Ben Maller Enjoys The Parallel Universe
“There are a lot of people listening overnight. I’m obviously biased but it’s a special crowd.”
Ben Maller has mastered two very important things as a sports radio host. He has established ways of making his audience feel like they are truly a part of his show, and he has found the tricky middle ground of working hard without taking himself too seriously.
The Nocturnal Colonel doesn’t just show up at the FOX Sports Radio studios and goof around from 11pm to 3am PT. Ben puts a lot of hard work into his prep without losing sight that sports radio is supposed to be fun.
There is something disarming about a host that can make you laugh. Ben certainly has the ability to amuse listeners with his unique blend of sarcasm, wit, hyperbole, and rambunctious views. He can rile you up one minute and then make you laugh out loud the next. The Beethoven of BS has fiery debates at times, but makes you envision a mischievious smile on his face throughout. Ben makes you feel like he’d happily buy you a drink at any point. It isn’t personal. It’s a radio show.
Ben is passionate about the industry and considers radio to be an art form. He just launched a new weekly podcast with iHeart called The Fifth Hour with Ben Maller.
Ben hits on many interesting points in this piece. We’ve got the origin of his most popular caller Jeannie in Medford, the old man feeding ducks at the park, and one of Ben’s favorite nights in radio. We’ll combine all of these things and make one delicious lemon meringue cheesecake. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: Where did your sports radio career begin?
Ben Maller: I started in college radio at Saddleback College. Then I got an internship in the early ‘90s at XTRA Sports 690, which was this huge radio station in San Diego that had 77,000 watts of power. I was an intern for Lee Hacksaw Hamilton, this big star, afternoon drive guy. I started there and then I got a job as a board op at the station. Then they hired me as a reporter. I did that for several years. After that the company purchased a radio station in Los Angeles. They were launching a station in L.A. so they hired me. I was one of the first people they hired at that new station. It took off from there. I’ve been at FOX for almost 20 years so it’s been good.
Noe: When you started out, sports radio wasn’t nearly as big as it is now. Did you intend to be a sports radio host or was it something you fell into?
Ben: When I was growing up I loved sports. I come from a family that doesn’t really love sports, but I’ve always been a big sports fan. My original goal, I was going to replace Vin Scully as the voice of the Dodgers. Then I realized Vin was never going to retire. Then I had this idea; well, maybe I’ll go work for another team. I looked around and at that time in the early ‘90s — even before that — these baseball play-by-play guys it’s like a Supreme Court justice type of job. The jobs didn’t turn over.
I did the math on that and I’m like ‘I don’t think I’m ever going to have an opportunity if I go down that path to end up doing play-by-play at the major league level.’ I know it’s changed a lot since then. There are teams that have changed broadcasters a lot, but at that time if you got a play-by-play job you were in it forever. That was my original goal.
I just kind of fell into the sports radio thing. It was not my intention when I first started. I always loved sports radio. I listened to it when I was younger, but I didn’t know that I would be good at it. I’m pretty much an introvert. It’s odd when an introvert does this. I guess being in the business now there are a lot of introverts in radio.
Noe: If you’re an introvert, how challenging were your early days of being on the air?
Ben: I remember the first show I did in L.A., the first talk show, it was a Saturday. I spent all week preparing. I was so paranoid. I was like I’ve got to be perfect. This is going to be very important. I’ll never forget; I did my opening monologue at the start of the show. It was like a Saturday morning at like 10 in the morning or something like that. I nailed it, right? And the program director, Beau Bennett, came in and he said great job by you.
I hadn’t planned it out, so I didn’t have any material the rest of the show. Everything was in the monologue. I had this flop sweat going. It was a nightmare, man. It’s tough for people starting out. You’ve got to really get your reps in and go through those growing pains. It obviously worked out in the end, but those first couple of times that I was on the air by myself I was panicked. You think, oh man no one’s listening. No one’s going to call and help you out and bail you out. It’s nerve-racking.
Noe: You’re so great at interacting with your callers. Did that take you a while to get that good and that comfortable with it?
Ben: Doing overnights, as you know, Brian — because you’ve worked some shifts at FOX doing the overnight show over the years — it’s a different animal overnight than it is during the day. During the day it’s more interview based. They don’t take a lot of calls. But overnight, it’s like a parallel universe where you take calls.
As far as my relationship with the callers, it just kind of happened organically. I was a fan of Howard Stern back in his prime. I liked what he did with the callers and it just kind of fell into that. I’ve got several guys that I consider them professional radio callers because these are guys I heard before I was in the business. I heard these guys calling the radio shows like Dick in Dayton and Cowboy in Windsor. These guys became part of the show. They became characters on the show. The odd thing is that some of these people I actually know about their lives and correspond and we have emails. It’s an odd relationship but it’s been fun.
