Mike Golic Is Only Looking Forward
“For the most part, yeah, it does me no good to look back. At this point it’s like okay, what’s next?”
Looking forward can be easier said than done. It’s easy to dwell on a divorce instead of focusing on the next relationship. It’s tempting to dwell on a previous job instead of directing your energy toward the next opportunity.
For Mike Golic, he’s shifting his focus to the next challenge, not the previous gig. It does his future no good to replay the end of his ESPN days over and over again. It’s a smart approach. If you drive down the road while only looking through the rear-view mirror, you won’t get anywhere; unless you consider a ditch or T-boning another vehicle to be somewhere. Life works the same way.
This is an exciting time for Golic. The next chapter of his career can go in many different directions. Plus, he doesn’t have to take a job he’s lukewarm about just to keep the cable on. He can pick and choose the projects he wants to dedicate himself toward fully. Golic talks about his passion for calling games and his reluctance to dive back into the local radio scene. He also has some great thoughts about weaving in fun, getting used to hard work, and not letting ego get the best of you. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: I’ve read a couple of interviews you’ve done since leaving ESPN. I’m curious if it’s gotten to a point where you’re like, I’d just rather look forward now.
Mike Golic: Oh yeah, I’ve definitely done my bit of explaining on how it all ended. It’s weird; we just posted the last show on July 31, which is just over a year ago. It was kind of a thing to look back on. But for the most part, yeah, it does me no good to look back. I explained myself a ton out there for people who asked. I have no problem speaking about it but yeah, at this point it’s like okay, what’s next?
The first thing was don’t do anything for a while. Basically have my agent say, don’t want you to hear from me for about six months. That was nice to just sleep in. Now it’s move forward, what’s next? What can I still enjoy? I’m not ready to retire just yet even though I have the gray in the hair and gray in the beard. I’m not ready to just be at home every day.
BN: If it’s sports radio full-time or only play-by-play, do you have a preference if it’s one or the other?
MG: Oh, I can do both. The analyst stuff is always on the weekend. When I first got to ESPN in ‘95, I called games right away and then we started doing NFL 2Night. It’s NFL Live now, but it was NFL 2Night. I was doing that three times a week, and doing a game on the weekend, and I was doing radio out in Phoenix with our mutual buddy Bruce Jacobs. I was actually doing five times a week on the morning show, but I would fly to Connecticut and do some morning shows from there, do three nights a week of NFL 2Night and then travel on weekends to do games. That’s when I was just starting out and doing everything under the sun. I stopped calling games for a while. I stopped because I told ESPN right when my kids got to high school, I was done calling games because I didn’t want to miss any of their stuff. That was my own hiatus on that, which I just picked up the last year. I did it for 10 years before I took a break on games. But I could do both without question. In fact that’s all I’m used to. It’s usually been both together. Whenever I’ve had to call games, I’ve usually had a show that was during all week. I’d have no problem doing that again.
BN: It’s a lot of work, right? Do you think that your playing career helped you move into working seven days a week, and flying here, flying there?
MG: A thousand percent. I told my kids that. I told any young kid I coached really in any sport. Then obviously it pyramided to football especially with my kids. My daughter was a swimmer. Forgetting how hard you work in football, it’s multiplied many times by a swimmer. Swims in the morning, goes to school, works out after school, and then swims again. I mean it’s crazy what they do. I said no matter how far this takes you, you’re going to learn how to budget your time. You’re going to learn sacrifices. You’re going to learn hard work and it’s going to help you.
I think what helped me as well, I was a 10th rounder. This is back when the draft was 12 rounds. Tenth rounders weren’t supposed to make it. I was fortunate enough to play for nine years. Mike was an undrafted free agent. He was on a couple of teams for a couple of training camps, but had to work extra hard. My son Jake and his wife, they own a couple of businesses now. They had to work hard and they had to work obviously through the pandemic. She was an athlete as well. My daughter Sydney, the same way. Hard work doesn’t affect them because they were used to doing it. Without question that helps you later in life.
