Chris Wittyngham Is A Fancy Lad With A Variety Of Skills
“I was walking around Lake Tahoe at the American Century Championship and people were shouting ‘fancy lad’ at me. My co-workers at Inter Miami jeer me with ‘fancy lad.’ It’s inescapable.”
Chris Wittyngham has always known the thoroughfare he wanted to travel was in sports media. While playing Madden as a kid, he recalled he would often listen to the announcers and think, “this is something I can do.” Like many in the field, he knew his destiny would not be providing the winning score, rather it would be painting the complexion of the score into the ears of his listeners.
Never lacking in eccentricity, Wittyngham has elicited Twitter reply firestorms for some of his revelations on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, of which he serves as a producer. For instance, rather than use the alarm on his phone or albeit-antiquated clock radio, “Witty” — as he is known on the show – uses the timer on his oven. He also drew shock and awe – and a slew of invitations – when he said if he is invited to a wedding, and if he is available to go, he will attend no matter what. Even his father was caught by surprise when his son told the crew he had never eaten a Snickers bar before, much to the chagrin of a football-playing Betty White, too, I’m certain.
Don’t let unorthodox quirks take away from his bona fides, however. Witty attended the prestigious University of Miami where he earned a degree in broadcast journalism. While many fresh-out-of-school journalists cut their teeth in small towns, banana republics, or blog spots, Wittyngham began his career as a host with 790 The Ticket in his hometown of Miami. His ascent in journalism looks less like the parable of the ever-patient tortoise, and more like The Price is Right yodeler, often leading Le Batard to refer to him as a “prodigy.”
Wittyngham has made a name for himself in sports radio, sure, but he doubles his workload in the soccer arena. He’s called matches for DAZN, beIN Media Group and TUDN. He currently calls Inter Miami CF matches, drawing praise last weekend for his call with the legendary Ray Hudson.
A consummate fan of soccer around the world, Wittyngham said he got into the beautiful game by watching wrap-up shows from Europe. Despite Stugotz’s myopic views on soccer taking hold in the U.S., Wittyngham is optimistic and offered his advice to Americans looking to brush up on the world’s most popular sport.
“I watched The Premier League Review Show and they would wrap the games and storylines and I would watch that show to pick up the jargon and who the best players and managers were,” he said. “MLS will grow and a lot of cities will have soccer teams. Go watch them, but if you’re going to follow the global and international game, start in one place. For me, it was England and the Premier League.”
His path in sports radio and soccer were seemingly clear, but it was a detour to the side that has further enhanced the young broadcaster’s visibility. Wittyngham co-hosted the popular Chelsea Mike’d Up podcast with Mike Ryan, executive producer for The Le Batard Show. The two are close due to their doting passions for soccer and their lifelong home of South Florida. When Le Batard, Stugotz, and “The Shipping Container” famously pulled their pirate ship’s anchor from ESPN, Ryan asked for Wittyngham’s assistance.
The show was as or more popular than any sports radio show in the United States. Listeners have long-gravitated toward the show for its vulnerability, humor, honesty, and its role as a sort of “anti-sports sports radio show.” Funding was not going to be a problem due to the loyal audience that would follow the crew no matter what but leaving the Worldwide Leader posed some logistical challenges by way of hosting platforms and getting the content to its ever-eager audience.
“It was announced they were going to leave, and around that time Mike reached out to me because of our experience with Chelsea,” Wittyngham said. “I have experience with podcast hosting and how to get the platform up while sustaining the bandwidth. Mike knew I had that experience, so I did the research and found our hosting service. It’s funny when you’re in that role, how many areas of the business it affects.”
Joining the show by way of his credibility and connections with members of the bustling enterprise at Meadowlark Media was easy. But what is it like to assimilate into the show whose listeners view the crew as part of not only their routine, but part of their extended family as well? After all, there is the “Stugotz Army,” the “Cote Calvary” for Chris Cote, and “Guillermo Mafia” for Billy Gil, among others. How has it been finding his place among the established members of the Shipping Container to endear himself to an impassioned fanbase?
“My experience has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “I find it enjoyable, interesting, intriguing that people enjoy the quirky things I bring up on the show. I have a healthy relationship with my Twitter replies to not take anything personally good or bad.
“It’s been different in one way to have scrutiny but to have a group of people immensely passionate about the work you’re doing. I was always careful that my role did not step on the show for what it is, a group singing from the same hymn sheet making music. Dan has been immensely encouraging, telling me ‘don’t feel like you’re doing too much or doing too little,’ making me feel comfortable. The way my intro was framed was helpful as well. They framed it around me being obnoxious and pompous of being a ‘fancy lad.’ From every standpoint, it’s been fun for me. It’s been incredibly fun.”
