The Catskills is a serene, halcyon mountain range and popular vacation destination because of the preservation and picturesque nature of the landscape. Oftentimes, the luxurious resorts and hotels located along the Borscht Belt attract a preponderance of the area’s approximately 2.7 million visitors per year coming from all corners of the United States and the world to relax and unwind. Not for Ian Eagle though.
His mother, Monica, was a singer and an actress while his father Jack was a standup comedian, musician, and actor who portrayed Brother Dominic in Xerox commercials in the late-70s. For the first several years of his life, Eagle would be their travel companion watching his parents work hard along the Borscht Belt to make a living by performing their act in front of large audiences on weekends. Additionally, at the end of each act, Eagle himself would make an appearance in a suit complete with a bowtie to perform impressions of famous public figures to the crowd – including comedian W.C. Fields, boxer Muhammad Ali and sportscaster Howard Cosell.
After several years of traveling to the Catskills to perform, Eagle remembers his father asking him what he wanted to do when he grew up. With his roots ingrained in live performance, Eagle enjoyed watching athletes perform their craft at sporting events, most notably the New York Mets who were just a drive away from his hometown of Forest Hills, N.Y. at Shea Stadium. Yet while there, he would not only watch the game but also observe the announcers from afar while they were at work in the press box, noticing their mannerisms and countenances from which he was taken aback. At the age of 8, Eagle realized his dream to become a professional sportscaster and was given encouragement and motivation by his parents to fully pursue it.
“A career that was outside the box was very much encouraged and the reasons behind it were pretty simple,” Eagle said. “I love sports and I started to get fascinated by the announcers. Play-by-play, anchors, radio, television…. As a young kid, something about it resonated with me and the idea that I could do it for a living was beyond my wildest dreams.”
Albert graduated from Syracuse University and is one of the school’s many alumni to successfully work in sports media. It inspired Eagle to attend the school to study journalism. Bearing the hallway walls around the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications while Eagle was an undergraduate student were photos of some of them, including Bob Costas, Dick Stockton, and Marty Glickman.
While the reputation of the school and its powerful alumni network can seem polarizing to some students, it served as a source of inspiration for Eagle to elevate his craft and take advantage of opportunities to make a name for himself in the industry. It is in part thanks to successful broadcasters such as Eagle, along with Mike Tirico, Beth Mowins, and Sean McDonough that the school remains a coveted destination for those looking to foster a career in sports media, and was recently ranked as the top sports broadcasting school in the country by the Sportscasters Talent Agency of America.
“At the time in the mid-80s when I was looking for a school that I could pursue broadcasting, one university kept popping up and it was Syracuse,” Eagle said. “….I think more than anything else the fact that there were going to be others like me that had an aptitude for this and a passion for it; I wanted to be pushed. I wanted to be amongst other people that were interested in doing this.”
Eagle was a member of WAER, the school’s student-run radio station, and served as the play-by-play announcer for Syracuse Orangemen lacrosse, football and basketball games. While there, he continued to gain a more complete understanding of what it took to succeed in the field, beginning to truly become invested in it by his sophomore year. By the end of his senior year, he won the Bob Costas Award for Outstanding Sportscasting – for which he received a $1,000 cash prize from Costas himself – and in 2013, was inducted as the fourth member of the WAER Hall of Fame.
Broadcasting live sporting events was the primary part of the field Eagle was looking to work in – until the year 1987 when he began to hear of WFAN, the first-ever radio station solely broadcasting the sports talk format 24 hours a day, seven days a week. By the summer of 1989, Eagle was an intern at the station at the same time when plans for Mike and the Mad Dog were being finalized by then-program director Mark Mason. Upon completing his internship, Eagle felt as if he gained esoteric knowledge of what it took to work in sports media, and was eager to return to his home market upon his graduation.
“Pre-internet – there was no substitution for actually getting the experience,” Eagle stated. “You couldn’t just look it up and google it and watch a video. You had to actually go in and do it. It’s not as if the responsibilities were necessarily putting me in a position to now do more. It had more to do with observing and being around it and being in the environment watching the sports anchor work.”
Despite being told he would likely not be able to get on the air out of college working at WFAN, he took the station’s job offer as a producer over two hosting jobs in West Virginia and nearby Buffalo, N.Y. after graduating from Syracuse University in 1990. Working alongside Howie Rose during his 7 p.m. to midnight radio show, Eagle continued to observe the professionals around him and what it took to do an entertaining radio show conducive to attaining favorable ratings and revenue.
“I took it… with the idea that it was going to be like graduate school that I was going to be at a place where I eventually wanted to one day work in an on-air capacity,” Eagle said of accepting a job at WFAN, “but I would take the experience that I had from the previous summer and expand it to really understand all aspects of the radio station and what it made it tick. It was a risk; there were no guarantees given to me.”