BN: Would doing local radio be appealing to you at all?
MG: Umm, I don’t know. I’ve done national for so long, I don’t know because having a place here in South Bend and having a place in Scottsdale and knowing we like both places, I’m one of those guys, I like to be where work is. When I played football in the offseason I stayed in that city. Obviously at ESPN I lived in Connecticut where ESPN is. If I’m splitting time around the country in a couple of different spots and doing local but not living local, I wouldn’t like that. If I did local, I would need to stay in that area to get the feel of that area, to go to the games in that area and be part of it. Quite honestly you’ve got to dive a lot deeper.
When I was doing local in Phoenix, you’ve got to dive deep into the local teams in the community, where national you’re hitting more of the bigger stories and not diving as deep. Local is a lot more in-depth. If I were ever to do local, I would need to live there. I couldn’t imagine living somewhere else and doing local in the city I wasn’t in to sort of feel that city. So I doubt it.
BN: What’s something besides not having to wake up at the crack of dawn that you haven’t missed with this down time right now?
MG: That I haven’t missed. That’s a good question. Really it would probably just be the timeframe because I love doing it. Think about it, I got to talk sports. Now sometimes in the offseason the tougher times in June and July once basketball ended, you had a lot of that down time before football started up, those were always tough. Then it was who’s the Mount Rushmore of the NBA, who’s the Mount Rushmore of the NHL, who’s your top-10 list? It’s a great list time or let’s reminisce about old jingles. That’s kind of wacky radio stuff. But for the most part, I do miss it. I loved it.
Getting up sucked, but once you start going and getting to the studio and everybody is there, I loved it. There wasn’t much I haven’t missed outside of that 4:15 alarm, which I swore every single morning. Every time 4:15 hit, I had a bad word come out of my mouth.
BN: I bet. It probably wasn’t “goodie, 4:15!” [Laughs] I’m sure you’re supporting your son while he’s doing his show on ESPN. Is it awkward at all when you listen to the network knowing you were there for so long?
MG: No, I’m past that. I equate a lot of things to sports. My first two and a half years in the league, I was with the Oilers. I got cut and I went to the Eagles. I didn’t sit around watching the Oilers play going oh God, I was there. And then when I left the Eagles to go to the Dolphins, I didn’t sit around and reminisce about my Eagle days. I played with the Dolphins. You just move on.
Obviously it was a little weird at first knowing I did a show there for so long and then all of a sudden there’s other people doing that show. But my son had been there already for a few years before me, him, and Trey were doing that morning show. I had been used to seeing him on air and calling games and doing all the digital work. So it was no different.
BN: When you look back on your time on air, what’s something you either learned from someone else or learned on your own along the way that helped you get to another level?
MG: I think the biggest thing that I needed to work on was — because I was a professional athlete, and you know this, when you’re going to ask somebody a question a lot of times you kind of know what the answer is going to be. For me it was as I asked the question, I gave my opinion about the subject. I learned and I was told and I really tried to do this is the interview is not about you. I have four hours to do a show. I can explain my opinion many times. Let the guest say what they’re going to say. Then if you have a back and forth with them, fine. To drill this down is keep your questions short. Who, what, where, when, why. Keep it short; give them their time to answer. Instead of me asking a question, and then I make a statement, and then I asked the question again, and then I continue to make a statement — they’re sitting there going, is there a question in there? What are we doing? That took me a while because I would catch myself doing it. I just needed to shut the hell up, ask the question I wanted to ask, and give them their time to answer.
BN: Who told you that?
MG: There was a guy that came through ESPN that went over questions, what to ask, how to ask them, and I could only make it for one day. He would have seminars and I remember making it to one day, but that was the one day he really talked about it. It really kind of stuck with me. I would put a card in front of me at times that said short questions. Who, what, where, when, why. Then I would just try and remember that.
