FOX Sports Radio host Jason Smith is a smart dude. It dawned on me during my discussion with him that he’s not just playing chess or checkers, he’s actually playing both games on the air each night. The checkers approach is simple; find ways to entertain listeners and make them laugh. We aren’t splitting atoms and solving the world’s problems. Let’s loosen the collar and enjoy some figurative dessert together. That’s the easy part.
Due to Jason’s timeslot — 7-11pm PT — it would be foolish to discuss the biggest stories of the day while using the same angles as daytime hosts. He and co-host Mike Harmon have to figure out new ways of approaching the top stories. That isn’t easy. Daytime shows can afford to be like pop music while taking a straightforward approach. A nighttime show is more advanced like jazz with key changes midsong. Straightforward becomes repetitive and stale. Fresh and unpredictable is king.
It takes a special talent to blend checkers and chess together. Jason is one of the few that is up for the challenge. An emmy-award winning producer and author, Jason talks about the best piece of sports radio advice he’s received, which is actually quite funny. The worst piece of advice he’s gotten is a great lesson for everybody in the industry. Jason also shares an awesome story about how wood, yes wood, played a major role in his radio career. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: How did your path unfold to where you are now?
Jason Smith: I don’t recommend my path for anybody. [Laughs] I don’t know that it works anywhere but in Los Angeles. I did radio in college at Syracuse. I got out of college and I got a job at ESPN. I was a production assistant, associate producer and I was really enjoying life. It was a great job and I loved it. Then I became a producer at FOX when my wife and I moved to Los Angeles. Everything was awesome. I was going to be a TV person, producer, executive and do all this stuff.
Then something happened — this was the moment where I realized I have to get back and I have to do radio. I was producing Monday Night Live, which was a TV show that aired in Los Angeles after the Monday Night Football games. This was back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. It was a variety show. Bill Weir was the host. We were doing the first show that night and Bill’s co-host was Ellen K who was on with Ryan Seacrest and before that was on with Rick Dees. This is when she was on with Rick Dees. Bill was going out doing these appearances and as a producer of the show I was there with him to help with the talking points.
We go to — back then it was 1150 in Los Angeles, the only sports talk station I think at the time. We walk in there and Bill does a hit with the people on the air there. Then we go and do a hit on Rick Dees’ show. I’m like wow this is cool. Rick Dees is doing a national morning show. We walked into the studio and I met Rick Dees. I think radio people will understand this, but the smell of the studio — the wood, the equipment, took me all the way back to everything I did in college. At that moment I said to myself I’ve got to get back into radio.
All the things that happened after that, it was the smell of the control room and specifically the wood and seeing the carts, which is what they used to play songs off of. It was just one of those epiphany moments where I knew okay what I’m doing now, I’ve got to stop doing this. Within the next year, I segued from doing that. I was filling in doing sports talk radio in L.A. Ellen K helped me get an introduction with the program director at 1150. That’s where my career went from there. If I don’t walk into Rick Dees’ studio and smell the studio, I’m on a different career path.
BN: Wow, that’s crazy, man. Were you married at the time?
JS: No, my wife and I have been together since the mid-‘90s. We met in Connecticut and we moved out to L.A. together. Then we got married in 2007. We had been together for like 12 years before we got married. We were just lazy.
BN: [Laughs] Okay but you were together when you had this radio epiphany. How did your now-wife take that?
JS: She was incredibly supportive because she knew it was going to mean me quitting my job. Right away she said to me okay well then you have to quit. I said really? She said yeah. I said wow; I was expecting more of a conversation. She said well the first thing I’m going to tell you is your mood is going to change because you seem much happier.
She said producing and what you were doing, you just don’t seem as happy. You’re a little bit shorter with your comments. I can tell at times the way you talk you’re not the happy-go-lucky person that you were.
She was so incredibly supportive because she knew if I was going to leave and do this I had to be open at any time they could call me to fill in. I needed to say yes every single time. They couldn’t call me to fill in and I say, I can’t, I have to work, because they’re going to call somebody else and somebody else is going to get that. So I had to quit. I had to go with no job and just hope that when I was filling in they would keep calling me. They called me enough to fill in where we were able to stay afloat for a while.
