Chris Wittyngham has always known the thoroughfare he wanted to travel was in sports media. While playing Madden as a kid, he recalled he would often listen to the announcers and think, “this is something I can do.” Like many in the field, he knew his destiny would not be providing the winning score, rather it would be painting the complexion of the score into the ears of his listeners.
Never lacking in eccentricity, Wittyngham has elicited Twitter reply firestorms for some of his revelations on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, of which he serves as a producer. For instance, rather than use the alarm on his phone or albeit-antiquated clock radio, “Witty” — as he is known on the show – uses the timer on his oven. He also drew shock and awe – and a slew of invitations – when he said if he is invited to a wedding, and if he is available to go, he will attend no matter what. Even his father was caught by surprise when his son told the crew he had never eaten a Snickers bar before, much to the chagrin of a football-playing Betty White, too, I’m certain.
Don’t let unorthodox quirks take away from his bona fides, however. Witty attended the prestigious University of Miami where he earned a degree in broadcast journalism. While many fresh-out-of-school journalists cut their teeth in small towns, banana republics, or blog spots, Wittyngham began his career as a host with 790 The Ticket in his hometown of Miami. His ascent in journalism looks less like the parable of the ever-patient tortoise, and more like The Price is Right yodeler, often leading Le Batard to refer to him as a “prodigy.”
Wittyngham has made a name for himself in sports radio, sure, but he doubles his workload in the soccer arena. He’s called matches for DAZN, beIN Media Group and TUDN. He currently calls Inter Miami CF matches, drawing praise last weekend for his call with the legendary Ray Hudson.
A consummate fan of soccer around the world, Wittyngham said he got into the beautiful game by watching wrap-up shows from Europe. Despite Stugotz’s myopic views on soccer taking hold in the U.S., Wittyngham is optimistic and offered his advice to Americans looking to brush up on the world’s most popular sport.
“I watched The Premier League Review Show and they would wrap the games and storylines and I would watch that show to pick up the jargon and who the best players and managers were,” he said. “MLS will grow and a lot of cities will have soccer teams. Go watch them, but if you’re going to follow the global and international game, start in one place. For me, it was England and the Premier League.”
His path in sports radio and soccer were seemingly clear, but it was a detour to the side that has further enhanced the young broadcaster’s visibility. Wittyngham co-hosted the popular Chelsea Mike’d Up podcast with Mike Ryan, executive producer for The Le Batard Show. The two are close due to their doting passions for soccer and their lifelong home of South Florida. When Le Batard, Stugotz, and “The Shipping Container” famously pulled their pirate ship’s anchor from ESPN, Ryan asked for Wittyngham’s assistance.
The show was as or more popular than any sports radio show in the United States. Listeners have long-gravitated toward the show for its vulnerability, humor, honesty, and its role as a sort of “anti-sports sports radio show.” Funding was not going to be a problem due to the loyal audience that would follow the crew no matter what but leaving the Worldwide Leader posed some logistical challenges by way of hosting platforms and getting the content to its ever-eager audience.
“It was announced they were going to leave, and around that time Mike reached out to me because of our experience with Chelsea,” Wittyngham said. “I have experience with podcast hosting and how to get the platform up while sustaining the bandwidth. Mike knew I had that experience, so I did the research and found our hosting service. It’s funny when you’re in that role, how many areas of the business it affects.”
Joining the show by way of his credibility and connections with members of the bustling enterprise at Meadowlark Media was easy. But what is it like to assimilate into the show whose listeners view the crew as part of not only their routine, but part of their extended family as well? After all, there is the “Stugotz Army,” the “Cote Calvary” for Chris Cote, and “Guillermo Mafia” for Billy Gil, among others. How has it been finding his place among the established members of the Shipping Container to endear himself to an impassioned fanbase?
“My experience has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “I find it enjoyable, interesting, intriguing that people enjoy the quirky things I bring up on the show. I have a healthy relationship with my Twitter replies to not take anything personally good or bad.
“It’s been different in one way to have scrutiny but to have a group of people immensely passionate about the work you’re doing. I was always careful that my role did not step on the show for what it is, a group singing from the same hymn sheet making music. Dan has been immensely encouraging, telling me ‘don’t feel like you’re doing too much or doing too little,’ making me feel comfortable. The way my intro was framed was helpful as well. They framed it around me being obnoxious and pompous of being a ‘fancy lad.’ From every standpoint, it’s been fun for me. It’s been incredibly fun.”
