Five Who Get It, Five Who Don’t
A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who is vaccinated but will avoid Cleveland and the NFL Draft.
THEY GET IT
LZ Granderson, Los Angeles Times — The most credible and important social commentators aren’t the ones who scream loudest, or the ones who remain intractably on a side and ignore factual details. Granderson, a Black columnist, didn’t hesitate to scold LeBron James, the foremost Black activist in sports, for a dangerous (and quickly deleted) tweet that was blasted by conservatives as a call for violence. “YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY,’’ James wrote in a post that included a photo of the White police officer who shot and killed a 16-year-old Black girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, in Columbus, Ohio. The tweet, Granderson wrote, “was inarguably premature. Body cam video appears to show Bryant attacking another teen with a knife seconds before the shots were fired; many consider the officer’s actions justified.’’ He went on to doubt whether White America ever will “let a Black man be Captain America,’’ but in the aftermath of the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict, Granderson’s take was measured and responsible in a country craving media restraint. The same can’t be said for James, who fired back at a Cincinnati bar owner for refusing to show NBA games at his establishment until James is “expelled’’ from the league. Tweeted LeBron: “Aww Damn! I was headed there to watch our game tonight and have a drink! Welp.’’ That’s just immature. Working in the same market, maybe Granderson can sit down with James and remind him of his accountability burden. Even better, Los Angeles Police Department officer Deon Joseph, who is Black, says he wants to meet with James to help him “understand the reality of the profession.’’
HBO — You’ve seen me decry a schmaltzy media world where Jim Nantz, Scott Van Pelt and other gush-and-mushers operate under a simple corporate mandate: Sell sports as religion and romance … remind the masses why they love sports and can’t exist without it … make athletes and coaches appear bigger than life … denounce legitimate media as bitter and negative when they’re sorely needed as watchdogs of an industry run amok. So I’m pleased — no, thrilled — that HBO is countering the creampuffery by reintroducing the antithesis of this vapid hypnosis, Sir Robert Costas, to the mainstream stage. On his new show, “Back On the Record With Bob Costas,’’ the leading sports voice of his time won’t be glorifying the business as much as, oh, covering it and scrutinizing it and saying what the hell he wants, which NBC didn’t appreciate in furtively replacing him with safe, harmless Mike Tirico. HBO promises marquee-name newsmaker interviews and roundtable discussions, along with spinoffs into entertainment, but the takeaway will be “signature commentaries from Costas that capture his distinctive voice and point of view.’’ Too bad the series includes only four episodes a year. Costas is needed weekly. Daily, even.
Ariel Helwani, badass — As the reigning bully of sports, Dana White usually rules his own personal Octagon. He stuffed 15,269 fans into an indoor arena in Jacksonville last weekend, openly defying an ongoing pandemic. When asked about Chris Weidman, whose leg snapped in a horrific kicking sequence, White changed the subject because it underlined the hideous violence in his freak sport, saying, “I don’t even want to talk about it tonight. I don’t want to say anything f—-ing …’’ Yet the UFC president can’t control a media member he loathes, Helwani, a fiercely independent reporter who is wisely shopping his services as ESPN dawdles on a new contract. We’re about to find out plenty in this negotiation about Bristol’s integrity — will ESPN, like Fox Sports a few years ago, weasel out and dump Helwani because White says so? He’s the kind of creep who leverages broadcast deals — in this case, a $1.5 billion pact with ESPN — to control media voices. He can do so because his thug league is owned by Endeavor, the Hollywood company run by Ari Emanuel, who is more bombastic in real life than the “Entourage’’ character inspired by him, agent Ari Gold. Of the media, White told Colin Cowherd: “Most of these people are full of shit and have no place writing or talking about anything.’’ This comes after a video in which White said, “Why should anybody listen to the media? Who are these people? What makes them experts? What have they ever accomplished?’’ He has referred to Helwani as a “girl’’ and a “douche,’’ but the multimedia veteran has maintained his professionalism and production. Does he have the support of ESPN? Will president Jimmy Pitaro reward a valuable UFC voice — and invite the possibility of Helwani reporting a White-related scandal — or cave to the bully? Either way, Ariel has my respect.