There were times I failed and went back the other way especially early on. We’d have listening sessions. You listen to a segment and you’d hear yourself. Man when you hear it, it’s like watching tape of me playing football and I see the mistake and go oh my God, how did I do that? You hear yourself and you sit there and time it and go, hey great job, 48-second question. You don’t need a 48-second question because I’m giving my own opinion. Just get the question out there and let them answer.
BN: What’s the most fun that you’ve had in your radio career?
MG: The most fun I ever had on radio was when it was there organically. You can set up things in a segment where you’re going to go that could lead to fun. You have a plan. But quite honestly the best radio is when you go off that plan organically. You just go to something else and the next thing you know you’re laughing your ass off, you’re having a ball, and it’s coming out of the speakers that way.
My thought process in the morning because people are driving to work, was maybe I can take you where you can’t go, I can take you into a pro athletes’ head, I can take you into their locker room, I can take you onto the field of any sport because as pro athletes you have that mentality, and can I make you laugh a little bit. If I can make you smile and chuckle a little bit on your way to work, I feel like I did my job. So to me the best part of radio is when you went off course and that turned out to be the most fun.
BN: I call it grown-up stuff in radio that you have to execute — keep it moving, reset, don’t stray off topic too much. Do those things sometimes get in the way of having fun?
MG: No, once you learn how to incorporate it, like anything else you knew you had to do things and sometimes you were like oh hell, I’ve got to do this and it took you off course of what you wanted to do. In doing the show for 20-some years I got used to understanding that you’ve got to do those things. Weave them into the show while still maintaining the fun, while still not slamming on the proverbial brakes so I can do this and then getting back to what we were talking about. You’ve got to be able to weave it.
A lot of that just came with time. Time, experience, doing it, and quite honestly at the end not giving a shit if I got it wrong.
I’m not perfect. I’ll never have a perfect show. I think there’s a lot of that where you just do your thing and if you make a mistake, you make it. Laugh at yourself while other people laugh at you, laugh with them and move on.
BN: The Notre Dame football telecast hasn’t had many ND grads on there. Is that strange to you at all?
MG: It’s something that they do. For whatever reason they don’t want an ND grad in the booth. They probably feel they’ll be a homer. Maybe. I guess. I’ve done Notre Dame games in the past for ESPN and I would have no problem not being a homer.
Listen I love Notre Dame. I want Notre Dame to win all of their games, but I called one last year when they played at Georgia Tech. I called one when they played Air Force years ago. I had no problem doing that. But it’s not my rule. I don’t know how much of a hard, fast rule it is for them, but I know that has been something they have somewhat lived by.
We’ve had Boston College guys in there in Flutie, and Tony Dungy in there, and now a Purdue guy in Drew Brees. I’m like wait a minute, man, I’m a Domer. Let’s get a Domer in there a little bit. But I don’t get to make those decisions because I would love to do that, sure.
BN: If you were able to write out the next five years of what you were doing, what would that look like for you ideally?
MG: When I say calling games, I don’t care if it’s radio, TV, college, pro, I just love calling games. For this year at least some of it’s going to be with Learfield. It’s going to be college games. I did a thing for them last year, The Fan Exam, kind of a sports trivia for college. I’ve gotten to know those people. They’re getting a Saturday night game of the week and it worked out where I’m going to do that. I look forward to it. A full slate of college games hopefully, fingers crossed, we’re all traveling and going back out to colleges again. The script for me for the next five years would at the very least, at the very least, do college games and pro games. It would be calling games for sure.
Other than that, like I said if an opportunity arises for an everyday radio show, we’ll see. Podcast situations have come about. I’m still talking to people. We’ll see what goes on with that. I may have a fun little thing that I don’t have inked yet that has nothing to do with a sport; it’s more of a travel type of a thing that’s fun. It would be a lot of fun, which now that I’m not tied to one place like I was at ESPN I can do. Something like that. We’ll see if that turns out. That’s the beauty of it is I can kind of pick and choose now. But the constant for me would be calling games.
