Maggie Gray Is Thrilled to Thrive On A National Stage
“When you’re doing [radio] locally, there’s no amount of minutiae that’s too small.”
Sports talk radio often extends beyond straightforward discussion of teams, players and leagues by accentuating the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of its hosts. Whether it is through their parlance, interaction with callers or means of comprehending a situation, the hosts of sports talk radio show greatly influence the direction of a program. Take Maggie Gray, for example, who recently pied her co-host Andrew Perloff in the face for charity after winning a bet.
Gray is the co-host of Maggie & Perloff, a national program broadcast weekday afternoons on CBS Sports Radio and distributed to various local affiliates. The show extends beyond traditional radio with its presence on YouTube and other digital platforms, following the new paradigm of broadcasting emphasizing multiple avenues of dissemination. The clip of Perloff taking a pie to the face was posted on Twitter and other digital media platforms spawning reach and subsequent engagement.
“You’re still getting the sound and the splat in the face and the reaction,” Gray said of the stunt, “but to be honest, it’s definitely more of a visual gag.”
Radio studios without cameras or some capability to produce visual content are ostensibly behind the curve, with some just now beginning to catch up. Gray and Perloff broadcast their show out of New York City and think about how to serve its total audience, where and how they consume the content notwithstanding. From working as colleagues at Sports Illustrated, they both knew of the growing prevalence of digital content long before hosting this program and, today, aim to catalyze its assimilation into radio.
Gray hosted digital programming on the Sports Illustrated website over the span of eight years, including a talk show titled SI Now. In this role, she covered a variety of different sports at the national level, equipping her with a broader scope of the sports landscape and concomitant early foray into digital media. Accompanied by evolutions in technology and changing consumption habits, the nature of content itself has innovated in order to be conducive to new platforms – and Gray recognized this long before most others.
Yet augmenting reach and engagement comes through the implicit differentiation of algorithms and user proclivities; that is, determining just where certain content works best. It was a lesson Gray learned from Stephanie McMahon, former chairwoman and co-chief executive officer of WWE. For example, Gray says the clip of Perloff being pied in the face works better for platforms compatible with shorter-form content, such as TikTok and Twitter. In this way, fans are given instant gratification of the impetus that compelled them to engage with the content in the first place.
“You don’t just take a one-size-fits-all [approach],” Gray said. “….Maybe understanding that could help you with your audience, and then trying to always engage with younger fans and trying to be where they are, which is a challenge.”
Akin to many others working in the industry today, Gray grew up as an avid sports fan, largely for teams within the New York metropolitan area – except in football. Her uncle, a season ticket holder for the Buffalo Bills, introduced her to the team in the ‘90s, a time when the team had a winning record in most years. The fact that none of those seasons ended in Super Bowl championships, let alone appearances, taught her resilience. Moreover, it helped her develop esoteric knowledge she utilizes today as a national sports talk radio host, although a majority of conversations do not solely revolve around any singular sports franchise.
When she was a high school student in Binghamton, N.Y., she kept statistics for B.C. Icemen play-by-play announcer Jason Weinstein, attending games and becoming immersed in the United Hockey League (UHL). Once the team reached its final game of the season, Gray was given the chance to go on the air to deliver the out of town scores, and became enamored with sports media from that moment on.
“It sort of kept evolving,” Gray said. “I think I got a taste of it kind of early in my life and that set me on this path.”
Gray attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C. where she matriculated in journalism. She immediately became involved with the school’s radio station, but quickly landed an internship as a freshman with Westwood One Radio. She ended up staying with the broadcast outlet during all four years of college where she earned opportunities to attend marquee events. Some of these included the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece and various Washington Wizards games (2003-2005) to work as a stringer and collect locker room sound. She worked in a similar role with The Associated Press in 2005, her senior year of college, during the Washington Nationals’ inaugural season.
