When somebody has passion for what they do, you can feel it. As it relates to Todd Fritz, you can also hear it and see it.
Fritzy, as he’s known on The Dan Patrick Show, oozes passion. He has been a valuable asset for DP since his early days on the show back in June of 2002. He’s done great work for nearly 17 years as a co-producer. There’s no way to maintain, let alone thrive, in a demanding role without a genuine love and enthusiasm for what you do. Fritzy possesses those qualities.
While talking about a former co-worker in this piece, Fritz mentions that if you love what you do and you’re creative, you’re going to accomplish great things. The same principle applies to himself. It’s no wonder he’s had such a great run.
Among many interesting details below, Todd talks about his surprise characteristic, his notebook of organized chaos, and the one guest above all others he’s still in hot pursuit of.
Brian Noe: How did you end up becoming part of DP’s ESPN show back in 2002?
Fritz: I was working on a number of shows over the years at ESPN including Up Close with Roy Firestone, Up Close with Chris Myers and Gary Miller, a show called Talk2 with Jim Rome on ESPN2. All those shows were out in LA. They moved me back east and I was working on SportsCenter and ESPNews and different ESPN shows back in the Bristol headquarters.
I guess they were making some changes to some of the staff right around May-June of ’02. I was approached by a couple of the executives at the network including Dan. They were trying to put together the group that they wanted to take the show forward to the next level I guess for lack of a better word. He called upon me as did some of the executives at ESPN Radio and asked if I wanted to do that.
I had been doing a lot of TV at the time. My radio background was WFAN sports radio in New York and KMPC sports radio in LA. I always loved radio, but for me to stop doing some of the TV stuff and get back into radio, I felt like the only way I would do that, it would have to be a big-time, high-profile, national, well-respected show like The Dan Patrick Show.
I remember telling my wife that — and this was before I was even approached — and then just all of a sudden like a self-fulfilling prophecy or something, I get this call. The next thing you know I’m on The Dan Patrick Show staff and there was no turning back and no looking back after that.
Noe: How did it then come about where Dan asked you to be part of the current show?
Fritz: I think it was back in 2007. I can’t believe it’s been like 12 years since we’ve been at ESPN. He had mentioned to me and a couple of the other guys that he was probably going to be moving on from ESPN after 18 years there.
He was looking to put together a little group. It was a huge decision for me because I remember how excited I was when I first got hired by ESPN. That’s the big time. I thought I’d be there forever, but we spoke about my future and his future and what we wanted to accomplish together. He made me an exciting offer. It was the right time to move on.
I wasn’t sure what was going to be the next step at ESPN, but I had been there for 14 years. He was moving on and I was very flattered that of all the people that he’s worked with over the years that he approached me as one of the people that he thought would be an important cog in the wheel of his future career and the next step that he wanted to take. It was a tough decision to leave a company like ESPN/ABC/Cap Cities/Disney and all that, but I knew that whatever Dan was going to do in the future was going to be very successful. I had an opportunity to be a part of it and so I said “Let’s do it. Let’s go!”
Noe: That probably had to be the toughest decision of your professional career, right?
Fritz: It was. When I was at WFAN, I was interning. Then I was a desk assistant and I was editing tape back in the old days splicing things and taping things together. I had a great time there for a couple of years in Astoria, Queens. Then I moved out to LA for a radio job to help start an all sports radio station in LA, which was 710 KMPC in LA.
It was wild for me — I had never been on an airplane before and the next thing I know I’m leaving my apartment building in Brooklyn, New York, and all of a sudden I’m living in Burbank and working in a studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. That was a very big decision too, but it was a no-brainer to do something like that. I was only like 22 at the time and just graduated NYU. It was a big opportunity to go out to LA.
But for this, this was big because it’s ESPN. It’s the Mothership, as we like to call it, the Worldwide Leader in Sports. They don’t just hire anybody. You’ve got to have quite a resume to get your foot in the door at ESPN. I had accomplished a lot of stuff in LA and at the Bristol headquarters, but I liked what Dan’s vision was going forward and what he wanted to do.
Sometimes you’ve got to take a leap of faith. Although I didn’t exactly know what was going to be the next step, I did have a very good idea what Dan’s vision was and I wanted to be a part of that.
Noe: What was your experience like behind the microphone before working with Dan?
Fritz: I basically had no experience. An overnight host back in the day at WFAN, Steve Somers, was kind enough to let me do a couple of updates. We probably would’ve gotten in trouble if anyone found out. It was like 3:30 in the morning on a Wednesday. He let me do some WFAN sports updates, which are normally handled by obviously the so-called professionals that come in and pick what sound they’re going to use, the in-cues and the out-cues, and they write their script.
We were all behind the scenes in our cubicles in Bristol. I’m booking all the guests for the show and we’re doing research and all that kind of thing. Then all of a sudden, the radio show evolved into TV and Dan, I guess, was speaking to some of the powers that be at DirecTV.
He said, “Hey, I want to hear what these guys have to say. I want to give them a voice. I don’t want it to just be me. These guys have a lot of unique personalities and interesting things to say.”
Basically it was Dan’s idea to say, “I think we should have this ensemble of me, Paulie, Seton, and McLovin to actually be on the air and not just be quiet on the other side of the glass doing their individual tasks whether it’s running the board, producing, chasing after guests, or researching.”
It kind of took off from there. Everybody has their own unique personality and brings their own sense of humor to the show. The feedback we’ve gotten seems to work very well and everyone seems entertained and informed by what we’re trying to do every day.
Noe: This is your first major experience on the mic and it’s such a huge platform. What was going through your mind when you first started off in that role?
