I’m a firm believer that anybody can learn something from everybody. It has never made sense to me why so many people close themselves off to others based on affiliation or differing beliefs.
Matt Jones is the creator of Kentucky Sports Radio. He hosts an entertaining show for 40 affiliates across the state. It wouldn’t make sense for listeners to steer clear of Matt based on his liberal views. It also wouldn’t add up for anyone in the sports radio industry to dismiss Matt’s philosophies simply because they vote red.
Matt’s approach to radio enables him to connect with people. One of his core philosophies is the belief that his job is to mirror the discussions that the audience is having. Matt also stresses the importance of relating to people and being authentic. If a host is authentic, relatable, and talks about the stuff the audience is already talking about, it’s impossible not to connect with listeners.
I walked away from our conversation thinking, man, this dude gets it. His approach just makes sense. Whether it’s sports, politics, Kroger Plus cards, or mostly anything else under the sun, Matt has a talent for finding what will interest a wide range of people. In the immediate aftermath of Election Day when tensions are high, if you dismiss Matt’s wisdom because he leans left, you’re only hurting yourself. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: You’re a very liberal guy in a very conservative state. In what ways does that help and hurt your show?
Matt Jones: I’m not sure being a progressive in a conservative state helps the show at all necessarily. My reasoning for talking about things other than sports — and just so you know I don’t set out to talk about politics on the show and I only do it occasionally — but my view is as a radio host your job is to mirror the discussions that your audience is having. So in Kentucky my view has always been what are people in Kentucky, specifically Kentucky fans, what are they talking about? Over the last four years, if you try to act like people are not talking about politics, you’re just fooling yourself.
I think most people talk politics in a disrespectful way that people don’t like. They say this is what I think and if you don’t think it, you’re an idiot. That’s what most political discussion is. But that’s not what I do. What I try to say is look here’s what’s going on. This is kind of interesting. This is how I think about it, but if you think about it differently, that’s okay. That’s the way we do it.
I don’t sit and try to convince people that Trump is this or that. I tell people what I think about him, but it’s very light-hearted. A lot of conversation in sports about politics is kind of preachy, like you should believe this. I don’t do that. I don’t think an audience wants that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it in a respectful way of what you believe and why. I think my audience for the most part appreciates that.
BN: Do you get feedback of hey I disagree with you, Matt, but I appreciate what you’re saying?
MJ: Oh, all the time. Probably 75 percent of my audience, maybe a little less, but about 75 percent are Trump fans. If they didn’t think I was doing it in a respectful way I would have lost them. I’m not sitting there saying “Okay, Trump’s immigration policy is wrong for this reason or that reason”. But what I might say is, “Trump has just done this, here’s how it might affect you”. That to me is a conversation worth having. I think people can do that in a way that’s entertaining and respectful.
There’s no doubt in my mind that doing this has caused me to lose some listeners. But it has also gained listeners. One of the reasons my show is so popular and sort of dominates our area in a way very few sports shows do is because we have people listening who don’t really care about sports. There are a lot of people that listen to my show that would never listen to another sports show because they know we’re going to talk about things beyond who’s going to win a game.
BN: It’s a broad question, but what are some of the topics that might get commonly discussed on sports radio that you don’t find to be very interesting?
MJ: Everything. [Laughs] I find most sports radio mind-numbingly boring. We all watch these games. How much can you really say about them? There’s only so much you can say. Especially a local show where you only cover one team. How much is there to say?
Six months out of the year they’re not even playing. I have very little interest in reviewing play by play of a game. Everybody watched it. They already know what happened. If there’s a compelling moment — I’ll give you an example — Kentucky got a commitment from a recruit. I talked about it. I talked about what kind of player they got. I spent two or three minutes on it. But what else is there to say? There’s no debate. My audience has never seen this kid play. What can I say? There’s really not much more to say.
What’s much more interesting is Lane Kiffin got fined $25,000 for tweeting about a bad call that the SEC then admitted was a bad call. Should you get fined for saying something that’s true? That’s a good conversation. That’s how I do everything with the show. Is it an interesting conversation?