Noe: Would you miss that whole dynamic if you ever moved to a different daypart?
Ben: Yeah, it’s a give and take. I think I can do pretty well. Radio is very important 6am to 6pm and I think I could hold ratings and bring an audience there. I think a lot of these guys that are my big fans, the Maller Militia guys, who will come with me wherever I go, that’s encouraging.
I really love doing the overnights. It’s been great for me. I used to listen to Art Bell back in the day on Coast to Coast. My parents would listen to him. Now George Noory does a great job on that show.
There are a lot of people listening overnight. I’m obviously biased but it’s a special crowd. You’ve got a group of people, a hodgepodge of people, an insomnia of people that work third shift. People that are doing different odd jobs — truck drivers, security guards, all those kind of people — so it’s good. They really appreciate it because I don’t know that you get the same feedback during the day. I think it’s more of the less personal relationship with the audience during the day than it is at night.
Noe: The Maller Militia is the perfect name because your fan base, they are diehards. What do you think it is that you’ve been able to do to make that connection with your audience?
Ben: I don’t know exactly what is resonating. As far as my philosophy on doing the show, I just try to keep it real. I don’t take myself too seriously. Even though I’m very critical — obviously I poked fun at athletes all the time. That goes with the job. It’s part of the territory to be a critic, but I have fun. I don’t look down upon these guys that call the show. To me they’re not equals as far as I’m on the microphone, they’re not on the microphone, but we’re just having a conversation. They seem to really enjoy that part of it. They’re part of the show.
I think that’s the biggest thing about this, Brian, is the fact that we’re so interactive as far as reading comments from people on Twitter, and taking phone calls, and all the other social media stuff, that people really feel that they’ve got an ownership in the show. Literally I have a plan coming in every night of what I think I’m going to talk about and a lot of it takes twists and turns based on the feedback I get in real time from the audience.
It’s really the great thing about live radio; I really appreciate the feedback in real time. I know right away what’s working and what people cannot stand. The people that follow me are not afraid to tell me I suck and that was terrible radio. I like that. I want to know what people like. I want to give people what they like. That’s kind of how that goes.
Noe: When a great caller, Jeannie in Medford, passed away, were you surprised how huge the response was from listeners that had a connection with her through your show?
Ben: Yeah, Jeannie is one of the great characters in sports radio. I miss her. She was my most popular caller. It’s just a crazy story that you only get in overnight radio. The legend of Jeannie in Medford was born by her calling 911. She just wanted somebody to talk to. She was lonely. She got arrested for it because you’re not supposed to call 911 when you’re lonely. You’re supposed to call 911 when you have an emergency. So the police called her and said ‘listen, turn on the radio and call a radio show. Don’t call the police.’
Somehow she found my show late at night and she would call every night. We didn’t put her on the air every night, but it was great. She was quite the character. She had great stories. She had an interesting life. I don’t know how much of it was true and how much if it was embellished, but it made for good talk radio.
You’re absolutely right; I remember talking to Justin Cooper the producer and we knew she had been sick. I wasn’t blindsided. She had been in poor health unfortunately. She had a hard life with drugs and booze and that kind of stuff. I was talking to Coop and we started a GoFundMe page because she had no family when she passed away.
One of our other listeners had kept in contact with her. So we tried to raise some money. We raised way more, I forget exactly the dollar amount, but it was like thousands of dollars more than we anticipated to cover the funeral cost for Jeannie. It was people that never call the show, never text the show, none of that stuff. These are just people that aren’t ever interactive that reached out and donated money on this GoFundMe thing. It was amazing.
It’s one of these things when you die you don’t really know. I wish we could get that message to Jeannie how much she was loved because I don’t think any of us imagined that kind of reaction would happen to just a person calling a radio show at 1 in the morning.
Noe: When you think back on your career, what’s something that stands out as one of your favorite bits or moments in radio?
Ben: This is going to sound odd but one of my favorite nights in radio was right after the Malice at the Palace. We did four hours when Ron Artest and Jermaine O’Neal and those guys went in the crowd and started fighting with the Pistons fans. It was crazy. The show was carried by the Pistons flagship station and the Pacers radio station at the time. It was wild. It was one of the funnest nights we had for anything to talk about because it had just happened right before we got on the air. It was a crazy, wild night.
