Listening, Entertaining and Grinding At The Center of Mark Schlereth’s Success
“I have a couple of different radio philosophies that I think just work. Ultimately I’m the one that turns on the mic so I’ve got to be comfortable with it. And it’s got to be authentic and entertaining.”
There are three core ingredients that fuel Mark Schlereth’s success in broadcasting — grinding, listening, and teamwork. He’s a worker. Mark prepares by breaking down NFL film so he has the answers to the test. He also listens. It’s one of the most overlooked skills in broadcasting, but Mark knows that listening is mandatory in order to actually have a real conversation. Finally, the three-time Super Bowl champ fully understands the importance of team. That goes a long way in broadcasting. Mark knows that it’s not just about him; it’s also about his on-air partner and what the listeners want to hear.
Mark is having a blast calling NFL games and doing his morning show on 104.3 The Fan in Denver. He oozes enthusiasm and passion for his gigs. We cover a lot of ground in our chat below. Mark talks about how Jim Lampley played a significant role in his career. He mentions a piece of advice from Colin Cowherd that resonated with him. Mark has an interesting reaction to receiving criticism from Dan Le Batard. He also talks about acting, consulting, and even uses the word extemporaneous. I was impressed because it’s three syllables longer than 95 percent of the words I use. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: Being from Alaska, what players or teams did you grow up rooting for?
Mark Schlereth: I grew up being a big football fan and rooting for the Steelers. That was my introduction. Funny enough when you grow up in Alaska, the Sunday morning game kicked off at like 7 a.m. It was kind of pre church. I’d get up early on Sunday mornings and pretty much every Sunday was the Steelers game; that’s the game we got. Then in the afternoons it was a Cowboy game. I’d watch the Steelers before we went to the church service. I just grew up watching Terry Bradshaw, Stallworth, Swann, Harris, Bleier, “Mean” Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham, and Jack Lambert. Those were my guys. I fell in love with professional football and the Steelers.
The funny thing is years ago when I was still with ESPN, I’m walking through the lobby in Arizona, and Mel Blount is standing in the lobby of the media hotel. I’m walking with Trey Wingo and I’m like, oh my God, that’s Mel Blount, that’s Mel Blount. I’m such a big Steeler fan, right? I’m trying to act cool, but I’m literally like fanboying out. Mel Blount is every bit of 6’4, 270 and looked good. Mel Blount is a huge man. And he’s not fat; he’s just a thick dude. So I’m trying not to geek out. We walk by and I’m like let’s just not saying anything. He looks over and goes, “Hey, Mark. Hey, Trey. How are you guys doing?” I walk over and say hey big man, it’s really good to meet you. I’m a huge Steeler fan, blah blah blah. Meanwhile deep down inside I’m like (singing) Mel Blount knows my name. I’m trying to act so cool on the outside but deep down inside, man, I was freaked out because that’s your childhood hero.
I’m a huge Steeler fan. In fact my dad took me to one of the last games that Bradshaw played in. We stayed at their hotel and just stood in the lobby and got autographs. I became that guy as a kid standing in the lobby that all the Steelers wanted to talk to because I grew up in Alaska and they all wanted to come up and fish. I got to talk to all of my childhood heroes. It was just a phenomenal experience for me. When the Seahawks came into existence in ‘76, that was really the team that Alaska adopted. It was the closest in proximity but I just remained an ardent Steelers fan.
BN: When you think about your media career, did you ever think you’d be doing what you’ve done?
MS: Funny enough, when I first retired, I thought I would take two years off and then figure it out. I got done and literally within two weeks my wife was like if you don’t find something to do, we’re getting divorced because you’re driving me crazy. I just like to have work. I like to be busy. I like to be in the yard. I’m just constantly working. I probably spend two hours a day watching film and studying formations and defensive fronts and how defensive fronts tie to secondary and coverage. I just kind of geek out on it. I always have something that I’m trying to do. I like being busy. My wife was like you need to find something to do.