Then FOX Sports Radio started and I got in there as a part-time update anchor overnight on the weekends. That was at least a steady paycheck. She was really supportive. Without that I don’t know if I would have been able to do it. Right away there was no conversation. It was okay good. You want to do this? Let’s do it. Without that, I don’t know.
BN: Were you listening to the hosts as an update anchor thinking, ‘This guy stinks. I could do a way better job’?
JS: [Laughs.] I knew I could do it. I had to bide my time because I knew that’s what I wanted to do. It was like okay I have to pay my dues. I have to be an update anchor. I was doing what I wanted to do so I was okay with that. I would get chances here and there to co-host. It was good.
As I noticed what was going on, I was like okay; I’m not seeing anybody reinvent the wheel here. I think I can be pretty good at this and start to figure out my own personality. I knew that I would have my own path. Everybody has their own personality and their own way they do the show. I knew the way I was going to do it, my interests, I had a feeling it was going to hit and it was going to resonate.
BN: Are there things you’re incorporating in your show during the pandemic that you anticipate continuing once more sports return?
JS: Absolutely. I think that we saw the landscape change a bit when it comes to where we’re going to be after COVID-19. Everybody still wants the hits, but you don’t have to play all the hits. You can get outside the box and do something that is fun, that is entertaining, that may be something that everybody is talking about that’s outside of sports because it’s still a hit.
I look at it this way; I did radio as a DJ in college. There were different stickers on all the songs you played. There was a red sticker that was on the hottest songs. Every two hours you played a red. Then every four hours you played a song with a white sticker on it because that was a song that was either on the way up to being popular, or it was popular and now it’s on the way down. I think in sports talk radio it used to be where we’ve got to play all the reds and we’ve got to play the whites. But really you just have to play the reds.
The reds can be all the big sports stuff going on and outside of it because the more time goes on, the more the line is blurred between sports and other topics. I’d rather spend two minutes talking about how it’s the big 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back than if I’m doing a story about something that Dwight Howard may have said earlier in the day. I think that appeals to more people. It’s more fun for me and I think it’s something that is a little bit outside the box that gets a little unpredictable.
BN: The “stick to sports” crowd used to be a lot more vocal in the past. Now that we’re unbuttoning the top button and straying outside of sports during the pandemic, do you anticipate listener habits changing where they might want hosts to loosen up if sports conversations get too serious in the future?
JS: Oh yeah. That top button, then the next button, then the next button, and suddenly it’s chest hair, and it’s a big medallion. What’s going to happen is we’re going to see when sports returns there’s going to be that initial rush just to get back to what people are used to and that is the breaking down of games. Obviously with the NBA playoffs coming up really quick it’s going to be okay, what do we think about that? But once we get past that it’s going to be you know, I kind of like sometimes when it’s not so serious and every topic is not life or death.
I think people deal with a lot of negative stuff now and everybody’s lives have changed forever. Can you still listen to people screaming at each other for three hours? I don’t think you can.
I think you can listen to people doing that for a little while, but eventually you’re going to say okay I’m ready for something else. I think that something else is going to be much more in the form of entertainment and doing things that are going to make people laugh. I’m glad about that because I know we can do that well. I don’t know that everybody can, but I think that’s going to be the way that sports talk radio kind of segues. A morning show type atmosphere might permeate itself into a midday show, an afternoon show, a night show. I think you might see the tone of shows change.
BN: In what ways does your approach differ between your normal nighttime show and when you fill in on daytime shows?
JS: The biggest thing is that when I’m doing the show during the day — if I’m in for Dan Patrick let’s just say — the big stories are there. It’s meat and potatoes and we’re eating. We’re driving opinions and entertaining and you’re not really thinking as much. When I do the show at night, I have to sit back and think what’s a way to talk about something that’s still a big story, that everybody wants to hear, that is 10 hours old? While I can’t just go completely off the deep end and talk about something that really doesn’t relate, I have to find different ways to bring up the same big story. I’ve got to give you more at night to make you think about it and do it a little bit different.
