The Journey For Sam Acho Is Just Getting Started
Within our globe, there are many ways people can give back, one of which is participating in local charitable endeavors. Whether it is building homes, granting a life-changing wish, or donating money, people can be the change and pay it forward. Being the change, though, is more effectively actualized through collaboration and solidarity, as was recognized and organized by Sam Acho when he co-founded Athletes for Justice.
The nonprofit organization, which began in 2018, pairs professional athletes with everyday people to fight against injustices and foster equality and fairness in neighborhoods. Before the organization though, Acho had emerged as a natural leader, raising $250,000 as a member of the Chicago Bears, being a two-time nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, and serving as vice president of the NFL Players Association.
Acho, who works as a color commentator and studio analyst with ESPN, endured a long, yet impactful journey to stand outside a healthy food source his organization catalyzed in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, Ill. Its groundbreaking was attended by figures across sports and government, including National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, along with other athletes from various Chicago sports teams.
It was a manifestation of conversations he organized between athletes and Chicago children and police officers pertaining to protests against racism. The next year, 670 The Score held a “What About Chicago Radiothon,” raising money to benefit nonprofit organizations including Athletes for Justice.
During a visit to the Austin neighborhood with athletes – including Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews, former Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky, and former Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward – Acho recognized a preponderance of liquor stores and little to no grocery stores. Shortly thereafter, one of the children implored Acho and the others to think of their visit as more than just a field trip. She wanted them to return and genuinely try to spark change, further igniting the fire within that inspired Acho to start his organization in the first place.
“A lot of my hope is that people can realize they could make a change in their community,” Acho said. “You don’t have to go start a nonprofit or you don’t have to be the president of anything. You can just go and show up.”
From the time he was young, Acho was focused on achieving excellence both as an athlete and a student. In high school, he lettered in three sports as a multiple-time all-conference football selection (defensive end; tight end), basketball player, and track and field team member. Acho also had a penchant for learning and was a four-year honor roll student, erudition he carried over to the University of Texas.
While in college, he played as a defensive end where he caught the attention of pro scouts and was named the team’s most valuable player following his senior year. Additionally, he was the second university recipient of the William V. Campbell Trophy, given to college football’s top scholar-athlete, and graduated with a double major in business honors and marketing. During his NFL career, he continued his education and earned his master’s in business administration in global management and global development at Arizona State University.
Maintaining an avidity for scholarship while balancing multiple responsibilities went on to prove invaluable later in his career, but it was a paradigm he had to refine in college. The impetus to change his ways followed a grade of “C” in one of his classes within a program garnering a minimum GPA requirement.
“I would travel with my books and do homework on the plane as we went [to] and came from games,” Acho said. “It really was this wake-up call of, ‘If you’re going to be serious about [this], you need to be diligent in your work.’”
While he was playing college football, Acho was advised to answer questions from the media in the way most desirable to him. He felt the best way to do it was in taking a team-first approach, always defending his teammates and placating burdens from an individual to the group. Although he was not asked as many questions during his first four years in the NFL as a member of the Arizona Cardinals, he always ensured to treat the media with respect.
“When there were opportunities to interact with the media, I saw them as people,” Acho expressed. “There were definitely some media members who would abuse, if you will, that role. I always tried to see everyone as people so they would see me as a person as well.”
What Acho did not realize was that he would be among that contingent during his third year in the NFL. A leg injury he had sustained in an early season game sidelined him for the year, leaving him with a void to fill, and he called a local station to ask for an opportunity. He not only wanted to document his experience, but visit with those facing pain and suffering themselves to shine light on their stories.
Acho never planned on working in sports media as a player, instead remaining focused on the grind of the season. Yet there were instances where he remained engaged with it, including starting a podcast called Relevant Is Doing a Sports Podcast on the RELEVANT Network focused on the amalgamation of sports, faith, race, and social issues. As an alumnus of the University of Texas, Acho also appeared on the Longhorn Network where he participated in studio programming and color commentary alongside play-by-play announcer Lowell Galindo.
He always made sure to treat chances to appear on sports programming like a job, and was compelled to pursue it when people realized his potential. Moreover, he was watching his brother’s rise in the industry, which began on the Longhorn Network in 2016, ESPN in 2018, and FOX Sports in 2020, and viewed his journey from a familial perspective.
“Even before I thought about it seriously, I saw him doing it and I saw the struggle and the grind and the travel,” Acho said of his brother, Emmanuel. “I got a pretty solid understanding of it, even though I hadn’t experienced it.”
After four years with the Chicago Bears and one year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Acho’s playing career came to an end, energizing him to find work in sports media. He began appearing on programming with Stadium and eventually auditioned for a role with the Longhorn Network, taking a similar path to his brother. Once he completed his audition, one of the people there told Acho she was going to relay an affirmative message to ESPN.
“‘I’m going to tell the executives at ESPN that if they don’t hire you, I will,’” Acho recalls her saying to him. “….That was really helpful to hear and it was also helpful because it was a cool opportunity to say, ‘You know what? I’ll start at the bottom and figure it out,’ and then it was like, ‘Oh, there might be different opportunities elsewhere.’”