I actually did an interview with HBO. It was Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. Jim Lampley came out to the house to interview me. They were doing a segment on injuries and all of the stuff you have to put up with as a player. We did this whole interview and it was great. Lampley was awesome. It was a great three hours or whatever we spent chopping it up. You know how they have the little sit-down interview after the piece runs that they taped. Bryant Gumbel was like so what’s Mark going to do now? And Jim Lampley goes, I have no idea what he’s going to do, but he should get into broadcasting because the guy can speak.
I’m not kidding you — I had no agent or anything — literally my phone rang 10 minutes after that aired on HBO. It was an agent that said ‘hey man, I can get you work’. So I was like all right, what the heck. I already had a deal with FOX to go do an NFL Europe game. He got me that. Then three days later I was on a plane to Bristol. I literally auditioned for a half hour, had lunch and they hired me. It was just that fast. I put in 16 years there in studio.
BN: Before Lampley said that about you, were you even interested in doing media?
MS: I really hadn’t thought about it. I had done a lot of public speaking — a lot of corporate motivational speaking and other stuff. I traveled around from grade schools to high schools to junior high schools, and always had a flair for it. I always enjoyed getting up and entertaining. That part was easy. I did a lot of radio here like my last couple of years playing in the offseason and just had a blast doing it. At the time it was Dave Logan and Scott Hastings. I just really enjoyed that part of it. But I really didn’t have a plan. It was one of those things where I was just blessed to have some things fall into my lap, and also to realize that I couldn’t sit still. I just had to be doing something. I thought that after 12 years of playing and all the surgeries and everything else, I thought I could just chill. There’s just no way I could have done it.
BN: What was your most challenging role where you might have sat there and thought ‘I don’t actually know what I’m doing yet’?
MS: Yeah, the funniest thing was my first show; I went out for a show in July — at that point NFL Live only did Mondays in the offseason. We have our production meetings. Then they’re like come back at six for makeup. I’m like all right. I get back over there. We go down to the studio and I have no idea what I’m doing; I have no clue. We’re all sitting in our spots and the producer says ‘how are you doing’? Great, everything is good. Okay, we’re going to go into the A segment here; after the host tees you up, make your comments to camera one. I was like okay, there’s camera one, I see camera one. Okay I’m good. Then they’re like all right 10 seconds to live TV, good luck. And that was it, man. At that point we were just doing live TV.
Frankly you learn things over time. Initially I was trying to script things out. Eventually you figure out what works for you. For me it was to just listen. My thing is I’m always going to be prepared. I am the son of Herb Schlereth. That son of a bitch works like nobody I’ve ever met in my entire life. I have picked up that wonderful trait from my father. I’m going to grind. Then ultimately my big thing was I might put down one word on a rundown that I want to get to, but I’ve just found the best thing to do is listen. Somebody may say something that you completely disagree with or that changes your whole train of thought. You’ve got to be willing to be extemporaneous and make it work. That’s one of the things that I’ve always done is I’m going to sit down here and I’m going to listen to you, and to you, and to you. Then we’re going to have a conversation. That to me makes it the most organic and the most real. That’s how I’ve always approached it.
BN: At The Fan you went from Armen Williams, who is highly thought of in the industry, to a first-time PD in Raj [Sharan]. What was that transition like for you?
MS: It was great. Armen and I are very close friends and so are Raj and I. Ultimately the one thing that has remained the same — I mean pretty much everything has remained the same — but the thing that really has remained the same is kind of the open door policy. There were things that Armen and I disagreed on when we started together. I have a couple of different radio philosophies that I think just work. Ultimately I’m the one that turns on the mic so I’ve got to be comfortable with it. And it’s got to be authentic. My biggest thing with Armen and with Raj has been it’s got to be fun and it’s got to be entertaining.