The “fancy lad” moniker” stems from Wittyngham’s proclivity to pull from his deep lexicon or to provide historical context for one of the topics de jour. Fans of the show from the ESPN days may remember the jingle that played each time Pablo Torre would say something bordering on the line of playfully pompous. The “Fancy Lad” soundbite that rings out, “Chris Wittyngham is a fancy lad,” comes from the same tree, leading to shirts and memes galore. At times, he will even get a catcall or two with the nickname, but it does not bother Witty in the slightest.
“I was walking around Lake Tahoe at the American Century Championship and people were shouting ‘fancy lad’ at me. My co-workers at Inter Miami jeer me with ‘fancy lad.’ It’s inescapable. It’s such a total joy and delight that anything got slapped on me in terms of identity. It’s with complete and utter bewilderment that I appreciate every second of it.”
Calling soccer games and serving as a producer for one of the largest independent entities in sports media is two full-time jobs. Wittyngham is a self-proclaimed workaholic but was clear that he feels lucky because loves the work he does. He cited Rich Eisen and Dan Patrick as those who work full-time in radio, but also have the ability to work on other passions outside of their studios. Le Batard has also made sure Wittyngham never feels overworked.
“It’s ultimately about my capacity and Dan made it clear to me that it’s a fully open door for whether I want to wind it down or wind it up,” he said. “He’s been great to me, everyone at the show has been great to me, to make of this what I will.”
That show famously has a variety of inside jokes with the show continuously playing the sound of disingenuous-handshake titan Papi Le Batard saying, “you don’t get the show” for those who miss the joke. Wittyngham enjoys the free-flowing nature of the show that to be clear takes a mountain of prep, but also doesn’t become a servant to A- and B-blocks.
Everything at the show and the company is not about comedy. Le Batard famously describes giving the audience cotton candy – the jokes – but that it also needs its medicine, which comes in the form of social commentary. Be it discussions about the political and human rights climate in Cuba, former President Donald Trump’s impact on American psyches, or the Black Lives Matter movement, the show is never afraid to touch on what can be polarizing societal conversations.
“People who are any kind of socially conscious are going to want those kinds of viewpoints at some point,” Wittyngham said. “I talk with people in radio all the time, and they say ‘people don’t care what I have to say (about politics).’ I always encourage people to express what they want to express, and Dan is so brilliant at it. Billy is demure about it sometimes, but was incredible on Cuba. In this political climate, it’s hard not to do it in a non-attacking way.
“I would be more than willing to present my viewpoint. I do understand why things are politicized. I think everything is politics because everything has the ability to affect a vote or be subject to a poll. I think you have your own thoughts as a human and can express them if you so wish.”
The show has carved an interesting niche for itself in a world of “takes” and debates. While many shows revel in discussing Tom Brady’s legacy, Lebron James’ clutch gene, and who is the most impactful middle reliever left on the market that can change the complexion of the AL Central race, The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz leans more toward Le Batard’s list of favorite colors, what foods are in Gil’s desk, and what type of neighbor Urban Meyer resembles.
Despite the immense success of Le Batard and Co., Wittyngham acknowledged that a lot of the ratings success in today’s sports media is still in the mainstream debate shows and that even he can appreciate a well-crafted radio monologue. So given his relationship with the show as a young fan turned seasoned employee, where does that leave the popular radio producer, soccer play-by-play man, and all-around fancy lad as his career in sports moves forward? In the detours, of course.
“I’m so honored that I’m even involved in any way, that I don’t have a goal in the environment. When I arrived, I wanted to make things better and arrived with an initial task. To take a lift off someone’s plate is a huge win. Within the show, I’m not particularly ambitious of ‘I want to do this or that.’ There are lots of opportunities within the show and company that will arise, and if I play a part in them, that’s awesome. I started on the show as an intern and came back a decade later to work on it. It’s incredibly odd and incredibly cool.
“Where do my ambitions lie within my play-by-play career? Soccer for me is the destination. Growing, getting better, improving, and maximizing the opportunities you’re given. Doing good work and being a good coworker. It sounds trite but I want to grow in the industry, but I don’t want to have ‘X’ job by ‘X’ time. I want to enjoy the path I’m on and the detours. You can find the joy in the detours and ultimately it’s about doing the best work you possibly can.”
Michael Quirk is a news writer for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he is a co-host of the Spgahetti Junction Boys and a contributor to 5 Reasons Sports in Miami. His prior experiences include writing for 247Sports, Bleacher Report, FanSided, and The Key West Citizen. To connect, find him on Twitter @SJBMichael.
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.