The executives at ESPN heeded the message and realized Acho’s talent, officially signing him to contribute to its football coverage in 2021. The career move curtailed The Home Team Podcast, which he was co-hosting with former NFL tight end Trey Burton and Pastor Steve Carter; however, it also amplified his platform to a linear national scale.
During his first year with ESPN, Acho appeared on studio shows to talk about the NFL and college football, including Get Up, First Take, and College Football Live. He also brought his talents to the broadcast booth as a color commentator for select matchups where he quickly discerned how to adapt based on the setting. Having played sports both at the collegiate and professional level, Acho feels he can make his esoteric perspectives of the sport comprehensible for the average viewer.
“I think I have a unique view that people who haven’t played professional sports don’t have,” Acho said. “That’s one thing that you don’t sometimes think about, but who else can say they’ve played almost a decade professionally, or better yet, more than saying it, who else has those experiences?”
As a color commentator, Acho entered the role with the false perception of having protracted lengths of time to talk and utilize his preparation. Once he began calling games though, he recognized that he needed to condense his analysis and use his knowledge to supplement the broadcast rather than divulging unnecessary information.
There are also instances where equipping preparation can make for a monotonous broadcast, such as if there are extraordinary circumstances and external storylines. The value Acho brings to the booth in those instances comes in being able to relate his own unique experiences to what others are facing.
“Every game has its own personality and you don’t know what that game’s going to look like until the game begins,” Acho said. “Early on, I’m thinking, ‘Okay, I’m going to give these stats about this player and these unique storylines. I’ve been studying and prepping [and] I want to share all this information.’ Then I started learning, ‘Well, sometimes it’s about the storylines or what’s actually happening as history is being made.’”
19 years after its only season, the XFL relaunched in 2020 under the leadership of WWE Executive Chairman and Owner Vince McMahon. Once the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the United States, the league suspended play and filed for bankruptcy one month later, leaving its future in flux.
The XFL returned in its third iteration six days after the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles to win Super Bowl LVII, led by an ownership group of Dany Garcia, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and RedBird Capital Partners (Gerry Cardinale).
Before its revival, the league agreed to a media rights deal with The Walt Disney Company, ensuring 40 regular season games, two playoff semifinals, and a championship game will appear across the company’s networks of ESPN, ABC, and FX through 2027. The league will also stream select games on ESPN+ and has partnered with the NFL to develop and test new aspects of football while protecting player health.
Acho’s broadcast team includes field reporter Taylor McGregor, field analyst Ian Fitzsimmons and play-by-play announcer Lowell Galindo. Together, they bring fans XFL action throughout its 10-week regular season. During Acho’s first two years with ESPN, he and Galindo called Texas Longhorns football games on the Longhorn Network (partially owned by ESPN), allowing them to develop synergy and familiarity with one another.
“Lowell and I have known each other for years, and we’ve actually worked together in this capacity for the last few years,” Acho said. “Now we get a chance to do it on a more consistent basis which is – yes, it’s fun – but [for] the fact that we know each other, we have chemistry.”
The XFL is a professional football league; however, it does not follow the same rules and regulations as the NFL. For starters, the league consists of eight teams – the Arlington Renegades; DC Defenders; Houston Roughnecks; Orlando Guardians; St. Louis Battlehawks; San Antonio Brahmas; Seattle Sea Dragons; and Vegas Vipers – operating on a 35-second play clock.
There are also additional rule changes pertaining to kickoffs, extra points and overtime. Coaches also have the unique ability to challenge any call or non-call throughout the course of the game, and viewers are privy to discussions between the officials and the replay center since they are broadcast on the air.
“These players aren’t getting paid multi-million dollar contracts to play,” Acho said. “It’s this love of football and love of the opportunity to continue playing…. A lot of these players have been in the NFL before; they’ve played years in the NFL. Some have had injuries; some have gone through hardships; some of them haven’t played who want to be in the NFL. There are some really cool stories about players that are exciting.
Since there are several former NFL players in the league, Acho can speak directly regarding what it was like to either play with or against them on the gridiron. Entering sports media and being recently removed from partaking in professional football gives him that distinct advantage; however, he knows it is finite and that longevity will require astuteness and sagacity.
“As you start doing this career more and more and you’re not playing more, there’s people who you may not know or may not have played with,” Acho said. “I think there definitely is a benefit with the recency of just finishing two or three years ago and getting a chance to say: ‘No, I played with Josh Allen; I played with the Bills. I know what it’s like in that locker room, and I know what it’s like with some of these coaches as well.’”
As a color commentator, Acho looks to help viewers make sense of the rules and remain engaged with the game. At the same time, he is continuing to adapt to the changes and think about how to provide shrewd analysis utilizing his observations and experiences. Having the ability to relate to the players and/or put himself in their situation engenders more cogent and veritable prose.