I learned a couple of valuable lessons when I was working at ESPN with Colin Cowherd who I think does an incredible job. One of the things that Colin said to me years ago was my show is called The Herd, it’s not called the caller or the texter, it’s The Herd. It really resonated with me. I learned this from Colin; I won’t put a guest on if the guest isn’t more entertaining than I am, or if the guest doesn’t have a bigger name than me. Why would I bring somebody on and bog down the show if that guy doesn’t have great information or doesn’t have huge name value?
Content is important, but if I’m on at 6:15 in the morning, 90 percent of the people driving to work are going to a job they really don’t like. It’s my opportunity and honestly it’s my responsibility to entertain them. I always think about it this way; I want somebody to be at work as they’re putting together their 100th widget and they’re like, that dude just made me laugh or that dude’s an idiot. I think that’s important. We’ll have good content. When we’re talking football, there’s nobody that can talk football with our show. But it’s got to be fun and it’s got to be entertaining. It’s got to be something to me that everybody feels like they get to be a part of. That’s just kind of how I believe in radio.
Radio can be the funnest thing you do and it also can be the biggest pain in the ass of anything you do. If you have the right format and you have the right partner. And I do, Mike Evans — I’ve worked with Greenberg, I’ve worked with Colin Cowherd, I’ve worked with some of the great radio people in the history of this profession — there is nobody better at running a show than Mike Evans. The guy is phenomenal. He just knows how to run the show and push my buttons and does not let me get away with anything. He challenges me on a consistent basis. It’s a great fit. It’s the reason we’ve been so successful.
BN: How did Mike earn your respect?
MS: Well first and foremost from day one there was a camaraderie and connection, a mutual respect. We had a lot of the same philosophical points when it came to how to do a radio show. Ultimately one of the things I said to Mike on the first day we worked together, I said your job is to run the show so I can run around in it. When it comes to doing a show, Mike has zero ego. He’s not worried about getting his shine. He’s not worried about getting enough airtime. He looks at it truly like my job is to set my partner up and let my partner run.
The thing I respect about him is he has an opinion. There are so many times I say to him, have you not learned anything over all of these years doing radio with me? You still don’t know anything about football. I’ll just bust his balls and he’ll come right back at me with stuff. There’s been this mutual give and take. That’s the other thing; nobody at the end of the day has hurt feelings. We challenge each other, but we’re doing a show. There is no animosity and nobody is getting hurt feelings. If I tell you you’re an idiot and you have no clue what you’re talking about, he’ll come right back at me and challenge me on things. I’ll try to explain how it actually works versus the way he thinks it works. We get into it that way. At the end of the day it’s authentic, it’s real, and we have a blast doing it.
BN: Could you work with someone who got hurt feelings easily?
MS: No, I grew up in a locker room. I played at the University of Idaho. My guys, I meet with them every year. I’m going next month to our Vandal reunion; it’s like year 24 in a row. Ten to 15 of us get together and they are the wittiest, smartest, most sarcastic people on the face of the planet. It was kill or be killed. You better learn how to survive; otherwise you’re going to get destroyed. And that’s how we operated. That’s just how guys show love to one another. I would have no patience for somebody who can’t handle that type of atmosphere. That’s just the way I’ve grown up. That’s the way I approached adulthood through high school football, and college football, and in the pros. That’s just the way a locker room works. I would have a really hard time if I had to be careful about hurting somebody’s feelings.
BN: [Laughs] Sure. The Man 101 bits are hilarious. What do you think about Dan Le Batard taking shots at those bits of yours?