BN: What’s some of the best advice you’ve gotten over the years?
JS: Oh, I’ll tell you the best piece of advice I got was from JT the Brick. We were at FOX together. This is when I was coming up and I was trying to get opportunities. One thing I couldn’t figure out was how could I get myself in the position to get an opportunity to succeed. How can I go from part-time update anchor to fill-in show host? How do I go from fill-in show host to weekend show host? How do I go from weekend show host to five-day-a-week show host? How do I do these things?
He said let me tell you something, you will get more opportunities because people in front of you blow up and can’t handle success than you will on your own merit. I said you’re kidding. He goes no, trust me; you will get more opportunities because of that.
This advice he gave me was probably 15 years ago. Sure enough I look up and I go yep I got that job because a host and a co-host got in a fistfight and I got a job the next day. I got the next job because the host of the show didn’t want to do the whole show live and put the whole show on tape and they didn’t like that, so okay I get it. That has been true for 15 years is that people will blow up in front of you and that’s the opportunity you get to move up more so than hey, this guy’s doing a really good job, what can we do for him?
BN: What was the worst advice you’ve received?
JS: One of my managers at ESPN. ESPN was tough because when I was there they really only wanted to promote three shows. They wanted to promote Mike and Mike, Colin, and Dan Patrick. That was it. I understand that these are the moneymaker shows, but I still wanted a chance. I wanted to move up and I wanted people to know what we were doing. Being on overnight I wanted to make sure people knew hey we did this. We had this interview on. This is doing really well. We would send down information to our bosses. Here’s what we did last night and just let people know what our show was doing.
I had a manager tell me listen I understand that but don’t do that. Let me praise you. Let me go into meetings and praise you because that’s what’s going to cut through is if I go in and say something good about you. I said okay.
After that my career just stalled at ESPN. It absolutely stalled. I didn’t really know where to go from there. It was tough. I was at the point where I’m like okay I’ve been doing AllNight for a long time and I can’t light myself on fire. It was very difficult to get noticed. I said okay let me back off. I backed off and nothing happened. That was the worst advice ever.
Whenever I talk to someone and they ask me a question about hey what’s a piece of advice, one of the things I tell them is you have to make sure people know what you’re doing. You can’t trust anybody else. You’re going to be the best champion of yourself and you have to make sure that you’re the one in charge of that. If you want to make sure people know something you’re doing, you have to make sure to tell them. That was just horrible advice. It really hurt and it stalled me out of ESPN.
BN: Is there anything in the future that you want to do specifically or is your mindset more about the next show, the next day, the future will take care of itself?
JS: Well I kind of have a short-term and a long-term. I think mainly toward the next show. I’m a content guy and I concern myself with what are we doing tonight. How are we going to cut through? What are we doing in this next segment? What are we doing in the next hour? That’s the main thing. I know because of that a lot of other things take care of themselves. We’ve been on a very good run the past few years. It’s been a really great ride.
In the future, there are a couple of things I think about. At some point I think I would love to do mornings. Whether it’s locally here in L.A., I’d like to do that, but I’m having so much fun with what I’m doing now. It’s terrific. It’s really fun doing this at night. I’ve done nights most of my life.
Outside of that, I’ve been writing a lot. I love to blog about TV. That’s another big passion of mine and something I would really like to be able to do. I’d like to get my second novel published too. Those are the things that I look at in the future.
Mainly it’s every day what are we doing with the show and obviously now how we’re going to navigate COVID-19 and post COVID-19 realities. Down the road those are a couple of things I’m thinking about. I kind of wonder what that would be like. It’s not something that actively I’m looking at and going okay what are we going to do to make this happen? Where I’m at right now I really enjoy it and just enjoy the day to day.
790 The Ticket Was Something Special And Stugotz Knows It
“I had programmers calling me saying this is the best local lineup that they’ve ever seen, that they’ve ever heard.”
When I was making the transition from the rock world to talk radio, there was one show I looked at as a guide. I got laid off from 96 Rock in Raleigh, NC in the summer of 2011. That was the beginning of my flirtations with streaming and podcasts, which is how I stumbled onto The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on 790 The Ticket out of Miami.