“I try to be empathetic and really understand where players are coming from and storylines, and of course, X’s and O’s,” Acho said. “The big thing about the XFL is that you can hear a lot of that. You can hear coaches making calls and players making calls; that’s one of the great things about the XFL. There’s a time and place to help analyze that and help explain to the viewer what’s going on.”
For example, Seattle Sea Dragons cornerback Chris Payton-Jones lost his father on the day of the team’s game against the St. Louis Battlehawks but decided to play at the request of his mother because she said that it is what his father would have wanted. Acho only learned the information through conversation with Sea Dragons head coach Jim Haslett, and it was something he could not have truly prepared for before the start of the game. In seeing Payton-Jones take the field and sharing his story (with permission), Acho was able to contextualize the situation for viewers and allowed them to realize the bigger picture.
“There’s going to be a time that he has to mourn,” Acho said. “Just being able to be in that moment and watch history be made and watch him succeed but also realize, ‘Man, there’s going to be some struggle’; that was one of the most memorable moments.”
In expressing personal anecdotes or using statistics to discern on-field play, Acho is divulging his personality to the audience. Some viewers enjoy hearing this side of the announcers, while others just prefer to hear the game and simply be told what is happening on the field. No matter the preference, Acho believes his personality can permeate into different focuses of the broadcast, aggregating a more versatile commentator.
“I think it’s just about me being me,” Acho said. “Some people will like it; some people don’t. Everyone has different personalities, and some people want to just hear the stats and there are people who [just] want to hear stories – and I think I can help with that as well.”
Aside from being a sports media personality both in the booth and in the studio, Acho is also an author of several books through which he can channel his love of writing to catalyze change. His first book – Let the World See You: How to Be Real in a World Full of Fakes – was released in 2020 and discusses shedding societal expectations and embracing one’s identity.
Over the years, Acho has spoken and lectured on mental health where he has promulgated a message of discomfort being necessary for growth. For instance, when someone works out to build muscle strength, they are exerting stress on their muscles, leading to tears and associated soreness. Through this practice, the muscles produce lactic acid that allows them to build back stronger.
“Some of the most painful things I’ve been through oftentimes have been the ones that have brought me the most growth,” he said. “Some of the hardest times have been some of the most fruitful times – not the easy times. I’ve been through hard times. Sometimes we think it’s supposed to be easy and life just has no problems, but we all realize that problems and issues happen in life. Sometimes those problems or those issues; once you face them and you address them, you can grow from them and learn from them.”
Acho was inspired to write a second book through conversations with ordinary people who asked him how he galvanized groups to execute humanitarian and societal efforts during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. In being requested to share his stories of organizing and collaborating with others, he feels he will be able to rekindle the spirit of effectuating change and correcting moral injustice. The book – Change Starts With You: Following Your Fire to Heal a Broken World – is set to be released tomorrow, and Acho hopes it impacts and emboldens its readers.
“I love just trying to communicate, and [this] is a way to express some of the ideas I have about, ‘Here’s ways to make change,’ but there’s also ways to work on yourself,” Acho said. “….Sometimes, I think our fire has gone out. This book is this idea of, ‘What if we could reignite that fire?’”
As his career in sports media continues, Acho wants to use his platform to do more than simply appear on different consumption outlets and discuss the game. Through his career on the gridiron and as a broadcaster, he aspires to give fans and consumers an understanding of the power they have to make change. He also seeks to do this through his other roles as director of human capital and impact at AWM Capital; an ambassador for the International Justice Mission; and traveling with his family on medical mission trips to Nigeria through his parent’s organization, Living Hope Christian Ministries.
In addition, he continues to look for mentors in sports media and aims to find different people whom he wishes to emulate in certain aspects of his broadcast style.
“[I] just want to continue to get better and continue to find those things that I really enjoy,” Acho said. “I look at a lot of people who have been doing it for years [and] working with the same partner when it comes to calling games. Part of me says, ‘Man, it’d be fun to find out that thing and see if I can really get really good at it and help audiences and help players and share stories.’”
Throughout his playing career, Acho kept a resolute focus on the game at hand and what he was able to control in its outcome. Although he did some occasional work in sports media, it was not until his career ended when he committed to exploring and constructing a career in the industry. Acho is concentrating on generating a stable growth trajectory and augmenting his versatility and potential as a broadcaster – just as he did when he was a player both collegiately and in the NFL.
Achieving that, however, requires a deft understanding of one’s own self-identity, and it is something Acho began to think about after he signed a lucrative multi-year contract with the Bears, but still felt immense emotional pain. It turned out Acho was masquerading his inner persona, instead evoking the toughness he displayed on the field and subsequently judging himself based on his football abilities.
Through his journey, he became comfortable living the way in which he felt was intended for him and recognizing his own self-worth, dissociating it solely on the basis of game-related benchmarks.
“Take the time to really find out who you are,” Acho advises. “Oftentimes we’ll just get so focused on our job, we’ll forget that there’s more to us than meets the ey
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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