Turner Sports — With the addition of an NHL package dropped by NBC, Turner quietly has built a live sports portfolio that includes the NBA, Major League Baseball and March Madness. Hockey coverage needs dazzle, though, and it is hoped TNT and potential streaming partner HBO Max will lean toward fun analysts — where have you gone, Jeremy Roenick? — instead of NBC’s conservative studio voices of late. Also, who is the next Doc Emrick and does such a creature exist? ESPN and Turner, which will share the Stanley Cup Finals, are urged to look at Alex Faust, voice of the Los Angeles Kings. One hockey fan on the company payroll, Charles Barkley, is best avoided (see below). No one needs an international incident involving Canada.
Rich Eisen, NFL Network — The image of a 51-year-old man running a 40-yard dash — designer suitcoat flying, slight gut protruding, hands flexed like a sprinter, cleats digging in, clipped-on tie straight — is a tribute to a charitable endeavor known as “Run Rich Run.’’ Since 2015, Eisen has raised millions for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and though cancellation of the NFL Combine prompted a scheduling revision, he’s back with football legends and business entrepreneurs who sprinted — or limped — through the challenge at SoFi Stadium. The segment airs Saturday during the network’s NFL Draft coverage. In related news, Eisen is keeping his promise to eat the soiled sweatshirt of a talk-show caller if the 49ers don’t select a quarterback with the No. 3 pick. If he’s wrong, is he at least allowed condiments?
Tony Reali, ESPN — His multi-year extension is a testament to hard work, sturdy professionalism and knowing when to stand back when a friend and mentor such as Dan Le Batard self-sabotages his ESPN career. I recall the revolving door of auditioning hosts after Max Kellerman left “Around The Horn’’ for Fox, and Reali stepped in as the ideal adhesive, like a Jonas Brother with sports acumen. The current problem with ATH is not his fault — the producers have made him the only “face’’ of the show, as ESPN boss Norby Williamson describes him, when hosts of more prominent network shows are in supportive roles. For instance, Molly Qerim Rose is the host of “First Take,’’ but she is the traffic controller for the show’s outspoken superstars, Stephen A. Smith and Kellerman, an arrangement that allows for maximum impact and viewership. Back in ATH’s peak years — I don’t really care how selfish this might sound, because it’s true — our ratings were off the charts thanks to sparring panelists who drove the banter (me vs. Woody Paige, with me as Godzilla) while Reali played the Rose role. Now, Reali is the lone constant as an endless procession of “contributors’’ come and go — and the ratings have severely suffered. Hey, it’s their network and afternoon programming block. But if Williamson and showrunners Erik Rydholm and Aaron Solomon combined Reali’s magnetic presence with more heat from a consistent stable of combative panelists, ATH might rock again. And, no, I’m not stumping to return. I like my life without TMZ following me and sleaze websites lying about me, and I like being able to routinely add a sixth entry to Five Who Get It.
THEY DON’T GET IT
Dan Le Batard, sellout — So let’s see if I have this straight: He painted his ESPN superiors as undesirable partners because they didn’t want him causing political wars on the radio … yet he’s ethically willing to jump headfirst into the gambling cesspool. In the end, he’s the grimiest of all. In the latest example of desperation leading to hypocrisy, LeBatard’s lengthy search for a company to distribute his podcast led to DraftKings, the tout louts who will control ad sales and licensing arrangements. This will sink Le Batard’s show into the betting crapper and complete the demise of a once-great journalist. He claims DraftKings is “truly sponsoring our freedom … (and won’t) corrupt us in any way,’’ but just wait until he’s required to read non-stop wagering spots. Maybe he should familiarize himself with the DraftKings statement: “Additionally, the network of shows will prominently feature DraftKings’ odds, betting trends and general sportsbook and daily fantasy information.’’ I have an idea: Papi’s Power Parlays! Another day, another betrayal of a media industry gone putrid.
Charles Barkley, lost cause — The only recourse, I’ve concluded, is to start publicizing the names of Barkley’s bosses at TNT — Casey Bloys, Brett Weitz, Sam Linsky, Adrienne O’Riain. The network is operated by WarnerMedia, which is owned by AT&T, so let’s go higher — Jason Kilar, Ann Sarnoff, Jeff Zucker. Or even higher — John Stankey. People tiring of Barkley’s gross potshots at the appearances of women should use their AT&T-contracted phones to bombard the aforementioned with protests. Barkley thinks he’s bulletproof because, in the past, his bosses haven’t publicly reprimanded him for comments such as: “Some big ol’ women down there (in San Antonio) … that’s a gold mine for Weight Watchers. They can’t wear no Victoria’s Secret down there. They wear bloomers down there … ain’t nothing skimpy down there.’’ So Barkley used his “Inside The NBA’’ perch last week to insult women in another state: “Georgia … the only school in the world they named their mascot after the women down there.’’ As in, bulldogs. Know those serious commentaries Barkley delivers about race and life? He renders them useless with these mindless, needless insults. And the longer his superiors — male and female — let him ramble unfiltered without a long suspension or firing, they will be complicit in the denigration. Meanwhile, the nation’s talk-show hosts, from Dan Patrick to locals, will fawn and keep inviting him on their airwaves. Barkley is a fat, unattractive dope. How does he feel that I wrote that?
Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times — On the eve of the baseball season, the esteemed columnist wrote a piece titled, “Why the 2021 Los Angeles Dodgers will be the greatest team in baseball history,’’ beside an illustration of Mookie Betts holding a 2021 championship banner while his teammates celebrate. I cringed, wondering how Plaschke could make such a wild proclamation when so much could go wrong the next several months. “Clip this claim. Print it out. Tape it up. You read it here first,’’ he typed. “The Dodgers aren’t just good, they’re surreal good.’’ Well, those surreal good Dodgers were booed the other night while blowing a six-run lead to their feisty new rivals, Fernando Tatis Jr. and the Padres, who won three of four at Dodger Stadium and lead the season series 4-3 with a dozen games to go. I’m not saying the Dodgers won’t repeat as World Series champions, but at present, the “greatest team in baseball history’’ is only the third-best team in California in 2021. Also guilty of hype tripe was The Athletic’s Jim Bowden, the former big-league general manager who wrote last week: “The Dodgers might be the best baseball team I’ve seen in my lifetime.’’ And don’t forget Paul Newberry of the Associated Press, who wrote: “It’s always mesmerizing to watch greatness in real time. A young Mike Tyson. An ageless Tom Brady. The Boston Celtics of the 1960s. The New York Yankees of, well, several different eras. Which brings us to the 2021 Los Angeles Dodgers. This group could become the most exceptional team in baseball history.’’ At one point, I too wondered if the Dodgers could challenge the 125 wins of the 1998 Yankees, but I didn’t do so excessively. Surreal good?
ESPN — Evidently, I can’t say this enough in a desperate media climate: A sports event is a sacred competition featuring athletes guided by the common tenet that nothing — nothing — shall infiltrate The Game. ESPN is among those mucking up that virtue with demographic-shilling crap. I never thought Bristol would stoop as low as an all-gambling alternate broadcast of an NBA game, but here comes a 3D alternate farce. Yes, Hubie Brown, next week’s Warriors-Pelicans game will include an accompanying collaboration with a fellow Disney Company property — called “Marvel’s Arena of Heroes’’ — featuring Steph Curry, Zion Williamson and other players teaming up with Iron Man, Black Panther and Captains Marvel and America to battle an alien army. Said the ESPN release, written by an actual human being: “Recognizing the superior physical abilities, agility, and tenacity of Earth’s greatest athletes, the Avengers will hold a series of contests where the winners earn the right to train and fight alongside them as Marvel’s Champions. The Avengers will begin their recruitment with the NBA elite and observe the battle between the Warriors and the Pelicans, focusing on three star players from each team.” Worse, two men paid to report professionally on the NBA — play-by-play caller Ryan Ruocco and analyst Richard Jefferson — must work the ESPN2/ESPN+ superhero-cast. This obviously is a ripoff of a CBS/Nickelodeon experiment involving an NFL postseason game, also a debacle. Look, there are ways of engaging a youthful audience without bastardizing existing cachet. What’s frightening: The people who make such decisions believe they’re bigger than The Game.
Stephen A. Smith, ESPN — As he swirls from one studio to the next, thinking about his next flight more than where his feet are grounded, Smith tends to make mistakes. Most are factual, but his latest is professional and hurtful. In a tweet applauding the network’s UFC coverage, he dropped the names of Joe Rogan, Jon Anik, Chael Sonnen and other men — but forgot to mention Megan Olivi, highly visible as a co-host and interviewer. This is akin to Al Michaels forgetting to mention Michele Tafoya, or Joe Buck omitting Erin Andrews. Said Olivi: “It’s, unfortunately, something the women in this room have dealt with before and will have to continue to deal with. I don’t think he did it on purpose. I don’t think there was any intent. I don’t think he was trying to be rude by any means. I just think it didn’t really matter to him. … I don’t know how much he actually watches. I know he’s supposed to be an MMA insider and he does his best, but he has a lot on his plate, as well. I don’t know how much he actually sees.’’ It’s a polite way of stating what his bosses never will admit: Stephen A. is overworked, sometimes to the point of superficiality.
