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Shan Shariff Is Learning To Lighten Up

“You can be really talented, you can be really funny, but you’ve got to pick the right topics to talk about.”

Brian Noe

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Shan Shariff has been in attack mode since day one. Before the sports radio host landed in Dallas morning drive 11 years ago, he wanted to be a play-by-play broadcaster. Shariff scalped a ticket with a friend to go see the Spurs and Nets in the 2003 NBA Finals. He used a tape recorder to record himself doing play-by-play of the game. Shariff used the dubbed audio underneath the game footage as his resume tape, which helped him land a job doing color commentating for the CBA’s Rockford Lightning.

From there the American University grad became the sports director at an ESPN affiliate in his hometown. Shariff is from Cambridge, a town along the eastern shore of Maryland. While hosting his own sports radio show, he also interned in Baltimore and later in D.C. All of that hard work helped Shariff land a gig in Kansas City. A successful stint in KC eventually led to a major market opportunity in Dallas.

How many people do you know that would go to an NBA Finals game and record themselves doing play-by-play? How many people do you know that would intern at bigger stations while also being employed as a sports director? The guy is a bulldog.

The interesting twist with Shariff is that although he’s hardwired to be dead serious about sports radio, he’s learned to loosen up and have fun on the air. We also chat about the best and worst parts of hosting in Dallas, butting heads with Ed Werder, and the only rule Jerry Jones has while granting interviews. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: What’s one of the more off-the-wall things you did early in your career to try to get established?

Shan Shariff: I flew out to Bristol to take a tour of ESPN with my mom. My whole plan the entire time was, I’m going to sneak into Bruce Gilbert’s office who was running the radio and hired Colin Cowherd and was in charge of Mike and Mike. I’m like I’m going to slide in here and impress him and sit down and be like I’m your next hire. Because at 20 you think you can do any effing thing in the entire world. You think you’re ready.

I snuck past security in Bristol on the tour, snuck into the office and Bruce Gilbert had just taken the job at 980 in D.C. for Dan Snyder. I’m like dammit. Scott Masteller I believe was the one who had taken his spot. I gave him the whole pitch like I’m here, this is fate, I’m sitting right in front of you, I’m sure no one else in the world has ever thought of this, this creativity. Because you’re supposed to do that with your cover letters and your resume tapes. I’m showing up here. I’m your next hire here in Bristol. And Scott did not hire me. [Laughs] It took a little while longer than I had hoped, but that was part of my grand plan in order to sneak in to ESPN Radio to get hired.

BN: Looking back at your career, what’s something that you should’ve done differently?

SS: It was probably a major mistake early in my radio career in Dallas when I was just trying to be myself, and be honest, and genuine. I let it be known that I was a Washington fan. I sang “Hail To The Redskins” to Jerry Jones after RGIII’s debut. There are listeners who never forgot that, never forgave that. That was a really dumb PR move.

I found at least for me getting older, my die-hard love of my sports teams kind of went away and Dan Snyder in D.C. really made that easier. I left rooting for Washington a long time ago and I root for Cowboys success because it’s better for us and the radio station.

I’m also kind of viewed as the more serious one on the show. Let’s get to the topics. I took broadcasting classes and had an agent and paid for the broadcasting seminars. I really wanted to be a student of it in terms of interviews and resetting and getting to the point of the topic and keeping it on the path. I was probably a little bit too serious with that where my producer and my co-host had been in DFW forever and there’s a lot more light-hearted radio here.

I’m used to D.C. and Baltimore and even when I was in Kansas City for a year. It’s like hey man, it’s a sports show. I would say I’m not going to apologize for talking about sports but that was probably a mistake. It took me too long to lighten up and joke around and get more personal every single day for four and a half hours.

BN: What are the best and worst things about hosting a show in Dallas?

SS: I think it has to fit your sports loves. I’m football first and NFL first. In Dallas, it’s Cowboys obviously. If you’re going to rank it: it’s Cowboys, Cowboys, NFL, then college football, and now it’s kind of morphed over to the Rangers, then the Mavericks, then the Stars. I’m not the biggest hockey fan, so that fits me in the pecking order. I love that I can talk as much football as I want, as much Cowboys as I want.

I know it sounds corny and cheesy but being on the Dallas Cowboys flagship and hosting a morning show and hosting the draft for them on the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network, that’s a big honor for me. I used to think I want a national show, I want to be on FOX Sports Radio or I want to be on ESPN and then you look up every Tuesday afternoon and your name is on ESPN anyway because Jerry Jones puts you there. You are national basically if you are on the Dallas Cowboys station. Getting the head coach access every single week. Getting Jerry, that would probably be the best part.

Bruce Gilbert took a major chance on me because of the success I had in Kansas City and probably because I stalked him and let him know I could make it work and adjust no matter what. These people in Dallas, for the most part, have accepted me and overlooked the early Washington root for them days and my more brash, aggressive, non-laid-back style. I would say those are the best things about hosting in DFW.