BN: This just randomly popped into my head; Tom Brady recently mentioned that a couple of teams were interested in him last year, and then they weren’t. He said if you had a chance to get Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky, I’m kind of scratching my head why you wouldn’t do that. If you apply that thought to you, you’re a big deal in radio. Have you ever had a moment where you’re like okay random company, I’m available and you’re not interested in me?
MG: Going in the 10th round, and basically there were maybe three years of my nine-year career where I felt very comfortable going into the season that I was going to be on the team and playing. Other than that I was kind of fighting and scratching to be on the team. Does your ego think about that and you say boy I wish this person or this network would contact me? What am I going to do? I’m not one of those that lives in the past about it. If they don’t, then I just move on to somebody who does. I’m fine with that.
Does everybody have an ego and would love the networks to give you their top spot? Well sure, but that’s unrealistic as well. My career has gone pretty well but that certainly doesn’t give me any expectation that the network is going to say, oh we’re plugging you for our number one guy, here you go, we’re bumping whoever. You know what? It’s not going to work that way for me. I know that. So I never expect it.
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 email@example.com.
Robert Griffin III Wants to Tell Your Story the Right Way
“Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
During last season’s VRBO Fiesta Bowl, Robert Griffin III was part of ESPN’s alternate telecast at field level alongside Pat McAfee. Suddenly, the Heisman Trophy winner took a phone call. Once he hung up the phone, Griffin divulged that his wife had gone into labor and proceeded to sprint off of the field to catch a flight. An ESPN cameraperson documented his run and jubilation as he returned home to welcome his daughter, Gia, into the world. It encapsulated just what motivates Griffin to appear on television and discuss football, and why he is one of ESPN’s budding talents with the chance to make an impact on sports media and his community for years to come.
“This was an opportunity for me to go out and be different in the way that the media covers the players and truly get to the bottom of telling the players’ stories the right way,” Griffin said. “I look at this as an opportunity to do that.”
Griffin was a three-sport athlete as a student at Copperas Cove High School, and ultimately broke Texas state records in track and field. In addition to that, he played basketball and was the starting quarterback for the school’s football team as a junior and senior, drawing attention from various schools around the country. He ended up graduating high school one semester early and quickly became a star at Baylor University in both football and track and field.
Robert Griffin III’s nascent talent was hardly inconspicuous, evidenced by being named the 2008 Big 12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year and then, three years later, the winner of the Heisman Trophy. In the end, he graduated having set or tied 54 school records and helped the program to its first bowl game win in 19 years.
Ultimately, he transitioned to the NFL in a career with many trials and tribulations, but through it all, he never lost his sense of persistence. Nearly a decade later, he returned to college, but this time as a member of the media covering the game from afar. Unlike a majority of former players though, Griffin did not formally retire from playing football when inking a broadcasting contract with ESPN.
“I haven’t retired yet at all,” he said. “I tell everyone that asks me the question that I train every day [and] I’m prepared to play if that call does come. I’ve had some talks with teams over the past two years; just nothing has come to fruition.”
While Griffin’s focus as a broadcaster is undeniable, he never thought about seriously pursuing sports media until his broadcast agent pushed him to do so. He was urged to take an audition at FOX Sports. Griffin broke down highlights and called a mock NFL game alongside lead play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt. He was not prepared for that second part, but impressed executives and precipitously realized a career in the space may not be so outlandish after all.
Griffin then moved to ESPN where he experienced a similar audition process, this time calling a game with play-by-play announcer Rece Davis. Once the audition concluded, it was determined that Griffin would not only begin working in the industry, but that he would be accelerated because of his ability to communicate in an informative and entertaining style.
As a player, he saw the way media members covered teams – sometimes bereft of objectivity – and therefore saw assimilating into the industry as a chance to change that. Now, he is focused on telling the stories of the players en masse while being prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice.