Mike Thomas, ESPN 1000 Chicago — Would Bill Belichick leave the Patriots to coach in the XFL? The sports radio equivalent of such a head-scratcher is Thomas, who quit one of America’s top-rated talk stations, 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, to run a dead-end shop in his home state. To say WMVP has hit rock bottom is an insult to all rock formations. Ratings for its local shows are now worse than numbers for ESPN’s national programs, shocking in a parochial market, and Thomas’ presence has made no impact. Neither has the addition of the White Sox as a flagship partner, proving Chicago’s baseball metrics haven’t changed — the Cubs have at least four or five times more fans than the Sox, even when the South Siders are pennant contenders and the Cubs might be headed to a fire sale. I hope Thomas is compensated very well. Otherwise, WTF? Some might question why I’d include such an irrelevant story as a sixth entry in bonus coverage. I did because Chicago deserves better sports talk.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Amanda Brown Has Embraced The Bright Lights of Hollywood
“My whole goal was that I didn’t need people to like me; I needed people to respect me.”
The tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and eight others aboard a helicopter, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, sent shockwaves around the world of sports, entertainment, and culture. People traveled to Los Angeles following the devastating news and left flowers outside the then-named STAPLES Center, the arena which Bryant called home for much of his career, demonstrating the magnitude of the loss. Just across the street from the arena, Amanda Brown and the staff at ESPN Los Angeles 710 had embarked in ongoing breaking news coverage, lamentation, and reflection.
It included coverage of a sellout celebration of life for Kobe and his daughter and teams around the NBA opting to take 8-second and 24-second violations to honor Bryant, who wore both numbers throughout his 20-year NBA career. They currently hang in the rafters at Crypto.com Arena, making Bryant the only player in franchise history to have two numbers retired.
During this tumultuous time, Bryant’s philosophy served as a viable guiding force, something that Brown quickly ascertained in her first month as the station’s new program director.
“I had people that were in Northern California hopping on planes to get here,” Brown said. “You didn’t even have to ask people [to] go to the station; people were like, ‘I’m on my way.’ It was the way that everybody really came together to do really great radio, and we did it that day and we did it the next day and we did it for several days.”
The 2023 BSM Summit is quickly approaching, and Brown will be attending the event for the first time since 2020. During her first experience at the BSM Summit in New York, Brown had just become a program director and was trying to assimilate into her role. Because of this, she prioritized networking, building contacts, and expressing her ideas to others in the space. This year, she looks forward to connecting with other program directors and media professionals around the country while also seeking to learn more about the nuances of the industry.
“The Summit is kind of like a meeting of the minds,” Brown said. “It’s people throughout the country and the business…. More than anything, [the first time] wasn’t so much about the panels as it was about the people.”
Growing up in Orange County, Brown had an interest in the Los Angeles Lakers from a young age, being drawn to play-by-play broadcaster Chick Hearn. Brown refers to Hearn as inspiration to explore a career in broadcasting. After studying communications at California State University in Fullerton, she was afforded an opportunity to work as a producer at ESPN Radio Dallas 103.3 FM by program director Scott Masteller, who she still speaks to on a regular basis. It was through Masteller’s confidence in her, in addition to support from operations manager Dave Schorr, that helped make Brown feel more comfortable working in sports media.
“I never felt like I was a woman in a male-dominated industry,” Brown said. “I always just felt like I was a part of the industry. For me, I’ve kind of always made it my goal to be like, ‘I deserve to be here; I deserve a seat at the table.’”
Brown quickly rose up the ranks when she began working on ESPN Radio in Bristol, Conn., working as a producer for a national radio show hosted by Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt, along with The Sports Bash with Erik Kuselias. Following five-and-a-half years in Bristol, Brown requested a move back to California and has worked at ESPN Los Angeles 710 ever since. She began her tenure at the station serving as a producer for shows such as Max and Marcellus and Mason and Ireland.
Through her persistence, work ethic and congeniality, Brown was promoted to assistant program director in July 2016. In this role, she helped oversee the station’s content while helping the entity maintain live game broadcast rights and explore new opportunities to augment its foothold, including becoming the flagship radio home of the Los Angeles Rams.
