You have to know your stuff and be good at your job to run Entercom’s (now Audacy) Atlanta cluster. It’s made up of some of the city’s best performing stations. So when a company finds the right leader, the last thing they want is to lose them, which is probably why Rick Caffey’s time at the top of the group predates even CBS Radio’s ownership.
Caffey is a native of Chicago, but he’s lived and worked so long in Atlanta, and grown such a strong understanding of what the city’s citizens respond to, that it’s become home for him. Having that connection and love for the city is why, even in the beginning when the road was bumpy, he never doubted 92.9 The Game would get to where he and original program director Terry Foxx wanted it to go.
When you look at the current Atlanta sports media climate, 92.9 The Game has become a dominant brand. It’s the flagship station for the Falcons, Hawks, and United, and routinely leads the market as the city’s top rated local sports radio station.
In the conversation below, Rick explained how building the station required regular tinkering, where radio should be going to find unique and diverse voices both on-air and in leadership roles, and what it’s like being in the market manager’s office when a talent discusses social issues on air.
This interview was conducted prior to the announcement that Entercom was rebranding as Audacy
Demetri Ravanos: You have been the market manager for this cluster since 1994, going all the way back to when CBS was called Infinity. What do you remember from the time leading up to that? What made you say “I want this job” and what made you feel ready for it?
Rick Caffey: Actually it started with Graham Communications. They owned the station for a year before Infinity bought it. I got a call out of the blue from Herb Accord and Peter Ferrara. They called and said, “our market manager (at the time the position was referred to as general manager) Rick Mack informed us that he is resigning to move back to Washington, D.C. and we’d like to talk to you about coming over to be the general manager of WVEE and WAOK.” That’s how I got over, first as general manager of V103 and AOK, then a year or year and a half later, it was sold to Infinity. Then I acquired ZGC at that time, which was was a rock radio station. We changed it from rock to a more alternative station and Dave FM for a few years and then we decided to go into sports talk.
DR: The industry has changed so much in the time since you have been in this position that I would guess a lot of the things that you focused your presentation on early in your career would be considered outdated now. I wonder, from the position of running a cluster, does it feel like the business you are in is completely different than what it was thirty six years ago?
RC: I wouldn’t say completely different, because it still comes down to the fundamentals of creating great, compelling, interesting content, regardless of what format or how it’s distributed. The same is true on the business side, where it still comes down to engaging the business community, and helping develop solutions and ideas that can help them move product.
I think one of the things that has changed a little bit is internally, we in our industry are focusing more on providing solutions and ideas to our customers instead of the ‘my ratings are better than their ratings’ banter. I think that’s a good thing. It’s been a great evolution in our business because it’s really moving the needle from the advertising side. That’s what matters – delivering results for your advertisers.
From a content standpoint, it’s probably more challenging because whatever format that exists in radio, whether it’s a music format or a sports talk format, there’s such an abundance of other places to find information and content. So the challenge each year is to make sure that we stay competitive in that area. Radio, for the most part, does an outstanding job in that area and especially in the world of sports talk.
DR: I want to talk about 92.9 before it became The Game. You mentioned Dave FM before. You guys had the Falcons on that station for a good long run, but I read an interview around the time the station flipped, where you told Rodney Ho that even though you had the Falcons during that time, there was never a thought that you would flip 92.9 to sports talk. I don’t think I can name another triple station in the country that has sports, let alone the NFL. So I wonder what that partnership was accomplishing for Dave FM at that time that it was worth going so far out of format for big chunks of Sunday afternoons?
RC: Well, what happened was the Falcons came before we changed to Dave FM. We were a classic rock radio station then, which was more compatible. We were male leaning, and so having the Falcons fit with the brand. I think from the Falcons standpoint, what they saw value in was our ability to provide full coverage with our FM signal that that the AM stations at the time couldn’t. So that was sort of a good point of mutual interest for both parties at the time.
DR: Atlanta may not necessarily have been a crowded sports radio market when you decided to make the flip on 92.9 in 2012, but Steak Shapiro and Andrew Saltzman were generating big revenue over at 790 The Zone back then. The Dickeys were also a big part of the Atlanta sports scene. The Fan was sort of a staple in the city because of its association with the Braves. Was the FM signal the catalyst for saying this could work or did you recognize some specific niche the competition had left open that you were capable of filling?
RC: Great question, but it mostly was the opportunity that was there for FM. Both of those stations you mentioned had very limited coverage, especially at nighttime when games are playing. So we saw a big opportunity there to take that format and reach more people, just because more people have access to the station.