Fritz: That’s a great question. I was a little nervous, but I had enough confidence in what I had to say that I felt good about it. It was a lot easier than I thought. I think it got a little trickier just speaking into the microphone if Dan happened to call on one of us. Sharing your thoughts even though it was odd seeing the light on the mic button. Then you’re hearing yourself in your headphones. You’re trying not to think about all the different people around the country that are hearing your every word because that might freak you out a little bit.
I think it got a little trickier when all of a sudden TV cameras were put in the studios and DirecTV got involved. Now it’s a radio show on TV. You want to make sure you’re not being distracted by the cameras that are moving and being controlled by the LA headquarters. That took a little time to get used to.
It was exciting and it was very cool. We were all like, “Wow, this is great. We’re on national radio and national TV.” But I remember those first few weeks and those first few months — you wanted to make a cognizant effort not to play to the camera. Just try to do your thing and do your job, say what you have to say, but ignore the fact that there are cameras all over the place.
Noe: It’s really unique that you have so many voices on the show. How long did it take for all of you to establish some chemistry and really be tight as a unit?
Fritz: I think it happened relatively quickly. We all have very different personalities, but we all have what I like to think of is a strong sense of humor and a strong working knowledge of sports. Dan had the idea that we would kind of raise our hand, which I’m sure you’ve seen over the years, so that we don’t speak on top of each other.
That was the only thing that when we first started we might have stepped on each other a little bit because it’s Dan and there’s four Danettes’ voices in the room. To make sure that we’re not all talking at the same time we have to let Dan know with a glance or raising your hand like you’re in a classroom just to avoid people stepping on one another. Dan would call on each us and we’ll say what we have to say.
Sometimes we’d make a really good point. Other times, which I’m sure you’ve seen also, I may say something that takes that segment for a whole left turn. Dan will definitely let any of us know if he thinks that something we had to say took us off course a little bit. We try to make a joke about it. I try not to do that too much. I want to bring the segment and the topic forward and not take us in some kind of odd direction.
Noe: What are some of the benefits and some of the challenges that come from working with the same crew for over a decade?
Fritz: We all have a good feel for each other’s personalities. It was never really awkward because we had been working together for a while. Andrew came on later on from Sports Illustrated, but I had worked with Paulie and Seton before when it was back at ESPN Radio in Bristol. We kind of knew what made each other tick and what each of our strengths and weaknesses might be.
That was probably the best thing of all was the chemistry came relatively quickly. We never had meetings afterwards where it was something terribly awkward. We never had things scripted out. The only thing that we prepare for ahead of time is we’ll have a morning meeting and we may have a few guests booked ahead of time. We’ll go through the topics of the day and try to put a little rundown together of what we may be talking about in which segments during those three hours. But from the get-go, everybody hit it off because we all bring something different to the table. It just meshed.
There’s nothing more flattering than when we go on the road to an All-Star game, a Super Bowl, a Final Four, or whatever and somebody comes up to us and they say how much they enjoy the show and how much they feel that camaraderie coming out of the speakers of the radio or what they see on TV. They kind of feel like they can hang out with us. It’s the power of TV I guess. They feel like they know you and they can easily grab a bite to eat with you or hang out in the bar.
From a little Jewish kid in Brooklyn to being in different parts of the country and people recognize you and come up to you and tell you how much they appreciate what you do with the show is very gratifying.
Noe: What’s something that people might not know about you and could be surprised to find out?
Fritz: I can be very shy at times. On the air I can be a little boisterous. I love making people laugh. I started dabbling in a little stand-up comedy over the last year or so on the show. I tell the guys even more than booking that huge guest or landing that person that everyone’s trying to get, as much of a great feeling as that is, I’ve always enjoyed whether it’s family, friends, co-workers, if I can get a hearty laugh out of the people around me, I really enjoy that.
I don’t think it’s too much of a shock or a surprise to people now because they know I’ll do my mock headlines. I went on stage a few times to do the comedy thing. When I’m not on, I’ll joke around with my family and friends all the time, but there are times when you just sit quietly and watch a little TV, listen to some music, and shut down the craziness of chasing after guests 24/7.
My personality can change significantly. It’s not that you’re putting on an act when you’re on air, but Dan expects, as we all should, to have high energy and be pumped up for the show. You can’t be like that 24/7. At some point you have to settle down and decompress a little bit.
Noe: That’s funny, man. I’m just like you in that way. I’m all amped up on a show, but people don’t know I can be totally different off the air. I can relate to that.
Fritz: (laughs) I think a lot of people are like that. When you watch those late night talk shows with someone that’s funny on a TV show or in a movie role, it doesn’t come across necessarily on Kimmel or back in the day with Leno or Letterman, or if you’re on Ellen. I remember seeing a lot of comedians or people you thought were just all hyper and funny. When you’re memorizing a script or something that very clever writers have put together, it’s a lot different than when you’re just being yourself.
Everyone needs to decompress a little bit. For me whether it’s hanging out with the family, going to the gym, going for a nice long walk or whatever it is. You can’t be “on” like that all the time. I think you need that balance in your life where you can cool down a little bit.
Noe: Is there one certain guest that you haven’t been able to book that you’re still hoping to one day?
Fritz: Definitely Michael Jordan. I know Dan has wanted to have him on for a long time. We’ve all been trying, but in spite of my best efforts that just hasn’t happened yet.
I’m sure there are others. If you want to get Presidents of the United States on and things like that. I take a lot of pride in back in the Up Close days when I had booked OJ Simpson back when I was in LA. I think it was around ’97, ’98 or so.
I know obviously the whole world was going after OJ. Setting up that interview for Chris Myers, who was the host at the time, that was a big coup. I always look at that and anytime anyone has told me back in my younger days that you’re never going to get that person on the show, or don’t bother calling for so and so, I remember that as an example of you’ve got to make the effort. You’ve got a try.