MS: Dan Le Batard, I don’t care, he can do whatever he wants. If that helps his show, great. It’s always funny because anytime I put a Man 101 up there, I see a bunch of people tagging Le Batard. [Laughs] But whatever, it doesn’t affect me. It’s kind of the old lions don’t concern themselves with the opinions of sheep. I don’t care. My hobby is landscaping. It’s what I do. I’m constantly in my yard working. I’m competitive. I’ll let all my neighbors know you’re getting your ass kicked in yard care right now. I’ve occasionally left notes on my neighbor’s doors from my lawn to their lawn. Like are you okay, you look sick over here. Things are great on my side. I’m a gracious loser but I’m a terrible winner. I’ll let you know about it. But Le Batard can do whatever he wants. I honestly, I’ve done his show once or twice, I don’t have a relationship with a guy, I don’t really know the guy. But whatever floats their boat is fine with me. If it gives me more views and more likes and more people watching my stuff, then that’s great.
BN: How did you get into consulting for various NFL teams?
MS: Teams have enough respect for what I do as a broadcaster and what I did as a player that I’ve had the opportunity to consult for a couple of different teams. I’ve just enjoyed the heck out of that. It’s like coaching. It still keeps you really tied into the game. That part has been really fun for me to just kind of sit and pick on the philosophes. It’s funny; I was with a team two weeks ago. They wanted to talk to me about running the ball better. I said to this particular team, I go everybody says they want to run it better, but are you actually going to commit to running it better? I go I don’t know what it is with you play callers but you guys are funny to me. You’ll run it three times and net two yards per attempt, and you’ll be like aww fuck it, we can’t run the ball. But you’ll throw six incompletions in a row, and you’ll keep throwing the damn thing. I go I don’t fuckin’ understand any of you guys. [Laughs] Like what is that? This particular coach just started laughing. He goes it is so true.
BN: How did the acting stuff come about and do you see yourself doing more of it in the future?
MS: I do it if people ask me to do it. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I understand staying in my lane and being a football guy. I enjoy doing that. I’m not trying to become an actor. So I really don’t give a rip. If something like Ballers comes up, then great. I have a blast doing it. It’s fun. It’s one of those things that’s challenging because I know that’s not my wheelhouse. The Guiding Light stuff came up just because the guy who was the casting director was a big ESPN fan. He just liked me on TV. So he said hey will you come up and audition? I did and they booked me. I went on a two-year run for a recurring role. My big joke is that show was on air for 72 years, it took me two years to get it knocked off air. It was a soap opera on radio and then 50 years on television and I got it cancelled. But yeah if the opportunity came, I certainly would do it.
BN: When you look to the future do you have any goals or anything specific in mind that you would like to experience?
MS: Not really. I love doing games so much and being part of a team. That to me is what makes it exciting. Calling a game, there’s so much that goes into it. There’s so much work, so much preparation that goes into it. The coolest part is you get to be with the team. I love being part of a team. It intrigues me. That everybody has to sacrifice for one another for our team and our broadcast to be good. It’s very much the same way it was when I was playing. I’m a Christian and love Jesus; what’s the first thing Jesus did? When he started his ministry he got 12 guys together. He got his disciples and collected his team. I’m just a big believer in sacrificing and leaning on one another and working together. Every Thursday I get on a plane and I just am so excited to go be together. I love it. My dad told me something when I was a little kid, find something you love to do and you’ll never have to go to work. Shoot, I’m 55 years old. All I’ve been doing is playing and talking about football my entire adult life.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amanda Brown Has Embraced The Bright Lights of Hollywood
“My whole goal was that I didn’t need people to like me; I needed people to respect me.”
The tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and eight others aboard a helicopter, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, sent shockwaves around the world of sports, entertainment, and culture. People traveled to Los Angeles following the devastating news and left flowers outside the then-named STAPLES Center, the arena which Bryant called home for much of his career, demonstrating the magnitude of the loss. Just across the street from the arena, Amanda Brown and the staff at ESPN Los Angeles 710 had embarked in ongoing breaking news coverage, lamentation, and reflection.
It included coverage of a sellout celebration of life for Kobe and his daughter and teams around the NBA opting to take 8-second and 24-second violations to honor Bryant, who wore both numbers throughout his 20-year NBA career. They currently hang in the rafters at Crypto.com Arena, making Bryant the only player in franchise history to have two numbers retired.