Coming from a format that I felt out of place in at times, I instantly latched onto a show that reveled in pointing out how out of place it was in its own format. It became a daily listen for me, which opened me up to hearing other voices on the station like Jonathan Zaslow, Joy Taylor, Brian London, Brendan Tobin, Brett Romberg and others.
There were unique thinkers and passionate sports fans in every day part on 790 The Ticket. What set the station apart though is that I never heard anyone that sounded uncomfortable when the conversation turned to something that wasn’t a Dolphins’ loss or LeBron’s stat line. They talked sports the way normal human beings talk about sports. It was part of their lives, not the only thing they paid attention to.
Look at the outpouring of love for the station on Thursday. Hosts, producers and programmers from across the country took to social media to eulogize the station when the news broke that it would cease to exist the following week.
I can’t say for sure that all of those people felt the same way I did about the station and I cannot say whether or not it was for the same reasons. What I can say is 790 The Ticket had an influence that stretched far beyond South Florida.
Jon Weiner, better known as “Stugotz” to fans of the The Dan Le Batard Show, helped start the station in 2004. He told me that it didn’t take long for him to learn just how much The Ticket’s approach was making an impression on everyone in sports radio.
“I had programmers calling me saying this is the best local lineup that they’ve ever seen or heard,” he said in a phone call on Sunday. “I had people from out of market who had secure jobs at places that weren’t startups sending resumes and tapes because they wanted to be part of it. So yeah, we were aware and it is what we were going for. We got there pretty quickly and we were aware of the impact, not just in South Florida, but throughout the country.”
Last week, Brian “The Beast” London said his internal alarm bells first went off when he heard the Miami Heat were giving up their relationship with 790 the Ticket. The station and the team had been partners since 2008. He said in a YouTube video that it was hard to imagine the team’s games being heard anywhere else.
I asked Stugotz if he had the same feeling when he heard that news. He said in hindsight, he realized it was the beginning of the end, but he didn’t really get a sense something was up until Jonathan Zaslow was let go.
“[Zaslow] had been there since basically day one with us. And so I just kind of figured, yeah, between the Heat and then that I felt, okay, you don’t make a move like that unless there’s going to be some sort of seismic change. Otherwise, there’d be no reason to let him go. That was the moment I was like ‘okay, 790 is likely going away.'”
His feelings are no secret. He took to social media immediately on Thursday and said that the news that 790 The Ticket would soon be going away filled him with both sadness and pride. What Stugotz told me in our phone call was that he realizes that the station lasted about 15 years longer than it should have.
When the station was sold to Lincoln Financial Media, he was not expecting that company to want to keep a sports station. Senior Vice President Dennis Collins surprised him.
“The company saw so much potential in what we had built, both from a lineup and a sales perspective that they kept it going and that’s why it lasted all the way to 2022. We got it up and going and were responsible for the first three or four years, but Dennis saw the growth potential with the lineup we put together. That made me feel great because I had a pit in my stomach like ‘Oh, man, this thing we started is going to go away. It’s going to be three, four years and gone.’ And he said, ‘No, we love it. We want to keep it going’. So that was a huge compliment to everyone.”
Stugotz described the original owner of 790 The Ticket as a “young, good looking real estate mogul driving around in Lamborghinis.” That certainly helped the image of the station when it launched, but it is also a phenomenon that was very of the moment. It’s not 2004 anymore. Lamborghini-owning real estate moguls aren’t chomping at the bit to pour money into radio stations.
The conditions may be similar to what Stugotz and his partners saw in 2004. You could look at the radio landscape in Miami and see a way that a new challenger could fit in the sports radio scene. But what are the chances it actually happens?
“It’s a great question,” Stugotz said. “So just to go back to that time, two sports radio stations were popping up in every market. I’m not certain if that’s still the case anymore just because of podcasting and the way the way younger people are consuming media through Tik Tok, Snapchat, and other things that aren’t AM radio.”