If someone leaves you a voicemail or sends you an email saying that the person isn’t available or they’re not interested in coming on, or the topics are too sensitive, whatever the case may be — you’re in the business, you hear a million different reasons or excuses. Sometimes people don’t even get back to you every once in a while on certain requests. I try not to take that too personally. Knowing that at least you checked the box and you made the effort. You never know what’s going to happen or who you may be able to track down.
You end up having a very, very special and exciting moment if by some chance you can get that big-name person. Obviously we’d like to have Bryce Harper on the show. Johnny Manziel we tried to get. Eli Manning, the newsmakers that everyone’s trying to go after. That’s what you’re looking to do. Jason Witten, those are some of the names obviously that come to mind immediately. How great would it be to have those guys on the show?
If you can’t get them, that’s where the creativity comes in as a group. Okay, who would be the next best person to have on if we feel we need to have a guest? Is it a writer, a columnist, an analyst, a teammate? Let’s not just stop there. You shoot for the moon and then if you keep working that way, whatever you end up with, as long as you keep going after the biggest names you can think of, the most creative people that can discuss those topics, you’ll end up with a very strong show and guests that can discuss those things in an intelligent fashion.
Noe: Hopefully this makes sense but I think music and sports radio are similar. If you take a musician for instance — if they listen to a lot of different bands, they’re not necessarily copying them, but they can see what they like and they can use that to create their own style based on it.
Fritz: No question. I always go back to my days in the newsroom at WFAN when I was a junior at NYU. Seeing how different producers, general managers, and program directors behaved and how they interacted with one another from a corporate standpoint, but also just from a content programming standpoint. Always be inquisitive. Always try to be creative. Always have the attitude that anything’s possible.
I take things from what I learned at WFAN, and from LA, from meetings for SportsCenter and ESPNews and different hosts that I’ve worked with whether it’s Jim Lampley, or Roy Firestone, or Chris Myers, Chris Connelly, Gary Miller and obviously Dan. I’ve been fortunate to have worked on both coasts in big markets with big-name talent, which isn’t lost on me and the opportunities I’ve had. Hopefully I’ve made the most of those.
I’ll listen to different shows and hear how everybody’s covering it and what the topics are. I think that’s important to not be so narrow. You don’t want to steal anyone’s ideas or takes if you will, but it is very interesting to hear how different hosts and different programs attack the same stories and topics that you’re going to be talking about.
One example for me is this is a three-hour show. When you’re listening to a local news station — for me in New York it’s CBS Radio 880 or 1010 WINS — they do the sports in like two minutes. I always chuckle with that because they go, “Yankees won, Mets lost, and Eli Manning looks like he’s going to be the quarterback next year,” and they’re done for a half hour. Three hours every day, sometimes there’s no juicy story.
You go to the different sports websites and the top story is a hockey trade. February is that kind of month. What are we going to do for three hours? Because we have such a talented, creative group and everybody works so hard and is always thinking of different ways to improve the show and raise the bar, the show just flies by — whether there’s three or four juicy topics or breaking news, or if it looks like, “Wow, there’s not a lot going on.”
Noe: Is there anything specific about Dan’s style or the styles of the other people on your show that you’re not copying, but you’re tweaking it and using it in your own unique way?
Fritz: As far as Dan specifically, I’ve always been impressed with how much he knows about everything and he’s got an amazing memory. His work ethic is second to none. Before I worked with him, when I worked back in the day with Roy Firestone — everyone always jokes that he used to make the guests cry and they’d get all emotional — after working with some of the talent and seeing their interviewing styles and their skills and their ability to have the guest be so relaxed, they forget they’re even on the air.
Dan’s proving that with the Undeniable show that he’s been doing also on DirecTV on the Audience Network in addition to what he does with our show. I didn’t realize that he’s so, not that he was stiff, but like with SportsCenter over the years with Olbermann reading the teleprompter and you could joke around a little bit. He’s a lot of fun to be around with the radio show. He’s got a lot of energy. He’s very motivated. After everything he’s accomplished, he still has that attitude and energy that he still feels like he has something to prove and has a lot more in the business and in the industry that he wants to accomplish.
We all bring our A-game because that’s what he deserves. It motivates me to really, really go after those big-name guests because he’s so great at interviewing. The least I can do is hold up my end of the bargain, which is to deliver those newsmakers and those A-level guests so that he can do his thing and talk to the people that should be on The Dan Patrick Show.
I always have that attitude; whoever we’re all going after — and a lot of shows are going after the same person — if they’re going to pick one show, I would want it to be obviously an exclusive with The Dan Patrick Show.
I always looked at us as the Nightline of sports talk. If someone’s going to do an interview, I would hope that they would choose Dan to do that with and it’s my job track him or her down and set that up.
Noe: What do you think it is that separates Dan from other interviewers?
Fritz: I think just his intelligence, his sensitivity. He doesn’t do the gotcha journalism. We’ve talked about that over the years. He’s not looking to trip somebody up or make them look foolish. He respects what they’ve accomplished in their industry and that they took the time to come on the show. He does his homework. He does his research. He makes sure he’s fully knowledgeable of the situation.
The words he chooses, and again the sensitivity I guess — that’s the word that comes up more than anything else — that he takes with the interview. It’s very thought out. It’s very thoughtful. He knows what questions the people that are listening or watching the show want answers to. He’s not afraid. He’s not going to do a softball interview. Again, very thoughtful, very sensitive. He just does it in a very comfortable, non-threatening way with a sense of humor and he makes the guests very relaxed. They know they can trust Dan and open up more than they might with another host.
Noe: It’s funny, sometimes you might flash back to sports moments that you had in grade school or high school. If you were to flash back to a moment on The Dan Patrick Show that’s a highlight of yours, what would it be?