During this tumultuous time, Bryant’s philosophy served as a viable guiding force, something that Brown quickly ascertained in her first month as the station’s new program director.
“I had people that were in Northern California hopping on planes to get here,” Brown said. “You didn’t even have to ask people [to] go to the station; people were like, ‘I’m on my way.’ It was the way that everybody really came together to do really great radio, and we did it that day and we did it the next day and we did it for several days.”
The 2023 BSM Summit is quickly approaching, and Brown will be attending the event for the first time since 2020. During her first experience at the BSM Summit in New York, Brown had just become a program director and was trying to assimilate into her role. Because of this, she prioritized networking, building contacts, and expressing her ideas to others in the space. This year, she looks forward to connecting with other program directors and media professionals around the country while also seeking to learn more about the nuances of the industry.
“The Summit is kind of like a meeting of the minds,” Brown said. “It’s people throughout the country and the business…. More than anything, [the first time] wasn’t so much about the panels as it was about the people.”
Growing up in Orange County, Brown had an interest in the Los Angeles Lakers from a young age, being drawn to play-by-play broadcaster Chick Hearn. Brown refers to Hearn as inspiration to explore a career in broadcasting. After studying communications at California State University in Fullerton, she was afforded an opportunity to work as a producer at ESPN Radio Dallas 103.3 FM by program director Scott Masteller, who she still speaks to on a regular basis. It was through Masteller’s confidence in her, in addition to support from operations manager Dave Schorr, that helped make Brown feel more comfortable working in sports media.
“I never felt like I was a woman in a male-dominated industry,” Brown said. “I always just felt like I was a part of the industry. For me, I’ve kind of always made it my goal to be like, ‘I deserve to be here; I deserve a seat at the table.’”
Brown quickly rose up the ranks when she began working on ESPN Radio in Bristol, Conn., working as a producer for a national radio show hosted by Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt, along with The Sports Bash with Erik Kuselias. Following five-and-a-half years in Bristol, Brown requested a move back to California and has worked at ESPN Los Angeles 710 ever since. She began her tenure at the station serving as a producer for shows such as Max and Marcellus and Mason and Ireland.
Through her persistence, work ethic and congeniality, Brown was promoted to assistant program director in July 2016. In this role, she helped oversee the station’s content while helping the entity maintain live game broadcast rights and explore new opportunities to augment its foothold, including becoming the flagship radio home of the Los Angeles Rams.
“Don’t sit back and wait for your managers or your bosses to come to you and ask what you want to do,” Brown advised. “Go after what you want, and that’s what I’ve always done. I always went to my managers and was like, ‘Hey, I want to do this. Give me a chance; let me do that.’ For the most part, my managers have been receptive and given me those opportunities.”
When executive producer Dan Zampillo left the station to join Spotify to work as a sports producer, Brown was subsequently promoted to program director where she has helped shape the future direction of the entity. From helping lead the brand amid its sale to Good Karma Brands in the first quarter of 2022; to revamping the daily lineup with compelling local programs, Brown has gained invaluable experience and remains keenly aware of the challenges the industry faces down the road. For sports media outlets in Los Angeles, some of the challenge is merely by virtue of its geography.
“We’re in sunny Southern California where there’s a lot of things happening,” Brown said. “We’re in the middle of Hollywood. People have a lot of opportunities – you can go to the mountains; you can go to the beach. I think [our market] is more about entertainment than it is about actual hard-core sports. Yes, obviously you have hard-core Lakers fans; you have hard-core Dodgers fans, but a majority of the fans are pretty average sports fans.”
Because of favorable weather conditions and an endless supply of distractions, Brown knows that the way to attract people to sports talk radio is through its entertainment value. With this principle in mind, she has advised her hosts not to worry so much about the specific topics they are discussing, but rather to ensure they are entertaining listeners throughout the process.