I give a lot of credit to 790 The Zone and 680, because I saw there that there was a good appetite for this content in the local marketplace. One of the things I think that kind of gets lost when people outside of Atlanta think of our city is they don’t see it as being a great sports area. I’ll tell you as a native Chicagoan, and nobody would ever say Chicago’s not a great sports town, but since I moved to Atlanta back in 94, I’ve been to the Olympics, two heavyweight boxing matches, a countless amount of All-Star Games, Super Bowls, and not to mention, we’re the cross-section of the ACC conference and the SEC conference. You always have the SEC championship here, which some years kind of predicts who’s going to be in the national championship game. You’ve got world class arenas, so we’ve had every major sporting event here in Atlanta. Even though the Hawks weren’t winning championships, the appetite for the NBA in Atlanta is huge. This is a this is a great sports town, from a professional, collegiate and even high school sports standpoint.
DR: Given the nature of Atlanta’s business community, so many international companies are there. Did the people you were talking to on the ground recognize that this is a great sports town, and there was room to put a sports station on the FM dial which could change everything? Or did you find a lot of people were operating with the assumption that Atlanta wasn’t a particularly great sports town and supporting a third sports radio station would be a challenge?
RC: Well, the proof of it is in how successful we’ve been. Right now when you look at 92.9 The Game, we’re consistently top three with Men 25-54. Certainly, that’s reflected in the adult numbers too. So that in itself, shows there’s great content here, and great interest in our local teams. When we decided to go into the sports format, there were three emphases that we’ve always had. We felt that if we could just nail these three things on a daily basis, we could win. Two of them are obviously sports. Provide the information on who won and lost. Let’s not take for granted that people already know because we want them to look to us as a place to go to find out, “Hey did the Braves win?” or “Did the Falcons win?”. Two was provide insight. Why did a coach decide to go for it on fourth and one? Why did we take the pitcher out in the eighth inning? Those are all things that we want to, with our reporters and talent, give people a peek behind the curtain.
But the first and the fundamentally most important thing that we have to accomplish is we have to be entertaining. I’ve always looked at executing a sports format like you’re creating the world’s biggest barbershop or sports bar. If somebody walks in and says, “You know what? LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan.” “Woooooahhh!” Half the room goes up saying, “you’re crazy.” The other half of the room says “Yep! That’s what I’ve been saying all along.” That’s the great nature of our format, is that it’s a place that people can go to and hang out with other people that they like, respect, and may disagree with, or because they want to hear what their opinion is. If we create that vibe, and focus on being entertaining, not just on being insightful and informative, we’ll do well. If not, we won’t win.
DR: I think a lot of people in the industry are probably familiar with 92.9 The Game’s climb. It wasn’t an overnight success. A number of hosts came in and left and you didn’t instantly catapult to the the top of the mountain. Was there ever a moment where you wondered if you made a mistake or got close to pulling the plug?
RC: To be honest with you, no I didn’t. I was very confident it would work. When we first went into it, there were two other sports stations already on the air, and myself and our program director, Terry Foxx, the first person I hired at the time, we had a big whiteboard in my office where we put down names of different types of individuals we thought would be great talent. They could be TV personalities. Former athletes. People who are into the sports base already. We would just write them all down and put together our wish list of different types of talent.
We went into it with the understanding, that just like a a startup franchise in football, baseball, basketball, the opening day roster would be different two to three years later, as things would evolve. Some talent would do better. Some talents that we thought highly of wouldn’t work out. So we knew it was going to be a process, and that we weren’t going to get it 100% right, the first time out. We needed a place to start, and so we tried to assemble the best available talent that we could at that time with understanding that, we’re not going to be married to one talent or one show. It was always going to shift and need to be adjusted. Even to this day, I think it’s my job to approach it like a general manager of a professional team. That is always looking at your roster and saying, “how can we continue to coach up our talent or is there new talent that we can add that can be a difference maker?” It’s an ongoing process all the time.
DR: Was CBS supportive of that process? Was there ever a moment you had to get some of the higher ups on board with “We need to stay the course. This will work”?
RC: Well, one of the biggest supporters we had at the time at CBS was Chris Oliviero. He was one of the VP’s of programing. Chris was behind the scenes, the one that said, “Hey, just keep blocking and tackling.” To their credit, they gave it time to find its legs.
Probably the biggest catalyst of that kind which really pumped steroids into the brand was when we brought the Falcons back. What they did was give us strong branding and marketing. For all the people who would come in on Sunday’s, it gave us an opportunity to recycle them into Mondays, Tuesdays and the rest of the week. From there, we’ve kind of just took off in and haven’t looked back since.