In terms of the worst, I mean early on for me it was a struggle thinking that me talking about my laundry machine blowing up could be half a segment, or a full segment. Troy Aikman called this a winner’s town so it can be tough if you’re not on fire, then you’re running out of some sports topics. The Rangers and Mavericks right now are playing on Bally Sports Network. Bally has had their issues throughout the country in terms of broadcasting their games. We’ve got like 50 percent of the freakin’ metroplex that can’t watch the games. It makes it hard, right?

First off the Rangers have sucked, so you’re talking about a sorry baseball team in a bandwagon town who likes winners. I like to call it LA Light where you have to have something going on. You have to give me a reason. You got things to do here. You’ve got people to see. It’s not Ohio. It’s not Pittsburgh where it’s going to be more diehard sports. You got to give me a reason to watch.

The Rangers haven’t done it. Fifty percent of the people can’t watch the Rangers. Same thing with the Mavericks. Then as I said the Stars, this isn’t a major hockey area so that can be a real challenge around here, which is why we need the Cowboys to give us some non-stop drama all the time, which they do.

BN: I know it depends on the town, but what would your advice be to a sports radio host who’s been drilled: don’t waste time, get to the topic, tease, all that stuff, but sometimes digressing and talking about your weekend badminton game is great. How would you go about telling someone how to feel that out?

SS: Well that’s a great question. Like you prefaced it, I think it matters on the town. If I was going to come here and start over from day one in Dallas, I would say let’s make it 75-25 sports to other. Some might say 70-30. The Ticket might go even heavier than that on the opposite side. I don’t know how it is in Boston. I don’t know how it is in New York.

I heard Mike Francesa the other day say we talk sports, we’re a sports show. But people want to connect. The thing I tell younger broadcasters is obviously work hard, be on top of your shit, and you’ve got to connect with likability and relatability.

If you have a 10-minute segment and you can do a seven-minute sports topic and throw in a great, worthy, three-minute off-topic from sports addition to that segment, then go ahead and do that. That would kind of be a 70-30 mix, 75-25. But learn the market and know the town. One of the guys on the station when I first moved here said here’s a Dallas Cowboy history book. You better know who Tom Landry is, you better know Bob Lilly, you better know Harvey Martin, you better know Drew Pearson because you make one mistake like that around here and you could be screwed. 

Learn the town, ask your boss, and you also have to be funny if you’re going to do that. Know what you’re talented in. If you’re a tremendous storyteller, tell more stories. If your life is chaotic and hectic and you’re willing to open up with it about your dating life or about how wasted you get on the weekends, go ahead and do that, but I would ask your boss the formula and what type of town it is.

BN: Do you ever have a plan with the non-sports stuff where you’re like okay, I could go with falling down while bowling this weekend, or I could talk about the stale sandwich I ate at Subway. What’s your process for picking topics that you think will connect best?

SS: A lot of this in my opinion, it’s about judgment. You can be really talented, you can be really funny, but you’ve got to pick the right topics to talk about. You have to know when to go back to the topic. That’s part of the training in terms of play the hits.

What’s your TSL? How often are people tuning in? How often are people tuning out? Then you’ve got to judge if this is a funny enough story. My co-host, RJ, thinks every effing thing he does is funny. He could sit there talking about blowing his nose and that should be half a segment. Well, what’s relatable? What can connect that everyone’s going to talk about? 

Daylight saving was a perfect example. Last week we were complaining about how it sucked that all of a sudden the clock changes. I’ve got a two-year-old. I’ve got to readjust his schedule. It’s awful. Then bam, the political world is talking about passing a Daylight Saving Time change and what’s going to happen with that. We brought it back up again. Everybody can relate to it. I can sit here and talk about how my life is different because of my kid, how all of a sudden dinner time is here, I’ve got to go to sleep it feels like a lot earlier. That’s an example of deciding when something is kind of relatable that everyone can identify with and you can tell your own personal story.

BN: When you’re interviewing Jerry Jones, are there any do’s and don’ts?

SS: Well, we obviously have a relationship with the Cowboys. We’re their flagship. The only rule there’s ever been there with Jerry is don’t get personal. Don’t make it personal. I’m not going to make jokes or comments about Jerry’s looks. It took 10 years for people to finally understand this, we have freedom with the Cowboys to talk about them and sensitive topics that other cities and other teams don’t grant their media, I don’t believe.

Jerry Jones had this story come out a couple of weeks ago about his PR guy that we all worked with for a decade, many people longer, in a voyeurism scandal. Allegedly taking photos of cheerleaders and up the dress of his own daughter. We never got one message about that.

Now, if we stepped over the line and made a joke or said something that you and your buddies may laugh at behind the scenes, maybe we’d get a phone call on that and I think we should. There is a line there. Jerry may have a daughter out there; that just came out. Never got a phone call. Never got a warning because Jerry Jones knows that 99 percent of the time all publicity is good publicity. There’s no such thing as bad publicity. That’s the only rule that there’s ever been with Jerry, don’t make it personal.