“People know the four letters E-S-P-N mean sports, but really our focus is more on entertainment more than anything,” Brown said. “I think the [talent] that stick out the most are the ones that are the most entertaining.”
Entertaining listeners, however, comes through determining what they are discussing and thinking about and providing relevant coverage about those topics. Even though it has not yet been legalized in the state of California, sports gambling content has been steadily on the rise since the Supreme Court made a decision that overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act established in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (2018). Nonetheless, Brown and ESPN Los Angeles 710 have remained proactive, launching a sports gambling show on Thursday nights to try to adjust to the growing niche of the industry.
Even though she has worked in producing and programming for most of her career, Brown is eager to learn about the effect sports gambling has on audio sales departments. At the same time, she hopes to be able to more clearly determine how the station can effectuate its coverage if and when it becomes legal in their locale.
“I know that a lot of other markets have that,” Brown said regarding the legalization of sports gambling. “For me, I’m interested to hear from people who have that in their markets and how they’ve monetized that and the opportunity.”
No matter the content, though, dedicated sports radio listeners are genuinely consuming shows largely to hear certain talent. Brown recalls receiving a compliment on Twitter earlier this quarter where a listener commented that he listens to ESPN Los Angeles 710 specifically for Sedano and Kap. Evidently, it acted as a tangible sign that her philosophy centered around keeping people engrossed in the content is working, and that providing the audience what it wants to hear is conducive to success.
At this year’s BSM Summit, Brown will be participating on The Wheel of Content panel, presented by Core Image Studio, featuring ESPN analyst Mina Kimes and FOX Sports host Joy Taylor. Through their discussion, she intends to showcase a different perspective of what goes into content creation and the interaction that takes place between involved parties.
“A lot of times in the past, all the talent were on one panel; all the programmers were on one panel,” Brown said. “To put talent and a programmer together, I think it’s an opportunity for people to hear both sides on certain issues.”
According to the most recent Nielsen Total Audience Report, AM/FM (terrestrial) radio among persons 18-34 has a greater average audience than television. The statistical anomaly, which was forecast several years earlier, came to fruition most likely due to emerging technologies and concomitant shifts in usage patterns.
Simultaneously, good content is required to captivate consumers, and radio, through quantifiable and qualifiable metrics, has been able to tailor its content to the listening audience and integrate it across multiple platforms of dissemination. The panel will give Brown a chance to speak in front of her peers and other industry professionals about changes in audio consumption, effectuated by emerging technologies and concomitant shifts in usage patterns.
Yet when it comes to radio as a whole, the patterns clearly point towards the proliferation of digital content – whether those be traditional radio programs or modernized podcasts. Moreover, utilizing various elements of presentation provides consumers a greater opportunity of finding and potentially engaging with the content.
“We do YouTube streaming; obviously, we stream on our app,” Brown said. “We’ve even created, at times, stream-only shows whether it’s stream-only video or stream-only on our app. We all know that people want content on-demand when they want it. I think it’s about giving them what they want.”
As a woman in sports media, Brown is cognizant about having to combat misogyny from those inside and outside of the industry, and is grateful to have had the support of many colleagues. In holding a management position in the second-largest media market in the United States, she strives to set a positive example to aspiring broadcasters. Additionally, she aims to be a trusted and accessible voice to help empower and give other women chances to work in the industry – even if she is not universally lauded.
“I’ve kind of always made it my goal to be like, ‘I’m no different than anyone else – yes, I’m a female – but I’m no different than anyone else,’” Brown expressed. “My whole goal was that I didn’t need people to like me; I needed people to respect me.”
Through attending events such as the BSM Summit and remaining immersed in sports media and the conversation at large about the future of sports media, Brown can roughly delineate how she can perform her job at a high level.
Although the genuine future of this business is always subject to change, she and her team at ESPN Los Angeles 710 are trying to come up with new ideas to keep the content timely, accurate, informative, and entertaining. She is content in her role as program director with no aspirations to become a general manager; however, remaining in her current role requires consistent effort and a penchant for learning.