ESPN’s intention was to implement Griffin on its studio coverage, but once executives heard him in the broadcast booth, the company had a palpable shift in its thinking. He was told he was ready to go out into the field and start calling games immediately, something of a surprise to him. FOX Sports felt similarly. This led to a bidding war between the two entities, which ultimately concluded with Griffin inking a contract with ESPN. He appeared over its airwaves plenty of times as a player, and even participated on a variety of studio shows in 2018 where he was almost permanently placed on NFL Live. This time around though, Griffin was suddenly preparing to work with Mark Jones and Quint Kessenich on college football games. He did not have time to consider the implications of the decision, instead diving headfirst into the craft and remaining focused on what was to come with producer Kim Belton and director Anthony DeMarco at his side.
“These guys took me under their wing, and I’m beyond indebted to them for that,” Griffin said of his colleagues. “They taught me everything that I know about the industry. They taught me everything I know about how to present things to the masses to where it can be easily digestible. They’ve allowed me to allow my personality to shine through.”
Demonstrating his personality was a facet of his makeup Griffin felt was inhibited by playing professional football, but he knows it would have been considerably more difficult to attain a chance to cover the game had he not laced up his cleats. Calling college football games with Jones accentuated his comfort in the booth because of Jones’ adept skill to appeal to the viewers and penetrate beyond the sport.
“He has the way to connect different generations of listeners to hear what he’s saying and perceive it in the same way,” Griffin said. “To me, that’s what we all strive to do in this industry is to be able to find the connective tissue between the fan who is 60 or 70 years old, and the fan who’s in their late teens or early 20s.”
From the beginning, everyone told Griffin to be himself and not adopt an alternate persona in front of the camera. That advice has guided him as he approaches his third year working in the industry.
“It is so hard to maintain a character or try to be someone that you’re not, but if you are who you are every single day, then every time you show up on camera you will be that person,” Griffin said. “I’ve made sure that when I stepped foot in front of that camera, I was going to be myself.”
Griffin identifies his style as pedagogical to a degree, critiquing players as if he was coaching them on the sidelines. He will never look to penetrate beyond football with his criticism, as drawing conclusions and using unrelated parlance could be viewed as indecorous. In short, Griffin III knows what it means to represent ESPN.
“We’re not a gossip website. We’re supposed to be critically acclaimed, prestigious journalists, and at the end of the day, that’s how I try to approach the job that I do. That’s why I got into the business – because I felt like there was a little of that going on, especially during my career, so I would never do to somebody else what was done to me.”
Over the course of his NFL career, Griffin was subject to immense criticism that went significantly beyond the gridiron. For example, sports commentator Rob Parker suggested that Griffin was not fully representative of the Black community and proceeded to question if he was a “cornball brother.” The incident resulted in Parker receiving a 30-day suspension from ESPN, and after he defended his comments and blamed First Take producers in a subsequent interview, the network decided not to renew his contract.
“My goal as a member of the media is to tell players’ stories the right way, and if I don’t know you personally, I’m never going to make it personal,” Griffin said. “Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
In addition to broadcasting college football games with Jones on ESPN and ABC, he also appears on-site for Monday Night Countdown, the network’s pregame show leading up to Monday Night Football. Making the decision to add NFL coverage to his slate of responsibilities meant that Griffin would be able to tell more stories and utilize his knowledge of players during their collegiate careers to enhance the broadcast.
The energy that he felt attending tailgates and interacting with fans at the college level gave him a unique skill set to translate to the NFL side, leading him to present the production team with an unparalleled idea for Week 1. He wanted to race Taima the Hawk, the live game mascot for the Seattle Seahawks who flies around Lumen Field prior to the start of each home game. It was an outlandish idea, but one that made sense for television because of the visual appeal it can present.
“If you know anything about hawks, they can fly up to 120-140 miles per hour, so they’re like, ‘There’s no way he’s going to beat this hawk in a race, but we’ll do it,’” Griffin said. “To that crew’s credit, they never once balked at any of the creative ideas that I brought to the table because they want to try different things and be exciting and have fun on the show.”
Griffin ended up winning the race, commencing the new season of Monday Night Countdown with immediate excitement before the Seahawks’ matchup against the Denver Broncos. He thoroughly enjoyed his first year on the show and having the chance to work alongside Suzy Colber, Adam Schefter, Booger McFarland, Steve Young, Larry Fitzgerald and Alex Smith.