As far as some of the bits that we’ve done; we do these radio roasts every once in a while where listeners send jokes in and everyone thinks they’re funny. Those have been pretty good. We did one about Tim Tebow back when Tebowmania was a big thing. I think it’s one of the funniest things that has ever been broadcast on FOX. I know I’m biased on that one as well, but that was really fun. We were all dying at these jokes. It was a lot of fun.
Noe: What’s something that a lot of your listeners wouldn’t know about you?
Ben: When I’m at home I don’t talk about sports with my wife. She’s not a big sports fan. It’s not like when I come home the job is always with me. I’m watching games every night before I do the overnight show, but as far as my time with my wife and my family, we talk about other day-to-day stuff going on, but not hardo sports conversation at the house.
Noe: What’s a favorite hobby of yours that has nothing to do with sports radio?
Ben: I’m pretty much dedicated to the job. It’s funny that you bring that up because I remember one of my bosses back in the day, Bruce Gilbert, told me you gotta have balance. You’ve got to have balance in your life. You can’t be all about the radio. It was really good advice. I don’t know that I do anything in particular as far as a hobby. I do like to sometimes kind of Zen out. There’s a park with a lake right near my house. I’ll go out there sometimes and just kind of sit out in nature. I’m like an old man feeding ducks at the park.
It does kind of clear my mind a little bit. I feel refreshed and then I can move on and do some other stuff. It’s not really a hobby but it’s something I do from time to time just to kind of reset.
Noe: How many Ben Maller nicknames are there now?
Ben: (Laughs.) I think the last count we were at 44 nicknames. These are all sent in by listeners. That’s pretty funny. I do the nickname rundown every so often. People seem to enjoy that. They’re pretty funny and ridiculous and absurd nicknames.
Noe: Do you have a favorite nickname?
Ben: There are a couple of them that stand out that I think are pretty good. I think the thing that sums up the show; they call me the Nocturnal Colonel of the Maller Militia. The Beethoven of BS is also pretty amusing to me. I think that sums up a lot of what all of us do in sports radio. I think that’s pretty good.
Noe: In terms of sports radio in general, where do you think the business is right now? Do you like where it is overall, or do you think things could be noticeably better in ways?
Ben: I love working in the business. I feel like it’s really in a good place right now as far as what’s going to happen in the next five to 10 years. It is going to be a gold rush for sports talk radio and I’m so happy I’m still in the business. I hope to stay in the business for a long time. The gambling thing is going to be so big now that it’s getting legal state to state. It’s going to bring in so much money to local sports radio stations. It’s going to be great.
I remember when I first started, Brian, and I don’t even know if this is true, but I was told this by an old guy in the radio business. I’ve always kept this close to my vest. When sports radio started, the first 24/7 sports radio station in New York, WFAN, a big part of their plan was to just give scores out because at that time there was no internet. You couldn’t click on to your favorite sports site and get the scores. People were calling like sports phones. There were guys gambling on games illegally and they needed to get the score of the Dodgers game or the Mariners game and they’re sitting in New Jersey or New York, so WFAN catered to that audience of gamblers.
This is what I was told and it seems to make sense. That leads into what we’re going through right now. I think the next couple of years are going to be amazing financially for the sales people. Hopefully it trickles down to the people on the air as well, and the programmers, and everyone can benefit from what I think is going to be perfect for our format. If you are running a sports gambling outfit and you want to bring people in, there’s no better place to advertise than sports talk radio.
Noe: Overnight radio is such an anything-goes type deal. Have you ever done a segment that you thought sucked but then it gets a great reaction?
Ben: Oh I’ve done plenty of bad radio. I should have been fired probably for some of the segments of radio I’ve done over the years, but you live and learn. You’re right; the thing about this — I get a kick out of it — I’ll do a monologue and I’ll think I’m the god of sports and all this stuff. I have this big head when I do these monologues. I have all the answers when I do a 10-minute monologue on the radio.
Then I’ll spend like a minute talking to Eddie Garcia, and Roberto my engineer, and Coop, and we’ll just talk about something that happened during the day — whether I had an odd experience at Costco. I look at the reaction and no one cares about my monologue. They all want to talk about what happened in my personal life. It’s like well why did I just spend 10 minutes talking about that when all you care about is me going to Costco and taking as many samples as I could possibly take?
Noe: Ahh, man. It’s so true. Do you keep a similar sleep schedule over the weekend when you’re not doing the show?
Ben: The way I’ll answer that is that it really depends on my wife’s schedule. My wife works for a police department so she switches her shift. Most of the year she works during the day and then sometimes she’ll actually work third shift — the same hours that I have. She works a little longer than I do as a 911 operator.
