Dan McNeil Is Taking His Mask Off
“I can’t change those who want to look at me only as what I did to get fired. I can’t change that.:
Some hosts know how to create interesting radio. They can entertain and deliver compelling topics that catch your ear. Then there are rare talents that know how to create interesting radio, while also being interesting themselves. Dan McNeil is one of these hosts.
McNeil consistently showcased the chops that made him one of the titans of Chicago sports radio. He oozed both big personality and presence. He also spoke openly about his life. McNeil pointed out his warts, which made him more relatable and real. He connected with people easily.
Great stories rarely involve smooth rides. They typically include some turbulence and maybe a loss of cabin pressure along the way. McNeil’s journey has been bumpy at times. In our chat he opens up about addiction, depression and the tweet describing Maria Taylor’s wardrobe that got him fired. McNeil has a new opportunity though. He’s talking football and having a blast podcasting twice a week for BetRivers Network.
This could be a fluff piece, or it could be honest. My guess is that McNeil prefers the latter. The Northwest Indiana native is a striking mixture of triumph and tragedy. He’s won big, but should’ve won bigger. His career is like the Seattle Seahawks at the 1-yard line with a chance to win another Super Bowl, only to make the wrong choice. Danny Mac is both successful and complicated. Through it all, he’s unforgettable.
There’s a great line from an old Michael Jordan commercial: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why, I succeed.” McNeil’s struggles have helped and hurt his success. It’s been a game of tug of war, but it’s part of who he is. It’s part of what makes him, him. He’s flawed. He’s raw. He’s also magic behind a mic. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What did you learn the most during your early trial-by-fire days in radio?
Dan McNeil: Yeah, just try to get all of the suck out of your system as you possibly can. [Laughs] I had a real good program director at my first job at an FM rock station called the Loop. A guy named Greg Solk. He’s still in the business. We’re still friends. He encouraged me to interact with callers. A host named Chet Coppock didn’t do that very well and he didn’t like to do it.
Greg said to me, you’re more of an every man’s man, you’re more capable of having a conversation with Joe in Orland Park than Chet is. Why don’t you do that? Because you’re kind of more suited for it. That story you told about quitting a job at a restaurant on the spot to go see a concert; people dig that shit. Just be you.
That went a long way in, I think, separating myself from the rest of the pack because there’s millions of guys who know sports, but not all of them have the ability to engage an audience and get that audience to invest in them as personalities. I have to give Greg Solk a lot of credit for bringing that out of me.
BN: Are you surprised at all that a lot of hosts don’t have that ability? It seems like a very common trait, but there are a lot of hosts that don’t have it.
DM: That’s a challenging question, Brian, and I like it. I think the reason for it is many of them haven’t lived interesting lives maybe. Maybe some of them have been very sheltered. There’s a lot of nerds in sports broadcasting who haven’t been in a lot of places where some of us street kids have been, or they just aren’t willing to share it. Things as simple as admitting you smoke weed, which is legal in a ton of states now. I know some guys who that’s verboten; don’t ever mention that we smoked pot together. But I think those who have the courage to lay it all on the line — you’re gonna rub a lot of people really wrong, but that’s okay if a lot of people on the other side are really on board.
BN: Correct me if I’m wrong, but have you had to take a break or two along the way from radio?
DM: Oh yeah, I took a couple. It was February of 2012 when I hit the brakes to address addiction and depression because I hadn’t been treating those very debilitating mental health issues with any degree of reverence. I had gone off of a psych med without discussing it with my doctor. About six months prior to when I finally tapped out, I noticed a precipitous loss in appetite for the things that interested me when I went off the psych med. In addition to that, it’s been my history. I’m a pothead and drank a little bit more back then.
I was starting to get a little bit heavier involved in pain medication; I became addicted to it. When I had spinal fusion surgery in ‘07, I discovered Norco. I’d had pain medication before and I used it recreationally before without issues, but that Norco just did something different to me and it made me want it all the time. I had to stop and reassess and catch my breath and get healthy. Unfortunately, I stumbled again about 15, 18 months after that and went into residential treatment for the same reasons.