He is quick to commend Audacy, the current owners of the 790 AM frequency. Dan Le Batard and Jorge Sedano were part of his early lineups at 790 The Ticket because Stugotz recognized the Cuban-American community in Miami was not being served in the sports space in 2004, just like it isn’t being properly served in the news/talk space right now. That’s why there’s room for the conservative-leaning brand Radio Libre in Miami and other markets are likely paying attention.
“It seems like a good plan, and I know it’s something that the Spanish population should have and deserves to have and probably was not being catered to correctly. So, yeah, I could see there’s a warning sign to some other sports radio stations or news stations in other markets where the Hispanic population is great. Absolutely!”
It is a shame that 790 The Ticket is no more and it is concerning that a station with its legacy and influence can simply disappear. But if we are being real, it isn’t the first station of its kind to suffer that fate and it won’t be the last.
As the media business changes and leaves sports stations vulnerable to something cheaper and with broader appeal, 790 The Ticket and stations like it should be touted as examples of how to rise above the noise and make an impact. Stugotz and his partners looked around in 2004 and said “we can be different and we can do this better” and that’s exactly what they did.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Chris Simms And His Self-Professed ‘Big Mouth’ Enjoying Life At NBC
“One of the things that I worried about was that I came from Bleacher Report and is NBC going to try to curtail my personality a little bit…sometimes I like to swear on my podcast and do stuff like that and they’ve really allowed me to be me which I really appreciate.”
To be a good football analyst, one certainly has to know and love the sport but you also can’t be afraid to use the most important tool that you have to do the job. Chris Simms has all of those attributes and NBC lets him use them to the best of his abilities.
“I love football and I love X’s and O’s and I got a big mouth so it’s a great combination,” said Simms. “Between my podcast, Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio, and Sunday Night Football, I get plenty of time to talk and get my studies out there.”
There’s no doubt that Chris inherited that self-professed big mouth from his father, former NFL quarterback and longtime NFL on CBS analyst, Phil Simms.
So, the question had to be asked…does Chris have a bigger mouth than his father?
“Yeah, I probably do,” admitted the younger Simms. “That’s a big mouth to overcome, but I think I probably got him beat in that department.”
Chris Simms set out to follow in his father’s footsteps on the field and played quarterback for Ramapo High School in New Jersey where he earned a pair of All-State honors. After graduating high school in 1999, Simms moved on to play quarterback at the University of Texas where he posted a 26-6 career record as a starter and was the team MVP during his senior season in 2002.
Simms was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft and he would guide the Bucs to a playoff berth in 2005. He would also go on to play for the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos completing a seven-year NFL playing career. He spent one season as an assistant coach with the New England Patriots before taking his talents to the world of broadcasting.
He started with FOX Sports as a college football announcer in 2013 and then joined Bleacher Report in 2014 while also serving as a color commentator for the NFL on CBS.
And then in 2017, Simms joined NBC Sports where he has certainly found a home.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Simms. “It’s a great company to work for. Just good people all around. They’ve given me the platform to be me. One of the things that I worried about was that I came from Bleacher Report and is NBC going to try to curtail my personality a little bit…sometimes I like to swear on my podcast and do stuff like that and they’ve really allowed me to be me which I really appreciate.”
Simms wears many different suits at NBC Sports, most notably his role as a studio analyst on Football Night in America leading into Sunday Night Football. He’s also a part of the SNF post-game show Sunday Night Football Final on Peacock, Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio, and Chris Simms Unbuttoned, a streaming/digital show that is also a podcast multiple days a week.
But the most eyeballs are on him during Football Night in America, the most watched studio show in sports.
“I grew up wanting to play in these games more than be the guy in the studio but this is like the second-best thing,” said Simms. “I was kind of that kid at 4 or 5 (years old) who could tell you every player in the NFL, their number and all that type of stuff. It’s the NFL on the biggest stage. It’s such a well-done show. I get to be there with Maria Taylor along with Tony Dungy, and Jason Garrett, and Mike Florio, and Matthew Berry. We got a great team and it makes Sunday fun.”
From the “it takes one to know one” category, Simms has also made a name for himself with his ranking of NFL quarterbacks. He’s very diligent when it comes to watching the live action and also in his film study and his top-40 rankings have become a hot topic within the business and around the office coolers.