“I was able to not only be around professional athletes – be in locker rooms; be in press rooms; be on a press row,” Gray said. “I got to watch all of these other incredible journalists do their work at a young age which kind of got me a little familiar with just the pace of how to cover a game.”
Although much of Gray’s work during college took place off-campus, she still called sporting events on its radio station, in addition to briefly hosting her own show. All of her experiences helped shape her into a versatile rising star in the industry and fostered familiarity about how to conduct herself with poise and professionalism.
Expediting vertical growth immediately after graduation in any industry can be difficult, but Gray’s persistence and motivation kept her focused on finding ways to do so. Her postgraduate journey began at NBA Entertainment (NBAE) as a production assistant and tape logger, working behind the scenes to help facilitate its content. Additionally, she received permission from NBAE to work at another Olympic Games with Westwood One, this time in Torino, Italy during the winter of 2006. She calls the people with both entities, including Westwood One executives Howie Deneroff and Mike Eaby, “instrumental” in facilitating her growth.
Eager to find an opportunity to appear on-camera, Gray was hired by MSG Networks as a sideline reporter for its high school sports, then-broadcast on MSG Varsity. As a broadcaster on the broadcast of a live sporting event, Gray used her journalism skills to discover nuanced storylines and compendiously deliver them to the viewing audience.
“Finding those good stories was a challenge, especially because you’re interviewing teenagers, but also it was great because I think that they appreciated it and it was memorable for them,” Gray said. “When I would do a quick sideline hit about somebody on the team, I think that was a really big deal.”
Through her exposure on MSG Networks, Gray was hired to provide sports updates on WFAN, specifically during holidays such as Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. She also worked in various roles, including as a reporter and play-by-play announcer, in stints with MLB.com and ESPNU, giving her further exposure throughout the industry. It all led up to being hired at Sports Illustrated in 2010 as an anchor for the company’s foray into digital content creation and programming.
By June 2013, the company launched SI Now, a digital talk show covering the sports landscape with news, opinion, debate and interviews both in studio and from various events. Gray hosted 1,169 episodes of the show while also hosting a Saturday morning program with Marc Malusis on CBS Sports Radio. Whether it was questioning the NFL’s handling of the infamous Ray Rice scandal; interviewing Billie Jean King; or taking calls from listeners, these roles promoted her abilities to effectively work on a national scale. Yet since consumerism is based on opinion, she naturally did not appeal to everyone.
“I stopped trying to win over the people that I knew just weren’t into me – [people who] either didn’t want to hire me or agents who didn’t want to represent me or whatever,” Gray said. “I stopped chasing that and really started to focus on the people who did like what I was doing and were trying to invest in me and were giving me good feedback.”
Additionally, Gray has faced misogyny throughout her broadcasting career and considers herself fortunate to have colleagues she can trust. She follows the advice of an unattributed quote that states, “Don’t put too much stock in an opinion of someone [whom] you wouldn’t ask their advice,” implicitly reminding her to take everything in stride. It also keeps her cognizant of which voices to genuinely value as a media professional.
“I try not to look at social media to get feedback because if you are going to believe the good things, then I think you also have to believe the bad things and that can get really dicey,” Gray said. “It’s basically two sides of a very similar coin.”
When Mike Francesa retired from WFAN in December 2017, media pundits knew he was practically irreplaceable. Francesa had been the co-host of Mike and the Mad Dog for nearly two decades, and then proceeded to have a successful solo career where he consistently finished at the top of the ratings.
Leading up to the decision, Gray had conjectured which direction the station may go in, and eventually was approached to pair with Bart Scott and Chris Carlin. Gray was not the first choice for the job, as Kim Jones and Chris Simms both turned the position down, but she was still grateful for the opportunity and tried to make the most of it.