I was sick. I don’t dispute that for a second, but there is a big part of me that always will wonder if I paused and went to the bench again, because I was simply f—kin’ sick of working. The culture of the Score at that time was incredibly negative, and foolishly, I let that get into my head. Most of the shows got along. I got along with everybody on the show; I loved doing radio with them, but all the individual shows were on an island. There was no sense of team.
That was a radical departure from the first run at the Score, it was considerably opposite of what I experienced at ESPN. And frankly, I didn’t handle it very well. I wanted to run away from that; and self-medication, and sadness, and clinical depression are not a good cocktail. I don’t regret it. They easily could’ve fired me, but I was trying to get right and hopefully it helped.
BN: How would you describe what those toughest days of radio were like for you, when you’re dealing with all that stuff at the same time?
DM: You have to put on a mask sometimes when your mind is occupied by family issues, or whatever, whether it’s personal issues, whether it’s irritability, lack of sleep, clinical, whatever. You put on the mask and you try to fake it. Sometimes it’s hard to even make speech when you’re wanting to shut down. It was particularly rough on me. I was in a position where I had to talk about things that didn’t interest me. I couldn’t give a f—k about NBA basketball. Baseball in the winter doesn’t pump my testosterone a bit. When you’re in there every day for four or five hours, you have got to grind out thoughts.
Matt Spiegel and I had a basketball guest on once. I remember having physical pain in my stomach, not being able to think of one f—king thing I wanted to ask that guy. And I think it was a big name; I think it was Kenny Smith from TNT. And I like his work, but at that time, I would have rather had a root canal procedure than talk publicly with Kenny Smith. It didn’t interest me. I was done with that part of my life and trying to get through that was real tough. It’s like trying to punch underwater is one way I’ve heard it described and that’s pretty accurate.
BN: I have to ask you about the Maria Taylor tweet. If the Score was with you through these stints where you had to pause due to some really heavy stuff in your life, and then you get fired for a tweet about Maria Taylor, was that a surprise to you?
DM: Well, it was a different management team and it was a different company. At the time it was Entercom now Audacy. It was a completely different group from CBS, even though my program director, Mitch Rosen, was the same. Was I surprised I got fired the next day? No. A couple close friends of mine asked me if I was trying to get fired. I think the answer is no.
I only had 18 months left to go. Even had that not happened, I wouldn’t be on the Score today. We had agreed to extend my deal 18 months to coincide with the conclusion of this past year’s Super Bowl. I wouldn’t be doing afternoons now anyway, even if that didn’t happen. And to a large degree that softened the blow for me that I only had 18, 19 months until the finish line.
I hated to see it end the way it did because I’m not a misogynist. I contend to this day, it wasn’t a sexist tweet. It was a wardrobe critique that was harsh. I’d have said the same f—king thing about Kyle Brandt if he showed up for Good Morning Football wearing shorts and a sleeveless tank top; I’d ask when he’s going to work for the Thunder Down Under in Vegas. But it was directed at Maria. If I really hurt her, I feel terrible.
I’m not a bully. I abhor social media bullying. When you look at teen suicide as a result of that, it’s startling. But she is not a high school cheerleader. She was on Monday Night goddamn Football. That’s a high profile position. I live in a world where wardrobe is part of the critique of visual media. That’s never going to change for me. But your question was, was I surprised? No, because that’s where we are in this era.
BN: If I was in your position, I’d feel like, ‘It was wrong, it was stupid. Fine, but can we not blow things out of proportion?’ But if you say that, it doesn’t land well; you know how it goes. How do you balance those two things together?
DM: Yeah, I hid basically for six months after it happened. It’s remarkable how I stayed off of reading stories; I checked my newsfeed of things that I usually read. You know how they always pop up on your phone. I’m seeing on SI.com, ‘Chicago yacker fired for misogynistic tweet’. Every paper in the country is using that as a tease to get people to look at their products. I’m like, I can’t f—king believe this.
