Dan Dakich Has Got to Dominate The Room
“Everything I do is based on my experience, literally every single thing. Sometimes the experience is different than what the public wants to be true.”
If you want to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs. It’s a similar concept in radio and TV. If a host wants to be outspoken and unpredictable, it might result in royally ticking off some listeners along the way. This is something that OutKick’s Dan Dakich knows a thing or two about.
The funny thing is when Dakich’s detractors get revved up and say negative things about him, they often fail to notice one key element — they’re engaged with what he has to say. That’s the name of the game for a host. And there is no denying that Dakich has been flat-out captivating throughout his career.
But what about the times Dakich makes a mistake and says something regrettable? The former Indianapolis radio host describes his stance on apologizing. Dakich also talks about his quest to be a greater villain, being incredibly shy, and includes an awesome story about how the name of Don’t @ Me came to be. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: What do you think about signing your new extension with OutKick?
Dan Dakich: You know what, I’m thrilled. One of the things that I have enjoyed way more than I thought, or I didn’t even imagine, was being on a team. It’s funny, I’ve got about five people that are with me every day and they’re just great. It’s just wonderful people. Everybody is on the same page, whether on a broader spectrum with Clay, or whether it’s Jonathan Hutton and Chad Withrow or Tomi Lahren. Now Charly [Arnolt] is going to join us. It’s really fun.
It’s been a great experience and I was thrilled when they came to me. My contract wasn’t up until September, and they came to me a few months ago about an extension. Obviously, I was honored and flattered that they wanted me around. I’m excited as hell and I’m having the time of my life, I really am.
BN: How does doing a show for OutKick compare to terrestrial radio?
DD: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s more scripted. You’ve done TV so you know, it’s way more formatted. I didn’t know that initially. In fact, when I first started, I’m like, yeah, I don’t really need any of this scripted stuff. Not scripted in terms of what I’m going to say, but scripted in terms of the segments. Really with radio for years, I would have an idea and it was much more ad-libbed. This is ad-libbed, but it’s more structured because it’s streaming, it’s TV. It’s way different in that sense.
There are some shows where they call it writing the show. So basically everything you say is written. Mine is not. Mine is ad-libbed with parameters. We’re going to have Burgess Owens on, the congressman from Utah. My team gives me all the information and then I kind of develop what I want to say. It’s way more organized than the way I did local radio.
I was very, very ad-libbed with local radio to the point where sometimes somebody would hit me with a story literally before I went on, and I would lead with that and talk about it all day. This is way more scripted the night before and the day of.
It took me a minute to get comfortable because like I said, initially, I’m like, no, I know what I’m going to talk about. I think at first I kind of was like, yeah, I don’t need it. And then, pretty soon into it I’m like, okay, I do need it, but it doesn’t mean I like it. And now it’s like, oh man, this is the only way you can do it. Because again, I had never really done a TV show; I had never been the host on TV. It’s way different than doing it on radio, so it did take me maybe six weeks or so until I’m like, okay, I kind of got this.
BN: How would you describe your style and what you try to accomplish each time you do a show?
DD: I try to entertain. That’s kind of my thing. I’ve always said, look, I’m not a journalist. I’m not trying to break stories. I’m not Schefter. I’m trying to entertain you with opinion. I’m trying to educate. I’m not trying to be the Walter Cronkite journalist.
I figure people tune in to the radio, and they can be entertained in different ways. Like my abrasive style, sometimes that’s entertaining to some people, off-putting to others. Or if you’re joking about yourself and you’re telling a story, or you’re ripping somebody, that’s part of entertainment too.
Entertainment isn’t Bob frickin’ Hope up there telling jokes for 20 minutes. That’s kind of my personality, always has been from where I grew up. We’re sarcastic, and you had to have thick skin. That’s kind of what I’ve always been. When I got hired by Kent Sterling at the radio station, that’s what he told me to just be, so I’ve kind of gone with it.
I didn’t set out to be controversial, which I guess I am. I swear to you, you know how it is. People say, well, you’re a hot take guy. Everything I do is based on my experience, literally every single thing. Sometimes the experience is different than what the public wants to be true. People are so passionate about sports, or they’re so passionate about politics, that when it goes against what they believe, or maybe what they want to believe, it pisses them off. And so all of a sudden, I become controversial.
I’ll give you an example, one time Cassius Winston was playing. He was a senior. Staff at Michigan State said, you know, he’s gone through so much — I think it was the year his brother died — and he’s not in great shape. So I said on the air, once Cassius gets back into better shape, he’s going to blah, blah, blah. Oh shit, people are like “You called him fat. I can’t believe, here’s a guy who’s brother died.”
I didn’t call him fat, I just said what the coaching staff said. A couple of media guys crushed me. I’m like, man, that truth went against what the narrative was and so I become the hated and controversial when it’s just simply what I was told by staff.
BN: Some listeners and viewers consider a host apologizing to be a sign of weakness. What do you think about saying you’re wrong or apologizing if you screwed something up?
DD: I have no problem with it. And people that know me, know that over the years I’ve said, God, I screwed that up, so many times. I have no problem with that. My biggest problem with that would be if it were something that I wasn’t prepared for.