It depends on her schedule. Typically if we want to do anything on the weekends you’ve got to flip your schedule around. You want to see family and all that stuff. Just to go shopping you’ve got to change your schedule around. I do change it. I have a schedule; the show is Sunday night for us until Thursday. Then Friday night and Saturday night I have more of a normal schedule.
Noe: Some of my friends are in news radio. It gets contentious and some of the listeners are nuts. What have been your experiences with crazy sports talk listeners lashing out or doing wild things?
Ben: Well, I’ve had some listeners threaten to kill me. That’s been interesting. I don’t think they were kidding. That’s odd, but I have some real cartoon characters. Working the overnights you get some people that have just amazing personalities that want to be on the radio. I did an appearance — I was working at WEEI for a couple of years and they brought me back there — and I did an appearance at a bar across from Fenway Park. It was crazy. It was wild.
We had a bunch of the East Coast listeners, the Northeast listeners that showed up. One guy who I will never forget — down the line if I write a book – one of my callers, this guy David, drove all the way from Winter Park, Florida just to hang out for like two hours at a bar, the Cask ‘n Flagon, in Boston. It was crazy.
The funny thing about it is he had called the show and he said he had a parrot named Roscoe. Roscoe the Parrot, right? So I’m like okay. I said to him where is Roscoe the Parrot? And David leaves the bar. He goes out to his car. He comes back. Now I didn’t know where he went because I was doing some other stuff with some of the other guys that were there. He comes back and he’s holding this stuffed animal parrot. And then he started talking — he pretended like the parrot could talk. It was unbelievable. I’m like what am I doing here? It was crazy. It was pretty amusing. He’s quite the character and that really stands out right off the top of my head.
Noe: (Laughs.) What would you say is the proudest achievement of your broadcasting career?
Ben: I think that it’s still yet to happen. I’m very happy that I got the overnight show at FOX. I’m very proud of that. It’s something I wanted when I started at FOX Sports Radio. That was something I had my eye on for a while. I was hoping I could get, not just that shift, any shift at FOX Sports Radio. I’m very proud of that.
I don’t really spend a lot of time looking back at stuff that I’ve done per se. I think you do that once you’re retired from the business and all that. I just march along every day and then eventually look back and reminisce about the good ol’ days.
Noe: A lot of the business nowadays is they want names. Programmers want someone with a big name. Was it hard for you to get to where you are without being a former big name athlete or having a big name in another capacity beforehand?
Ben: Yeah, Brian, that’s a great point. You’ve had the same battles I’ve had. I went to a community college. I didn’t play sports. I started in the business as an intern. I completely understand why program directors want to hire people who are ex-athletes, or comedians, or actors and people like that because you can sell it to advertisers. But I think we’re missing out on some really good radio people.
To me radio is an art form. Those that can do it well, it’s really wonderful — it’s audio art to listen to. Unfortunately it’s disposable. It doesn’t last. I guess with podcasts now it lasts, but I do think program directors are missing out. You can get great radio people. The people listening — I believe this to be true — the bulk of the people that listen they might start to listen because of a big name, but if that person doesn’t know the formatics of radio and doesn’t do an entertaining show, they’re not going to listen. The audience isn’t going to be there whereas if you hire somebody that maybe doesn’t have the name and ends up working his craft or her craft and becomes really good at it, then I’d rather have that person. Obviously I come from a position where if I was an athlete or an entertainer I would feel the other way. But I do think the people that run radio stations should look more at these people because they’re also cheaper. I’m pretty affordable compared to some of these big name guys.
Noe: (Laughs.) Absolutely. What’s something that you would like to accomplish or experience in your broadcasting career before it’s over?
Ben: I did television for about a year and I would like to try that again. I was not good at it per se. I was on a show that got cancelled on the NBC Sports Network. But I want to give it another go.
I’m a little older now. I’m probably less camera friendly than I was back then, not that I’ve ever been camera friendly and all that. I’d like to give that a shot and mix that in a little bit. I’ve also kicked around the idea eventually of getting back on the website. I think if I get out of the radio side of things, which I don’t intend on doing, I could bring back a website that I had about 10-15 years ago. I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing right now. I would like to give TV, as I said, a shot again.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert Griffin III Wants to Tell Your Story the Right Way
“Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
During last season’s VRBO Fiesta Bowl, Robert Griffin III was part of ESPN’s alternate telecast at field level alongside Pat McAfee. Suddenly, the Heisman Trophy winner took a phone call. Once he hung up the phone, Griffin divulged that his wife had gone into labor and proceeded to sprint off of the field to catch a flight. An ESPN cameraperson documented his run and jubilation as he returned home to welcome his daughter, Gia, into the world. It encapsulated just what motivates Griffin to appear on television and discuss football, and why he is one of ESPN’s budding talents with the chance to make an impact on sports media and his community for years to come.