I’m on Inside Edition with Deborah Norville who I’ve loved since the ‘80s when she used to be at Channel 5 in Chicago. But I didn’t open them. I think I read social media for maybe three hours after I tweeted and I said this is a battle I’m going to lose, and I’m probably going to lose it tomorrow. I don’t want to open a thing because I know myself and I’ll be tempted to reply and just dig a bigger f—king hole and I don’t want to do that.
BN: Spinning it forward, do you ever experience, ‘Oh, you’re the guy who sent that tweet?’ And you’ve done all this other work. How do you distance yourself from the tweet while owning it at the same time?
DM: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s like Mark Giangreco at Channel 7 who gets fired over a joke he made about Cheryl Burton. And all the Emmys that are on the shelf above his fireplace, all out the window. That’s how he’s going to be remembered. Yeah, that’s frustrating, but there’s nothing I can do to change perception. Early on in your career you’ve got to accept that because you’re going to be tagged as the guy who did this or did that regardless.
Thom Brennaman was a very versatile broadcaster, very good voice, both baseball and football. And everyone’s gonna remember him for when he thought he was off the air. That gets out and it’s like, that’s how he’s always going to be remembered. That’s the way it goes. My listeners, especially those who were on board early on, know who the f—k I am and what my values are. And like I said, I can’t change those who want to look at me only as what I did to get fired. I can’t change that.
BN: What is it about your relationship with BetRivers that excites you most?
DM: It’s football and it’s unsupervised. It’s just me, which I historically have not enjoyed. I always preferred having a partner. It’s more natural. It’s more fun when it’s interactive and two guys play ping-pong. It can be real magic as it was with most of my partners. I’m trying to get used to just standing on my feet for 35 minutes and flapping my gums about football. I’ve done four or five of them and remarkably I have found it to be incredibly exhilarating without the partner.
I love football and that’s going to be a super high percentage of my content. God, I don’t see it changing between now and the end of the Super Bowl. I’m talking football. I don’t have any pressure from business partnerships at radio stations, ‘Hey, calm this down,’ or, ‘Tone that down a little bit.’ Not that that happened often, but it’s present. I don’t have to weigh every thought like these poor slobs have to do on terrestrial today. I can just lay it all out there. I’m not gonna say f—k for effect, but if I want to talk about the Bears going one and f—king 13 on third down, that’s what I’ll say.
BN: [Laughs] Have you been into sports gambling for a long time?
DM: First Super Bowl I bet on was Super Bowl III. I was nine. [Laughs] I took the Colts laying 18.5 and the Jets won straight up. I should have known then. No, but I started wagering on sports more seriously, probably as I started to earn a little bit of money in the ‘90s. It’s taken a long time to learn how to get better at it, but I think the last five years I have figured out some things that have led to winning seasons finally. Not colossally huge seasons, but I’m winning more than I’m losing.
The biggest reason is betting fewer games. And laying off parlays, not chasing, not looking at money earned as free money. That’s the biggest mistake guys make. You hit two games at noon, okay now it’s time for the afternoon tilts. I didn’t like Denver before, but I like them now. No, no, no, keep the money in the pocket, so that’s helped.
BN: BetRivers has signed some major talent: you, [Mike] Francesa, Mark Schlereth. Is there a sports radio host that’s really appealed to you over the years where you’re like, man, that person knows what they’re doing?
DM: The partner I would love to work with most and it just wouldn’t happen — that ship has sailed, I’ll never do terrestrial likely again other than this thing I’m doing now for WJOB, my hometown station in Hammond — but it’s Boomer Esiason. I would love to be in Gio’s shoes or Carton’s shoes before he went to the stripy hole for shit he got involved in.
That’s a great number two chair because football matters a ton to him and he loves the Rangers and he speaks hockey. When he’s talking baseball or basketball, he does it on a very cursory level, which for me is the only way to talk about it without going crazy. And he’s a regular dude. He was also born in 1961 and all the coolest people who walk the face of the earth were born in 1961. So Boomer would’ve been a great partner.