The “fancy lad” moniker” stems from Wittyngham’s proclivity to pull from his deep lexicon or to provide historical context for one of the topics de jour. Fans of the show from the ESPN days may remember the jingle that played each time Pablo Torre would say something bordering on the line of playfully pompous. The “Fancy Lad” soundbite that rings out, “Chris Wittyngham is a fancy lad,” comes from the same tree, leading to shirts and memes galore. At times, he will even get a catcall or two with the nickname, but it does not bother Witty in the slightest.
“I was walking around Lake Tahoe at the American Century Championship and people were shouting ‘fancy lad’ at me. My co-workers at Inter Miami jeer me with ‘fancy lad.’ It’s inescapable. It’s such a total joy and delight that anything got slapped on me in terms of identity. It’s with complete and utter bewilderment that I appreciate every second of it.”
Calling soccer games and serving as a producer for one of the largest independent entities in sports media is two full-time jobs. Wittyngham is a self-proclaimed workaholic but was clear that he feels lucky because loves the work he does. He cited Rich Eisen and Dan Patrick as those who work full-time in radio, but also have the ability to work on other passions outside of their studios. Le Batard has also made sure Wittyngham never feels overworked.
“It’s ultimately about my capacity and Dan made it clear to me that it’s a fully open door for whether I want to wind it down or wind it up,” he said. “He’s been great to me, everyone at the show has been great to me, to make of this what I will.”
That show famously has a variety of inside jokes with the show continuously playing the sound of disingenuous-handshake titan Papi Le Batard saying, “you don’t get the show” for those who miss the joke. Wittyngham enjoys the free-flowing nature of the show that to be clear takes a mountain of prep, but also doesn’t become a servant to A- and B-blocks.
Everything at the show and the company is not about comedy. Le Batard famously describes giving the audience cotton candy – the jokes – but that it also needs its medicine, which comes in the form of social commentary. Be it discussions about the political and human rights climate in Cuba, former President Donald Trump’s impact on American psyches, or the Black Lives Matter movement, the show is never afraid to touch on what can be polarizing societal conversations.
“People who are any kind of socially conscious are going to want those kinds of viewpoints at some point,” Wittyngham said. “I talk with people in radio all the time, and they say ‘people don’t care what I have to say (about politics).’ I always encourage people to express what they want to express, and Dan is so brilliant at it. Billy is demure about it sometimes, but was incredible on Cuba. In this political climate, it’s hard not to do it in a non-attacking way.
“I would be more than willing to present my viewpoint. I do understand why things are politicized. I think everything is politics because everything has the ability to affect a vote or be subject to a poll. I think you have your own thoughts as a human and can express them if you so wish.”
The show has carved an interesting niche for itself in a world of “takes” and debates. While many shows revel in discussing Tom Brady’s legacy, Lebron James’ clutch gene, and who is the most impactful middle reliever left on the market that can change the complexion of the AL Central race, The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz leans more toward Le Batard’s list of favorite colors, what foods are in Gil’s desk, and what type of neighbor Urban Meyer resembles.
Despite the immense success of Le Batard and Co., Wittyngham acknowledged that a lot of the ratings success in today’s sports media is still in the mainstream debate shows and that even he can appreciate a well-crafted radio monologue. So given his relationship with the show as a young fan turned seasoned employee, where does that leave the popular radio producer, soccer play-by-play man, and all-around fancy lad as his career in sports moves forward? In the detours, of course.
“I’m so honored that I’m even involved in any way, that I don’t have a goal in the environment. When I arrived, I wanted to make things better and arrived with an initial task. To take a lift off someone’s plate is a huge win. Within the show, I’m not particularly ambitious of ‘I want to do this or that.’ There are lots of opportunities within the show and company that will arise, and if I play a part in them, that’s awesome. I started on the show as an intern and came back a decade later to work on it. It’s incredibly odd and incredibly cool.
“Where do my ambitions lie within my play-by-play career? Soccer for me is the destination. Growing, getting better, improving, and maximizing the opportunities you’re given. Doing good work and being a good coworker. It sounds trite but I want to grow in the industry, but I don’t want to have ‘X’ job by ‘X’ time. I want to enjoy the path I’m on and the detours. You can find the joy in the detours and ultimately it’s about doing the best work you possibly can.”
Michael Quirk is a news writer for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he is a co-host of the Spgahetti Junction Boys and a contributor to 5 Reasons Sports in Miami. His prior experiences include writing for 247Sports, Bleacher Report, FanSided, and The Key West Citizen. To connect, find him on Twitter @SJBMichael.
The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.
This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.
Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.
This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.
The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.
Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.
NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.
Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.
Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.
Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.
A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.
It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay.
MLB Network is another option
If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.
- One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
- CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
- The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.
The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.
First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.
Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.
Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.
It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do.
Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.
Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?
I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?
That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.
After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else.
There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.
Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.
Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.
Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.
I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.
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.