“This was an opportunity for me to go out and be different in the way that the media covers the players and truly get to the bottom of telling the players’ stories the right way,” Griffin said. “I look at this as an opportunity to do that.”
Griffin was a three-sport athlete as a student at Copperas Cove High School, and ultimately broke Texas state records in track and field. In addition to that, he played basketball and was the starting quarterback for the school’s football team as a junior and senior, drawing attention from various schools around the country. He ended up graduating high school one semester early and quickly became a star at Baylor University in both football and track and field.
Robert Griffin III’s nascent talent was hardly inconspicuous, evidenced by being named the 2008 Big 12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year and then, three years later, the winner of the Heisman Trophy. In the end, he graduated having set or tied 54 school records and helped the program to its first bowl game win in 19 years.
Ultimately, he transitioned to the NFL in a career with many trials and tribulations, but through it all, he never lost his sense of persistence. Nearly a decade later, he returned to college, but this time as a member of the media covering the game from afar. Unlike a majority of former players though, Griffin did not formally retire from playing football when inking a broadcasting contract with ESPN.
“I haven’t retired yet at all,” he said. “I tell everyone that asks me the question that I train every day [and] I’m prepared to play if that call does come. I’ve had some talks with teams over the past two years; just nothing has come to fruition.”
While Griffin’s focus as a broadcaster is undeniable, he never thought about seriously pursuing sports media until his broadcast agent pushed him to do so. He was urged to take an audition at FOX Sports. Griffin broke down highlights and called a mock NFL game alongside lead play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt. He was not prepared for that second part, but impressed executives and precipitously realized a career in the space may not be so outlandish after all.
Griffin then moved to ESPN where he experienced a similar audition process, this time calling a game with play-by-play announcer Rece Davis. Once the audition concluded, it was determined that Griffin would not only begin working in the industry, but that he would be accelerated because of his ability to communicate in an informative and entertaining style.
As a player, he saw the way media members covered teams – sometimes bereft of objectivity – and therefore saw assimilating into the industry as a chance to change that. Now, he is focused on telling the stories of the players en masse while being prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice.
ESPN’s intention was to implement Griffin on its studio coverage, but once executives heard him in the broadcast booth, the company had a palpable shift in its thinking. He was told he was ready to go out into the field and start calling games immediately, something of a surprise to him. FOX Sports felt similarly. This led to a bidding war between the two entities, which ultimately concluded with Griffin inking a contract with ESPN. He appeared over its airwaves plenty of times as a player, and even participated on a variety of studio shows in 2018 where he was almost permanently placed on NFL Live. This time around though, Griffin was suddenly preparing to work with Mark Jones and Quint Kessenich on college football games. He did not have time to consider the implications of the decision, instead diving headfirst into the craft and remaining focused on what was to come with producer Kim Belton and director Anthony DeMarco at his side.
“These guys took me under their wing, and I’m beyond indebted to them for that,” Griffin said of his colleagues. “They taught me everything that I know about the industry. They taught me everything I know about how to present things to the masses to where it can be easily digestible. They’ve allowed me to allow my personality to shine through.”
Demonstrating his personality was a facet of his makeup Griffin felt was inhibited by playing professional football, but he knows it would have been considerably more difficult to attain a chance to cover the game had he not laced up his cleats. Calling college football games with Jones accentuated his comfort in the booth because of Jones’ adept skill to appeal to the viewers and penetrate beyond the sport.
“He has the way to connect different generations of listeners to hear what he’s saying and perceive it in the same way,” Griffin said. “To me, that’s what we all strive to do in this industry is to be able to find the connective tissue between the fan who is 60 or 70 years old, and the fan who’s in their late teens or early 20s.”
From the beginning, everyone told Griffin to be himself and not adopt an alternate persona in front of the camera. That advice has guided him as he approaches his third year working in the industry.
“It is so hard to maintain a character or try to be someone that you’re not, but if you are who you are every single day, then every time you show up on camera you will be that person,” Griffin said. “I’ve made sure that when I stepped foot in front of that camera, I was going to be myself.”
Griffin identifies his style as pedagogical to a degree, critiquing players as if he was coaching them on the sidelines. He will never look to penetrate beyond football with his criticism, as drawing conclusions and using unrelated parlance could be viewed as indecorous. In short, Griffin III knows what it means to represent ESPN.
“We’re not a gossip website. We’re supposed to be critically acclaimed, prestigious journalists, and at the end of the day, that’s how I try to approach the job that I do. That’s why I got into the business – because I felt like there was a little of that going on, especially during my career, so I would never do to somebody else what was done to me.”