Just 15 months later, Eagle sat behind the microphone and delivered his first on-air sports update and from there began hosting his own talk show shortly thereafter called Bagels and Baseball. In 1993, he added to his responsibilities by hosting the pregame and postgame shows for the station’s broadcasts of New York Jets football. Part of being a well-informed broadcaster comes with reading sports coverage from both local and national journalism outlets, one of which is The New York Post.
Phil Mushnick, the publication’s television and radio columnist since 1982, broke the story that the New Jersey Nets’ radio announcer Howard David would not return for the 1994-95 season, instead relocating to Milwaukee to work in the same role for the Bucks. While sitting in an editing suite at WFAN’s Kaufman Astoria studios, Eagle, who was 25 years old at the time, vividly remembers reading the article and quickly recognizing the opportunity that had just opened up in front of him and the potential it had to change his career.
“I submitted a tape from a Syracuse-Seton Hall game I did in my senior year at the Meadowlands,” Eagle said of the initial reel he submitted with his job application. “They liked it enough to call me and ask me for more play-by-play – which I did not have. That was it; that was the extent of the play-by-play.”
Eagle had to be innovative and remembered he had a friend working for NBA Entertainment in Secaucus, N.J. who helped him create a tape complete with ambient sound and high-quality audio of Eagle calling one half of a playoff game between the Nets and the New York Knicks off of a monitor. He was then quickly scheduled for an interview with Jon Spoelstra, the president of the Nets, as part of the final phase of the search. Once he conversed with him, Eagle was off to the airport for a planned trip to San Francisco with his wife to celebrate their first wedding anniversary and eagerly awaiting the outcome of a monumental decision.
“I had to call into my home answering machine to see if there were any messages,” Eagle recalls. “There was a message from Amy Scheer – [the Nets’ director of broadcasting] – to give her a call. I did from a payphone and I was told that I was being hired as the radio voice of the Nets.”
Paired with Mike O’Koren, Eagle broadcast games on the radio for the 1994-95 season, an opportunity that gave him his first professional sports broadcasting experience. Little did he realize in the beginning though that it would only last for one year, as he was replaced by Steve Albert, Marv’s younger brother, the very next season. But it was not for poor performance; rather, Eagle joined SportsChannel to call Nets games on television, a change in platforms and thus announcing style. Despite the differences between the two platforms though, Eagle was easily able to adapt his style to fit the needs of the audience, however, it may be consuming the game.
“I think part of the reason why I transitioned so easily to television is that I hadn’t been doing radio play-by-play for that long,” Eagle said. “I was not stuck in my ways [and] I didn’t have any habits that I had to break. It really was just an adjustment of how you approach the game.”
Eagle, through his meticulous preparation, promptly showcased his talent on the new medium and ability to heighten the quality of the production at large. He holds a television play-by-play role with the team to this day, following the organization during its move to the YES Network in 2002 and Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. one decade later.
“I try to be a student of this so whatever my assignment is I immersed myself in it and I did everything in my power to prepare for what the season on television would feel like,” said Eagle, who partner Charles Davis recently called “so brilliant”. “….On television, it’s all about setting up your partner, being a very good traffic cop, and delivering in the moment. On radio, you’ve got a blank canvas [and] it’s up to you to fill it in the way that you see fit.”
Two years into his new role with the Nets, WFAN named him the play-by-play announcer for the New York Jets, meaning he would be balancing calling different sports on different broadcast mediums for the first time in his career. Once again one year into this job, Eagle moved from radio to television, this time shifting from regional to national broadcasts with CBS Sports (and was ironically replaced by the aforementioned Howard David). Additionally, he also added NCAA basketball to his responsibilities, meaning he was closely following and calling college basketball, the NBA, and the NFL all at once. As a result, getting and staying ahead in terms of preparation was crucial, and making sure he was ready to execute for every game – just as he saw his parents do in the days and weeks leading up to their weekend performances.
“This job is a marriage of preparation and performance,” Eagle affirmed. “If your preparation is not up to par, it will affect your performance. If your performance is not at the level that it’s supposed to be when the game starts, then all your preparation means very little. You have to get to a point when doing play-by-play that you consistently produce at a certain level and a certain standard. Every person sets that bar for themselves.”
The games themselves are different in the sense that the pace and flow of the broadcast are often dictated by the action in which there are usually more pauses in the action in football than in basketball. As a result, it is incumbent on Eagle and the rest of the broadcast team to be aware of what is going on in the game and to prioritize highlighting and covering it. What not to do is to render it a platform in which an individual seeks to gain notoriety by frequently talking about themselves.
“The pace of basketball doesn’t allow you to share as many stories [or] personal tidbits – you’ve got to be really economical in how you share information,” Eagle said. “Football is set up in a way [where], because of the rhythm of it, there are obvious spots where you can pepper the broadcast with nuggets and factoids and stories.”
