Arky Shea is one of my favorite people in sports radio. He’s a guy that always strives to put entertainment above information. That doesn’t mean he has bad information. It’s just less important to him to be the guy breaking news than it is to be the one with the best joke about it.
When he was partnered with Cole Cubelic on WUMP’s morning show, they had two of my favorite regular bits. One, Arky Reads Rap, had Shea giving his spoken word interpretations of some of Cubelic’s favorite rhymes. The other, True Southern Gentlemen, saw the two put on very fancy, southern affectations to discuss the issues of the day. In one episode Cubelic referred to fans rushing the field after Auburn beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl by saying “there they go jumping around like a bunch of new money again.” It is a line that still makes me laugh whenever I think of it.
It shouldn’t be a surprise really that the guy has a track record of funny, memorable bits. Arky has one of the most entertaining Twitter feeds you could come across. Plus, he spent time as a stand-up comedian.
Last month I had to go to Alabama to pick up my kids, who had just spent the last week with my mother, who lives in Birmingham. I decided to drive the hour and twenty minutes north to Huntsville to sit down with Arky.
His studios at WUMP are mostly empty. The station will soon launch a new morning show with Arky and former NFL defensive bark Jerraud Powers. For now though, the station syndicates morning and midday shows from its sister station, Jox 94.5 in Birmingham, and its afternoon host Thom Abraham actually lives in Tennessee and does his show over a Comrex. Arky, who is the station’s PD, will serve as Thom’s producer until next week when the new morning show launches.
The WUMP studios look like a very fancy fallout shelter. There’s red soundproof foam on the walls, but those walls are made out of cinderblocks. My initial idea was to do this interview while modeling western wear for each other, but time got in the way, so we are here.
Thom is ranting about how baseball players wear their socks when I walk in. Arky isn’t having it and calling Thom old and crotchety. They seem to like each other, but my first thought is that maybe it’s a relationship that is strengthened by knowing they won’t be working together much longer.
After a little basketball talk (Arky is a Knicks fan. I love the Celtics.) we dive into a conversation that touched on Arky’s hatred of other cities, the Three Stooges, minor league baseball, and why Arky never wants to leave Huntsville.
Did you always want to be in sports radio or was it just media of some sort?
It was always sports radio. When I first went into college, I wanted to be a high school English teacher, but then I got into college and the reading list was impressively bad.
Bad, like you couldn’t believe what they were making you read?
Oh no. I mean like too many books.
So I thought “well, then what do I want to do most?”. First it was writing and then sports. I still do a little writing if I’m asked, but mainly I realized I wanted to talk about sports. I was doing this college show, where we were being filmed by the mass communications department, and I was the guy that was at all the games anyway, so I was being asked my professional opinion, at 20 years old, about these games.
The University of Montevallo. The show was called Falcon Fever, and we had it! I would just give my opinions on the baseball and basketball team. One day I got a call from the sports information director at the time, Alfred Kojima. He said “I want you to audition to be the play-by-play guy for the baseball team.” I thought that was great, so I came out that next Sunday. It was February. It was very cold.
The guy who was doing it at the time, would let me call an inning or two. It was great! I thought this could be really fun. He says “Why don’t you just come back tomorrow and we can do it all again.” So I came out the next day and the other guy was not there. I got the job not knowing I would be doing the whole series and then the whole season and then for a few years after that.
I kinda walked into this backwards. Even though I kinda knew where I was going, I didn’t really have the path or the destination figured out. I just knew that if I stayed in the woods of sports and talking, eventually I’d find the campfire I wanted to sit down at.
So we talked a little bit about your passion for the market. I know you’re from this area originally, did you always feel that way, or was it a matter of finding the right situation for you to feel like you could be here for a long time?
I definitely didn’t always feel that way. I always thought I wanted to be regional. My ultimate, big goal was to be sort of be a regional sports radio guy, so to do something in Birmingham, Charlotte, or Nashville would probably have been the most ideal.
I came back home to Huntsville after college and really thought I was outgrowing it after high school. I thought I was over it, but I was really just outgrowing some of the more country parts of the market. That’s just not the kind of personality I am. I started to really fall in love with the city itself. Then I met my wife. My wife has family here.
I had done a little bit of traveling with radio before. I thought Huntsville is a big enough market for me where I can make enough money, I can accomplish what I want, and I can reach a big enough fanbase. I can be happy here. Plus there are enough play-by-play gigs around for me.
The market I think is like 106 or something right now, but it won’t be that in ten years. By the time I retire, there’s a real chance it could be a top 50 market. I don’t know if it will ever get there, but I don’t want to be…Like SEC Media Days were in Atlanta and I fucking hated it. I never want to go to Atlanta if I don’t have to.
My wife and I went to DC. I hated DC. Never want to go back. That one’s mainly a traffic thing, but like look, I come back to Huntsville and people complain about traffic here and I’m like “What? Come on!” Highway 72 and University Drive are nothing compared to the interchange in Atlanta or what people in DC go through every single day.
