Kirk Herbstreit is a man that needs no introduction amongst college football fans. We watch him for hours every Saturday morning in the lead up to games finally kicking off at noon. We’ve been watching him for hours for nearly 25 years now!
I spoke with Kirk on Tuesday afternoon. He is currently making the rounds promoting the new book he co-wrote with College GameDay colleague Gene Wojciechowski. It’s titled Out of the Pocket and it serves as Kirk’s autobiography.
While the book contains plenty of stories of his time with ESPN, Kirk also gets very personal. He covers a relationship with his father that was always cordial but never ideal, the constant worry of being “good enough” in the eyes of his sons, and the confusion of coming out of college not knowing what he wanted his next step to be.
Herbstreit graduated from Ohio State with a degree in business. He was the starting quarterback for a single season and didn’t have any NFL options when that season ended. If his future was going to be in football, Kirk would have bet it would have been as a coach.
That’s not to say he was pursuing coaching opportunities. Kirk didn’t really know what he wanted to do. He applied for several suit-and-tie kind of jobs and had options in the business world. But he had also sent some letters to local AM radio stations in Columbus asking if they might be interested in a former Buckeye quarterback joining their sports department.
After waiting for a couple of months, Kirk heard back from one of those stations. It was about to flip to sports and there was a spot for Kirk Herbstreit in afternoon drive. It came with a fat $12,000 per year paycheck, a far cry from the financial stability promised to business majors in the 1990s.
“I just thought it sounded like a fun job, talking about sports on the radio,” Kirk told me. “And so I ended up following my heart and took the radio gig and passed on the business opportunities. And that’s kind of how I got my foot in the door back in August of 1993.”
It didn’t take long for Herbstreit to rise in the industry. 1993 was only three years before he would end up at ESPN. You can imagine what a shock to the system it can be going from AM radio in a mid market to ESPN. Just think about the vast difference in resources he was exposed to!
Kirk told me that he was used to working with headphones that shorted out in the middle of segments on local radio. He constantly had to look at his producer for assurance that he was still on the air. He made calls to book guests. He plotted out segments himself. He did everything you do in radio. Imagine what a breeze TV must have felt like when he got to Bristol and saw all of the support at his disposal.
“It’s like ‘this A2 is helping me with my IFB’ or ‘why is this person helping me put my mic on?’ you know? I was just so used to doing everything myself. So it was a great training ground. When I look back at it, (radio) did eventually prove to help me so much in my job a came day and eventually calling games on ESPN and ABC.”
Since joining ESPN, Herbstreit notes that it has been his privilege to call Lee Corso his friend. The former coach and quarterback have shared the set the entire time Herbstreit has been at ESPN. He says Corso has become a second father to him.
“I’ve talked to him about stuff I haven’t talked to very many other people about. And when you when you open up like that consistently and a guy takes interest in you, you know, you tend to just get closer.”
Corso will be back on the road after spending all of the 2020 season at home. Herbstreit says that his friend is fully vaccinated and ready to be back at the dais with the people he knows and loves.
I asked Kirk what comes along with their relationship. Corso suffered a stroke 12 years ago and it is clear that he is a step slower now. Herbstreit says that cognitively, Corso is still as quick as ever. He just needs a little more help than he used to.
So what does that “special bond” he says he has with Lee Corso mean? I asked Kirk if he felt like his obligations to his friend have changed in recent years. Does he need to be close both on camera and off?
“I would never look at that as an obligation,” he says. “That wasn’t something I had to do. It’s something I get to do. I take a lot of pride in trying to be a good friend, that’s all. More than anything, I just want to be a good friend to him and help him when he needs me there. And I try not to do it too much, but I want to be there when when I can.”
Our conversation lasted a good 25 minutes. You can hear it in its entirety on this week’s Media Noise podcast. We spent a good deal of that time talking about Kirk’s relationship with social media and how it has evolved.
In 2021, Kirk Herbstreit accepts that he will never please everyone. His opinions are divisive just by virtue of him being one of the faces of the sport. He can deal with that.
Back in 2011 though, social media was relatively new. Fans of all sorts could come at Kirk from every angle. It wasn’t something he was used to. It wasn’t something anyone was used to.
In Columbus, where Kirk had put on the scarlet and gray, a vocal minority were making things uncomfortable. They couldn’t accept that being part of ESPN meant that Kirk had to be honest. He couldn’t blow smoke up the butts of a football team that had just had to fire a national championship winning coach and was staring down the barrel of probation.
He left Columbus, resettling in Nashville with his wife and four sons.
“I had a young family. I just didn’t feel like it was a great environment for them to be around. Yeah. Now, after after ten years of kind of like this has become the norm, you know, hearing from the cynical people, you know, you’re almost kind of callous to it. So if I were going through that today, I don’t know if it would really bother me in the same way it did when it first started to happen.”
There is plenty more to this conversation. Kirk Herbstreit shares stories about texts he exchanges with Charles Barkley, the College GameDay segment that brought him to tears and how he and his parents all ended up under the same roof years after they divorced. Be sure and catch the new episode of Media Noise when it goes up this Friday.
Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC
“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”
NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade. A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well. However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).
NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season. NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.
NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.
Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.
Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.
If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.
“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”
Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.
Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm.
“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”
While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.
Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock.
Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week.
My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic. When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV. Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams. After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England. They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.
I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.
I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters.
By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.
Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.
This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.
Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.” NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.
Media Noise – Episode 45
Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.
6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio
“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”
For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.
Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?
Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?
Well, let’s go Digging for Gold.
The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.
Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.
If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way? I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:
- Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
- Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
- Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
- Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
- FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $
- Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months
The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details.
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