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Matt Barrie Used Small Towns To Cover Big Stories

“If I say one thing on Saturday during College Football Final with Jesse Palmer and Joey Galloway, I’ll wake up to hate texts from one fan base. That passion is the beauty of it.”

Tyler McComas

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There isn’t a major college football conference Matt Barrie isn’t familiar with. From growing up in the Phoenix area and attending Arizona State in the Pac 12, to covering the Big 12 at a small TV station in Oklahoma, the SEC and ACC in South Carolina and the Big 10 in Wisconsin, Barrie has worked and seen college football from just about every corner of the country. Though most people would label Lawton, Oklahoma, Columbia, S.C and Wausau, Wisconsin, as less than desirable markets, they’re what paved Barrie to be hosting SportsCenter and being at the center of ESPN’s college football coverage.

Matt Barrie Expected to Replace Adnan Virk on ESPN College Football Coverage

What’s most impressive about Barrie is the versatility he’s shown over his career. It’s really hard to be great at three different sides of sports media, but Barrie’s natural ability has made it happen at a young age. On the TV side, he’s collected 11 Emmy awards, a true testament to his skills and journalistic integrity over the years. While doing a radio show in Columbia, the Matt and Tim Show on 1400 AM The Team was the highest rated in the market. Now, in the podcast space, the Matty and The Caddie podcast with ESPN is one of the more fun and entertaining golf podcasts you’ll be able to find.

By now, it’s become evident there’s nothing in sports media Barrie can’t do.

Tyler McComas: Seeing as college football coverage is your main gig with ESPN, how do you feel about all the news surrounding the sport?

Matt Barrie: Yeah it’s sad to see what’s going on here on August 10th. We’re close to what would be training camp and week zero for actual games. It’s been a difficult year for just life, outside of sports. Eventually you knew after March Madness was canceled, you hoped there was enough time between then and now to get something figured out for college football.

We still don’t know what’s going to happen. It certainly isn’t trending in the right direction but I know how much that sport means to the players and I know how much it means to the small college towns that rely on football season as their economic engine. I don’t want what I think is about to
happen, to happen, because there’s going to be a ripple effect throughout the country and throughout these campuses and it’s going to be a sad day if we do lose a fall football season.

TM: Seeing as you’re with a major network, what’s your strategy for talking about college football on Twitter?

MB: What I’ve learned is that it’s a blessing and a curse of college football. I say that because it is the most passionate fan base you can come into. That’s the beauty of it. If I say one thing on Saturday during College Football Final with Jesse Palmer and Joey Galloway, I’ll wake up to hate texts from one fan base. That passion is the beauty of it.

I’ve been vocal the past couple of days about how canceling the college football season would impact these towns and there’s a group of people out there that are calling for the safety of the players, which is of the utmost importance, but the same crew is saying we should play a spring season. That’s just not feasible. If you’re a safety person, if you punt on 2020, don’t play football until 2021. It seems to me, that you can’t win or you can’t lose, sometimes, if you want to enter the fray, do it, and sometimes I’ll just sit and watch it all develop around me. If you’re going to enter the college football Twittersphere, understand that it can be a pretty feisty place.

TM: You started off in so many small markets so how did that pave the way to a job at ESPN?

MB: When I talk to colleges and speak to journalism students I tell them over and over again to go to local television. Experience local television. I love local television. It really gives you a good foundation for your career. Being in Lawton Oklahoma, some people will look and say, wow, how and why did you do Lawton? Well, I wanted to get a small market TV job to cover big-time college football. In the years that I was there, Jason White won the Heisman Trophy and the following year Adrian Peterson showed up at Oklahoma. I was at all their games on Saturday at home, we would travel to the Big 12 Championship and the BCS National Championship games against LSU and USC. It was such an invaluable experience to be near a program that Bob Stoops had built, and oh, by the way, Les Miles was at Oklahoma State. I got great, big-time college football experience in a small market.

A lot of times, that’s the only way you’re going to get that, is if you’re in a small market in local TV. By the time I was able to move on with my career, from there, I went to Columbia, South Carolina, which is the home to the University of South Carolina, right when Steve Spurrier got the job. So I’m coming off Bob Stoops and seeing back-to-back National Championship game appearances and then I’m going right to the foundation of Steve Spurrier at South Carolina.