When did you become PD of the station?
What has that experience been like? Thom Abraham has always been remote and is kind of his own deal. Cole was just starting to really establish his national identity at that point. What sort of credit do you take for those guys on air? How frustrating can the set up like that be? Give me the overall feeling of what you have accomplished in these two and a half years.
I take all the credit for Cole. I also should be getting a percentage of whatever he makes. He’s late this month, by the way.
For Thom especially, I take some credit for Thom being more open to ideas. I think I’ve been able to open his eyes to different…It’s weird, because he’s 58. I’m not.
I’m technically his boss, but in a way I’m not because he really advocated for me to get the PD spot. It can be weird. I try to caress him and push him in certain directions, but I can’t take away from Thom who he is, so I don’t want to take a lot of credit for Thom.
For Cole, I think I brought a lot of good out of Cole. I think I brought out fun, radio Cole, because when he started, I was an intern and it felt like Cole was talking at people. It felt like he was just trying to get through a show.
When we started doing a show together, we had a show. We started having fun, and we figured out the silly parts of sports radio that some people gloss over to get in more numbers and facts. For us, it was morning radio. We wanted to make it fun, so to be able to let his silly side come out and let him be who he is and is capable of being in that space, I take credit for making him comfortable there.
I…you know, I don’t really want to take credit for anything with them. That’s just sort of the way you phrased it. My job is to be a brick wall for you to play handball off of. I want you to be able bounce stuff off me and go back and forth, because if you’re playing handball against the curtain, you’re not getting anything back, and it’s awful to listen to.
I want to be the brick wall that gives you just enough. I want you to bounce something to me and I get it back to you to set you up to bounce it again. That’s my role as the PD and as a co-host.
It sounds like from a show perspective you realize you might be better as a number 2, that that is where your strength is.
Well, it depends on who it is. When I had my own show, I thought I did fine. If I ever get the chance in the future, I would have no problem running a show again.
The guys I was dealing with, Cole and Thom, those are dominant personalities. Those guys were brought here to make it their show. So, I was brought on with Cole because Cole wanted someone he trusted. At first it was the Cole Cubelic Show, but because of who we are and our relationship it became the Cube Show. With Thom, it may be the Thom Abraham Show with Arky Shea, but it’s really just Thom. He is the one getting the talent salary in that slot, so I have to be his number two.
It’s not about being comfortable being a number two. It’s about being comfortable in my environment. I’m comfortable with being a number one, but I am comfortable with number 2 too.
Beyond just the fact that your friend isn’t here every morning, was there ever a worry for the station in losing Cole? I know technically he is still on in the midday (Cubelic is part of 3 Man Front, which is syndicated from WUMP’s sister station Jox 94.5 in Birmingham), but you don’t have that kind of presence in mornings now. So when he says “hey, I’ve been offered this thing in Birmingham and I am going to take it,” what were your first thoughts not from the show standpoint, but from a PD standpoint?
Ratings-wise and financially we had built something pretty good. We built something where Jason Barrett recognizes our little show as a top 25 mid-market show. I even got a plaque printed for Cole. Jason doesn’t send them. I went and got one made. I mean, it is a huge honor that in little Huntsville, we could accomplish something like that.
I was proud for Cole because that was his dream, so I can’t be mad. Cole is my guy and he got his dream and I want him to be able to chase it.
From a station standpoint it was sad, because we had built a good following. We just had people start buying t-shirts with our show logo and some sayings on it. We had won two Alabama Broadcasters Association awards for best morning show in the state. We were doing something really special. It was kind of hard to see that the end of that special thing was there.
It was hard from a station standpoint too. I have nothing against anyone in Birmingham. Ryan Haney (Jox 94.5 PD) has been very good to me. I like The Roundtable (Jox 94.5’s morning show, which is also syndicated to WUMP) guys a lot. But it sort of felt like that we were becoming a satellite station and I thought that could really hurt us.
Just so I understand, you are talking about feeling like a satellite station after Cole left and your first two daypaerts are coming from Jox, right?
With that being the case right now, do you ever feel the right or ability, as a PD carrying that programming on his station, if you hear something that you think is detrimental to The Ump, can you pick up the phone and call Ryan Haney?
I have before. Especially trying to figure out technical things that allow a station in Birmingham to play a local spot on our airwaves.
I wouldn’t have a problem going to Ryan if there were an issue, but there has never been an issue. The only issue I have ever had is on the technical side.
Is Alabama and Auburn fandom so overwhelming across the state that you can pretty much count on that programming coming from Birmingham matching what your listeners want to hear?
Not completely. This area is so transient. We have so many people from so many different places.
I was at a big Fourth of July fireworks show. There were a couple thousand people there. Everybody is in their lawn chairs, and so many of them had some kind of team logo on them. I was at this dinner, which was overlooking the field where all these chairs were, so I watched all the people walking in and saw all the people set up their chairs and blankets. You would be surprised by how many of those people coming through had hats or logos on their chairs that were not Alabama and Auburn – that weren’t even Tennessee. They were Iowa and Michigan State and Florida State.