Over the course of his NFL career, Griffin was subject to immense criticism that went significantly beyond the gridiron. For example, sports commentator Rob Parker suggested that Griffin was not fully representative of the Black community and proceeded to question if he was a “cornball brother.” The incident resulted in Parker receiving a 30-day suspension from ESPN, and after he defended his comments and blamed First Take producers in a subsequent interview, the network decided not to renew his contract.
“My goal as a member of the media is to tell players’ stories the right way, and if I don’t know you personally, I’m never going to make it personal,” Griffin said. “Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
In addition to broadcasting college football games with Jones on ESPN and ABC, he also appears on-site for Monday Night Countdown, the network’s pregame show leading up to Monday Night Football. Making the decision to add NFL coverage to his slate of responsibilities meant that Griffin would be able to tell more stories and utilize his knowledge of players during their collegiate careers to enhance the broadcast.
The energy that he felt attending tailgates and interacting with fans at the college level gave him a unique skill set to translate to the NFL side, leading him to present the production team with an unparalleled idea for Week 1. He wanted to race Taima the Hawk, the live game mascot for the Seattle Seahawks who flies around Lumen Field prior to the start of each home game. It was an outlandish idea, but one that made sense for television because of the visual appeal it can present.
“If you know anything about hawks, they can fly up to 120-140 miles per hour, so they’re like, ‘There’s no way he’s going to beat this hawk in a race, but we’ll do it,’” Griffin said. “To that crew’s credit, they never once balked at any of the creative ideas that I brought to the table because they want to try different things and be exciting and have fun on the show.”
Griffin ended up winning the race, commencing the new season of Monday Night Countdown with immediate excitement before the Seahawks’ matchup against the Denver Broncos. He thoroughly enjoyed his first year on the show and having the chance to work alongside Suzy Colber, Adam Schefter, Booger McFarland, Steve Young, Larry Fitzgerald and Alex Smith.
“They always tell me, ‘Hey, anything you’re not comfortable with, you just let us know and we won’t do that thing,’” Griffin said of the show’s producers. “My answer always back to them is, ‘Well, I won’t know if I’m uncomfortable with it if I don’t try.’”
While Griffin had what looked like a seamless assimilation into the broadcasting world, he had a difficult moment when using a racial slur on live television in discussing Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. The clip quickly gained traction across the internet, and Griffin issued an apology on his Twitter account for using the pejorative language and claimed that he misspoke.
“I was shocked that it came out in the way that it did, and I immediately jumped on it and apologized because there’s no need to deny,” he said. “You messed up. You move forward, and I think that’s the easiest way to get over those types of things and to get back on your feet.”
The football season at both the college and professional level is undoubtedly a grind, and it requires a combination of dedication, passion and persistence few people possess. Robert Griffin III has garnered the reputation of being an “overpreparer,” often partaking in considerably more information than necessary to execute a broadcast. The information he consumes and conclusions he draws combined with his experience at both levels has cultivated him into a knowledgeable analyst who makes cogent, intelligible points on the air.
“I over-prepare for everything, and 70% of the information that I soak in going into a game or going into a broadcast for Monday Night Countdown, I don’t use because there’s just not enough air time,” Griffin III said. “There’s not enough opportunities to talk on it all.”
At the same time, he makes a concerted effort to make the most of his time with his family and separate himself from the field, engaging in activities including playing ping pong, going to the movies and supporting his children. He also embarks in charity work through his RG3 Foundation and strives to teach his daughters the importance of giving back. The mission of the nonprofit foundation is to discover and design programs for underprivileged youth, struggling military families and victims of domestic violence, and it has made a significant impact since it was launched in 2015.
“Trying to end food insecurity; making sure that our under-resourced youth have access to the things that they need just to survive – talking about food, clothes, books, the ability to learn [and] putting on these after-school programs,” Griffin elucidated in describing the organization’s mission. “We want to have an impact on our community. We mean that with everything in us and have shown that to be the true case of why we do this.”
Griffin’s wife, Grete, serves as the executive director of the foundation and also runs her own fitness business. Staying physically and mentally in shape is something they actively try to accomplish in their everyday lives, and lessons they are passing down to their daughters.
“I’m 33 years old right now, so if I want to continue to train every single day, I can do that for the next 10 years if I need to,” Griffin said. “Not taking hits and being physically fit is also a good thing for your own health, which is something me and my wife are extremely passionate about.”
