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Matt Barrie Used Small Towns To Cover Big Stories

“If I say one thing on Saturday during College Football Final with Jesse Palmer and Joey Galloway, I’ll wake up to hate texts from one fan base. That passion is the beauty of it.”

Tyler McComas

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There isn’t a major college football conference Matt Barrie isn’t familiar with. From growing up in the Phoenix area and attending Arizona State in the Pac 12, to covering the Big 12 at a small TV station in Oklahoma, the SEC and ACC in South Carolina and the Big 10 in Wisconsin, Barrie has worked and seen college football from just about every corner of the country. Though most people would label Lawton, Oklahoma, Columbia, S.C and Wausau, Wisconsin, as less than desirable markets, they’re what paved Barrie to be hosting SportsCenter and being at the center of ESPN’s college football coverage.

Matt Barrie Expected to Replace Adnan Virk on ESPN College Football Coverage

What’s most impressive about Barrie is the versatility he’s shown over his career. It’s really hard to be great at three different sides of sports media, but Barrie’s natural ability has made it happen at a young age. On the TV side, he’s collected 11 Emmy awards, a true testament to his skills and journalistic integrity over the years. While doing a radio show in Columbia, the Matt and Tim Show on 1400 AM The Team was the highest rated in the market. Now, in the podcast space, the Matty and The Caddie podcast with ESPN is one of the more fun and entertaining golf podcasts you’ll be able to find.

By now, it’s become evident there’s nothing in sports media Barrie can’t do.

Tyler McComas: Seeing as college football coverage is your main gig with ESPN, how do you feel about all the news surrounding the sport?

Matt Barrie: Yeah it’s sad to see what’s going on here on August 10th. We’re close to what would be training camp and week zero for actual games. It’s been a difficult year for just life, outside of sports. Eventually you knew after March Madness was canceled, you hoped there was enough time between then and now to get something figured out for college football.

We still don’t know what’s going to happen. It certainly isn’t trending in the right direction but I know how much that sport means to the players and I know how much it means to the small college towns that rely on football season as their economic engine. I don’t want what I think is about to
happen, to happen, because there’s going to be a ripple effect throughout the country and throughout these campuses and it’s going to be a sad day if we do lose a fall football season.

TM: Seeing as you’re with a major network, what’s your strategy for talking about college football on Twitter?

MB: What I’ve learned is that it’s a blessing and a curse of college football. I say that because it is the most passionate fan base you can come into. That’s the beauty of it. If I say one thing on Saturday during College Football Final with Jesse Palmer and Joey Galloway, I’ll wake up to hate texts from one fan base. That passion is the beauty of it.

I’ve been vocal the past couple of days about how canceling the college football season would impact these towns and there’s a group of people out there that are calling for the safety of the players, which is of the utmost importance, but the same crew is saying we should play a spring season. That’s just not feasible. If you’re a safety person, if you punt on 2020, don’t play football until 2021. It seems to me, that you can’t win or you can’t lose, sometimes, if you want to enter the fray, do it, and sometimes I’ll just sit and watch it all develop around me. If you’re going to enter the college football Twittersphere, understand that it can be a pretty feisty place.

TM: You started off in so many small markets so how did that pave the way to a job at ESPN?

MB: When I talk to colleges and speak to journalism students I tell them over and over again to go to local television. Experience local television. I love local television. It really gives you a good foundation for your career. Being in Lawton Oklahoma, some people will look and say, wow, how and why did you do Lawton? Well, I wanted to get a small market TV job to cover big-time college football. In the years that I was there, Jason White won the Heisman Trophy and the following year Adrian Peterson showed up at Oklahoma. I was at all their games on Saturday at home, we would travel to the Big 12 Championship and the BCS National Championship games against LSU and USC. It was such an invaluable experience to be near a program that Bob Stoops had built, and oh, by the way, Les Miles was at Oklahoma State. I got great, big-time college football experience in a small market.

A lot of times, that’s the only way you’re going to get that, is if you’re in a small market in local TV. By the time I was able to move on with my career, from there, I went to Columbia, South Carolina, which is the home to the University of South Carolina, right when Steve Spurrier got the job. So I’m coming off Bob Stoops and seeing back-to-back National Championship game appearances and then I’m going right to the foundation of Steve Spurrier at South Carolina.

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You get to touch all these programs and local TV, so by the time you get to a place like ESPN, you’ve covered big-time college football. From a media setting I covered just about every conference by the time I got to ESPN. The Big 10 in Wisconsin, the Big 12 in Oklahoma, the SEC in South Carolina, then I was in Dallas and watched TCU and Gary Patterson turn into a power in the Mountain West, so by the time I got to ESPN, with my roots to the PAC 12, there really hadn’t been a conference that I hadn’t touched. When I was at South Carolina, Tommy Bowden was at Clemson. So much college football early in my career helped pave the way for what I’m doing right now.

TM: How did you get your break?

MB: Well in our career, and I’m sure you’re familiar with it, but you have an agent. I had an opportunity back in 2011 to audition for the Longhorn Network when I was in Dallas. I was at the NBC network there. I had the opportunity to come up to Bristol and audition and it went really
well. They ended up making some moves in and around the network to where, ultimately, the Longhorn Network job was filled by someone internally, which opened up a job in Bristol. I ended up getting a job offer in Bristol but my station didn’t allow me out of my contract in 2011 to take the job.

Ultimately, after accepting the job, I had to tell ESPN no because my local television station in Dallas wouldn’t let me out of my contract. I had to sit patiently and hope that in a couple years after my contract was up, ESPN would still be interested. I was fortunate enough that, a year and a half later, at the end of 2012, after the Dallas Cowboys season, to where my audition from a couple of years earlier held enough in their minds to still offer me a job. I started here at ESPN in the beginning of 2013.

TM: You not only had a radio show in Columbia but it was a really successful one. How much would you like to get back to radio some day?

MB: I miss radio every day. I love TV and that’s obviously my chosen career, but back when I was doing that radio show with Tim Hill, who’s still a good friend of mine, we had a lot of fun and the thing that I loved about radio is that a gave you the freedom and space to dissect topics with anything you wanted. TV is a very structured medium and radio, for lack of a better term, you can just let your hair down and have fun. Some of Tim and mine‘s best shows were in the middle of the summer when there was nothing going on. You kind of have your best conversations when there’s nothing going on and I miss that.

I love radio and it was a great time in my life and I’ll never forget everything that we accomplished with that radio show. Sometimes, I’ll just look back and laugh, like, what did we do five days a week for three hours? I would love to, at some point, whatever my path takes me at ESPN, to hopefully get back in radio at some point.

TM: You were able to host the Spelling Bee on ESPN a couple of years ago. Does doing that give you the confidence, like, man, if I can do this I can do anything?

MB: I did it for two years, we obviously didn’t have it this year because of COVID, But it is probably my most favorite event that I’ve done at ESPN that doesn’t include the College Football Playoff or The Masters or some of the other major golf championships. It’s so unique and it’s so fun.

I look at it like this, you go in and it’s a sports network but everyone within the walls of that network has their favorite sports, right? You go to ESPN to do SportsCenter but you major in a couple of sports. I’d like to think my major at ESPN is college football and golf. Those are the two sports that I really hone in on. But the spelling bee was just fun. Being around those kids and their passion for spelling was just fun. All the little quirks of being that age, being on stage, they don’t care that there’s cameras up there, they’re just there to spell the word. The first time I was a little bit nervous, because I didn’t want to take away from one of my favorite things to watch on TV. Once you get into the broadcast, you can’t help but just have fun. You end up laughing, you end up being amazed, I know in 2019 we had the eight winners, which was one of the great moments in spelling bee history. I’ve said it to anybody that will listen, the spelling bee, to this day, has been one of my greater achievements in terms of things I’ve been able to host.

TM: What do you think about Elle Duncan?

MB: Elle is someone that I’ve been with now coming up on four years. When we used to do the morning show, we would have to be at the network, she’d get there around 4 AM and I would get there around 4:15 AM and I just wasn’t awake yet. Those aren’t normal hours.

The one thing that I love about her is her energy. I have a lot of energy when I’m on camera, and even in general, I’m just kind of a happy go lucky person. But at 3:30 AM she was already bouncing off the walls and it made it easier for the show group and everyone to just get into the flow of the show, because she was always up and ready to go. That kind of energy is contagious.

SportsCenter (1979)

Having someone like her around, and having me, which, people that really know me well laugh at me being the mellow one, having someone like that around with the energy and the ability to just make you laugh with some of the things she says, it’s just good to be around, because you want to work with people that have a contagious passion for the job. She certainly is one of those.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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