Fritz: We had Bobby Knight and Bo Schembechler on the show together, which was a big deal. There was another time when I think two players got traded for each other. I can’t remember who they were, but we got them both on just as they were finding out they were being traded for each other.
Because I worked at ESPN for 14 years and with Dan for 18 years, every so often when you get that big-name person and they make news and you look at the websites, including espn.com with the BottomLine, and you see The Dan Patrick Show being credited, it’s kind of a big deal. It goes a long way because again, I just remember how excited I was when I was hired by ESPN that I really made it in the industry.
There have been so many different moments whether it’s getting that newsmaker on that I know everybody was going after, or a light-hearted moment like the Charles Barkley’s and Reggie Miller’s that are very funny and personable and aren’t afraid to speak their mind. It’s exciting every day because you know at any moment there could be breaking news. No two shows are the same. We don’t have a script of jokes where Paulie is going to say something and then Seton is going to have a retort and then Andrew or me adds something else. We just kind of do our thing.
Noe: How did your wife react to you singing to John Legend’s wife?
Fritz: She is extremely understanding. My wife, Jennifer, she understands the business and she doesn’t take any of that too seriously. She knows who I really am, and besides the fact that she’s not threatened, it’s not like I’m going to be running away with Chrissy Teigen anytime soon or any of these supermodels that I’m encouraged to hug that we get in the studio every once in a while. She’s great.
Whether it’s Charissa Thompson, Chrissy Teigen, or countless other Victoria’s Secret models and different people we’ve had on the show. They know I’m the hugger. I’m the more affectionate one and I’m serenading them or whatever is going on, she’ll roll her eyes a little bit or she’ll tease me a little bit when I come home from work on those occasions, but she certainly doesn’t get upset and doesn’t feel threatened at all that I’m running away with any model any time soon.
She’s got a great sense of humor. She’s very supportive especially when I have my phone next to me at the dinner table and I’m trying to have family time, yet she knows the job of booking The Dan Patrick Show — or booking any national radio/TV show — occupies a lot of your time, especially when you don’t know what news is going to break at any given moment. I’ve got to hand it to her.
We’ve been married — it’s going to be 20 years coming up in October. She’s the best and I’m very fortunate she’s that supportive and that she’s a sports fan who likes to watch games and appreciates what’s going on in the sports world. It’s not so foreign to her that I’m in some separate world from her. We watch sporting events together. We talk about the sports news of the day. We went to the Rockets-Celtics game on Sunday. My wife and kids were totally excited about it. I’ve got a 16-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. They appreciate what I do and really like sports. I’m blessed in that way.
Noe: That’s awesome. As far as the specific teams you root for, do you root for similar teams, or are there any clashes?
Fritz: I raised my son to be a Bronco fan like me from day one. We had the Bronco baby bottles, pacifiers, bibs, pajamas and all that. So we’re a big Denver Broncos family. They all have the jerseys and the hats and everything. We’re watching all the Bronco games on DirecTV. It’s just great. I started rooting for the Broncos in 1977 before they lost to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XII. I started rooting for the Astros back in 1980. I grew up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn and everyone’s wondering why I’m rooting for Houston and Denver. Especially when I was in high school, it’s amazing I didn’t get beat up.
I always like to tell this story; it was 1986 and the Astros are playing the Mets in the NLCS, which was an amazing NLCS, and the Angels were playing the Red Sox in the ALCS. The Broncos were playing the Giants in Super Bowl XXI. So here I am in New York, I’m rooting for the Houston Astros to beat the New York Mets in the 1986 NLCS, and I’m rooting for the Broncos to beat the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXI, neither of which worked out.
No one could understand why I would be rooting for the Astros and Broncos instead of the Giants and the Mets. When I was a little kid I would go to Yankees and Mets games. I appreciated Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium. I would root for the Yankees and Mets, but once I saw the Orange Crush and then Elway came aboard, I was all in on Denver.
Noe: With the forthcoming move away from the NBC Sports Network, what do you anticipate in terms of how it could impact the show on a day-to-day basis?
Fritz: I’m not sure. I know we’re all excited about it. We don’t know what the future holds with that. I know Dan had mentioned the other day — I’m not privy to some of those internal conversations with the powers that be — but this relationship with Turner Sports and the merger with Time Warner, I guess we’re going to be on Bleacher Report Live at some point in the near future. I don’t know at some point if there’s an opportunity to be on one of the Turner channels, but we’re excited about things.
We had a great six-year run with the NBC Sports Network. For now we’re still obviously on DirecTV’s Audience Network. We’re on about 340 radio stations and SiriusXM. When it’s time for them to share the next step with me, the powers that be, they know where to find me. For now, all I can do is keep doing my job and chase after the guests and have fun with the show every day.
There’s certain things you can’t control, but I know there’s an enthusiastic aura about what’s going on. It’s moving on to bigger and better things. We had a great relationship and I have a lot of friends over at the NBC Sports Network. If it’s time to move on to something else as far as where we might be airing on the web or on TV beyond the Audience Network, I’m excited to find out what that is even though it’s still a question mark right now.
Noe: What’s something that you remember most from the 13 months you worked alongside Jason Barrett?
Fritz: His enthusiasm. I know he’s a big wrestling fan — we always tease him about that. His just wanting to raise the bar each day — challenging our hosts, challenging the rest of us, coming up with long lists of guests we should have on the show. Just wanting to try new things and not be like every other show, not be cookie-cutter. He wanted to be unpredictable, which I respected a lot.
Just seeing what he’s doing for a living now, and having worked with him when we were doing Dan’s show at ESPN Radio, he’s very passionate about what he does. He knows how to deal with talent and producers. I’m not surprised he’s doing what he’s doing now.