One time we got a phone call from Dalrymple the PR guy. After Jerry was on we were doing a follow-up recap and we said do you think he was lying? Was that a lie? Calling him a liar in that instance came across a little bit too personal. They weren’t thrilled about that but other than that, man, I can’t tell you other instances.

If we talk about sensitive issues like Kaepernick, the anthem, COVID, Jerry will let us usually have like a three-week span where we can ask whatever we want. Maybe the suggestion might be like hey, if there’s not another major development in this story, can you ask him about the Salvation Army or other work that he’s doing? Those are the only things that I can remember.

He knows the tough questions are coming. We have to ask the tough questions and I think people now realize that we’re no mouthpiece for the Cowboys because Jerry Jones allows us to say what we want.

BN: You locked horns with Ed Werder recently. What was the general reaction to that?  

SS: General reaction was I would say 98 percent support from our listeners. I like to fight, debate, argue, it’s part of the reason I went into this. Ed had been taking some subtle shots throughout the year about our access to Jerry and other media members not having the same access because Jerry wasn’t talking as much to reporters after games because of COVID. It wasn’t even my show, it was the show after me. I was listening to the interview.

I’ll be the first one to call myself out, our guys out, but if you question the questions that are being asked and act like we’re lobbing up softballs because of the relationship, I take issue with that. That’s why I got really pissed off at Ed.

I didn’t say anything the first few times he did it throughout the year because this is Ed Werder. I grew up watching Ed Werder. He’s been a Cowboy authority. I respect his work and his reports, but man, there’s only so many times I can let you go after the guys that I work with, man. Then we got to get into it. I got a ton of support from the listeners on that, thankfully.

BN: The Ticket recently won a Marconi for Sports Station of the Year and The Musers won a Marconi for Major Market Personality of the Year. What’s it like to go up against that station and a popular morning show when you’re in the same slot?

SS: Well it’s not fun. [Laughs] I was in Kansas City going up against WHB 810. We were the upstart 610. It was me and Nick Wright, Bob Fescoe, my buddy Mark Carman, Robert Ford was on the Royals coverage, he’s now the voice of the Astros, Jeff Passan was our baseball insider. We had a squad. We were hungry. We had a chip on our shoulder and we had a lot of success. 

There were times where I would beat Soren Petro, who was a major powerhouse on the station. I thought when I went to Dallas it’d be the same exact thing. I didn’t care that it was The Ticket. I didn’t care that it was The Musers. Again, I’m however old I was 12 years ago coming off great success. I’m like I might be the youngest morning show or drive-time host in the country in a top-five market. I’m feeling myself.

Then you realize the longevity and the success that they’ve had. It’s been a more challenging fight than I was anticipating, but you’ve got to acknowledge achievements and give respect where it’s due. I still view anyone that’s not on my airwaves as the enemy. I still have that mentality. But they’ve had their reputation I guess for a reason. 

I think they were able to benefit greatly from kind of starting sports radio around here and being one of the first stations throughout the country. Then being here at the beginning of the Cowboys run. One of the things you learn the most from them is longevity and how important that is in terms of keeping your lineup together. Those have been some of the experiences without giving too many compliments because I would never do that.

BN: [Laughs] What’s your reaction to 103.3 going away?

SS: [Waves] Bye. See ya later. That’s some of my Werder bitterness. Tim Cowlishaw decided to chime in so I guess he couldn’t save it with his show on there.

But in all seriousness, it’s kind of a sign of the times a little bit in terms of what’s happening with radio, with sports radio. I’m glad that we outlasted them. You don’t want to see people that you know lose their jobs but in the grand scheme of things, hey one less competitor, so see you later and good luck in the future.

BN: Ideally for your future, what would you want it to look like — you’re still young — what would you like to experience and accomplish?

SS: I would like to get even better ratings in Dallas. I’d like to consistently be number one over The Musers and The Ticket. That hasn’t happened during my overall run here. You’ve got to recognize the facts are the facts. I’d like to have even more consistent success at the top. Then obviously some stability. There are contract questions at this point in time because of COVID and advertising cutbacks. 

A lot of this is luck too. I need the Cowboys to go on a damn run. I need them to get into a conference title game. The most prime city probably during my 10 years here, the glory place to be in sports talk radio was Boston. If you have that Patriots run I think it’s going to be pretty hard for you not to crush it in terms of your sports radio, sports TV success. You’ve seen it with EEI and you’ve seen it with The Sports Hub, which is putting up stupid monster numbers.

My number one wish would be for someone to go — preferably the Cowboys because it’s a football town first — go on a hot run kind of like the Rangers did back-to-back years with their World Series appearances.

BSM Writers

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.”

Demetri Ravanos

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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.

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BSM Writers

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.”

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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. 

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The Pat McAfee Alternate Broadcast Presents Unique Challenges

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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.

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