“Don’t sit back and wait for your managers or your bosses to come to you and ask what you want to do,” Brown advised. “Go after what you want, and that’s what I’ve always done. I always went to my managers and was like, ‘Hey, I want to do this. Give me a chance; let me do that.’ For the most part, my managers have been receptive and given me those opportunities.”
When executive producer Dan Zampillo left the station to join Spotify to work as a sports producer, Brown was subsequently promoted to program director where she has helped shape the future direction of the entity. From helping lead the brand amid its sale to Good Karma Brands in the first quarter of 2022; to revamping the daily lineup with compelling local programs, Brown has gained invaluable experience and remains keenly aware of the challenges the industry faces down the road. For sports media outlets in Los Angeles, some of the challenge is merely by virtue of its geography.
“We’re in sunny Southern California where there’s a lot of things happening,” Brown said. “We’re in the middle of Hollywood. People have a lot of opportunities – you can go to the mountains; you can go to the beach. I think [our market] is more about entertainment than it is about actual hard-core sports. Yes, obviously you have hard-core Lakers fans; you have hard-core Dodgers fans, but a majority of the fans are pretty average sports fans.”
Because of favorable weather conditions and an endless supply of distractions, Brown knows that the way to attract people to sports talk radio is through its entertainment value. With this principle in mind, she has advised her hosts not to worry so much about the specific topics they are discussing, but rather to ensure they are entertaining listeners throughout the process.
“People know the four letters E-S-P-N mean sports, but really our focus is more on entertainment more than anything,” Brown said. “I think the [talent] that stick out the most are the ones that are the most entertaining.”
Entertaining listeners, however, comes through determining what they are discussing and thinking about and providing relevant coverage about those topics. Even though it has not yet been legalized in the state of California, sports gambling content has been steadily on the rise since the Supreme Court made a decision that overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act established in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (2018). Nonetheless, Brown and ESPN Los Angeles 710 have remained proactive, launching a sports gambling show on Thursday nights to try to adjust to the growing niche of the industry.
Even though she has worked in producing and programming for most of her career, Brown is eager to learn about the effect sports gambling has on audio sales departments. At the same time, she hopes to be able to more clearly determine how the station can effectuate its coverage if and when it becomes legal in their locale.
“I know that a lot of other markets have that,” Brown said regarding the legalization of sports gambling. “For me, I’m interested to hear from people who have that in their markets and how they’ve monetized that and the opportunity.”
No matter the content, though, dedicated sports radio listeners are genuinely consuming shows largely to hear certain talent. Brown recalls receiving a compliment on Twitter earlier this quarter where a listener commented that he listens to ESPN Los Angeles 710 specifically for Sedano and Kap. Evidently, it acted as a tangible sign that her philosophy centered around keeping people engrossed in the content is working, and that providing the audience what it wants to hear is conducive to success.
At this year’s BSM Summit, Brown will be participating on The Wheel of Content panel, presented by Core Image Studio, featuring ESPN analyst Mina Kimes and FOX Sports host Joy Taylor. Through their discussion, she intends to showcase a different perspective of what goes into content creation and the interaction that takes place between involved parties.
“A lot of times in the past, all the talent were on one panel; all the programmers were on one panel,” Brown said. “To put talent and a programmer together, I think it’s an opportunity for people to hear both sides on certain issues.”
According to the most recent Nielsen Total Audience Report, AM/FM (terrestrial) radio among persons 18-34 has a greater average audience than television. The statistical anomaly, which was forecast several years earlier, came to fruition most likely due to emerging technologies and concomitant shifts in usage patterns.
Simultaneously, good content is required to captivate consumers, and radio, through quantifiable and qualifiable metrics, has been able to tailor its content to the listening audience and integrate it across multiple platforms of dissemination. The panel will give Brown a chance to speak in front of her peers and other industry professionals about changes in audio consumption, effectuated by emerging technologies and concomitant shifts in usage patterns.
Yet when it comes to radio as a whole, the patterns clearly point towards the proliferation of digital content – whether those be traditional radio programs or modernized podcasts. Moreover, utilizing various elements of presentation provides consumers a greater opportunity of finding and potentially engaging with the content.
“We do YouTube streaming; obviously, we stream on our app,” Brown said. “We’ve even created, at times, stream-only shows whether it’s stream-only video or stream-only on our app. We all know that people want content on-demand when they want it. I think it’s about giving them what they want.”