Although his experience is in playing football and working in sports media, Robert Griffin III does not believe in limiting himself and would consider exploring opportunities outside of sports and entertainment. He wants to become the best broadcaster possible no matter where he is working in the industry and continue finding new ways to be distinctive en masse.
“We’re storytellers,” he said. “We’re here to break down things [and] to tell people a story the right way; things that people are interested in, and that expands across all media levels. We’re not closing the door on anything from that standpoint.”
While he was playing in the NFL, Griffin dealt with a variety of injuries that ultimately kept him off the football field and made it difficult to display his talents. Ranging from an ACL tear, shoulder scapula fracture and hairline fracture in his right thumb, staying healthy was a challenge for him over the time he played in the NFL.
Through surgeries and rehabilitation, he learned how to face and overcome these challenges. It has shaped him into the broadcaster and person he is today as he looks to set a positive example to aspiring football players and broadcasters everywhere.
“The eight-year career that I was able to have thus far didn’t come without roadblocks in the way [and] didn’t come without adversity. Learn from the adversity that you go through and learn from all the things and the lessons that you have that sports teaches you, and then go be able to present that to the masses.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pac-12 Pushing Enhanced Access, Deion Sanders Reeks of Desperation
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Coach Prime if those game telecasts aren’t seen?
Getting experimental has drawn some attention to USFL and XFL broadcasts during each league’s seasons. The Pac-12 is apparently hoping the same approach will draw viewers to its football telecasts beginning this fall.
Last week, the conference announced that its broadcasts on ESPN, Fox Sports, and Pac-12 Networks would feature enhanced access for viewers. Head coaches will be interviewed during games. Players and coaches will be mic’d up during pregame warm-ups. Cameras will have pregame and halftime access to team locker rooms. And handheld camera operators will be allowed to film parts of the field and game experience which were previously prohibited.
Those familiar with USFL and XFL telecasts will likely see some similarities to the greater access that those leagues allow their TV partners. Coaches are mic’d up on the sidelines, giving viewers insight into play calls and strategy. Players are interviewed during the game, providing near-instant reactions to success or failure. Cameras in the replay booth show how officials decide to either overturn or uphold calls on the field.
What the Pac-12 intends to do with its broadcasts won’t go as far as the USFL and XFL. Access to coaches and players is being expanded but will still have limits. The conference doesn’t have to demonstrate familiarity, credibility, and legitimacy to fans and media.
Spring pro football leagues are a tough sell to mainstream sports fans accustomed to college football and the NFL from September through January. Especially when the level of play is subpar and rosters are filled with unfamiliar names, the USFL and XFL have to give fans more reasons to watch.
USC, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon are established national brands and regularly compete with the top teams in college football. Utah has played in the past two Rose Bowls, seen on millions of televisions during the New Year’s Day holiday. All five of those schools finished among the final AP Top 25 rankings of the 2022-23 season. USC quarterback Caleb Williams won the 2022 Heisman Trophy.
Yet the Pac-12 is promoting the gimmick of enhanced access because it needs to attract positive fan and media attention. Right now, most of the headlines the conference is generating aren’t flattering.
Notably, the Pac-12 needs a new media rights deal. Losing two of its most prominent schools, USC and UCLA, to the Big Ten in 2024 certainly isn’t helping with that. Rumors have persisted that Washington and Oregon could soon follow. Additionally, the Big 12 is reportedly eyeing Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah as possible expansion targets.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is left to tout Colorado’s new head coach, Deion Sanders, as a selling point in a new media rights deal. Never mind that Sanders hasn’t coached a game in Boulder yet. The Buffaloes are also coming off a 1-11 season and have won more than five games only once since 2007.
If Coach Prime is as successful as Colorado hopes, how likely is he to jump to a better program and stronger conference? And as mentioned in a previous paragraph, even if Sanders sticks around, Colorado could be poached by the Big 12. How much value would Coach Prime provide for the Pac-12 then?
ESPN’s deal with the conference expires in July 2024, shortly before USC and UCLA defect, and reportedly has no intention of renewing. (ESPN could still agree to a package of lower-tier games for late-night broadcast windows, but Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reports that doesn’t appear likely.) Fox’s agreement is up at the same time, though prospects of a renewal seem more optimistic. The network needs Pac-12 games to fill its college football Saturday inventory.
The options from there aren’t promising. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reports that current speculation has USA Network, part of the NBCUniversal conglomerate, as a possible landing spot. According to The Athletic, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff believes that the conference’s next media rights deal will have a large streaming component with Amazon and Apple TV+ mentioned as potential partners.