Even though she would still continue broadcasting from New York, the audience was different in that it was based locally. There was an adjustment period and some initial challenges determining which topics would appeal to listeners, metrics that were not solely based on illuminated phone lines. Gray had not previously worked with Scott and with Carlin outside of occasional appearances on SportsNet New York’s LoudMouths, meaning that the broadcast trio needed time to develop chemistry. The difficulty was that the market had grown accustomed to consistency in afternoons spanning nearly three decades and two relatively newer local voices in Gray and Scott.
“It was definitely an overwhelming feeling,” Gray said. “If it wasn’t for Chris Carlin and Bart Scott – the three of us started that show – and if it wasn’t for our great relationship, I think it would have also been very lonely…. It was a big deal for the niche that is sports talk radio, and I’m so glad I had those guys to lean on and we all got to go through it together.”
For the first four months, the show aired from 2 to 6:30 p.m., but received immense criticism and ultimately lost the quarterly ratings book to The Michael Kay Show on 98.7 FM ESPN New York. It should be noted that the two programs faced off from 3 to 6:30 p.m., as Stephen A. Smith hosted his program on 98.7 FM ESPN New York on weekdays from 1 to 3 p.m.
Part of the struggle might have been a move away from debate-based radio, even though Francesa had been successfully hosting solo programming for many years. Instead of making disputation a hallmark of her style, Gray tries to center her programs around having fun, interacting with her co-host and imbuing laughter.
“I didn’t love doing [argumentative] radio,” Gray said. “I don’t love that – the Mike and the Mad Dog [style] where they’re just arguing with each other all the time; or a Stephen A. Smith-thing where you’re arguing all the time. That’s not generally what I love. It’s great to disagree, but I don’t love it when it’s contentious.”
Less than five months later, Francesa returned to WFAN to host afternoon drive opposite The Michael Kay Show. In his return, which was partially predicated on the launch of the Mike’s On mobile app and online platform, WFAN curtailed the time slot of Carlin, Maggie and Bart. Just a few months later, Francesa defeated The Michael Kay Show in the overall ratings (Q2, 2018), even though men aged 25-49 preferred Kay’s program. Carlin, Maggie and Bart ended up finishing fourth in the New York market during its daypart and began to mesh with listeners.
“I had never really done just New York sports, so that took a little bit to get used to,” Gray said. “….It was all the same challenges that go in with creating any new show; it just happened to be [on] an extremely visible platform where there were a lot of eyeballs on us.”
One year later amid strong ratings, Carlin was fired from WFAN and the show was rebranded as Maggie and Bart. The new show proved ephemeral though, as Francesa’s departure from afternoon drive caused a shakeup in the programming schedule. To begin 2020, the station announced that Gray and Malusis would be reunited to launch a local edition of Moose and Maggie, the show they had co-hosted together for five years nationally on CBS Sports Radio.
“When you’re doing [radio] locally, there’s no amount of minutiae that’s too small,” Gray expressed. “We can talk about the Yankees’ middle relievers; we can talk about the Mets’ closer; or we can talk about who should play third base for the Yankees. That’s a totally good topic and it will resonate with people in New York.”
By the end of the next year, Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney moved from CBS Sports Radio, their home for the prior eight years, to middays on WFAN. As a result, Gray, who was “super happy” to transition back to hosting nationally, began her current program with Perloff in afternoon drive. The shift in mindset was facile since she had covered sports from a national perspective for the majority of the preceding decade.
The duo enters each show with a “blank slate,” surmising what topics will resonate with the audience and create compelling on-air content. Working with Perloff, who she became friendly with during her time at Sports Illustrated, made these intricate tasks, in addition to developing synergy, considerably less arduous than they otherwise may have been.
“We knew that we already had chemistry, and so I think it put us on more of a fast-track than other shows that start with people who are meeting as strangers,” Gray said. “We were able to really grow the show, I think, in a great way, and it’s been so much fun doing it.”
On the air, Gray tries to find ways to stand out amid a saturation in audio content. Most media entities vie for shares of attention, parlayed into engagement and fidelity through retention. Gray and Perloff are preceded by Jim Rome, who has successfully built a legion of listeners and followers who interact with his show on a regular basis.