DR: If there’s a moment in Atlanta that sports radio is famous for, maybe infamous for, its probably 790 The Zone’s Steve Gleason bit. You could sort of argue that the beginning of the end for that station came from that controversy. Do you remember what your reaction was at the time and what the conversations were like in your building as you watched the fallout from that situation come to fruition?
RC: We were certainly aware of it, and I knew Steak because Steak had worked with me when I first got to Atlanta at WCNN. The station management had to make the decision they made. You know, I think it was warranted to have a suspension. They also could have used it as an opportunity, a learning moment, not to be quick on the trigger and just discard the talent.
I saw Steak go on CNN and apologize for everything. I thought he was very, very sincere. It was a good opportunity to admit a mistake and then all you can do from there is grow from it and be better. So that might have been a missed opportunity on their end to not allow that process to go on a little longer.
DR: I don’t want to sound morbid here, but was there ever a moment where you looked at it and thought, “This is our opportunity now to change the landscape of sports radio in Atlanta”?
RC: No. I’m a big believer that you focus on yourself. I don’t play chess with other other radio stations. I make sure that myself and our team are focused on the entities and people that matter. Those are our partners. Our audience. Our advertisers. Until our competitors buy advertising time on our brands or or walk around with a meter and listen to our stations, I’m not going to focus on them. We’ve got enough to worry about on our end. That’s always been our philosophy.
Other rival stations do great things that should be celebrated from an industry standpoint. And when they make wrong turns or have setbacks, that’s not for me to dance on their grave. We have to look at what we do on a day to day basis and look in the mirror and say, “Okay, how can we be better?” and then focus on that.
DR: Atlanta was at the center of a lot of the marches and demonstrations that happened last summer, particularly after the Rayshad Brooks shooting. Now the city is in the news again unfortunately, because of the mass shooting of the Asian spa workers. When these things are happening in your city it become part of the national conversation. Being involved as you are on the business side with clients and partners, how comfortable are you with those conversations, making it on to your airwaves? If nationally they’re part of the conversation, one can make a case that they should be part of the conversation for Atlantans.
RC: Well, I don’t think you can ignore the elephant in the room. Going back to the summer when there were protests in the streets, one of the things we did was talk to every one of our on air talent at the time and ask them candidly “Do you want to address this? If so, how do you want to address it?” Some talent felt, “You know, maybe I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I may feel a little uncomfortable.” Some said “I absolutely want to share my share my thoughts on it.” The key thing that we felt was important was to allow people to be authentic and honest.
So we didn’t ignore it. We didn’t put our head in the sand and just say, “Hey, it’s sports, as usual.” We talked about it. We had discussions about it on the air. I think one of the most remarkable things that kind of happened during that period were the comments that Hugh Douglas made on our morning show.
DR: I was actually going to bring this up because I think it is one of the most powerful moments that a sports station could possibly air in the wake of everything that was going on in the wake of the conversations we’re having as a country at that point. I know I am probably not alone in being someone that will tell you that I got choked up listening to that.
It’s interesting, when you talked about being authentic, I wonder what you hear, what the emails or phone calls from listeners or advertisers are in those moments because in our business that is exactly what we should want from our talent. It’s part of the reason why we put them on the air. But I also wonder if, given how sensitive people can be to not wanting to hear anything that challenges their world view, if these moments that are absolute wins on the air don’t feel that way sometimes when you’re the one having to field the phone calls.
RC: Right. The interesting thing is I didn’t receive any negative phone calls from sponsors or advertisers. If anything, I think the people that I did speak to that are clients of ours were just appreciative and in some cases moved, no different than how you said you felt. And we weren’t going to make a decision about whether we were going to be authentic based on if our advertisers or our partners should be upset about it. I think one of the things we really focus on is making sure we’re authentic to our audience. That even goes to if one of our sports teams, especially if we’re carrying that team, has a six, seven, eight game losing streak. We can’t just paint a rosy picture when the play on the field isn’t good.
Now, with that being said, we make sure that our talent realizes not to make it personal. If you want to say a general managers made a bad draft pick, that’s fair game. But don’t question if that person wants to win. That’s a character issue and you can’t make a judgment like that, nor should you be making a judgment like that because you can’t assume anybody in those positions aren’t there to win. It’s no different than you in your position. You know that you’re on air to win.
We always want talent to be honest and authentic with the audience. If you don’t have the trust of the audience first and foremost, then it doesn’t work for any of your partners, whether it’s the teams or your sponsors and advertisers.