Simms is well aware that his rankings have become a lightning rod of discussion.
“It all kind of started organically just because I would make statements,” said Simms. “People were like ‘Why don’t you start making a list?’ It’s a really hard thing to do. It offends a lot of people and I hate that. I root for all of these guys and I say on my podcast all the time I hope this guy proves me wrong. I hope he shits on me and shows me that I was wrong. It’s certainly not personal. One of the things I pride myself on is studying and immersing myself in the game all of the time.”
Simms became a full-time employee of NBC Sports in 2019, but his first role with the network came in 2017 when he became a studio analyst for Notre Dame Football.
Here’s a kid that grew up in North Jersey where there’s a ton of Notre Dame alumni and he’s standing on the sidelines at South Bend as part of Fighting Irish telecasts.
“Another special entity,” said Simms. “I used to get chills being out on the field every Saturday there. It gave me great experience in a different way with the halftime show and the pre-game show. One of the years I was kind of the third man in the booth but I was on the sideline. It gave me some reps on in-game stuff as well. I think most importantly what that did for me more than anything is that it opened up more eyes at NBC about me.”
And now Simms’ work has him in the discussion for a new potential opportunity down the road.
NBC, alongside FOX and CBS, has secured a seven-year media rights deal with the Big Ten Conference that will commence next season. NBC will air Big Ten Saturday Night, the first time that Big Ten Football will have a dedicated primetime broadcast on a national broadcast network. Peacock will stream an additional eight Big Ten games each season and NBC/Peacock will air the 2026 Big Ten Championship Game.
There have been rumblings that Simms could be involved in the coverage. Is he interested?
“I’m intrigued by it,” admitted Simms. “I’m very all NFL right now but broadcasting game is fun. It’s definitely something on my radar for sure. I do have some producers here in the building that are like ‘I’m going to tell the boss I want you to do some of the Big 10 games this year and what do you think about announcing?’ I’ve already had some people in my ear talking about it. It’s awesome for the company regardless. It just expands our football world. As far as me being involved, we’ll see.”
In a relatively short amount of time, Chris Simms has built up quite the broadcasting portfolio. From FOX to Bleacher Report and CBS to his current expanded role with NBC, Simms has established himself as one of the premier NFL analysts in the business and his podcast has given him the freedom to do something that he loves to do. Including putting his money where his mouth is.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
The Pat McAfee Alternate Broadcast Presents Unique Challenges
Alternate broadcasts are all the rage these days, and ESPN, in conjunction with Omaha Productions, debuted a new one this weekend as The Pat McAfee Show aired an alternate broadcast of the Clemson and North Carolina State game Saturday evening.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that Manningcast copy-cats were destined for failure. And while I don’t believe McAfee’s debut was a failure by any stretch of the imagination, I couldn’t help but notice it brings its own set of challenges.
First and foremost, College Football Primetime with The Pat McAfee Show — the world’s most convoluted way to say “The McAfeecast” — doesn’t really resemble the Manningcast. And rightfully so. I’m not sure there are two more polar opposite sports media brands than the Mannings and McAfee. The Mannings are funny, but not too funny and never “blue”, while often concerned about how finely quaffed their hair looks and whether the button-down shirt color matches with the Nordstrom quarter-zip they’ve donned. Meanwhile, McAfee wears his black tank-top, like usual, and put his best Pittsburgh-ese foot forward.
Even though the Mannings and McAfee are opposites doesn’t mean they can’t work together, however. The alternate broadcast was a win for Manning, a win for McAfee, a win for ESPN, and a win for viewers.
People love Pat McAfee. Plain and simple. For a multitude of reasons that we can get into in a later story, but let’s focus on that for a moment. It was a big portion of my column a few weeks ago. The Manningcast works because people like Peyton and Eli. The KayRodcast doesn’t work because people hate Michael Kay and Alex Rodriguez. It’s honestly, truly, that simple.