A streaming partner might be good from a financial standpoint, helping produce some of the revenue that ESPN has cut off. But forcing fans to find your product and asking them to pay for another TV platform isn’t a good way to draw interest. It may well be a path to irrelevance and obscurity. That’s not going to compete with the Big Ten and SEC, or even the Big 12.
And as The Athletic’s Chris Vannini points out, how can streaming be expected to save a conference like the Pac-12 when it isn’t even helping TV networks (or standalone providers) right now? Disney is losing money with Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu. NBCUniversal has lost billions on Peacock, as has CBS with Paramount+. Maybe the Pac-12 won’t care about that because it got paid. But there’s little chance for growth.
OK, Lincoln Riley, Chip Kelly, Dan Lanning, and Kyle Whittingham could be interviewed during games. But they probably won’t say much interesting during a game. Caleb Williams, Bo Nix, and Michael Penix Jr. will be mic’d up during warm-ups. Maybe we’ll see coaches and players going crazy in the locker room at halftime. Just remember that Peyton Manning said most players only have time to use the bathroom and have a snack. There’s your compelling television.
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Deion Sanders if those game telecasts aren’t seen by large audiences? To say otherwise is desperate. That’s exactly where the Pac-12 is.
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 email@example.com.
ESPN Deal Used to Mean Stability for ACC, Now It Means Anything But
It was April 19, 1775 when the first shots of war were fired on battlefields in Lexington and Concord that would send shockwaves across the world. Some brave soul among a group of rebel farmers and blacksmiths, doctors and lawyers literally pulled the trigger on what would become known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”. Indeed, the world would never be the same.
The college athletics version of that event was June 11, 2010. On that day, regents at the University of Nebraska officially applied for Big Ten membership and were unanimously approved by the other eleven schools (if the number in the conference name not matching the number of schools in that conference is something that bothers you, this column may not be for you). From that day forward, we have never really exited the “expansion era”.
One conference that has gone largely untouched in that time is the ACC. Only Maryland has left the ACC since 2010, heading to the Big Ten, and the conference has added Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville in that same window. That is significant when you consider only the SEC and Big Ten have avoided any departures in this era. Every other major conference has seen great turbulence while those three conferences have primarily seen only growth.
That trend may actually continue for the ACC and that may not be a net positive for the conference or the ACC members. This is thanks to the long term grant of rights deal the conference schools negotiated with ESPN. The grant of rights means ESPN holds the broadcast rights to all home games of the current ACC schools, and do so for the next 13 years.
When the deal was signed in 2016, the 20 year media rights deal seemed like a win for the ACC, creating stability in a time of great instability. Now, what seemed like a “must have purchase” may be the impulse buy that the league schools regret for decades.
Put simply, the ACC has been lapped in the media rights race by the Big Ten, SEC and even the Big 12. At best, the ACC schools are working at a $10-15 Million per year deficit when compared to Big 12 schools. At worst, they are operating at a much larger $30-$40 Million annual deficit when compared to Big Ten and SEC programs. It would be a battle of monumental proportions for the ACC to compete on the same level as those other conferences at that large of a disadvantage.
The conference’s options are slim. ESPN has a deal that is locked for 13 more years, what benefit would it be to them to renegotiate just so the ACC can compete? For instance, it would require $140 Million annually from ESPN just to place the ACC in the same financial neighborhood as the Big 12 Conference. What would be the benefit to ESPN in doing that?
The other option for ACC schools would be to bang the departure drum. Almost all legal analysts have painted a very grim picture for the schools that would be itching to leave. The exit fee is $120 million and may get the schools some nice parting gifts but does not give them their media rights. Their home game broadcast rights will still be a part of the ESPN deal with ACC. That greatly reduces a departing school’s value to any other conference.
Maybe ESPN is willing to broker a deal for a departing school if it is going to a conference, such as the SEC, that has a large rights deal with ESPN. If one of the schools desires a departure to the Big Ten, who has large deals with networks not named ESPN, one would have to think The Worldwide Leader would be in less of a deal-making mood.
Some league athletics directors, led by Florida State’s Michael Alford, are suggesting teams be incentivized for success. Breaking the code; rather than equal distribution, the power schools want a bigger share of the money. This is where Wake Forest points out that it is all they can do to exceed football expectations on their current stipend, what will become of them if that money shrinks? It seems that conferences and leagues that steer away from an equally shared revenue model have had a difficult time making that work long term.
Maybe the ACC teams that are ready to punch out could flash back to the period of time our country was in with the events we started this column remembering. They have a team in Boston, go throw some tea in the harbor and revolt, have a modern day Boston Tea Party. As it stands now, there are several ACC members that want to leave the party they are part of. Their only problem is they are all dressed up with nowhere to go.
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.