Considering this is the first year that 97.3 The Game in Milwaukee is carrying Green Bay Packers football, it seemed like a good time to catch up with America’s host, Steve Czaban. He’s been at The Game for three years now and signed a contract extension with the station back in April. Czaban has some interesting views about how the season might play out for the Packers and, in turn, what it would mean for The Game.
Czaban also weighed in on local competitor 1250 The Fan’s recent decision to eliminate local programming. It got him thinking about one of the main reasons he chose to leave The Team 980 in Washington, D.C. Czabe also explains what qualifies as a wow moment for him at this stage of his distinguished career, and answered questions without skipping a beat as the skies opened up during a good ol’ Midwest torrential downpour. That’s a pro’s pro. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: This is the first year that your station is carrying the Packers. What do you think it’s going to do for the station as a whole?
Steve Czaban: Well, it’s huge obviously. I’ve always said that sports radio in general rises and falls in most markets with the NFL team, period, full stop. No offense to any other sport or league, it just is the fact of the matter. So when you have the play-by-play, and you’re the home of an iconic team like the Packers, and a team that is, thank God, knock on wood really good right now, and hopefully that continues, that’s a huge, huge boost for the station.
They say it’s going to bring in a whole new wave of audience that otherwise doesn’t listen to our station or doesn’t know our station. I will leave that to the experts in the business offices about that. I don’t disagree with it, but my M.O., Brian, has always been just put the best show you can on every day, get people to come, and get them to come back, and then get them to come back for even more the day after that. But having the Packers is huge and they’ve been great to us so far, which is nice.
BN: With [former Packers wide receiver] Davante Adams being gone, the Week 1 disaster against the Vikings last Sunday just feels different than the Week 1 disaster last year. Could you make the argument that for what you do, the Packers might be more interesting with the unknown of where are they right now?
SC: Yes, they are definitely more interesting. I don’t know if it’s better for us. I’d rather them just be good because good teams get good ratings in various sports radio markets. I had too many years of quote: interesting Redskin teams, full of plotlines and absurdities. They definitely filled up hours and hours and hours of programming. But the casual fan, they just tune out when the team is bad. What’s funny is that our guy, John Kuhn, former Packer fullback, he thinks that last year’s loss in Week 1 was way worse than this year’s loss. He went through all the different reasons why, a lot of those being injuries.
BN: Do you notice any difference with listener interaction?
SC: Well, with our regular listeners, no. But I will say that our postgame guy, Billy Schmid, said that a couple of callers to the postgame show chided him and Drew Olson, his co-host, for being too condescending to callers. And I’m like well, you know, this is what sports radio is. [Laughs] If you don’t like somebody’s take, you’re going to mock it, yell at it, be condescending, or maybe refute it with some facts, or a little bit of all of the above. That’s just how it is.
But I said to Billy, you have to realize there are some listeners now that you’re going to interact with that literally the only sports they watch are the Green Bay Packers. That’s it. They don’t listen to sports radio. They don’t know who Giannis Antetokounmpo is. They are hardworking dairy farmers, upstate, that work dawn to dusk seven days a week, never take a vacation, but they love the Packers and this is their one thing. So they’re not sort of used to the normal, bare-knuckle sports radio brawling that sometimes goes on.
BN: When you covered Washington for so many years, they had some brutal seasons. Do you find yourself thinking or saying that Packer fans have it good and that many other teams would kill to win 13 games?
SC: All the time, would be the answer to that. All the time. But I try to tread lightly because nobody wants to hear an outsider lecture them about their team. Because they’re like, hey pal, you’ve been here for three years, calm down. I get it, but as I will say from time to time, Packer fans have had a 30-year vacation from history basically, from the requisite journey into the woods to try to find a quarterback that just about every team has to go through except for the ones that find that guy.
BN: As a host in the same market, what’s your reaction to 1250 The Fan across town slashing local programming?
SC: Well, you never like to see guys in the business lose their jobs, number one. Even if they’re a quote-unquote competitor. But you have to wonder how many sports stations can a market truly accommodate? Sometimes I’m amazed, Brian, at cities like Atlanta that has like four sports stations. Or Phoenix, and I’m like these are not hardcore sports cities. How do they have four goddamn sports stations? But with, I guess, the right blend of we’re going pay this guy, we’re not going to do this, we’ll take some national programming, we got a sponsor or two, they can make it work I guess.
And obviously then being on AM really hurts in the year 2022. It’s just hard. That’s kind of why in D.C., the company there Audacy, same company, wanted me to continue on 980, which is the station I’d been on for 20 years. A big part of my decision to say, you know what, no thanks, is that I just couldn’t stand being on AM radio for another year in my career. It’s not what’s happening now in terms of radio and media and everything else.
BN: I know you signed your contract extension [back in April], but is there a radio part of you that when you see a station slashing payroll, you think oh no, what’s the next thing to happen? Or are you just like, you know, man, I’m riding the wave, whatever happens I’ll react to it if that does unfold?
SC: Yeah, I trained myself to not think about that in catastrophic terms. You can’t worry about what’s going to happen next, and layoffs, whatever. I think you have to always just be thoughtful of your trajectory and your career and possible next opportunities. Not that I’m looking for that next opportunity at this time, but just to always be mindful of that. I like to tell young guys I work with, I say look, radio is not a gold watch business. Okay, just realize that. You want gold watches at the end of your 25 years, 40 years, 50 years? Sell insurance.
BN: [Laughs] Absolutely, man. I’m curious, Czabe, for a guy like you that’s had a distinguished career, what is a wow moment for you now? Like, wow, this is cool. What wows you at this point that isn’t mundane anymore?