“Relationships are very important overall in this business whether you’re a programmer or not,” Brown said. “Relationships with your talent; relationships with your staff. If you invest in your people, then they’re going to be willing to work hard for you and do what you ask them to do.”
The 2023 BSM Summit is mere days away, and those from Los Angeles and numerous other marketplaces will make the trip to The Founder’s Club at the Galen Center at the University of Southern California (USC).
Aside from Brown, Kimes and Taylor, there will be other voices from across the industry sharing their thoughts on aspects of the industry and how to best shape it going forward, including Colin Cowherd, Rachel Nichols, Al Michaels and Eric Shanks. More details about the industry’s premiere media conference can be found at bsmsummit.com.
“I’m excited to be a female program director amongst male program directors for the first time and get a seat at the table and represent that there can be diversity in this position,” Brown said. “We don’t see a lot of it, but… there is an opportunity, and I hope I can be an example for other people out there [to show] that it’s possible.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he interns in video production with the New York Islanders and formerly worked as production manager for the team’s radio broadcasts. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pat McAfee Has Thrown Our Business Into a Tailspin
Yet even with all the accomplishments he’s been able to achieve, McAfee is still anxious and unsatisfied with the state of his show and his career.
When you have one of the hottest talk shows in America, you’re always up to something. That’s the case for the most popular sports talk show host in America – Pat McAfee.
The former Pro Bowl punter was on top of the world on Wednesday. With over 496,000 concurrent viewers watching at one point, McAfee was able to garner an exclusive interview with frequent guest Aaron Rodgers who announced his intention to play for the Jets.
Yet even with all the accomplishments he’s been able to achieve — a new studio, consistent high viewership, a syndication deal with SportsGrid TV, a four-year, $120 million deal with FanDuel — McAfee is still anxious and unsatisfied with the state of his show and his career.
At the end of the day, he is human and he’s admitted that balancing his show, his ESPN gig with “College Gameday,” and his WWE obligations has taken a toll on him.
McAfee and his wife are expecting their first child soon and he recently told The New York Post he might step away from his deal with FanDuel. Operating his own company has come with the responsibility of making sure his studio is up and running, finding people to operate the technology that puts his show on the air, negotiating with huge behemoths like the NFL for game footage rights, booking guests, booking hotels, implementing marketing plans and other tasks that most on-air personalities rarely have to worry about.
McAfee says he’s looking for a network that would be able to take control of those duties while getting more rest and space to spend time with family while focusing strictly on hosting duties. FanDuel has its own network and has the money to fund such endeavors but is just getting started in the content game. McAfee needs a well-known entity to work with who can take his show to the next level while also honoring his wishes of keeping the show free on YouTube.
The question of how he’s going to be able to do it is something everyone in sports media will be watching. As The Post pointed out in their story, McAfee hasn’t frequently stayed with networks he’s been associated with in the past for too long. He’s worked with Westwood One, DAZN, and Barstool but hasn’t stayed for more than a year or two.
There’s an argument to be made that the latter two companies weren’t as experienced as a network when McAfee signed on with them compared to where they are today which could’ve pushed the host to leave. But at the end of the day, networks want to put money into long-term investments and it’s easy to see a network passing on working with McAfee for fear that he’ll leave them astray when he’s bored.
It’ll also be difficult for McAfee to find a network that doesn’t put him behind a paywall. Amazon and Google are rumored to be potential new homes. But both are trying to increase subscribers for their respective streaming services.
It will be difficult to sell Amazon on investing money to build a channel on YouTube – a rival platform. For Google, they may have the tech infrastructure to create television-like programming but they aren’t an experienced producer, they’ve never produced its own live, daily talk show, and investing in McAfee’s show doesn’t necessarily help increase the number of subscribers watching YouTube TV.