BN: Who would you say has either been your favorite partner, or the most talented partner you’ve worked with?
DM: Terry Boers at the Score between ’92 and ‘99 was a very good partner. I think where he was strong I was weak and vice versa. He also was very content to be the number two. That helps when you have a guy who’s the second or third option not trying to run everything.
Danny Parkins is a very, very talented guy and he’s very, very close to becoming a great host. That was kind of a fun way to wrap it all up doing what I called a father-and-son vibe. There were 25 years between us and I had not heard that attempted anywhere. It’s kind of remarkable nobody tried it over these years because what you do is lock in every goddamn demo there is. I got the old guys. I got some guys in the middle. He’s got guys in the middle and the young guys.
BN: What do you think would cause Danny to go from good to great as the host?
DM: I knew you’d pick up on that. The more life experiences he has, and he has had some really trying ones over the last three years. His first son was born I think nine weeks prematurely and was in NICU for a number of weeks. His brother has glioblastoma and has been fighting for his life for a couple years. His father isn’t in great shape.
Those life experiences and his willingness to talk about them when he has the courage to do that, stand in front of that microphone, it’s making him more relatable. It’s making him much more appealing to the everyday motherf—kers who might have just seen him as another silver spoon from the North Shore years ago. His life, until he started experiencing real life shit, was one of leisure. And I think Danny could take more of an interest in the history of sports before he started watching them. As he experiences more, hopefully he will, because many sports talk consumers enjoy reflecting on the ups and downs of their lives as fans.
BN: What would be ideal for you in terms of your future?
DM: Winning the Powerball.
BN: [Laughs] Yeah. If the Powerball doesn’t have your numbers, what do you want it to look like?
DM: You know what, Brian, you learn at some point not to obsess about the destination. It took me forever to get there. The podcasting thing is fun. If it grows into something really big, terrific. I really don’t want to commit any more than a few days a week doing it. Would I love Sirius XM to say hey, we love you, we want to hear you get wild, you want to do Sunday nights and do NFL? If the money is right, yeah, that would be a lot of fun too.
But just trying to enjoy it week by week. The little terrestrial thing I do on Fridays for my hometown station, I’m enjoying the shit out of it. It pays a little bit better than I expected it to and most would’ve expected it to. I have a great crew. That’s been fun. If that show were on every day in Chicago, until I got sick of it and didn’t show up, it would be one of the best shows in the market. [Laughs] But I’ve learned all things in moderation, including me.
BN: Is there one thing that you would like to do most going forward?
DM: I’ve got to finish the book I started a while back. I have been grinding away at this thing for several years and I had the perfect opportunity to do it when they fired me. But I needed some distance between that time and reliving so much of a career that was both very rewarding and satisfying, but also sometimes very upsetting.
I had my heart ripped out of my chest several times in this business by people who should’ve treated me better. When they broke up the original partnerships at the Score in ‘99, that sickened me because I should’ve been involved in those conversations and not just told what was happening. Then when ESPN fired me in ‘09, that kind of changed the way I looked at the industry for a long time. I’m sorry, I get a little [emotional].
I gotta finish that book. I’ve got a lot of stories to tell. Many of them I’ve told already, but there’s a lot of stuff I’ve left on the cutting room floor. This is kind of a no-holds-barred approach to my career, the people I’ve met in it, athletes, coaches and radio dorks, and also some of the challenges I’ve had in my life away from work.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amanda Brown Has Embraced The Bright Lights of Hollywood
“My whole goal was that I didn’t need people to like me; I needed people to respect me.”
The tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and eight others aboard a helicopter, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, sent shockwaves around the world of sports, entertainment, and culture. People traveled to Los Angeles following the devastating news and left flowers outside the then-named STAPLES Center, the arena which Bryant called home for much of his career, demonstrating the magnitude of the loss. Just across the street from the arena, Amanda Brown and the staff at ESPN Los Angeles 710 had embarked in ongoing breaking news coverage, lamentation, and reflection.