The analysis of different shows, and what different hosts and producers bring to the table, he has a good feel for that. Again, you can’t put a price tag on enthusiasm and passion. If you love what you do and you’re creative, you’re going to accomplish great things.
Noe: JB has mentioned the chaos that is your notebook full of contacts. For anybody that hasn’t seen it, how would you describe it?
Fritz: It is an organized mess. If someone was to look at it — I’ve shown it off to some people and they like to call it A Beautiful Mind like that movie where it’s just got scribble all over. That’s really a good analogy. It’s got stars and highlighters and arrows and different phone numbers. To the average person it would look like a bunch of scribble, that I was like a serial killer or something, or that I’ve got some kind of disorder of some kind.
But for me, I know where everything is. I like to fit a lot of stuff on a page. I usually put about six shows worth of notes on one side of a page. I have several notebooks and each notebook can last me like a year and a half or more. I don’t know how that happened. I think when I was a kid back in school I used to write very small when I was taking notes. That way when it was time to study for tests, maybe it didn’t look like there was that much to study if everything was on three or four pages as opposed to 15 pages. Maybe there was something psychological about that.
We all have our little system and it’s worked for me over the years. I can definitely appreciate it when someone looks at it. They either have one of two reactions; one it’s like, “Wow, that’s amazing,” like in a positive way. The other side, they’ll raise an eyebrow and be like, “Are you okay? Should you be on some type of meds or something like that? It’s disturbing that you write like that and that’s how you function every day.” That’s of concern to some people that maybe you need to go lay on the couch and talk to somebody.
Noe: Say over the next 10 years, is there a certain goal that you would like to accomplish personally?
Fritz: I talk to my wife about this all the time. I’ve been blessed where one job has led to another where I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen next or what I wanted to do next. I met someone at a gym in Brooklyn while I was at NYU and that led to an internship interview at WFAN, which led to an internship and then a job there for a couple of years.
I never knew that I was going to work at WFAN. I never knew that was going to lead to flying across the country to help start an LA version of WFAN. I certainly didn’t expect to be at ESPN on both coasts on different LA talk shows and then at the worldwide leader headquarters. I’ve been thankful that I’ve worked in these big markets with big-name talent. I impressed, I guess, the right people that make these decisions on hiring. I take that very seriously.
There are a lot of people in this business that you work very hard and it doesn’t necessarily amount to anything. There are no guarantees. You could be stuck in a small market somewhere. You could be very talented and work really hard, but it may not lead to anything. Fortunately one thing has led to another. I used to wonder, “Was I doing this years ago because I wanted to book the guests for Oprah, or Letterman, or Leno? What exactly is the goal? Do I want to be like an executive at a network?”
I’m enjoying the ride right now. It scares me sometimes that I don’t have a specific goal, but it’s worked so far because I look back at what I’ve been able to accomplish over the years not knowing exactly what was going to be next. Hopefully those next things will somehow continue to find me. If there’s something out there down the road when The Dan Patrick Show comes to an end that catches my eye to work with a particular person or a network or company, then I will cross that bridge.
Hopefully things will come clearly to me and I’ll be approached maybe for exciting things down the road. For now, I’m hoping The Dan Patrick Show continues to last a very long time. Whatever the future holds I’m sure it’ll be something fun and positive, and something that waking up in the morning I can be pumped about going to that place.
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Olsen creates the perception that he studies each team, breaking down film of offenses and defenses, in preparation for the telecast.
Five years ago, Tony Romo retired as an active NFL player, jumped into the CBS broadcast booth, and immediately became the darling of fans and media for the excitement he brought to his telecasts. Romo’s enthusiasm for the game and understanding of modern offense allowed him to predict plays successfully, making him an instant sensation.
Greg Olsen will finish his second season as a full-time broadcaster on Feb. 12 from the NFL’s biggest stage, calling Super Bowl LVI for Fox with play-by-play partner Kevin Burkhardt. Olsen hasn’t drawn the must-see buzz that Romo did early in his TV career. No fan likely tuned into Fox’s top NFL telecast, “America’s Game of the Week,” to listen to Olsen’s analysis. His work doesn’t draw nearly the same amount of acclaim.
But the shine has worn off Romo with viewers during the past couple of NFL seasons. Watching a game with Romo in the booth previously felt like sitting alongside a fellow fan, jubilant at fantastic plays or clever strategy, and disappointed at performances that fell short. His energy also elevated Jim Nantz as a play-by-play announcer, bringing him back to life after 13 seasons alongside Phil Simms.
Now, however, Romo’s outbursts — noises in place of words, or outright yelling — seem like a crutch when coherent thoughts can’t be articulated. Where there was once fascinating insight from the analyst position, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback often resorts to clichés and platitudes that don’t add to a fan’s understanding of what’s happening on the field.
Worst of all, Romo sometimes talks merely to talk, filling a quiet space when a broadcast needs to breathe or the images are saying enough on their own. That’s especially awkward when paired with a veteran like Nantz, who’s a master at letting the moment speak for itself rather than trying to punctuate it with unnecessary narration.
On Fox’s telecast of the 49ers-Eagles NFC Championship Game, Olsen explained how play-calling changes when an offense intends to go for it on fourth down. He showed an awareness of the strategies that each coach employed to gain an advantage or neutralize what the opponent was doing well.
Early on, he highlighted San Francisco defensive end Joey Bosa holding back on his natural impulse to pursue the quarterback at all costs. Instead, he maintained a position that prevented Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts from running to gain yardage when pass plays weren’t available.
With analysis like this, Olsen creates the perception that he studies each team, breaking down the film of their respective offenses and defenses, in preparation for the telecast. He doesn’t appear to be surprised by what he sees because that prep work — watching film, talking to coaches and players — informs him of the eventualities and possibilities that could arise during a game.