I think people think I talk about politics all the time. I don’t. I talk about politics at most once a week. But what I don’t do is say well you can’t talk about politics because I just think that’s stupid. My view is the best radio hosts in America — for me the three most talented radio people of all time are Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, and in sports I like Tony Kornheiser. What all three of those have in common, they are talking about their lives as a part of the subject that they’re talking about. That’s how you have success is doing it like that.
BN: Which presidential candidate winning would benefit your show more?
MJ: I guess on some level Trump is more entertaining and does more stupid things so it’s easier to have stuff to talk about, but it’s not about for me who wins or loses. It’s about what is happening that affects my listeners’ lives because compelling radio, in my opinion, whether it’s sports or anything else is just about relating to people and their lives. People who are good at radio relate to people in their lives. People who are bad at it don’t. I don’t care who’s in charge or what’s going on. Every person in America every day has something that interests them and that is affecting their life. My job is to figure out how to have that conversation on the radio.
BN: Is it a fair assessment to say your show is what it is whether it’s before the election or after it?
MJ: Yeah, my show is what it is every day. Our ratings during COVID when there were no sports did not go down because our show is not so much about sports, it’s just about life. Again you go back to my premise, what is the average Kentucky fan caring about right now? Well in March during the NCAA Tournament the average Kentucky fan is caring solely about basketball. But in May when no sports are going on around here, they’re caring about other stuff.
You want to know the biggest thing I had on my show this year? We had a bet between me and my producer that he couldn’t walk 50 miles in 16 hours. I offered him $5,000 if he could walk 50 miles in 16 hours. It became a month long of talk on the show. He ended up doing it and literally all across Lexington people stood on the sides of the roads and cheered him on. That was the most listened to show we had all summer and it had nothing to do with anything. But every person in the state could listen and go well I think you can do it, or I don’t.
BN: Did you say 15 or 50?
MJ: Fifty. JFK when he was president apparently had this thing called the JFK challenge. He put five different things and wanted every American to try to do one of them. The physical component was walk 50 miles in 16 hours. When I said that my producer was like well I can do that. I was like no you can’t.
BN: [Laughs] How did it turn out?
MJ: He got it. He finished it. He finished in about 14 and a half hours. The last two hours we timed it so it was during my show, so that we walked next to him as he finished.
BN: Aww, man. That’s a great bit. What happened with the Republican Party getting you pulled off the air last year when you were thinking about running for Senate?
MJ: Yeah, that was a bunch of bullshit. I was considering whether to run. As part of that I had created this committee so that I could raise a little bit of money to poll and stuff like that. The Republican Party of Kentucky filed something with the Federal Election Commission basically saying it wasn’t fair that I was on the radio while I was thinking about running.
It was complete nonsense. They were wrong and ultimately if the Federal Election Commission ever actually exists again that will be proven. But my radio station understandably didn’t want to worry about it. So I just went off the air until I decided officially not to run.
BN: How long were you off the air?
MJ: About a month. It was ridiculous. Mitch McConnell is on television every single day whenever he wants raising millions upon millions of dollars but it was unfair of me to have a sports radio show. That’s just so stupid. But McConnell is the master of cheating the system for his own gains.
BN: Why did you ultimately not run for Senate?
MJ: I ended up not doing it for a variety of reasons. Mostly just that it wasn’t the right time in my life and I thought it was going to be difficult to win because in the primary and the general election there was a candidate that had a ton of money. Amy McGrath in the primary and Mitch McConnell in the general. It was going to be tough to leave this thing I created. I created this whole enterprise kind of out of nothing and it was going to be hard just to walk away.
BN: What are some of the specific things in your own life that you incorporate into the show?
MJ: I just talked about experiences I have. I went to the grocery store a couple of weeks ago and I didn’t have one of those little Kroger Plus cards. I asked the woman behind me if I could borrow hers and she said no. It really annoyed me. We literally turned that in to a half hour of radio. It was me telling the story and being like why did she do that? That became one of our most popular bits. Little stuff like that.
Not everybody cares about politics. Not everybody cares about sports. But everybody has to go to the grocery store. Everybody eats food. That’s the way you connect to people on other levels.
BN: How big of a role does your supporting cast have on the show?