Our listenership, I feel, gets a discredit done to it if the hosts are only catering to Alabama and Auburn. That’s not what those Jox shows are doing all the time. Their hosts have done a better job covering the Braves. We have tons of Braves fans here.
Hockey is big for us here. The minor league team here sells out regularly. People like to hear some talk about hockey, especially too with the Predators being right up the road.
Huntsville is a much different city than Birmingham. The county might be Alabama and Auburn die hards, and there’s plenty of that in the city too. The metro just cares a lot about other things. We have opinions on other sports.
In football season though, does the SEC still blanket everything, or are there enough people here that care about the Titans that make it so their games will be a big part of a Monday morning show too?
Alabama and Auburn are still number one for us, but absolutely the Titans get a lot of coverage. During football season it will be almost all football. Basketball doesn’t really show up until January or late December. It is better now that those two teams with the most fans are better.
It will be Alabama first, Auburn second, and probably Tennessee third. College always comes before pro, but people here love the NFL. We have a lot of Cowboys fans and Steelers fans to go along with the Titans fans. Trying to cater to all of that is difficult, but it is also a challenge that can be met.
A good reflection of how much you want to focus on the market instead of doing all Alabama and Auburn talk all the time is this new double-A team coming to town. I think 70% of what I have seen you post on Twitter over the last few weeks has been about the team’s naming contest. Did they come to you with that, or is that something that, as the PD, you recognized an opportunity for your station to get involved and throw your arms around this?
I was doing a little bit of reporting. I broke the story that we were going to get a new team. The Baybears were moving here (the Baybears are the Dodgers’ double-A affiliate and currently play at the other end of the state in my hometown of Mobile).
Did you have on a fedora with a piece of paper that said “press” sticking out of it while you were breaking the story?
Ol’ Scoops Shea
It was that old Three Stooges joke with the three hats that said “Press,” “Press,” “Pull”.
I started with that story and I just kept following up and following up to put a timeline together. When is the stadium going to be voted on? When will we vote on a tax to put funding together? That eventually got me in contact with the CEO of the ownership group that had just bought the Baybears.
We set up a partnership where they saw value with being associated with us and our cluster. Cumulus Huntsville covers every format you’d want. We struck things up from there.
We broke the news about the top ten teams for the team. That took some work, but it was a situation that turned from me reporting on them to them seeing the value of our reach and saying “let’s see if we can work together on some things.”
I don’t consider myself a reporter. I am a radio entertainer. I am prideful of the area. I want the baseball team to succeed. I am not going to hold my tongue if they make bad decisions, but I’m not out to submarine the team.
Very selfishly, I want baseball back in North Alabama. It’s coming. I think it makes our area look better and is more family friendly.
And the name you want to win the contest is?
The Madison Moon Possums. It’s alliteration. The stadium will be in Madison, but I picked Moon Possums first.
When you are sampling other shows, what is it you think sports radio is getting wrong about guys in their 20s and 30s?
Fun. So much of it is missing any sense of fun. I think we lecture too much. I think it is good to go on rants. Passion is always good, but there are still too many hosts that want to lecture you about their opinion.
Look, it’s fine for Joe Simpson to go on TV and complain about the Dodgers taking batting practice in shorts and a t-shirt, but don’t come on and talk about it the next day if all you are going to do is tell me why you agree or disagree. It’s the laziest kind of radio to do – someone gives an opinion and then asks the listeners if they agree or disagree. I hate that.
Do something with it. Ask listeners to give you ideas of what you want to see them wear. I don’t care. I hate to hear hosts read an article on air and go line by line and telling me if you agree or disagre. I hate lecture radio.
One of my favorite shows is Toucher and Rich in Boston. They’re what radio is supposed to be. We’re passionate about our team. We’re going to scream about Gronk retiring and joining the WWE. We’ll also do funny bits about Guy Fieri, and then we’ll all go home and live our lives.
What else do you listen to?
Really other than those guys it’s mostly just podcasts.
Do you see their influence on radio? Like do you look at podcasts and take away something that other program directors should be paying attention to?
Hmm…I don’t think there is a lot radio can learn from podcasting right now, because until podcasting gets past the point where so many of those shows are long discussions, we are just so different. I really don’t know the answer there.
Maybe it is not a content lesson other than you’ve gotta always be thinking about how to innovate.
Yeah. You’ve gotta innovate, but podcasts have to deal with that. Sometimes you get a guy you like but he is just talking forever. There’s nothing radio can really do with that.
But radio has to embrace podcasting. You have to put up everything. It is almost ridiculous not to at this point. I have fought with people about this before because their mentality is “Well, sponsors pay for the show. Why put it somewhere that sponsors aren’t paying for it.”
Look, that’s not a crazy mentality to have, but I have…what? Maybe 2 listeners that will stay with all four hours of a show? Maybe one that listens to the station the entire day?
People work. They want to go back and find what they missed. People want interviews. They want to hear your best bits.
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.
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.