As a woman in sports media, Brown is cognizant about having to combat misogyny from those inside and outside of the industry, and is grateful to have had the support of many colleagues. In holding a management position in the second-largest media market in the United States, she strives to set a positive example to aspiring broadcasters. Additionally, she aims to be a trusted and accessible voice to help empower and give other women chances to work in the industry – even if she is not universally lauded.
“I’ve kind of always made it my goal to be like, ‘I’m no different than anyone else – yes, I’m a female – but I’m no different than anyone else,’” Brown expressed. “My whole goal was that I didn’t need people to like me; I needed people to respect me.”
Through attending events such as the BSM Summit and remaining immersed in sports media and the conversation at large about the future of sports media, Brown can roughly delineate how she can perform her job at a high level.
Although the genuine future of this business is always subject to change, she and her team at ESPN Los Angeles 710 are trying to come up with new ideas to keep the content timely, accurate, informative, and entertaining. She is content in her role as program director with no aspirations to become a general manager; however, remaining in her current role requires consistent effort and a penchant for learning.
“Relationships are very important overall in this business whether you’re a programmer or not,” Brown said. “Relationships with your talent; relationships with your staff. If you invest in your people, then they’re going to be willing to work hard for you and do what you ask them to do.”
The 2023 BSM Summit is mere days away, and those from Los Angeles and numerous other marketplaces will make the trip to The Founder’s Club at the Galen Center at the University of Southern California (USC).
Aside from Brown, Kimes and Taylor, there will be other voices from across the industry sharing their thoughts on aspects of the industry and how to best shape it going forward, including Colin Cowherd, Rachel Nichols, Al Michaels and Eric Shanks. More details about the industry’s premiere media conference can be found at bsmsummit.com.
“I’m excited to be a female program director amongst male program directors for the first time and get a seat at the table and represent that there can be diversity in this position,” Brown said. “We don’t see a lot of it, but… there is an opportunity, and I hope I can be an example for other people out there [to show] that it’s possible.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he interns in video production with the New York Islanders and formerly worked as production manager for the team’s radio broadcasts. 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.
Pat McAfee Has Thrown Our Business Into a Tailspin
Yet even with all the accomplishments he’s been able to achieve, McAfee is still anxious and unsatisfied with the state of his show and his career.
When you have one of the hottest talk shows in America, you’re always up to something. That’s the case for the most popular sports talk show host in America – Pat McAfee.
The former Pro Bowl punter was on top of the world on Wednesday. With over 496,000 concurrent viewers watching at one point, McAfee was able to garner an exclusive interview with frequent guest Aaron Rodgers who announced his intention to play for the Jets.
Yet even with all the accomplishments he’s been able to achieve — a new studio, consistent high viewership, a syndication deal with SportsGrid TV, a four-year, $120 million deal with FanDuel — McAfee is still anxious and unsatisfied with the state of his show and his career.
At the end of the day, he is human and he’s admitted that balancing his show, his ESPN gig with “College Gameday,” and his WWE obligations has taken a toll on him.
McAfee and his wife are expecting their first child soon and he recently told The New York Post he might step away from his deal with FanDuel. Operating his own company has come with the responsibility of making sure his studio is up and running, finding people to operate the technology that puts his show on the air, negotiating with huge behemoths like the NFL for game footage rights, booking guests, booking hotels, implementing marketing plans and other tasks that most on-air personalities rarely have to worry about.
McAfee says he’s looking for a network that would be able to take control of those duties while getting more rest and space to spend time with family while focusing strictly on hosting duties. FanDuel has its own network and has the money to fund such endeavors but is just getting started in the content game. McAfee needs a well-known entity to work with who can take his show to the next level while also honoring his wishes of keeping the show free on YouTube.
The question of how he’s going to be able to do it is something everyone in sports media will be watching. As The Post pointed out in their story, McAfee hasn’t frequently stayed with networks he’s been associated with in the past for too long. He’s worked with Westwood One, DAZN, and Barstool but hasn’t stayed for more than a year or two.
There’s an argument to be made that the latter two companies weren’t as experienced as a network when McAfee signed on with them compared to where they are today which could’ve pushed the host to leave. But at the end of the day, networks want to put money into long-term investments and it’s easy to see a network passing on working with McAfee for fear that he’ll leave them astray when he’s bored.