Still, moving from being a regionally-focused broadcaster to one who is calling both regional and national games certainly requires a shift in parlance. After all, the national audience is often broader in terms of rooting interest than a regional one, at least when referring to linear distribution rather than viewing on OTT or streaming platforms.
Since joining CBS Sports, Eagle has called numerous NFL and NCAA basketball games, including playoff and tournament battles which can sometimes be decided on the final play. Additionally, he calls Thursday night NFL games and part of the NCAA regional finals tournament on the radio for Westwood One Sports and also calls national NBA and NCAA games for Turner Sports. Yet the divide between regional and national games is becoming more blurred thanks to the evolution in technology that permits the rapid sharing of multimedia-based content across multiple platforms regardless of their streaming capability or lack thereof, sometimes causing a moment to lose its context.
Nonetheless, any broadcaster needs to be able to build a rapport with their audience which usually either comes through previous knowledge of their work or simply by listening to them on-air. It cannot be forced and is not usually instantaneous either.
“The biggest difference in my experience is allowing your personality to come through,” Eagle said. “It took me a while to get to the point where I trusted myself on national games whereas previously on local telecasts, I would probably be a little freer with my commentary. I’m finally getting there on the national side.”
The art of play-by-play announcing, even amid a new generation of sports media, has not considerably shifted; rather, networks and other media providers are trying new approaches to bringing the game to consumers. Whether it be through alternate broadcasts, new camera angles, or user-enabled interactivity during the games, there is always room for innovation, and the same goes for methods of announcing. In the end, though, ratings and revenue will usually be determinants as to whether certain permutations can move out of the experiential stage towards becoming a normal practice; notwithstanding the fundamentals of the job will always somewhat be present.
“I think the principles of doing play-by-play are the same,” Eagle said. “Are you informative? Are you entertaining? Are you a conduit for the fan from the event to the television screen or the car radio? That hasn’t changed and I don’t think that will ever change. There’s something still very pure about that.”
Marv Albert was a sportscaster who Eagle sought to emulate as he worked his way up in the industry, and he fortunately had a chance to work with him when he joined the Nets as an announcer on television in 2005. As a result, Eagle was the secondary announcer beginning that year and lasting until 2010. Being able to be around him while they both worked for the YES Network gave Eagle a firsthand look at his preparation and on-air performance.
“By the time he was working at YES, I had certainly established myself and had a clear idea of what kind of play-by-play announcer I wanted to be,” Eagle said of Albert. “But you’re always learning and you’re a student of this your entire career. You never attain a perfect broadcast – it can’t happen – but you can try. Each game you try to improve.”
Across the country about 2,800 miles away, Ian Eagle’s son Noah is working as the radio play-by-play announcer for the NBA’s LA Clippers. Throughout his youth, Noah Eagle would observe his father at work, sometimes even attending games with him and sitting next to him throughout a broadcast. Like his father, he attended college at Syracuse University and was a member of WAER, and he became just the second Syracuse University graduate to transition from broadcasting in college to doing so right in the NBA – the first being Greg Papa, the radio play-by-play announcer for the San Francisco 49ers and host of Papa and Lund on KNBR. He debuted at just 22 years old at the start of the 2019-20 season and has been in the role ever since.
“The fact that he was even interested in doing this is the ultimate compliment as a father,” Ian Eagle said. “The fact that he has found success; I think he paid attention to detail growing up…. Osmosis definitely played a part in this. The fact that he is passionate about improving and working on his craft and working with others. It’s been a thrill – a true thrill.”
Sometimes, aspiring professionals attend a prominent sports broadcasting college such as Syracuse University expecting that through their enrollment and time at the school, they will be able to instantaneously land a job in the industry. Sure, having a vast alumni network and experienced professors at the helm undoubtedly gives students in these settings an advantage, but the field has become so competitive that it takes working hard and making connections in order to truly get started.
Quite simply, versatility and interpersonal skills are considerably valued in many fields today – sports media included – and everything you need to know cannot be attained simply by listening to lectures and doing class projects. You have to be “the full package” in this industry according to Eagle, which means putting forth a sustained effort in the quest to hone the skills you have while developing new ones along the way.
“You have to go out and do it,” Eagle said. “It’s one thing to dream about being on the air one day; it’s another thing to actually pull the microphone in your hand or put a camera in front of your face and deliver. That takes work; it takes practice; it takes hours upon hours upon hours of polishing your skills.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, Derek serves as a production manager, broadcaster, voiceover artist, technical director, audiovisual editor, and media engineer for Hofstra University’s WRHU. He has also worked on New York Islanders radio broadcasts. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @DerekFutterman.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
The Pat McAfee Alternate Broadcast Presents Unique Challenges
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.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio.