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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.
Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
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.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.