Brian Windhorst Is A Trusted Source Off The Court
“We are sharing information, sharing sourcing and, as a result, sometimes when there’s a news break, it’s actually like 3-4 people who are involved in the production.”
Oct. 29, 2003 – LeBron James makes his National Basketball League debut for the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Sacramento Kings. As the No. 1 overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft and a consensus superstar, James took the court in front of a national audience on the back half of an ESPN Wednesday doubleheader. Even though the Cavaliers lost the game 106-92, James compiled 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds in four steals while playing all but six minutes of the game, a load quite uncommon for most rookies today. Brian Windhorst was there, and he had to file a story mere moments after the final buzzer.
“They started the season on the West Coast,” Windhorst said of the Cavaliers. “That doesn’t happen anymore; they don’t have teams start the season on long road trips, but they did that year. I remember at the end of that road trip – coming back going, ‘I don’t know if I’m good enough. I don’t know if I have what it takes.’”
20 seasons and 38,363 additional points later, James is the NBA’s all-time scoring leader and recognized as one of the best players to ever step on the harwood. A four-time NBA champion with three different franchises, he has been one of the defining stars of the league since his debut, and a compelling personality for journalists to report on.
Oftentimes, Windhorst has been associated with James not only because of his time as a Cleveland Cavaliers beat writer, but also since their backgrounds are somewhat intertwined. Through it all, endurance and perseverance has propelled James and Windhorst as respected figures in their industries; ones who have made an inextricable impact on basketball in different ways.
“I remember sitting in the studio at the lottery in Secaucus, N.J. in May 2003, and they did the lottery and went to commercial break,” Windhorst said. “Denver, Memphis and Cleveland were in the last three, and I remember sitting there… thinking, ‘Well, it’s possible my life is going to radically change here in this next five minutes.’”
James’ initial tenure in Cleveland may have been at the mercy of an entropic selection process based on odds and the logo displayed on one ping-pong ball – but it took talent, hard work and determination for him to even reach that point. The same can be said for Windhorst, a reporter who spent years developing versatility and fostering professional relationships to become a bonafide source of information.
The softball field was a familiar setting for Windhorst in his youth. As a native of Akron, Ohio, he was well within driving distance of Cleveland, a metropolis with a bevy of professional sports teams. One of his earliest experiences working in sports media came in keeping the scorebook for the high school softball team at St. Vincent-St. Mary, coached by his mother Merrylou.
Windhorst was no stranger to athletics and competed in golf as a high school student, yet he found enjoyment in being around the environment rather than playing in the games themselves. As a result, he landed a part-time job as a clerk with the Akron Beacon-Journal where he was responsible for documenting scores and assisting reporters in compiling statistics for their stories.
“I was working 5:00 to 11:00 PM shifts… sort of sitting on the periphery but watching the newspaper get put together on deadline three or four nights a week,” Windhorst explained. “That’s where I got my start.”
When it was time to apply for college, Windhorst received admissions offers at journalism schools around the country. Being in the industry through high school and having no desire to leave his job at the Akron Beacon-Journal, he decided to remain close to home and enrolled at Kent State University.
His prudentiality paid dividends when he was afforded the chance to cover games and write 300-word recaps in college for high school basketball, wrestling and other sports. It altered his perspective on working in the industry, divulging changing trends and means of coverage that may have gone unnoticed had his formative application of journalism been solely focused in the classroom.
“I was in these classes with these professors teaching me about the alleged newspaper industry and I was going, ‘Maybe that’s the way it was when you worked in it 10 years ago, but it’s not like the way it is now,’” Windhorst recalls. “I was way real-world-ing it over the school.”
By the end of his college career, Windhorst had six years experience at the newspaper, but unfortunately had to sacrifice his social life in the process. The first Kent State football game he attended was as a reporter, and he never had the chance to engage in regular college activities because of his stringent work schedule and unrelenting inclination to succeed. The newspaper also represented an external outlet to hone his craft, especially since Windhorst struggled to get opportunities elsewhere, applying for over 80 internships and receiving none of them.
“I’m sad to say that I didn’t make any lifelong friends in college,” Windhorst said. “I definitely traded that because I would come back to Akron three or four nights a week to work on the desk and cover games.”
Through repetitions came invaluable experience and a trial run at the age of 25 as a traveling beat reporter covering the Cavaliers. Windhorst worked on a provisional basis, approaching his bosses when there was an upcoming road trip to ask permission to book plane tickets. Over his early days in this role, the newspaper was interviewing established reporters to eventually take over; however, once some time passed, management told him he had the job.
To begin the 2003 regular season, the Cavaliers had a three-game road trip with stops in Sacramento, Phoenix and Portland before their home opener against the Indiana Pacers. The buzz around the team was centered on James though, and as a reporter, Windhorst had to appeal to his audience insofar as properly covering the rookie phenom.
“I was, to a certain extent, paralleling LeBron,” Windhorst said. “My main job was to cover LeBron – and I covered the whole team – but he was going through all of the learning curves too. In a strange way, there was a parallel track there.”
Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Paul Silas, as any coach would, conducted regular media availability to update reporters on the state of the team. Yet Silas went out of his way for Windhorst, imparting wisdom and knowledge about the league and helping to catalyze his development. He continues to implement lessons Silas taught him and affirms that he learned more from him than he did in four years of college, by no fault of the school itself.
“Very often in the NBA – and I think even more so now than 20 years ago – there’s very much of an adversarial relationship between the coach and the beat writers,” Windhorst said. “It’s either adversarial or it’s too cozy. In this case, he was literally teaching me.”
Over his time with the Akron Beacon Journal, Windhorst traveled with the Cavaliers on its beat and excelled as a journalist. While he and James attended the same high school and knew each other’s mothers, he always ensured to maintain professionalism and covered him fairly. Conversely, Windhorst affirms that James never exhibited favoritism towards him but rather possessed an understanding of their shared backgrounds.
The advantage Windhorst held in their mutual understanding of one another, however, was a level of heightened trust. For example, Windhorst spoke to James on the night his son Bronny was born in 2004, and watched as his professional basketball career quickly evolved. Moreover, he covered his negotiations to land a shoe deal, which has since turned into a historical lifetime contract with Nike.
“It wasn’t like he was handing me sit-down one-on-one interviews four times a year,” Windhorst expressed. “I wasn’t going over to his house on Thanksgiving, nor did I want to. I always covered him straight, and a lot of what he did was very positive. The guy had a pretty spectacular career, and so I was writing about a lot of positive stuff.”
In 2008, Windhorst continued to cover the Cavaliers, albeit for The Plain Dealer, and the team where they continued a stretch of finishing first or second in the division for five consecutive seasons. James went on to capture back-to-back MVP awards for his regular season performances in 2008-09 and 2009-10 and proceeded to embark on a memorable, free agency tour.
It led up to “The Decision,” a televised special on ESPN where James famously revealed he was “taking [his] talents to South Beach.” By joining guard Dwayne Wade and forward-center Chris Bosh, James cemented a formidable “Big 3” and, in turn, took much of the national spotlight off of the Cavaliers.
By the start of the 2010-11 season, Windhorst had been hired by ESPN and relocated to Miami to cover the Heat as its beat reporter. The decision to leave Cleveland was difficult for Windhorst just as it was for James; however, it was a chance to join a national outlet and report on a team with the potential to make history.
Despite joining a network with extensive content and programming based on linear television at the time, Windhorst strictly reported in the written word. He affirms there was no sense of animus towards him, but rather negligence regarding his role since it was relatively experimental at that scale.
“It was a new concept to have a team-based reporter at ESPN,” Windhorst said. “We just didn’t have much of it, especially for our really high-profile teams. ESPN reporters or the television reporters and crews would be coming through Miami, and they would never say a word to me. There would be plenty of SportsCenters going on and they never even knew my name.”
Once the Heat proved they were the team to beat in the NBA, Windhorst began occasionally appearing on television – but always alongside an experienced ESPN reporter, such as Rachel Nichols and Mark Schwartz. Direct talkbacks were prohibited, but eventually, the network began putting Windhorst on SportsCenter and other programming regularly. In fact, he was appearing on television every half hour on the hour during the team’s series against the Pacers, having received little to no formal training.
“I only had one suit jacket with me on the trip – it’s like a four-day trip – and I had to wear it 3-4 days in a row,” Windhorst said. “….I remember Rachel Nichols went over to Walgreens next to the arena and brought me my first makeup compact and said, ‘Here, you need to put this on your face; your face is red.’”
Windhorst was not initially hired to be on television, but as time went on his role began to gradually transition in that direction. Two years into his time at the network, he met with executives and asked for chances to demonstrate his versatility. The conversation resulted in his move to New York City where he worked on studio television programming and covering a larger scope of the NBA.
Moreover, he still covered the Heat during the team’s northeast and west coast road trips, along with attending select homestands in Miami, Fla. He also received proper coaching about how to appear on television from ESPN’s company headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
Four years and two championships later, James was once again a free agent and drawing interest from nearly all corners of the NBA. Windhorst, having covered the Cavaliers and Heat during James’ time, was assigned to work from Bristol, Conn. to give viewers inside information about the process.
“I had obviously been there to start doing some TV stuff, but I was there for so long that I ran out of ties,” Windhorst said. “The only place I could get a tie anywhere near there was a Target down the street from the campus. I went in there and I think they had four ties, and I brought all four of them because I was that desperate.”
The insatiable desire for information led to frequent on-air appearances by Windhorst, even amid the network broadcasting the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which received a 2.8 share in the ratings. During gaps between matchups, ESPN presented special editions of SportsCenter and maintained a large audience, helping augment the reach of his reporting.
“They would bring me on to those SportsCenters for LeBron updates because it was one of the most important things going on in the world of sports other than the World Cup,” Windhorst said. “I think some people who had never heard of me before or weren’t familiar with me before at the company saw me perform on those SportsCenters.”
Although James ended up returning to Cleveland, Windhorst remained at ESPN where he continued to report and write about the NBA. Additionally, he started to explore the audio space as a contributor to the TrueHoop podcast and member of the weekly ESPN Radio show, NBA Lockdown Insiders. Today, he contributes to a wide variety of network programming, including SportsCenter, Get Up, First Take and NBA Today, lending his analysis and expertise for viewers worldwide.
On any given day, Windhorst may wake up and attend a production meeting for a studio show, appear on the show and then move to prepare for the next television program later that day. Furthermore, he has written video essays specific to SportsCenter and will collaborate with its features unit to create an end product he narrates from a podcast studio. Additionally, he continues to podcast with his show, Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective, where he is joined by ESPN personalities and reporters to discuss the latest NBA news.
Aside from audiovisual work, Windhorst continues to write columns for ESPN’s website both independently and with colleagues. Some of the stories require more comprehensive reporting, while others, such as during the trading deadline or free agency, are more focused on breaking news. For Windhorst, it helps having a team of skilled reporters to accumulate information and quickly make sense of it all.
“Our reporters work together a lot,” he said. “We are sharing information, sharing sourcing and, as a result, sometimes when there’s a news break, it’s actually like 3-4 people who are involved in the production. Sometimes they get credit; sometimes they don’t, and none of us care about it.”
During the week before the NBA All-Star Game, for example, now-Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James broke the NBA’s all-time scoring record. Less than 48 hours later, the league endured a particularly active trade deadline, highlighted by blockbuster deals that sent Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving out of Brooklyn.
Windhorst and his colleague Ramona Shelburne had been working for approximately six to eight weeks on a story about James breaking the scoring record. On the other hand, the duo spent 12 hours amassing an in-depth piece on what led to Durant being dealt to the Phoenix Suns. As a multifaceted journalist in high demand, Windhorst only slept for three hours per night – and he estimates many of his colleagues received even less reprieve. It is in their relentless work ethic and passion for their work that Windhorst and his team are able to excel on multiple platforms of dissemination.
In essence, advances in technology and changes in consumption have rendered the NBA into a true, 24/7 entity. News could break at any given moment, meaning those who cover the league must stay ready to work and remain informed. It demands self-motivation, maintaining a high standard of work and finding opportunities to grow and never becoming complacent just because of prestige realized or merely inferred.
“When you get hired at ESPN, there’s a temptation to believe that you’ve made it because it’s high-profile and a lot of people get paid very well and you’re going to be maybe recognized – and everything like that – and get instant respect,” Windhorst said. “The real challenge is not getting to ESPN; it’s being able to succeed within ESPN.”
Early in Windhorst’s tenure with the network, some of its television reporters would garner general assignments, meaning that they could be covering both football and basketball in a week. Although they performed at a high level, the network began to transition towards specializing its personnel to cover varying sectors in the sports landscape, recognizing their value and ability to uncover specific information and convey it to viewers.
In utilizing its personnel to report in detail about specific teams and personnel to best appeal to its viewers, the network adopted new technology to provide coast-to-coast coverage. Windhorst was one of the first ESPN personalities to have TVU installed at his home in Omaha, a streaming solution that transmitted HD video back to the network to put over the air.
Initially, he had to contend with a three-second delay, but as the technology evolved, the process was streamlined and made more efficient. It gives Windhorst the ability to appear on several shows per day whether they be linear or nonlinear, along with recording his podcast and writing from home.
“It’s all just about content,” he said. “My job is to find and tell interesting stories, and to have an understanding of what’s going on around the NBA…. On any day, I can be working with multiple legs of the company and multiple platforms.”
Windhorst has covered the league for over two decades and continues to have an earnest desire to work hard and bring basketball fans unparalleled coverage of the sport. Over the years, things have not always worked out his way, but he has consistently found a way to appeal to his audience.
Leaving Cleveland was hardly facile, but it ultimately helped launch his career at the national level and across different means of communication. Being within a company as ubiquitous in professional sports as ESPN, there are only so many roles to fill and an ostensibly immense talent pool, meaning that standing out and persistently advocating for oneself is essential for growth. Part of growing, though, is recognizing that there are many talented people and demonstrating value to executives in areas outside of the craft.
In some ways, it is similar to LeBron James, who is often criticized for losing six of the 10 NBA Finals he played in. Windhorst saw him in tears of joy and tears of sorrow – in jubilation and lamentation – but observed that he always kept going. It is a mindset Windhorst applies in his own career, and one that has resulted in his rapid evolution as a media professional through adaptability and synergy.
“Sometimes you’ve got to take a loss,” Windhorst said. “Sometimes, something doesn’t go your way and you don’t understand it or it’s unfortunate and maybe you even think it’s not fair, but like LeBron, you keep going because you know there’s another game [and] there’s another season.”
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.
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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