The hardcore football fan, those who repeatedly watch highlights and replays, loves that kind of analysis. Such attention to detail feels gratifying because it demonstrates that the person calling the broadcast is as serious about this stuff as the viewer who’s waited all week for the big game.
Yet a more casual fan is also drawn in because of Olsen’s amiable personality and ability to explain things simply and clearly. It’s similar to what viewers enjoy about ESPN’s “ManningCast” for Monday Night Football. Yes, there are jokes and funny moments. But Peyton and Eli Manning both explain strategy and preparation very well.
By comparison, Romo comes off like a broadcaster who’s winging it, letting his personality and enthusiasm fill gaps created by a lack of preparation. That might be a completely unfair criticism. We don’t know what kind of work Romo puts in leading up to a telecast. Maybe he watches as much film as Olsen. Perhaps he talks to everyone available to the broadcast crew in production meetings.
If so, however, that doesn’t show itself on the CBS telecast. Romo’s work on Sunday’s Bengals-Chiefs AFC Championship Game telecast was an improvement over his call of the Bengals-Bills divisional playoff clash. During the previous week, Romo acted as if he didn’t have to provide any insight because this was the match-up fans had anticipated all season and already knew everything about the two teams.
Perhaps in response to that criticism, Romo made a point of highlighting the importance of each team’s defensive coordinator — Cincinnati’s Lou Anarumo and Kansas City’s Steve Spagnuolo, respectively — in disrupting the performance of quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow. But rather than demonstrate an actual strategy during a replay, he stated that each defense would come after the opposing QB and create pressure.
Ultimately, the difference between Romo and Olsen seems to be schtick versus knowledge. But it’s also a product of how each analyst reached their position. Romo joined CBS’s No. 1 NFL broadcast team without previously calling any games. (As BSM’s Garrett Searight points out, that immediacy and recent connection to the game fueled what felt like fresh analysis.)
Meanwhile, Olsen called games during bye weeks while he was still an active player and was on Fox’s No. 2 crew with Burkhardt before being elevated to top status following the departure of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to ESPN. He’s had to get better out of necessity. Even now, as Olsen establishes himself as his network’s top analyst, he faces the possibility of being bumped from that position when Tom Brady retires and cashes in on the massive contract Fox offered him.
Compare that to Romo, who’s the highest-paid NFL analyst on television. His $18 million annual salary set the bar other top broadcasters are trying to reach. And he has seven years remaining on the 10-year contract he signed with CBS. That is significant job security. Even if network executives (or Nantz) lean on Romo to improve his flaws, how much motivation is there when he’s already been anointed a broadcasting king?
However, NFL fans and sports media are making it clear what they prefer from their football broadcasters. They want insight and substance. They want to learn something from the commentary, rather than just be told what they can see for themselves.
Olsen is providing that and is being rightly lauded as a broadcaster living up to his status. Romo is suffering a fall from acclaim and has become a weekly punching bag. If he and CBS want to change that, he’ll have to bring more to the booth each week. In the meantime, Fox should consider appreciating what it already has, rather than welcome a glitzy name.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Fowler Knows You Know He Isn’t In Australia
“I applaud Fowler for not playing the game and allowing even a hint of the illusion he was in Australia. I think the viewer deserves to know.”
I can tell you my exact whereabouts when 2015 became 2016 in the Central Time Zone. I was in a media shuttle outside of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas awaiting my transport to the Omni Hotel in Dallas. It was kind of a sad scene, not just because Alabama had picked Michigan State’s bones 36-0. Nope, it was sad when the clock struck midnight and a tired, cracking voice from the back of the bus said, “Happy New Year” with all the excitement of a man facing execution.
I, too, was tired. I had just spent a week doing shows in Dallas and was headed back to Birmingham for a pit stop before flying to Phoenix for what would be an epic Alabama v. Clemson National Championship Game. I am not complaining, mind you, but the thought of the end of the football season being near was very comforting. It’s a bittersweet thought, I love college football, but I also love being home with my family.
ESPN’s Chris Fowler was at Jerry World that night, as well. He had been on my show earlier in the week and we had joked with him about how good he had it; two College Football Playoff games then a flight halfway around the world for the Australian Open. I had bumped into him leaving the stadium that night and we laughed, again, at his good fortune.
As I sat on the bus for the saddest of New Year’s celebrations, I reflected on the conversation with Fowler and thought about how overwhelming that travel seemed. I could never have imagined then that type of travel assignment would one day become a luxury rather than a necessity.
There are numerous things COVID ended. Many of them were more important than announcing crews actually at the events, but that was one casualty. It has even continued to impact the top level crews like Fowler and John McEnroe who did their 2023 Australian Open work a world away in Bristol, Connecticut.
The fact that the majority of ESPN talent was actually stateside had already been painfully obvious to anyone watching. The studio show had made no effort to hide that fact but the actual match announcers were part of a little more of an attempt to appear they were Down Under. It was abundantly clear, though, that the match announcers were simply standing in front of images of the Melbourne stadiums superimposed behind them.
It was Chris Fowler who finally revealed the man behind the curtain when he removed the mystery and made it clear they were not in Australia. After Darren Cahill, who was actually on site, relayed the weather conditions to Fowler and McEnroe, Fowler commented that the Bristol weather was in the 30’s.
I applaud Fowler for not playing the game and allowing even a hint of the illusion he was in Australia. I think the viewer deserves to know. I also think most viewers have seen enough of the low-energy, disjointed remote announcing that they can spot it without being informed. Thankfully, Fowler and McEnroe are pros enough (and in the same room) that they can still do their job well from 10,000 miles away.