“They always tell me, ‘Hey, anything you’re not comfortable with, you just let us know and we won’t do that thing,’” Griffin said of the show’s producers. “My answer always back to them is, ‘Well, I won’t know if I’m uncomfortable with it if I don’t try.’”
While Griffin had what looked like a seamless assimilation into the broadcasting world, he had a difficult moment when using a racial slur on live television in discussing Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. The clip quickly gained traction across the internet, and Griffin issued an apology on his Twitter account for using the pejorative language and claimed that he misspoke.
“I was shocked that it came out in the way that it did, and I immediately jumped on it and apologized because there’s no need to deny,” he said. “You messed up. You move forward, and I think that’s the easiest way to get over those types of things and to get back on your feet.”
The football season at both the college and professional level is undoubtedly a grind, and it requires a combination of dedication, passion and persistence few people possess. Robert Griffin III has garnered the reputation of being an “overpreparer,” often partaking in considerably more information than necessary to execute a broadcast. The information he consumes and conclusions he draws combined with his experience at both levels has cultivated him into a knowledgeable analyst who makes cogent, intelligible points on the air.
“I over-prepare for everything, and 70% of the information that I soak in going into a game or going into a broadcast for Monday Night Countdown, I don’t use because there’s just not enough air time,” Griffin III said. “There’s not enough opportunities to talk on it all.”
At the same time, he makes a concerted effort to make the most of his time with his family and separate himself from the field, engaging in activities including playing ping pong, going to the movies and supporting his children. He also embarks in charity work through his RG3 Foundation and strives to teach his daughters the importance of giving back. The mission of the nonprofit foundation is to discover and design programs for underprivileged youth, struggling military families and victims of domestic violence, and it has made a significant impact since it was launched in 2015.
“Trying to end food insecurity; making sure that our under-resourced youth have access to the things that they need just to survive – talking about food, clothes, books, the ability to learn [and] putting on these after-school programs,” Griffin elucidated in describing the organization’s mission. “We want to have an impact on our community. We mean that with everything in us and have shown that to be the true case of why we do this.”
Griffin’s wife, Grete, serves as the executive director of the foundation and also runs her own fitness business. Staying physically and mentally in shape is something they actively try to accomplish in their everyday lives, and lessons they are passing down to their daughters.
“I’m 33 years old right now, so if I want to continue to train every single day, I can do that for the next 10 years if I need to,” Griffin said. “Not taking hits and being physically fit is also a good thing for your own health, which is something me and my wife are extremely passionate about.”
Although his experience is in playing football and working in sports media, Robert Griffin III does not believe in limiting himself and would consider exploring opportunities outside of sports and entertainment. He wants to become the best broadcaster possible no matter where he is working in the industry and continue finding new ways to be distinctive en masse.
“We’re storytellers,” he said. “We’re here to break down things [and] to tell people a story the right way; things that people are interested in, and that expands across all media levels. We’re not closing the door on anything from that standpoint.”
While he was playing in the NFL, Griffin dealt with a variety of injuries that ultimately kept him off the football field and made it difficult to display his talents. Ranging from an ACL tear, shoulder scapula fracture and hairline fracture in his right thumb, staying healthy was a challenge for him over the time he played in the NFL.
Through surgeries and rehabilitation, he learned how to face and overcome these challenges. It has shaped him into the broadcaster and person he is today as he looks to set a positive example to aspiring football players and broadcasters everywhere.
“The eight-year career that I was able to have thus far didn’t come without roadblocks in the way [and] didn’t come without adversity. Learn from the adversity that you go through and learn from all the things and the lessons that you have that sports teaches you, and then go be able to present that to the masses.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. 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.
Pac-12 Pushing Enhanced Access, Deion Sanders Reeks of Desperation
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Coach Prime if those game telecasts aren’t seen?