MJ: Huge. The three other people on the show — Ryan Lemond, Drew Franklin, and Shannon Grigsby — we’ve made it to where everybody knows who they are. We have our fill-in producer Billy Rutledge and people know who he is. I think the key to radio is authenticity. The reason why I genuinely believe KSR is more popular in Kentucky than virtually any sports radio show in America is popular where they are is because our whole purpose is to connect to the personality and community of the state.
To me the shows that work are about a sort of lifestyle or thought process rather than about a sport or even politics. The reason why most shows can’t do politics or shouldn’t is they believe their job is to preach the politics to the listener. I don’t think the listener wants that. I believe the job is to make the subject — politics or whatever — interesting. That’s a different thing than preaching.
BN: It’s interesting, Matt; talking to you I’m just thinking about some of the hot-take artists that try to stand out that way. Would you be of the opinion that you can stand out more just simply by connecting with people instead?
MJ: A hundred percent. This is not the way people do radio, but to me anybody can have a strong opinion on who should be the MVP. Who cares? But if you can get people to care about your lives and to care about what’s going on in your existence, that’s what talent is to me. I can’t listen to people argue is LeBron the GOAT. There’s not going to be one thing they say that is any more unique than anything I’ve ever heard.
Tony Kornheiser used to talk every day on his show about the Washington Nationals. I couldn’t care less about the Washington Nationals. But I did care about Tony caring about the Washington Nationals. When he would talk about watching the game and being frustrated, if the Nationals lost in a torturous way, the next day I wanted to hear what he said just because I cared about him. I think that’s what good radio is. When you think to yourself “I know this is going to affect this person and I can’t wait to hear what they say about it”.
BN: If you find something interesting regardless of what category it’s in, you want to talk about it. Could you thrive in a place that was strictly about sports and didn’t let you do that?
MJ: I don’t know. It’s a great question. Could I do a straight Mike and Mike morning show? I don’t know, man. I think I’d have to do a show where whoever was my boss trusted me to sort of — I’ll follow the parameters of whatever they want, but I’ve got to have the ability to sort of do it my way.
Would some boss let me do it nationally daily? I don’t know. But I do know this, the radio show hosts that are transcendentally good — Dan Patrick, Colin Cowherd, Tony Kornheiser, Le Batard — they all do that. Those shows are all based on their personalities. I don’t know why radio executives don’t want that. Isn’t that what the goal is? To create shows that are sort of machines? To do that you have to base it around the personalities of the people that do it. The two best sports TV shows of all time in my opinion are the TNT NBA show and Pardon The Interruption. Why? Because they just let those people be themselves. I don’t know why that’s not what every show tries to be. You just have to let people be themselves.
BN: This might be a stupid question, but I’m interested in what your answer is. There are a lot of women that have to jump over hurdles because a lot of idiots say, “Ehh, you’re a woman. What do you really know?” Do you think you might face similar hurdles being from the South with a lot of people saying, “What’s this backwoods hick going to tell me about sports?”
MJ: Oh, of course. When people hear a Southern accent they think you’re stupid. I get that. The only times you hear Southern accents on the radio nationally is if they do a show that’s like look we’re Southern, sort of like Marty & McGee. That’s their thing; look we’re Southern guys. That’s fine. I like their show a lot. Those are good dudes.
There are a lot of people that know more about sports than me. A lot. Most people. But just be honest with the audience and be like look I don’t know. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it.
I’m in Kentucky. Hunting is huge here. I don’t know any of it. I’ve never shot a gun. I don’t know. But my audience likes the fact that he may know about law and politics but he doesn’t know anything about hunting. I let them make fun of me for how little I know about it. Just be honest with them and I think people appreciate that.
BN: When you look to your future in broadcasting, what do you think would make you happiest?
MJ: I’d love to have a national show someday just to see if it would work. I think it would. But it has to be the right one. I’ve had opportunities to do some national stuff that I just didn’t think would work.
I’d love to have a chance to see if what I have done locally can transcend to a regional or national level. I’m not sure that it’ll ever happen to be honest. We’re very successful here so I can’t leave unless it’s the perfect opportunity. I don’t know if it’ll ever happen, but I would love to do that at some point.
Beyond that I wrote a book that was a best seller. I really enjoyed that. I’d like to do some more writing. I think the best thing in life is to try as many things as possible. Some things you find you’re good at. Some things you don’t. To me try everything and enjoy it whether you succeed or you don’t.
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.