“The shows I like are the shows where you kind of build a universe in the show,” Gray said. “The people who are listening feel like they are a part of it. They get the language of the show; they get the jokes and the inside jokes of the show. You want to be consistent for that audience, and you want to create a world where they can sort of step into it.”
Gray affirms that “this is not journalism with a capital ‘J,’” and fulfills her role in cultivating discussions that keep people listening. Through these, they compel people to call in or comment on the live stream to demonstrate their interest in a topic and espouse opinions to potentially alter the conversation. Gray and Perloff are not mandated to implement the audience by taking calls; however, they find the interaction amplifies the program, especially when a listener understands the show’s vernacular.
The same mindset applies when booking interviews; that is, trying to find the value in having certain guests on the program. Sure, there are people who are more likely to make news with each appearance, such as athletes, executives or other celebrities, but shrewdness regarding what one wants to extrapolate from guests is essential to driving the conversation.
At the same time, spontaneity can prove invaluable in these conversations, which can lead to follow-up questions discerned through actively listening. For example, it was Gray who asked Green Bay Packers wide receiver Romeo Doubs last month about the offense’s relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He proceeded to say that he had never spent time with Rodgers outside of the team’s practice facility, composing a fair share of headlines to say the least.
“That got over [five] million views,” Gray said. “That was not a question I had ever intended to ask him going into the interview; it was just simply by listening to him.”
Hosting an afternoon drive program in particular requires thinking about ways to advance stories that have likely already been discussed in the mornings. Being in the middle of the day, there is a balance of reacting to what happened the night before and anticipating what may happen mere hours later when a majority of games begin. In a way, trying to captivate listeners through topic selection and concomitant opinions is both instinctual and strategic.
“I have a pretty big voice, so I think the sound is big,” Gray said. “I try to be very generous as a host, too. I want to make sure with me and my co-host that we’re finding topics that we both really like; we’re trying to find places maybe where we don’t agree, but I try to be generous with setting him up.”
Part of being able to effectuate that comes in being able to keep people listening, especially following Jim Rome, who has broadcast on CBS Sports Radio for the last decade. Spike Eskin, vice president of programming at WFAN and CBS Sports Radio, recommended Gray and Perloff open their show with hard-hitting opinions. Starting with potent topics and opinions in lieu of a protracted greeting or small talk keeps people engrossed in the on-air product, in turn expanding the show’s reach.
The program then blends information, opinion and entertainment to create a multiplatform product conducive to success, even though they are not measured on ratings. Rather, the show is distributed to a host of local affiliates who may opt to use ratings to guide future decision-making, but even so, Gray does not concern herself as much with those results.
“I never tried to put too much stock in the ratings even when I was personally benefiting from the ratings as far as bonuses and things like that,” she explained. “I still try not to put too much stock into it, but it’s hard because it’s a number, it’s there [and] it feels like a grade.”
The fear of failure keeps Gray going every day, possessing an awareness of the deft responsibility garnered every time she steps in the studio. Simultaneously, she remembers that new cohorts of listeners may be consuming the program, meaning she and Perloff need to make a good first impression.
“There’s no safety net with this,” Gray said. “It’s live – radio and streaming – and I’m being counted on to deliver something that’s entertaining and fun and informative and keeps an audience.”
The key is finding the niche of the industry wherein one can excel – and it differs for every aspiring professional. No matter where that may be though, without a work ethic or a will to succeed, finding and sustaining roles in sports media can be burdensome. There are plenty of fledgling talents willing to do whatever it takes for an opportunity, and it is essential people holding coveted positions refrain from complacency or acting in a sanctimonious manner.
“If you’re not energized by the red light [going] on and it’s you and it’s time for you to deliver, you’re probably not cut out for this,” Gray said. “That should be a charge in and of itself and that should be enough to motivate you to say, ‘How am I going to do my best today?’”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
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