Getting experimental has drawn some attention to USFL and XFL broadcasts during each league’s seasons. The Pac-12 is apparently hoping the same approach will draw viewers to its football telecasts beginning this fall.
Last week, the conference announced that its broadcasts on ESPN, Fox Sports, and Pac-12 Networks would feature enhanced access for viewers. Head coaches will be interviewed during games. Players and coaches will be mic’d up during pregame warm-ups. Cameras will have pregame and halftime access to team locker rooms. And handheld camera operators will be allowed to film parts of the field and game experience which were previously prohibited.
Those familiar with USFL and XFL telecasts will likely see some similarities to the greater access that those leagues allow their TV partners. Coaches are mic’d up on the sidelines, giving viewers insight into play calls and strategy. Players are interviewed during the game, providing near-instant reactions to success or failure. Cameras in the replay booth show how officials decide to either overturn or uphold calls on the field.
What the Pac-12 intends to do with its broadcasts won’t go as far as the USFL and XFL. Access to coaches and players is being expanded but will still have limits. The conference doesn’t have to demonstrate familiarity, credibility, and legitimacy to fans and media.
Spring pro football leagues are a tough sell to mainstream sports fans accustomed to college football and the NFL from September through January. Especially when the level of play is subpar and rosters are filled with unfamiliar names, the USFL and XFL have to give fans more reasons to watch.
USC, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon are established national brands and regularly compete with the top teams in college football. Utah has played in the past two Rose Bowls, seen on millions of televisions during the New Year’s Day holiday. All five of those schools finished among the final AP Top 25 rankings of the 2022-23 season. USC quarterback Caleb Williams won the 2022 Heisman Trophy.
Yet the Pac-12 is promoting the gimmick of enhanced access because it needs to attract positive fan and media attention. Right now, most of the headlines the conference is generating aren’t flattering.
Notably, the Pac-12 needs a new media rights deal. Losing two of its most prominent schools, USC and UCLA, to the Big Ten in 2024 certainly isn’t helping with that. Rumors have persisted that Washington and Oregon could soon follow. Additionally, the Big 12 is reportedly eyeing Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah as possible expansion targets.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is left to tout Colorado’s new head coach, Deion Sanders, as a selling point in a new media rights deal. Never mind that Sanders hasn’t coached a game in Boulder yet. The Buffaloes are also coming off a 1-11 season and have won more than five games only once since 2007.
If Coach Prime is as successful as Colorado hopes, how likely is he to jump to a better program and stronger conference? And as mentioned in a previous paragraph, even if Sanders sticks around, Colorado could be poached by the Big 12. How much value would Coach Prime provide for the Pac-12 then?
ESPN’s deal with the conference expires in July 2024, shortly before USC and UCLA defect, and reportedly has no intention of renewing. (ESPN could still agree to a package of lower-tier games for late-night broadcast windows, but Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reports that doesn’t appear likely.) Fox’s agreement is up at the same time, though prospects of a renewal seem more optimistic. The network needs Pac-12 games to fill its college football Saturday inventory.
The options from there aren’t promising. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reports that current speculation has USA Network, part of the NBCUniversal conglomerate, as a possible landing spot. According to The Athletic, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff believes that the conference’s next media rights deal will have a large streaming component with Amazon and Apple TV+ mentioned as potential partners.
A streaming partner might be good from a financial standpoint, helping produce some of the revenue that ESPN has cut off. But forcing fans to find your product and asking them to pay for another TV platform isn’t a good way to draw interest. It may well be a path to irrelevance and obscurity. That’s not going to compete with the Big Ten and SEC, or even the Big 12.
And as The Athletic’s Chris Vannini points out, how can streaming be expected to save a conference like the Pac-12 when it isn’t even helping TV networks (or standalone providers) right now? Disney is losing money with Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu. NBCUniversal has lost billions on Peacock, as has CBS with Paramount+. Maybe the Pac-12 won’t care about that because it got paid. But there’s little chance for growth.