It’ll also be difficult for McAfee to find a network that doesn’t put him behind a paywall. Amazon and Google are rumored to be potential new homes. But both are trying to increase subscribers for their respective streaming services.
It will be difficult to sell Amazon on investing money to build a channel on YouTube – a rival platform. For Google, they may have the tech infrastructure to create television-like programming but they aren’t an experienced producer, they’ve never produced its own live, daily talk show, and investing in McAfee’s show doesn’t necessarily help increase the number of subscribers watching YouTube TV.
Networks like ESPN, CBS, NBC, and Fox might make sense to partner with. But McAfee faces the possibility of being censored due to corporate interests. Each of these networks also operates its networks or streaming channels that air talk programming of their own. Investing in McAfee could cannibalize the programming they already own.
And if McAfee works with a traditional network that isn’t ESPN, it could jeopardize his ability to host game casts for Omaha or analyze games on Gameday. It’s not impossible but would definitely be awkward on days that McAfee does his show remotely from locations of ESPN games with ESPN banners and signage that is visible in the background.
If SportsGrid has the money to invest in McAfee, they might be his best bet. They have all the attributes McAfee needs and they already have a relationship with him. It is probably unlikely that he’ll be censored and he would even be able to maintain a relationship with FanDuel – a company SportsGrid also works alongside.
Roku is another option — they already work with Rich Eisen — but they would move his show away from YouTube, something McAfee should resist since the majority of smart TV users use YT more than any other app.
If the NFL gave McAfee editorial independence, they would make the perfect partner but the likelihood of that happening is slim to none. NFL Media has independence but it was clear during the night of the Damar Hamlin incident that they will do whatever is necessary to stay away from serious topics that make the league look bad until it’s totally unavoidable.
It’s hard to think of a partner that matches up perfectly with McAfee’s aspirations. But once again, at the moment, he’s on top of the world so anything is possible. The talk show host’s next move will be even more interesting to watch than the other fascinating moves he’s already made that have put the sports media industry in a swivel.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
5 Tips For Networking At the BSM Summit
“Have a plan and don’t leave home without it.”
Bring your game plan if you attend the BSM Summit in LA next Tuesday and Wednesday. No matter your purpose for attending: to learn, get a job, speak, or sell an idea, you must be able to read the room. To do that, it helps to know who will be there and how you can cure their pain.
Have a plan and don’t leave home without it. If you have time, buy How to Work a Room by Susan Roane. If you don’t, just follow these five tips:
- INTRODUCE YOURSELF: Before you arrive at The Summit, figure out what you want, who you want to meet, and what you will say. Once you get there, scout out the room and see if anyone of those people are available. Talk to speakers after they have spoken- don’t worry if you miss what the next speaker says. You are there to meet new people! Most speakers do not stick around for the entire schedule, and you don’t know if they will attend any after-parties, so don’t risk it. Refine your elevator pitch and break the ice with something you have in common. Make sure you introduce yourself to Stephanie, Demetri and Jason from BSM. They know everybody and will help you if they can.
- GET A NAME TAG: Don’t assume that name tags will be provided. Bring your own if you and make your name clear to read. If you are looking to move to LA or want to sell a system to book better guests, put it briefly under your name. Study this to get better at remembering names.
- LOSE THE NOTEBOOK: When you meet folks, ensure your hands are free. Have a business card handy and ask for one of theirs. Remember to look people in the eye and notice what they are doing. If they are scanning the room, pause until they realize they are blowing you off. Do whatever it takes to sound upbeat and open. Don’t let their clothes, hair, or piercings distract from your message. You don’t need to wear a suit and tie but do bring your best business casual wear. A blazer isn’t a bad idea either.
- SHUT UP FIRST! The art of knowing when to end the convo is something you will have to practice. You can tell when the other person’s eye starts darting or they are not using body language that tells you the convo will continue. You end it by telling them you appreciate meeting them and want to connect via email. Ask for a business card. Email is more challenging to ignore than a LinkedIn request, and you can be more detailed in what you want via email.
- WORK THE SCHEDULE: Know who speaks when. That is when you will find the speakers hanging around. Plan your lunch outing to include a few fellow attendees. Be open and conversational with those around you. I am a huge USC fan, so I would walk to McKays– a good spot with plenty of USC football memorabilia on the walls. Sometimes you can find the next day’s speakers at the Day 1 after party. Need a bar? Hit the 901 Club for cheap beer, drinks, and food.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
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