Networks like ESPN, CBS, NBC, and Fox might make sense to partner with. But McAfee faces the possibility of being censored due to corporate interests. Each of these networks also operates its networks or streaming channels that air talk programming of their own. Investing in McAfee could cannibalize the programming they already own.
And if McAfee works with a traditional network that isn’t ESPN, it could jeopardize his ability to host game casts for Omaha or analyze games on Gameday. It’s not impossible but would definitely be awkward on days that McAfee does his show remotely from locations of ESPN games with ESPN banners and signage that is visible in the background.
If SportsGrid has the money to invest in McAfee, they might be his best bet. They have all the attributes McAfee needs and they already have a relationship with him. It is probably unlikely that he’ll be censored and he would even be able to maintain a relationship with FanDuel – a company SportsGrid also works alongside.
Roku is another option — they already work with Rich Eisen — but they would move his show away from YouTube, something McAfee should resist since the majority of smart TV users use YT more than any other app.
If the NFL gave McAfee editorial independence, they would make the perfect partner but the likelihood of that happening is slim to none. NFL Media has independence but it was clear during the night of the Damar Hamlin incident that they will do whatever is necessary to stay away from serious topics that make the league look bad until it’s totally unavoidable.
It’s hard to think of a partner that matches up perfectly with McAfee’s aspirations. But once again, at the moment, he’s on top of the world so anything is possible. The talk show host’s next move will be even more interesting to watch than the other fascinating moves he’s already made that have put the sports media industry in a swivel.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
5 Tips For Networking At the BSM Summit
“Have a plan and don’t leave home without it.”
Bring your game plan if you attend the BSM Summit in LA next Tuesday and Wednesday. No matter your purpose for attending: to learn, get a job, speak, or sell an idea, you must be able to read the room. To do that, it helps to know who will be there and how you can cure their pain.
Have a plan and don’t leave home without it. If you have time, buy How to Work a Room by Susan Roane. If you don’t, just follow these five tips:
- INTRODUCE YOURSELF: Before you arrive at The Summit, figure out what you want, who you want to meet, and what you will say. Once you get there, scout out the room and see if anyone of those people are available. Talk to speakers after they have spoken- don’t worry if you miss what the next speaker says. You are there to meet new people! Most speakers do not stick around for the entire schedule, and you don’t know if they will attend any after-parties, so don’t risk it. Refine your elevator pitch and break the ice with something you have in common. Make sure you introduce yourself to Stephanie, Demetri and Jason from BSM. They know everybody and will help you if they can.
- GET A NAME TAG: Don’t assume that name tags will be provided. Bring your own if you and make your name clear to read. If you are looking to move to LA or want to sell a system to book better guests, put it briefly under your name. Study this to get better at remembering names.
- LOSE THE NOTEBOOK: When you meet folks, ensure your hands are free. Have a business card handy and ask for one of theirs. Remember to look people in the eye and notice what they are doing. If they are scanning the room, pause until they realize they are blowing you off. Do whatever it takes to sound upbeat and open. Don’t let their clothes, hair, or piercings distract from your message. You don’t need to wear a suit and tie but do bring your best business casual wear. A blazer isn’t a bad idea either.
- SHUT UP FIRST! The art of knowing when to end the convo is something you will have to practice. You can tell when the other person’s eye starts darting or they are not using body language that tells you the convo will continue. You end it by telling them you appreciate meeting them and want to connect via email. Ask for a business card. Email is more challenging to ignore than a LinkedIn request, and you can be more detailed in what you want via email.
- WORK THE SCHEDULE: Know who speaks when. That is when you will find the speakers hanging around. Plan your lunch outing to include a few fellow attendees. Be open and conversational with those around you. I am a huge USC fan, so I would walk to McKays– a good spot with plenty of USC football memorabilia on the walls. Sometimes you can find the next day’s speakers at the Day 1 after party. Need a bar? Hit the 901 Club for cheap beer, drinks, and food.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
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