OK, Lincoln Riley, Chip Kelly, Dan Lanning, and Kyle Whittingham could be interviewed during games. But they probably won’t say much interesting during a game. Caleb Williams, Bo Nix, and Michael Penix Jr. will be mic’d up during warm-ups. Maybe we’ll see coaches and players going crazy in the locker room at halftime. Just remember that Peyton Manning said most players only have time to use the bathroom and have a snack. There’s your compelling television.
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Deion Sanders if those game telecasts aren’t seen by large audiences? To say otherwise is desperate. That’s exactly where the Pac-12 is.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ESPN Deal Used to Mean Stability for ACC, Now It Means Anything But
It was April 19, 1775 when the first shots of war were fired on battlefields in Lexington and Concord that would send shockwaves across the world. Some brave soul among a group of rebel farmers and blacksmiths, doctors and lawyers literally pulled the trigger on what would become known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”. Indeed, the world would never be the same.
The college athletics version of that event was June 11, 2010. On that day, regents at the University of Nebraska officially applied for Big Ten membership and were unanimously approved by the other eleven schools (if the number in the conference name not matching the number of schools in that conference is something that bothers you, this column may not be for you). From that day forward, we have never really exited the “expansion era”.
One conference that has gone largely untouched in that time is the ACC. Only Maryland has left the ACC since 2010, heading to the Big Ten, and the conference has added Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville in that same window. That is significant when you consider only the SEC and Big Ten have avoided any departures in this era. Every other major conference has seen great turbulence while those three conferences have primarily seen only growth.
That trend may actually continue for the ACC and that may not be a net positive for the conference or the ACC members. This is thanks to the long term grant of rights deal the conference schools negotiated with ESPN. The grant of rights means ESPN holds the broadcast rights to all home games of the current ACC schools, and do so for the next 13 years.
When the deal was signed in 2016, the 20 year media rights deal seemed like a win for the ACC, creating stability in a time of great instability. Now, what seemed like a “must have purchase” may be the impulse buy that the league schools regret for decades.
Put simply, the ACC has been lapped in the media rights race by the Big Ten, SEC and even the Big 12. At best, the ACC schools are working at a $10-15 Million per year deficit when compared to Big 12 schools. At worst, they are operating at a much larger $30-$40 Million annual deficit when compared to Big Ten and SEC programs. It would be a battle of monumental proportions for the ACC to compete on the same level as those other conferences at that large of a disadvantage.
The conference’s options are slim. ESPN has a deal that is locked for 13 more years, what benefit would it be to them to renegotiate just so the ACC can compete? For instance, it would require $140 Million annually from ESPN just to place the ACC in the same financial neighborhood as the Big 12 Conference. What would be the benefit to ESPN in doing that?
The other option for ACC schools would be to bang the departure drum. Almost all legal analysts have painted a very grim picture for the schools that would be itching to leave. The exit fee is $120 million and may get the schools some nice parting gifts but does not give them their media rights. Their home game broadcast rights will still be a part of the ESPN deal with ACC. That greatly reduces a departing school’s value to any other conference.
Maybe ESPN is willing to broker a deal for a departing school if it is going to a conference, such as the SEC, that has a large rights deal with ESPN. If one of the schools desires a departure to the Big Ten, who has large deals with networks not named ESPN, one would have to think The Worldwide Leader would be in less of a deal-making mood.
Some league athletics directors, led by Florida State’s Michael Alford, are suggesting teams be incentivized for success. Breaking the code; rather than equal distribution, the power schools want a bigger share of the money. This is where Wake Forest points out that it is all they can do to exceed football expectations on their current stipend, what will become of them if that money shrinks? It seems that conferences and leagues that steer away from an equally shared revenue model have had a difficult time making that work long term.
Maybe the ACC teams that are ready to punch out could flash back to the period of time our country was in with the events we started this column remembering. They have a team in Boston, go throw some tea in the harbor and revolt, have a modern day Boston Tea Party. As it stands now, there are several ACC members that want to leave the party they are part of. Their only problem is they are all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.