DR: So last year the industry got hit hard by the pandemic and you guys were no different. Clusters everywhere had to make cuts. What it’s led to is 92.9 The Game operating with an OM and an APD, not necessarily a designated program director. Is that a trend you think we’ll see more of? Is there a different way, a more cost effective way to do the PD job in radio?
RC: Well, the program director or brand manager that I have overseeing the station is treating it as his other station, the music station, which is V103. He’s always had a love for sports and programing specifically. I think what helped him was that, in the case of V103, yes, it’s a music station, but it’s a a very personality based radio station. Some of the same dynamics that work on V also work in a talk format. So from that standpoint, Reggie Rouse is a great talent. That kind of trumps everything. We don’t have that set up you described just for a structural basis. We have it based on having the right talent that can provide direction to our staff.
DR: That makes sense. Surely you know, given The Game’s reputation, the second you post a PD opening, you’re going to have a flood of resumes from accomplished candidates coming in, right?
RC: Yeah. That’s right.
DR: So as you think about the who’s who of programmers in sports radio, outside of your former PD, Terry Foxx, there’s not been a lot of Black and Brown faces in that group. Every company has their diversity panel, and I know you’re now involved in helping Entercom (Audacy) improve its diversity footprint, so I’d love to know what you think needs to change for executives to start walking their talk in that way?
RC: Well, I think like anything else, you got to you just got to expand your pool of contacts beyond those that you know. I would also say that is true for women, especially in the sports talk realm. I mean, we’re in a position to add talent. I would love to add more female talent to our sports station. I think that it makes us better and there are some great candidates out there. Truly, the ESPN’s of the world have found that out over the last several years.
I’ll add that I think there’s great opportunity for both minorities and women in the sports world, but you have to be creative and do kind of like what we did at the very beginning when we first were trying to build the station. We relied on our whiteboard and went through different categories of individuals and tried to network in other areas to find people that fit the categories that we were looking for. One of those things that I was trying to build with our individual shows was complementing contrast, meaning that you want talent working together who are not all the same. I like combinations of talent where you might have an older person and younger person teaming up or a male and a female or a Black and white person, a former athlete and non athlete. Putting those combinations together, where there are differences and good, healthy debate, assuming the debate and discussion is respectful, can be very entertaining. I think you want your management and leadership to have that same type of diversity, because it just makes you better. It makes you more 360 where you’re able to see different angles. Going back to the question you asked earlier about how do you approach the protests that were going on last summer, the key word is once again authentic. I think you have a better opportunity to do that when you have more voices and perspectives in the room.
DR: We talk about this all the time with talent. You’ve got to go to different places to find different perspectives and different types of talent. I wonder if you have seen this, whether it is yourself, colleagues or peers. Terry certainly had a long track record of success in sports when he became your program director, but someone at some point looked at a music program director and said ‘that guy can do sports’ and that is how he got a shot. As an industry, do we get too hyper focused on specifically what format your perspective or success has come in when we look at these positions?
RC: Absolutely. I think you can’t look at things from an absolute standpoint. There’s some certain criteria and stereotypes that may fit a mold, but look at what it’s now becoming. It seems more acceptable to have a black quarterback, which fifteen, twenty years ago wasn’t the case. You had to look for that classic, drop back quarterback. Now, the game has seen that having individuals that could run is not a disadvantage. It’s a great, great advantage in that position. So things always evolve. The danger you always have is getting stuck in a rut or a rigid “this is the way it is”.
It goes back again to what I said: what’s the most important thing we have to do? We have to be entertaining. That changes from year to year to year. Things can become dated or stale. You’re always looking to either get better, get different, expand and grow, or you kind of die. Now we look for talent that can not only do great things over the air, but just as equally important, they have to do great things online and out in the public. You’ve got to be a 360 talent and be able to do it all.
DR: Speaking of 360 talents, I want to end with a question that I think deserves an answer that makes sense, and you’re uniquely qualified to answer it given your Atlanta radio experience and perspective. Many of us around the country are trying to understand why Doug and Ryan Stewart, The 2 Live Stews, aren’t on the air in the city right now. When they burst on to the scene, they became a phenomenon. I think there are so many talents around the country that could point to what they did and say ‘those two opened the door for others to be successful’. Why have they not resurfaced in the market, either on The Game or another station’s airwaves?
RC: I can’t answer why other people haven’t looked at them. For us, primarily it’s just been about timing. To be honest with you, at one time I was very interested in hiring them during the very early stages before they kind of blew up. I was looking at them for V103 to do the nighttime show. We thought we might be losing one of our key talents in that position, but that talent came back and so we kind of moved on. For us it’s just a matter of different timing. Why other stations haven’t picked them up? I don’t know.
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.