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You get to touch all these programs and local TV, so by the time you get to a place like ESPN, you’ve covered big-time college football. From a media setting I covered just about every conference by the time I got to ESPN. The Big 10 in Wisconsin, the Big 12 in Oklahoma, the SEC in South Carolina, then I was in Dallas and watched TCU and Gary Patterson turn into a power in the Mountain West, so by the time I got to ESPN, with my roots to the PAC 12, there really hadn’t been a conference that I hadn’t touched. When I was at South Carolina, Tommy Bowden was at Clemson. So much college football early in my career helped pave the way for what I’m doing right now.

TM: How did you get your break?

MB: Well in our career, and I’m sure you’re familiar with it, but you have an agent. I had an opportunity back in 2011 to audition for the Longhorn Network when I was in Dallas. I was at the NBC network there. I had the opportunity to come up to Bristol and audition and it went really
well. They ended up making some moves in and around the network to where, ultimately, the Longhorn Network job was filled by someone internally, which opened up a job in Bristol. I ended up getting a job offer in Bristol but my station didn’t allow me out of my contract in 2011 to take the job.

Ultimately, after accepting the job, I had to tell ESPN no because my local television station in Dallas wouldn’t let me out of my contract. I had to sit patiently and hope that in a couple years after my contract was up, ESPN would still be interested. I was fortunate enough that, a year and a half later, at the end of 2012, after the Dallas Cowboys season, to where my audition from a couple of years earlier held enough in their minds to still offer me a job. I started here at ESPN in the beginning of 2013.

TM: You not only had a radio show in Columbia but it was a really successful one. How much would you like to get back to radio some day?

MB: I miss radio every day. I love TV and that’s obviously my chosen career, but back when I was doing that radio show with Tim Hill, who’s still a good friend of mine, we had a lot of fun and the thing that I loved about radio is that a gave you the freedom and space to dissect topics with anything you wanted. TV is a very structured medium and radio, for lack of a better term, you can just let your hair down and have fun. Some of Tim and mine‘s best shows were in the middle of the summer when there was nothing going on. You kind of have your best conversations when there’s nothing going on and I miss that.

I love radio and it was a great time in my life and I’ll never forget everything that we accomplished with that radio show. Sometimes, I’ll just look back and laugh, like, what did we do five days a week for three hours? I would love to, at some point, whatever my path takes me at ESPN, to hopefully get back in radio at some point.

TM: You were able to host the Spelling Bee on ESPN a couple of years ago. Does doing that give you the confidence, like, man, if I can do this I can do anything?

MB: I did it for two years, we obviously didn’t have it this year because of COVID, But it is probably my most favorite event that I’ve done at ESPN that doesn’t include the College Football Playoff or The Masters or some of the other major golf championships. It’s so unique and it’s so fun.

I look at it like this, you go in and it’s a sports network but everyone within the walls of that network has their favorite sports, right? You go to ESPN to do SportsCenter but you major in a couple of sports. I’d like to think my major at ESPN is college football and golf. Those are the two sports that I really hone in on. But the spelling bee was just fun. Being around those kids and their passion for spelling was just fun. All the little quirks of being that age, being on stage, they don’t care that there’s cameras up there, they’re just there to spell the word. The first time I was a little bit nervous, because I didn’t want to take away from one of my favorite things to watch on TV. Once you get into the broadcast, you can’t help but just have fun. You end up laughing, you end up being amazed, I know in 2019 we had the eight winners, which was one of the great moments in spelling bee history. I’ve said it to anybody that will listen, the spelling bee, to this day, has been one of my greater achievements in terms of things I’ve been able to host.

TM: What do you think about Elle Duncan?

MB: Elle is someone that I’ve been with now coming up on four years. When we used to do the morning show, we would have to be at the network, she’d get there around 4 AM and I would get there around 4:15 AM and I just wasn’t awake yet. Those aren’t normal hours.

The one thing that I love about her is her energy. I have a lot of energy when I’m on camera, and even in general, I’m just kind of a happy go lucky person. But at 3:30 AM she was already bouncing off the walls and it made it easier for the show group and everyone to just get into the flow of the show, because she was always up and ready to go. That kind of energy is contagious.

SportsCenter (1979)

Having someone like her around, and having me, which, people that really know me well laugh at me being the mellow one, having someone like that around with the energy and the ability to just make you laugh with some of the things she says, it’s just good to be around, because you want to work with people that have a contagious passion for the job. She certainly is one of those.

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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