I think it benefitted the McAfeecast to debut with a smaller game, which seems counterintuitive because it was a matchup of top ten teams in primetime. But let’s be realistic, a number five versus number ten ACC game doesn’t hold the same weight as a number five versus number ten Big Ten or SEC game. And it helped McAfee and crew, because there are obvious kinks to work out.
Firstly, there are entirely too many people on the screen. I’m going to have nice words to say about BostonConnr than the eight-and-a-half-year-old that went viral earlier this summer, but god love ya, your time to shine likely isn’t on primetime on ESPN. In my opinion, for the McAfeecast to really work in the future, a similar setup to the Manningcast with McAfee and A.J. Hawk being the prominent figures on screen is the best solution to the problem. I know McAfee believes in his boys. It’s one of his more endearing qualities, and is frankly part of the reason his show is so successful. But you’re reaching a different audience on ESPN2 on Saturday nights, and the reason the either tuned in or will stay is because of McAfee’s presence.
I didn’t get a great feel for McAfee’s thoughts or reactions on the game simply because you didn’t get a closeup of his face. The best moments of the Manningcast, outside of Eli flipping the double birds or Peyton saying “I can’t hear shit”, have been when the pair have been absolutely disgusted by a decision made by a coach or player and their face shows it without any words following up their reactions. And McAfee definitely holds that ability, and I wish I would have gotten a better sense of his facial reactions on-screen.
Also, and I know this is something McAfee can’t actually control, he had to be a bit more reserved on cable television. Part of the allure of The Pat McAfee Show is the — let’s call it extreme candor — with which he speaks. I believe that’s the scholarly way to write “he says f*** frequently”. And believe me, I subscribe to the theory that the FCC should allow hosts the ability to say obscenities 15 times per week, so I’m down for McAfee’s swearing. But you’re just simply never going to get that on ESPN2. You’re likely never going to get that if the broadcast aired on ESPN+, either. For a “family friendly” company Disney, those cards are just flat out never going to be on the table for McAfee.
One of the things McAfee is known for is his boundless energy, which felt lacking at times on Saturday, but it’s understandable. The man was on College GameDay earlier in the day, flew back to the studio to do the alternate broadcast after travelling the day before to get to Clemson to be on GameDay. I’m sure that takes a toll. On top of that, you’re doing something new for the first time, while trying to, essentially, heard cats on the screen, and you can be a little wiped out by the end of the night.
However, the goodwill McAfee has bought with fans over his extreme generosity was on display as the alternate broadcast donated more than $100,000 to Dabo Swinney’s charity, The Jimmy V Foundation, and the American Red Cross. It was a brilliant move for a debut broadcast, because it acts as a slight shield for criticism. How can you complain about something that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity?
The alternate broadcast, for the most part, avoided the biggest problem I have with the Manningcast. The interviews. I’ve never been watching Monday Night Football, or the Manningcast for that matter, and thought “Man, I wish they were talking to Tracy Morgan right now!” McAfee brought on Peyton Manning, for obvious reasons, and former NC State quarterback Phillip Rivers. That’s it. They didn’t rely on guests to carry them through down periods. The eight folks on screen did most of the heavy lifting, and for that, I thank them.
The McAfeecast was certainly different than any other alternate broadcast I’ve consumed. The crew shooting hoops for extra donations to charity during stoppages of play definitely kept things light and interesting. I couldn’t help but be invested in whether or not someone would bury three out of five threes during an injury timeout for more money for charity.
Speaking of injury timeouts, McAfee planned a giveaway and told fans to use a certain hashtag and when to screenshot or take a picture of their TV. Immediately following him saying “now!”, an injured player appeared on the screen, and he instantly shouted “No! Not now! No! We don’t want that, and we hope he’s ok”. It was a light-hearted, nearly hilarious moment that brought levity to the situation.
The highlight of the cast, however, was — in true McAfee style — picking up on things other broadcasters wouldn’t, like an angry fan. The entire crew shouting at the same time in this specific moment was spectacular television.
Overall, I thought the McAfeecast got off on the right foot. There is undeniably a market for an alternate broadcast based around the former NFL punter’s personality, and I look forward to seeing where the show goes from here.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio.