaro wants nothing to interfere with high-stakes negotiations that evidently will proceed hell or high water in the not-distant future.
Did Schefter sabotage his own company’s dealings with Goodell and the owners? By excoriating the league for moving forward with the draft, did he jeopardize ABC/ESPN’s audience potential for that event? And did he also risk losing some league sources valuable to him in his daily reporting?
That’s why he wins the lifetime award. Internal politics didn’t matter to him when a bigger message had to be sent, and he did so at a network where Pitaro — charged with cleaning up the social mess left by his fired predecessor — has warned on-air talent to stick to sports.
Fallout be damned, Schefter should be applauded as a sophisticated human being who refused to be a house man. Goodell has been guilty of tone-deafness throughout his tenure, but his current business-as-usual stance establishes shameful lows. He lives and works in virus-ravaged New York City. Has he not noticed the dozens of mobile morgues, the emergency rooms desperate for ventilators and masks and beds, a muscular world capital reduced to panic and rampant life-risk? America is gutted — physically, financially, spiritually — and 240,000 could die. Yet the NFL is staging its draft anyway. Assumes Goodell: “The draft can serve a very positive purpose for our clubs, our fans and the country at large.’’ Know what a positive purpose would be? Keep writing checks for coronavirus relief. Many owners have done so, including Bob Kraft, who used the New England Patriots’ plane to transport masks he purchased from China. The NFL, which so far has donated about $40 million to the cause, could add more zeroes and commas — say, $1 billion.
Why am I so fired up about Schefter? Because I’ve devoted much of my life to this profession — as a columnist for 25-plus years, a daily panelist for eight years in the peak period of ESPN’s “Around The Horn,’’ and a radio host and podcaster who has cringed as the business loses some of its edge, gravitas and credibility. On Sept. 10, 2001, I broke a story: Standing outside a gym on Chicago’s west side, Michael Jordan told me and the Associated Press’ Jim Litke that he was returning to basketball with the Washington Wizards. The next morning, TV trucks lined up outside our radio studios, and I answered questions about Jordan. Suddenly, as if I’d passed bad gas, the reporters and camera people vanished. I noticed a TV screen, saw the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan in flames and realized 9/10 and Jordan no longer mattered on 9/11.
Within minutes, it was time to do our national show. I joined Litke and Mike Mulligan, newspeople at heart, in covering the terror as it unfolded over TV screens. We described the scenes, took calls from petrified listeners, explained how this moment would alter our trust in humankind and provided familiar voices for people in need. The next day, we received praise from a media critic for, ahem, refusing to stick to sports. But not before our program director, Mark Gentzkow, won a fierce hallway argument with an advertising boss who wanted to send us home and flip to network news programming.
I’m the one who stuck around the Bay Area after the 1989 earthquake, a kid columnist who remained for days with like-minded colleagues. While many sportswriters flew home after the World Series was postponed, I covered a massive tragedy because I wanted to be more than “a sportswriter.’’ I’m the one who gave a wad of cash to a worker at an all-night Atlanta gas station so three of us had space to write in the wee hours, near Centennial Olympic Park, where a deadly bomb had exploded minutes earlier.
I’m the one who handed back a million dollars, guaranteed, to a Chicago newspaper that refused to overhaul an abysmal digital site. I’m the one who appeared 10 years ago on the HBO show, “Real Sports,’’ and said newspapers would collapse if they didn’t shift away from newsprint and embrace tech. Was I wrong?
So I’m the one who wants to run to the beach, violate California social-distancing rules and shout in celebration when Schefter raises hell. Or when Jerry Brewer of the Washington Post marvels at how stadiums have become medical facilities. Or when Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN’s college football analyst, says he’d be “shocked’’ if football was played this fall without a vaccine that, in in the best case, might be 18 months from development, approval, distribution and politicization — drawing the ire of clueless college coaches and athletic directors. Or when the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke spends a lost Opening Day at desolate Dodger Stadium and details why life suddenly can be rendered empty and joyless. Or when the Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Robinson probes the Milan soccer match that escalated Italy’s virus spread. Or when a San Francisco program director raves about the worldly tone of radio hosts who have ditched fun and games.
The good, smart stuff is out there. You just have to look hard for it, too hard.
Sports has been rendered frivolous, yes. That doesn’t mean sports media has to be frivolous. We only live once, and if we’re all dying tomorrow, I’d prefer not to catch up on Johnny Cueto’s oblique pull. Might someone opine on why the pariah-turned-TV-prince, Alex Rodriguez, was caught leaving a closed gym with Jennifer Lopez amid Florida’s stay-at-home order? Once a cheater, always a cheater?
Have at it, Ken Rosenthal. Dare ya.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ is the host of “Unmuted,’’ a frequent podcast about sports and life (Apple, Podbean, etc.). He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio host. As a Los Angeles resident, he gravitated by osmosis to movie projects. He appears Wednesday nights on The Dino Costa Show, a segment billed as “The Rawest Hour in Sports Broadcasting.’’
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
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.