It included coverage of a sellout celebration of life for Kobe and his daughter and teams around the NBA opting to take 8-second and 24-second violations to honor Bryant, who wore both numbers throughout his 20-year NBA career. They currently hang in the rafters at Crypto.com Arena, making Bryant the only player in franchise history to have two numbers retired.
During this tumultuous time, Bryant’s philosophy served as a viable guiding force, something that Brown quickly ascertained in her first month as the station’s new program director.
“I had people that were in Northern California hopping on planes to get here,” Brown said. “You didn’t even have to ask people [to] go to the station; people were like, ‘I’m on my way.’ It was the way that everybody really came together to do really great radio, and we did it that day and we did it the next day and we did it for several days.”
The 2023 BSM Summit is quickly approaching, and Brown will be attending the event for the first time since 2020. During her first experience at the BSM Summit in New York, Brown had just become a program director and was trying to assimilate into her role. Because of this, she prioritized networking, building contacts, and expressing her ideas to others in the space. This year, she looks forward to connecting with other program directors and media professionals around the country while also seeking to learn more about the nuances of the industry.
“The Summit is kind of like a meeting of the minds,” Brown said. “It’s people throughout the country and the business…. More than anything, [the first time] wasn’t so much about the panels as it was about the people.”
Growing up in Orange County, Brown had an interest in the Los Angeles Lakers from a young age, being drawn to play-by-play broadcaster Chick Hearn. Brown refers to Hearn as inspiration to explore a career in broadcasting. After studying communications at California State University in Fullerton, she was afforded an opportunity to work as a producer at ESPN Radio Dallas 103.3 FM by program director Scott Masteller, who she still speaks to on a regular basis. It was through Masteller’s confidence in her, in addition to support from operations manager Dave Schorr, that helped make Brown feel more comfortable working in sports media.
“I never felt like I was a woman in a male-dominated industry,” Brown said. “I always just felt like I was a part of the industry. For me, I’ve kind of always made it my goal to be like, ‘I deserve to be here; I deserve a seat at the table.’”
Brown quickly rose up the ranks when she began working on ESPN Radio in Bristol, Conn., working as a producer for a national radio show hosted by Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt, along with The Sports Bash with Erik Kuselias. Following five-and-a-half years in Bristol, Brown requested a move back to California and has worked at ESPN Los Angeles 710 ever since. She began her tenure at the station serving as a producer for shows such as Max and Marcellus and Mason and Ireland.
Through her persistence, work ethic and congeniality, Brown was promoted to assistant program director in July 2016. In this role, she helped oversee the station’s content while helping the entity maintain live game broadcast rights and explore new opportunities to augment its foothold, including becoming the flagship radio home of the Los Angeles Rams.
“Don’t sit back and wait for your managers or your bosses to come to you and ask what you want to do,” Brown advised. “Go after what you want, and that’s what I’ve always done. I always went to my managers and was like, ‘Hey, I want to do this. Give me a chance; let me do that.’ For the most part, my managers have been receptive and given me those opportunities.”
When executive producer Dan Zampillo left the station to join Spotify to work as a sports producer, Brown was subsequently promoted to program director where she has helped shape the future direction of the entity. From helping lead the brand amid its sale to Good Karma Brands in the first quarter of 2022; to revamping the daily lineup with compelling local programs, Brown has gained invaluable experience and remains keenly aware of the challenges the industry faces down the road. For sports media outlets in Los Angeles, some of the challenge is merely by virtue of its geography.
“We’re in sunny Southern California where there’s a lot of things happening,” Brown said. “We’re in the middle of Hollywood. People have a lot of opportunities – you can go to the mountains; you can go to the beach. I think [our market] is more about entertainment than it is about actual hard-core sports. Yes, obviously you have hard-core Lakers fans; you have hard-core Dodgers fans, but a majority of the fans are pretty average sports fans.”
Because of favorable weather conditions and an endless supply of distractions, Brown knows that the way to attract people to sports talk radio is through its entertainment value. With this principle in mind, she has advised her hosts not to worry so much about the specific topics they are discussing, but rather to ensure they are entertaining listeners throughout the process.
“People know the four letters E-S-P-N mean sports, but really our focus is more on entertainment more than anything,” Brown said. “I think the [talent] that stick out the most are the ones that are the most entertaining.”
Entertaining listeners, however, comes through determining what they are discussing and thinking about and providing relevant coverage about those topics. Even though it has not yet been legalized in the state of California, sports gambling content has been steadily on the rise since the Supreme Court made a decision that overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act established in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (2018). Nonetheless, Brown and ESPN Los Angeles 710 have remained proactive, launching a sports gambling show on Thursday nights to try to adjust to the growing niche of the industry.
Even though she has worked in producing and programming for most of her career, Brown is eager to learn about the effect sports gambling has on audio sales departments. At the same time, she hopes to be able to more clearly determine how the station can effectuate its coverage if and when it becomes legal in their locale.
“I know that a lot of other markets have that,” Brown said regarding the legalization of sports gambling. “For me, I’m interested to hear from people who have that in their markets and how they’ve monetized that and the opportunity.”
No matter the content, though, dedicated sports radio listeners are genuinely consuming shows largely to hear certain talent. Brown recalls receiving a compliment on Twitter earlier this quarter where a listener commented that he listens to ESPN Los Angeles 710 specifically for Sedano and Kap. Evidently, it acted as a tangible sign that her philosophy centered around keeping people engrossed in the content is working, and that providing the audience what it wants to hear is conducive to success.
At this year’s BSM Summit, Brown will be participating on The Wheel of Content panel, presented by Core Image Studio, featuring ESPN analyst Mina Kimes and FOX Sports host Joy Taylor. Through their discussion, she intends to showcase a different perspective of what goes into content creation and the interaction that takes place between involved parties.
“A lot of times in the past, all the talent were on one panel; all the programmers were on one panel,” Brown said. “To put talent and a programmer together, I think it’s an opportunity for people to hear both sides on certain issues.”
According to the most recent Nielsen Total Audience Report, AM/FM (terrestrial) radio among persons 18-34 has a greater average audience than television. The statistical anomaly, which was forecast several years earlier, came to fruition most likely due to emerging technologies and concomitant shifts in usage patterns.
Simultaneously, good content is required to captivate consumers, and radio, through quantifiable and qualifiable metrics, has been able to tailor its content to the listening audience and integrate it across multiple platforms of dissemination. The panel will give Brown a chance to speak in front of her peers and other industry professionals about changes in audio consumption, effectuated by emerging technologies and concomitant shifts in usage patterns.
Yet when it comes to radio as a whole, the patterns clearly point towards the proliferation of digital content – whether those be traditional radio programs or modernized podcasts. Moreover, utilizing various elements of presentation provides consumers a greater opportunity of finding and potentially engaging with the content.
“We do YouTube streaming; obviously, we stream on our app,” Brown said. “We’ve even created, at times, stream-only shows whether it’s stream-only video or stream-only on our app. We all know that people want content on-demand when they want it. I think it’s about giving them what they want.”
As a woman in sports media, Brown is cognizant about having to combat misogyny from those inside and outside of the industry, and is grateful to have had the support of many colleagues. In holding a management position in the second-largest media market in the United States, she strives to set a positive example to aspiring broadcasters. Additionally, she aims to be a trusted and accessible voice to help empower and give other women chances to work in the industry – even if she is not universally lauded.
“I’ve kind of always made it my goal to be like, ‘I’m no different than anyone else – yes, I’m a female – but I’m no different than anyone else,’” Brown expressed. “My whole goal was that I didn’t need people to like me; I needed people to respect me.”
Through attending events such as the BSM Summit and remaining immersed in sports media and the conversation at large about the future of sports media, Brown can roughly delineate how she can perform her job at a high level.
Although the genuine future of this business is always subject to change, she and her team at ESPN Los Angeles 710 are trying to come up with new ideas to keep the content timely, accurate, informative, and entertaining. She is content in her role as program director with no aspirations to become a general manager; however, remaining in her current role requires consistent effort and a penchant for learning.
“Relationships are very important overall in this business whether you’re a programmer or not,” Brown said. “Relationships with your talent; relationships with your staff. If you invest in your people, then they’re going to be willing to work hard for you and do what you ask them to do.”
The 2023 BSM Summit is mere days away, and those from Los Angeles and numerous other marketplaces will make the trip to The Founder’s Club at the Galen Center at the University of Southern California (USC).
Aside from Brown, Kimes and Taylor, there will be other voices from across the industry sharing their thoughts on aspects of the industry and how to best shape it going forward, including Colin Cowherd, Rachel Nichols, Al Michaels and Eric Shanks. More details about the industry’s premiere media conference can be found at bsmsummit.com.
“I’m excited to be a female program director amongst male program directors for the first time and get a seat at the table and represent that there can be diversity in this position,” Brown said. “We don’t see a lot of it, but… there is an opportunity, and I hope I can be an example for other people out there [to show] that it’s possible.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he interns in video production with the New York Islanders and formerly worked as production manager for the team’s radio broadcasts. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pat McAfee Has Thrown Our Business Into a Tailspin
Yet even with all the accomplishments he’s been able to achieve, McAfee is still anxious and unsatisfied with the state of his show and his career.
When you have one of the hottest talk shows in America, you’re always up to something. That’s the case for the most popular sports talk show host in America – Pat McAfee.
The former Pro Bowl punter was on top of the world on Wednesday. With over 496,000 concurrent viewers watching at one point, McAfee was able to garner an exclusive interview with frequent guest Aaron Rodgers who announced his intention to play for the Jets.
Yet even with all the accomplishments he’s been able to achieve — a new studio, consistent high viewership, a syndication deal with SportsGrid TV, a four-year, $120 million deal with FanDuel — McAfee is still anxious and unsatisfied with the state of his show and his career.
At the end of the day, he is human and he’s admitted that balancing his show, his ESPN gig with “College Gameday,” and his WWE obligations has taken a toll on him.
McAfee and his wife are expecting their first child soon and he recently told The New York Post he might step away from his deal with FanDuel. Operating his own company has come with the responsibility of making sure his studio is up and running, finding people to operate the technology that puts his show on the air, negotiating with huge behemoths like the NFL for game footage rights, booking guests, booking hotels, implementing marketing plans and other tasks that most on-air personalities rarely have to worry about.
McAfee says he’s looking for a network that would be able to take control of those duties while getting more rest and space to spend time with family while focusing strictly on hosting duties. FanDuel has its own network and has the money to fund such endeavors but is just getting started in the content game. McAfee needs a well-known entity to work with who can take his show to the next level while also honoring his wishes of keeping the show free on YouTube.
The question of how he’s going to be able to do it is something everyone in sports media will be watching. As The Post pointed out in their story, McAfee hasn’t frequently stayed with networks he’s been associated with in the past for too long. He’s worked with Westwood One, DAZN, and Barstool but hasn’t stayed for more than a year or two.
There’s an argument to be made that the latter two companies weren’t as experienced as a network when McAfee signed on with them compared to where they are today which could’ve pushed the host to leave. But at the end of the day, networks want to put money into long-term investments and it’s easy to see a network passing on working with McAfee for fear that he’ll leave them astray when he’s bored.
It’ll also be difficult for McAfee to find a network that doesn’t put him behind a paywall. Amazon and Google are rumored to be potential new homes. But both are trying to increase subscribers for their respective streaming services.
It will be difficult to sell Amazon on investing money to build a channel on YouTube – a rival platform. For Google, they may have the tech infrastructure to create television-like programming but they aren’t an experienced producer, they’ve never produced its own live, daily talk show, and investing in McAfee’s show doesn’t necessarily help increase the number of subscribers watching YouTube TV.
Networks like ESPN, CBS, NBC, and Fox might make sense to partner with. But McAfee faces the possibility of being censored due to corporate interests. Each of these networks also operates its networks or streaming channels that air talk programming of their own. Investing in McAfee could cannibalize the programming they already own.
And if McAfee works with a traditional network that isn’t ESPN, it could jeopardize his ability to host game casts for Omaha or analyze games on Gameday. It’s not impossible but would definitely be awkward on days that McAfee does his show remotely from locations of ESPN games with ESPN banners and signage that is visible in the background.
If SportsGrid has the money to invest in McAfee, they might be his best bet. They have all the attributes McAfee needs and they already have a relationship with him. It is probably unlikely that he’ll be censored and he would even be able to maintain a relationship with FanDuel – a company SportsGrid also works alongside.
Roku is another option — they already work with Rich Eisen — but they would move his show away from YouTube, something McAfee should resist since the majority of smart TV users use YT more than any other app.
If the NFL gave McAfee editorial independence, they would make the perfect partner but the likelihood of that happening is slim to none. NFL Media has independence but it was clear during the night of the Damar Hamlin incident that they will do whatever is necessary to stay away from serious topics that make the league look bad until it’s totally unavoidable.
It’s hard to think of a partner that matches up perfectly with McAfee’s aspirations. But once again, at the moment, he’s on top of the world so anything is possible. The talk show host’s next move will be even more interesting to watch than the other fascinating moves he’s already made that have put the sports media industry in a swivel.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
5 Tips For Networking At the BSM Summit
“Have a plan and don’t leave home without it.”
Bring your game plan if you attend the BSM Summit in LA next Tuesday and Wednesday. No matter your purpose for attending: to learn, get a job, speak, or sell an idea, you must be able to read the room. To do that, it helps to know who will be there and how you can cure their pain.
Have a plan and don’t leave home without it. If you have time, buy How to Work a Room by Susan Roane. If you don’t, just follow these five tips:
- INTRODUCE YOURSELF: Before you arrive at The Summit, figure out what you want, who you want to meet, and what you will say. Once you get there, scout out the room and see if anyone of those people are available. Talk to speakers after they have spoken- don’t worry if you miss what the next speaker says. You are there to meet new people! Most speakers do not stick around for the entire schedule, and you don’t know if they will attend any after-parties, so don’t risk it. Refine your elevator pitch and break the ice with something you have in common. Make sure you introduce yourself to Stephanie, Demetri and Jason from BSM. They know everybody and will help you if they can.
- GET A NAME TAG: Don’t assume that name tags will be provided. Bring your own if you and make your name clear to read. If you are looking to move to LA or want to sell a system to book better guests, put it briefly under your name. Study this to get better at remembering names.
- LOSE THE NOTEBOOK: When you meet folks, ensure your hands are free. Have a business card handy and ask for one of theirs. Remember to look people in the eye and notice what they are doing. If they are scanning the room, pause until they realize they are blowing you off. Do whatever it takes to sound upbeat and open. Don’t let their clothes, hair, or piercings distract from your message. You don’t need to wear a suit and tie but do bring your best business casual wear. A blazer isn’t a bad idea either.
- SHUT UP FIRST! The art of knowing when to end the convo is something you will have to practice. You can tell when the other person’s eye starts darting or they are not using body language that tells you the convo will continue. You end it by telling them you appreciate meeting them and want to connect via email. Ask for a business card. Email is more challenging to ignore than a LinkedIn request, and you can be more detailed in what you want via email.
- WORK THE SCHEDULE: Know who speaks when. That is when you will find the speakers hanging around. Plan your lunch outing to include a few fellow attendees. Be open and conversational with those around you. I am a huge USC fan, so I would walk to McKays– a good spot with plenty of USC football memorabilia on the walls. Sometimes you can find the next day’s speakers at the Day 1 after party. Need a bar? Hit the 901 Club for cheap beer, drinks, and food.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
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