I just can’t believe we are still playing this game in 2023. I think history will show that, in many cases, remote broadcasts were unnecessary in 2020 but that was a complete unknown at the time. One has to assume the desire to save on travel expenses is a large motivation in 2023. I can only imagine how much is saved by ESPN in airfare and lodging by keeping announcers in Bristol rather than sending them to Melbourne. Tennis is also one of the sports in which the difference isn’t as noticeable.
The feedback I get from the fans in other sports, where remote announcers are far more noticeable, is that the network clearly doesn’t value my team or me as a fan. While that may not be true, if that perception is held by a large enough group of fans, it becomes true. What the networks know is this: we are addicted to our teams. They can have bad announcers from their living rooms but what am I going to do about it? I get a limited number of times to watch my team each season. I’m not missing that chance because a network wants to squeeze dimes.
As most people have learned more about COVID, most unnecessary precautions have faded away. Remote announcers have been tougher to extinguish and may never go away entirely.
In the meantime, I’m rested now and I’ll take that trip to Australia anytime someone is ready to send me.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
ESPN Ready To Go Back To The NHL All-Star Game
“What ESPN does [better] than anyone else is tell stories, and there will be hundreds of small stories told over those few days, and I think that’s what it’s all about.”
The NHL is approaching a break leading up to the festivities at the All-Star Weekend taking place from FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida: the home of the Florida Panthers. Saturday’s 2023 NHL All-Star Game will be broadcast on ABC and simulcast on ESPN+ for the second consecutive year under the seven-year media rights deal which brought live game broadcasts back to The Walt Disney Company’s platforms for the first time since 2005.
On hand to call the action and provide fans with exclusive access will be the NHL on ESPN lineup of experienced commentators, versatile journalists, and knowledgeable analysts, including the studio team of Steve Levy, Mark Messier, Chris Chelios, and P.K. Subban. The group is looking forward to making the trip to South Florida to catch up with former teammates and colleagues, as well as finding reprieve from the colder temperatures outside their regular Bristol studios.
“You just look at the graphics of the commercials out there with the surfboards and the beach and the warm weather and [see that] hockey can thrive anywhere,” Messier expressed. “…It’s a great time to pause and break and celebrate what’s happened in the first 40 games of the season until everybody starts to buckle down for the stretch drive.”
Messier signed on with the NHL on ESPN team before the 2021-2022 season as a studio analyst, utilizing his vast experience and championship pedigree to intuitively decipher the game of hockey and provide cogent reasoning about the action. He is a six-time Stanley Cup champion – five with the Edmonton Oilers and one with the New York Rangers – and is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Furthermore, Messier is third all-time in points and ninth in goals, and he was the captain of both of his championship teams – making him the only player in league history to garner that accolade. His presence on its hockey coverage gives ESPN added ethos and someone who remains a student of the game, closely following the league to craft informed opinions.
“Seeing the amount of talent in the game now and the emergence of these players is just incredible,” Messier said. “Of course, it’s what it’s all about – just trying to get yourself. Once you’ve established yourself as an NHL player, the next step is to figure out how to win.”
Chris Chelios joined Messier on the studio panel from the launch of the NHL on ESPN last season and is also a Hockey Hall of Fame member who played professionally for 26 years, retiring at the age of 48. He recognizes the changes in the game of hockey, especially since his 1983-84 rookie campaign, and tries to accentuate them while promulgating classic aspects of the sport demonstrated through its young talent.
“Just when you think you’ve seen everything, they come up with something else; some new move,” Chelios said. “….There have been some unbelievable highlights and every night, especially working with ESPN, [we have been] able to see all that. We’re in an entertainment business and these guys aren’t letting anybody down. It’s great; it’s a great product.”
Steve Levy has worked with ESPN since 1993 where he has broadcast countless different sports and hosted various types of studio programming. Whether it is calling football games, sitting behind the desk on SportsCenter, or making movie cameos, he is an anomaly within the industry in that he has had a long and storied career primarily with one company. Through his versatility, he can continue seamlessly assimilating into a wide foray of roles and, in the process, enhance the broadcast skills of his colleagues.
Last season, Levy, Messier, and Chelios broadcast coverage of NHL All-Star Weekend from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The trio was situated in a suite at “The Fortress”. It contrasts the regular-season mindset of gathering two points per night; contrarily, this weekend is, in essence, a celebration of the game and its people.
“It’s an opportunity to showcase besides their skills, I think their personalities,” Levy said. “I really look forward to that.”
Levy has worked with Messier and Chelios for the last year on ESPN’s studio coverage and is now joined by P.K. Subban, who played in the NHL as recently as this past April as a member of the New Jersey Devils. A three-time All-Star selection and 2014 Olympic gold medalist, Subban inked a multi-year contract with ESPN this past November to regularly serve as a studio analyst and also work as a live game broadcast analyst for select regular season matchups.
Implementing a player who is closely removed from playing professional hockey brings fresh perspectives to the show, offering different perspectives, and appealing to a wider segment of viewers.
“We were sitting next to him on the set the other night and he’s talking about Jack Hughes and it’s like, ‘Who’s going to have a more educated opinion than a guy who was lockering next to him the last three seasons?,’” Levy said of Subban. “It’s easy to forget he was in the league in April; he’s fresh out of it.”
Subban grew up watching Messier and Chelios in the NHL and now works alongside them, holding them in high regard. Aside from their play on the ice, Subban remembers Messier in Lay’s commercials in the late-1990s and early-2000s advertising its products. Although he brings more contemporary perspectives by being removed from the league for less than a year, Subban embraces the traditional style of the game and delivers analysis based on multiple eras.
“I think keeping it fresh is also being able to educate some of these young players and the audience about guys like Mess and Chelios,” Subban said. “I think that’s also very important because we have a luxury [in] having these two on the broadcast…. It’s just really cool for me this year. I’m super excited to do this for the first time; to sit next to these guys.”
All three NHL on ESPN studio analysts participated in at least one aspect of the skills competition during their playing careers, with Messier winning the shooting accuracy challenge in both 1991 and 1996 and Subban winning the breakaway challenge in 2016. Watching the players compete from a new vantage point and evincing their ethereal abilities on the ice underscores what the weekend is genuinely about.
According to Levy, the 2023 All-Star Skills would be the event he would attend if he had to choose between it and the game. This sentiment has permeated itself in the linear television ratings, as the 2022 All-Star Game was the least-watched (1.15 million viewers; 0.6 share) since 2009, while the corresponding skills competition was the most-watched (1.09 million viewers; 0.6 share) since 2012.
It is important to note, however, that last year’s all-star game aired just before the first night of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, broadcast in the United States by NBC, USA, and CNBC. Despite last year’s Olympic Games drawing the lowest U.S. ratings in the history of the international sporting event and cultural phenomenon, the first night still drew 13.2 million total viewers across the three networks, accounting for a 6.8 share.
The format of the NHL All-Star Game was changed starting in 2016 to contain four teams (one per division) playing three-on-three games split into 10-minute halves in a single-elimination tournament. The winning of the tournament’s championship game splits a prize pool of $1 million, ostensibly incentivizing more realistic play as the allure of the windfall profit is aggrandized.
Nonetheless, the weekend is all about appealing to the fans and demonstrating the star power of the league through the depiction of vivid imagery, as well as chronicling stories to engross viewers in the product.
“You highlight fun and entertainment through the skills, and the three-on-three was a great concept because it’s exciting to the fans,” Messier said. “….I think the NHL, the NHLPA and ESPN and everybody involved has worked diligently to make this weekend really fun and to highlight the great talent we have on the ice and the great people we have off the ice.”
“What ESPN does [better] than anyone else is tell stories, and there will be hundreds of small stories told over those few days, and I think that’s what it’s all about,” Subban added. “For these players, a lot of times, they’re buttoned into the game and focused on the ice. This is an opportunity for [the] fans to get to know the players in a fun way; get to know them through their skill set and what they’re able to do on the ice.”
The All-Star Skills will feature the return of events including the Breakaway Challenge, Fastest Skater, Accuracy Shooting, and Hardest Shot. In addition to these classics, there will be the debut of the Tendy Tandem where goalies will face off in a shootout, along with two new geo-focused events – the Splash Shot (pre-taped from Fort Lauderdale Beach Park); and the Pitch ‘n Puck (from a par-4 golf hole).
“I know each market tries to do something specific to the local area,” Levy said. “I do know ESPN has worked really hard with the NHL to try to enhance the best events and make them even better… and better for television.”
The league continues to adapt and find new ways to engage fans with the launch of the 2023 NHL Fan Skills at Home, a social media-based competition urging fans to submit videos performing their hockey abilities focused in different areas. Various hockey content creators, including Pavel Barber and Kane Van Gate, will make the trip to Sunrise, Fla. to promote the contest and implore fans to participate.
Additionally, the NHL will host the All-Star Beach Festival at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, a free fan fest-style event featuring appearances from NHL all-stars and alumni, a photo opportunity with the Stanley Cup, and interactive games for the whole family.
Surrounding it all on ABC, ESPN and ESPN+ will be a concentrated effort to emphasize the dispositions of regular all-star selections – such as Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid; Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin; and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar – while contextualizing what is going on through experience and astute foresight.
At the same time, the broadcast will aim to espouse awareness towards younger stars, many of whom are first-time selections such as 20-year-old Seattle Kraken forward Matty Beniers; 24-year-old New York Rangers defenseman Adam Fox; and 25-year-old Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Logan Thompson.
“Our job is to really highlight these players and make it a fun telecast,” Messier said, “and really talk about the players as people and what great, incredible talent they possess.”
“You have to be able to tell stories about the players,” Subban said. “They’re the product on the ice and there’s no better way to tell stories about players than getting ESPN. They are the best at it, so it should make for a fun couple of days.”
The NHL on ESPN studio team thoroughly enjoyed their time at last year’s All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas, as it led them to become accustomed to working together and set them up to put on quality broadcasts through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, the Stanley Cup Finals are set to be broadcast by Turner Sports this year (as part of its seven-year media rights agreement) with its regular studio crew of Liam McHugh, Paul Bissonnette, Anson Carter, and Wayne Gretzky.
Messier and Gretzky, each serving as studio analysts on ESPN and TNT, respectively, starred in an NHL on FOX commercial together back when they were teammates on the New York Rangers in 1996.
This season, the NHL on ESPN studio crew has not worked together regularly because of the network’s obligations to the NFL and NBA. The group will soon be on the air regularly though to break down the top plays, interview stars before they hit the ice and foster a congenial atmosphere for sports fans everywhere.
“I look forward to working with these three guys together,” Levy said. “We haven’t had a lot of run together [because] it’s just the way the schedule works [during] the first half of the season.”
“I’m looking forward to kicking this off,” Chelios added. “It’s like a playoff run [for us] now; this All-Star Game is the start of working and grinding and doing a couple of games a week and getting into a rhythm here.”
The 2023 NHL All-Star Skills will be broadcast on Friday, Feb. 3 on ESPN beginning at 7 p.m. EST and is available to stream live on ESPN+. Then on Saturday, Feb. 4, the 2023 NHL All-Star Game, featuring teams representing the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central, and Pacific divisions, commences at 3 p.m. EST on ABC and can be streamed live on ESPN+.
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.