SC: I think what I’m doing now is a wow thing. It’s really energized me because people get too hung up on market size. Oh, you used to be in D.C., now you’re in Milwaukee, oh my God. But it’s about what you’re doing with the medium and with the people you’re working with. I spent training camp up at Lambeau Field in a house that we rented right next to Lambeau Field that had been the subject of this budget movie called The 60 Yard Line. It was like a week of being in a fraternity.
We did our shows from there. We hung out in Green Bay and it was beautiful weather and it’s the iconic Green Bay Packers. We have such a good group of guys at the station including former Packer players, former Badger players like Brian Butch. It was a lot of fun. I’m like this is great. I love doing this. The other thing is next Sunday, I’m going to be doing an hour pregame show during the Packer run-up from this converted sort of trailer that we retrofitted to make look like a Packer living room den from the 1970s complete with the wood paneling and the vintage TV set. It’s just so cool. It’s like I love it.
It’s not the most important show we have. It’s an hour long, three and a half hours before the game, but it’s going to be fun. And other guys at the station will use that. So that’s cool as well. It’s about doing fun things with good people and having success, which the station is, and doing the kind of sports radio that is not so traditional and narrow and God, you were talking about something other than sports for 10 minutes, how dare you. Get back to box scores.
BN: With the addition of Tim Allen to your station, he broke the news on your show, did he not?
SC: I was gone and I have not met Tim. All I know about Tim is that as soon as 1250 kind of went under, and there was a chance we could get him, all of our guys were like, oh my God, this would be great, Tim’s great. I really didn’t have any idea what his deal was and then I came to learn that he was kind of a Brewers postgame show host specialist that has a real passion and knowledge for the team, and people really like him. I’m like, all right, cool, that’s great. That’s the kind of guy that we’d love to add to the mix. I’ve not had a chance to meet him yet, but I know I will soon and everybody in the building has great things to say about him.
BN: In Milwaukee, instead of having separate timeslots like I’m the morning guy, you’re the afternoon guy, you’re middays, do you try to weave everything together where hosts are part of each other’s show?
SC: We certainly do cross over with other shows a lot. We cross over and we cross-pollinate probably as much as if not more than any station I’ve been on. I think it’s great. Obviously, people have to hold down their daypart and create their audience that comes to them for when they can listen to their show. Guys that are working in construction and whatnot, maybe in certain hours. Guys that are in the office are more drive time. There’s different segments of the listening population that are going to be caught by the different shows.
The fun thing about going on other guy’s shows is that you’re basically just getting to play pickup hoops with some other guys and have some fun with it. I think there’s nothing wrong with that. I think one of our best segments we do is our so called 5 Wide when we cross over with our next show, our show crosses over with Nine 2 Noon. We’ve got five guys on the mics and we actually make a coherent segment of it, where it’s not just guys yelling over each other.
BN: I think it makes all the sense in the world, man, especially if you have a new hire just to get them in the mix. Are you surprised other stations don’t do the same thing?
SC: It’s not that I’m surprised. I think a lot of other stations become very fortified in their host territories, and very territorial. Especially the more established stations. Egos can run pretty big in our business. A lot times I think guys feel like why should I talk to him? He’s got his own show. He’s middays. I’m the guy here. Like, I don’t want to talk to that guy. I think that’s probably the case in more markets. And it might be the case if guys just are like yeah, I don’t want to do any more radio than I have to.
BN: If you could write the script — within reason — for how the Packers season plays out and in turn what it would mean for your station, what would be the script?
SC: Oh man, I would say team struggles early, gets a foothold, starts playing great. Wins a bunch of games in a row, then, like any good movie, Brian, complication. Rodgers gets hurt. Not season-ending hurt, but like four-to-six games hurt. In comes Jordan Love the heir apparent, who lights it up and is great. But not so great that you’re going to tell Rodgers okay, you lost your job.
Rodgers comes back from injury, resumes being Rodgers. Team goes on to win the Super Bowl. Rodgers in a hallucinogenic mushroom type experience decides, hey man, what a perfect way to go out, and pulls an Elway and retires handing off the team to Jordan Love who proved in Rodgers absence that he’s the real deal. And the beat continues. That would be the perfect script.
BN: Wow, man. That absolutely would be. I don’t know if this damages the great walk-off you just did, but what do you think the script will be in actuality?
SC: Well, you always got to be careful. Because as a host, there’s a feeling that sports radio hosts should always be kind of homers. And shouldn’t entertain thoughts of dark outcomes, even when those dark outcomes are staring you in the face. So with that said as a caveat, I fear a somewhat, not messy, but an awkward and perhaps uninspiring sort of conclusion to this year and maybe the Rodgers era. Something that smells like 11-6 and a Wild Card loss. Then either Rodgers retires or lets it be known, I want to be traded. They do the same thing with him they did with Davante and they trade him for picks. And you push the big reset plunger and hope that things are okay next year.
BN: Man, isn’t it crazy that the gap between those two outcomes is so wide, but both are possible?
SC: Well, I’d say the gap is even wider if you say this team could be 6-11. This team could be 6-11 with Rodgers playing the whole time. That’s not out of the realm of possibility. In McCarthy’s last year, I think they went 6-9-1 and Rodgers played all 16. It’s possible. But yeah, the worst would be if they’re bad, Rodgers gets hurt, Jordan Love comes in and Jordan Love’s bad. [Laughs] Now it’s really bad because you’ll be getting out of the Rodgers business, the bottom will have fallen out, and you’ll have a replacement in Love who definitely does not look like he’s the guy. But that’s why the NFL, Brian, is like crack. It’s the greatest reality show ever invented. And we don’t know until it plays out in front of our eyes on our high definition TVs.
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.