You know this, you get on a show and sometimes you like hearing yourself talk and you’re ranting, and the next thing you know, you say something stupid, and you’re like, ahh crap, I didn’t mean it that way. Or you got a fact wrong because your brain’s moving a million miles an hour.
I’ve never had a problem apologizing. I’ve never looked at apologies as weakness. I’ve always looked at it as something that you just should do. And I think many radio hosts, and I think people in general, look at it as weakness and don’t understand that it’s actually a way of connection. Saying I was wrong is a way of connecting with somebody on a more personal level than somebody just either not willing to admit it, or trying to make an excuse for it. I think it’s something you absolutely should do.
BN: Putting your current role with OutKick to the side, what has been the most fun you’ve had in your broadcasting career?
DD: I loved Mike Tirico, Allison Williams, Bart Fox, who was our producer, and Scott Johnson, who was our director on Tuesday nights. I loved the Monday night dinners. We would book to get to Iowa City or Michigan State, and my wife would come with me. We would go to dinner and we would laugh our nuts off and crack on each other. Occasionally, other guys from the truck would be there. I loved that so much.
We called it the last supper when Tirico announced that he was leaving ESPN and that he was going to go to NBC. It was the same thing with Jason Benetti on Friday nights. My wife thinks Benetti and I are America’s odd couple because he’s a liberal, I’m a conservative. He’s really, really smart. I’m pretty stupid. We’re just an odd couple and my wife would go bananas. I miss those things.
That was the most freaking fun. Other than playing or winning a big game as a coach, or anything personal with my kids and my wife, I’m not sure professionally I’ve ever had more fun than the night before with either Benetti and the crew, or the night before with Tirico and the crew.
BN: It’s funny, Dan, when you talk about laughing your nuts off and having fun at a dinner, it just makes me think that sometimes the way you’re perceived to be on the air, there are a lot of listeners that don’t really know you. Do you ever feel like you might know the radio version of me or what I’m banging on, but you don’t really know me?
DD: Oh man, all the time. I get people saying you’re so arrogant. I’m like really? If you really knew me, I don’t think there’s anybody that’s ever really been around me that would think that. I’m an incredibly shy person.
If I go to a party, my whole life, I sit in the corner. But I have these people tell me, oh, you’re so boisterous and you’re this and that, and I’m like okay. [Laughs] My mother gets a real kick out of it. She’s 87 years old and she listens every day.
But yeah, in my world — and I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging or trying to make myself look good — but two things, one, money never really mattered to me, and two, I’ve always liked the relationship part of it. Whether it’s, I don’t know, whoever, the janitors at Assembly Hall. I knew all their names. I remember Kelvin Sampson walking up to me, he goes, how do you know all these guys’ names? I go, “Well, I play softball with that guy, play baseball with that guy.”
My wife’s fascinated by it too. Somebody will come up to her and go, I met Dan and he was really a nice guy. And she’s like, well, yeah, what do you think he’s a dick all the time? That kind of thing.
BN: [Laughs] When your mom listens, what do you think she likes the most about you, and likes the least about you stylistically?
DD: My mother, we call her “the holiest of women”. She’s a church lady. She goes to church and then of course at five though she’ll have a vodka and relax. But she doesn’t like when I go at people. She doesn’t like when I go at Chris Ballard or something like that. And she likes our bikes program. She loves our bikes program because she and I remember when I got a blue Sting-Ray Schwinn bike. I remember the Christmas and so she likes when I talk about my kids, my wife and our bikes program.
She hates it when I go overboard criticizing somebody because we quote, we’re all God’s children, Daniel.
BN: [Laughs] That’s good. I like that. Where did the name Don’t @ Me come from?
DD: You know, this is really high tech shit I’m gonna give you right here. I wanted to name it Sack Up because that is our family’s motto. My dad would be like, you fell down, sack the hell up, let’s go. Or the teacher’s too hard? Really? Sack the hell up, let’s go.
I guess FOX thought it wasn’t good, or dirty, or I don’t know. It was literally my wife, myself, we were in Nashville and a guy came up and he goes, hey Dan, we can’t really name it Sack Up. I go, okay. He goes, well, what do you want to name it? I looked at Leigh, my wife, I go, I always say don’t at me. He said, perfect, that’s the perfect name. Okay, so that’s how high tech we are on Don’t @ Me. There ya go.
BN: As far as your coaching background, what do you tap into when you’re doing a show?
DD: You got to dominate the mic as a coach. You can’t get in front of your team and be weak. You can’t be in front of your team and be reserved; you’ve got to dominate the room. That’s the biggest thing. I remember, I was talking to a class and I go, what do you guys think is most important? Well, knowledge, sure, you’ve got to study. One guy said, you gotta be loud. I go, well, let me put it another way, you gotta dominate the mic. Just dominate that microphone. And it’s the same thing in coaching. If you’re going to sell kids on a particular scouting report, you’ve got to dominate. That really is the main thing that I took.
The other thing is you’ve got to talk to the listeners like you’re coaching your team. I remember telling Urban Meyer before he was on FOX, he was on ESPN doing a noon Big Ten game. He calls me and goes, all right, man, what do I do? I go, well, you talk to your team. You explain like you’re explaining to your team. Those are the two things that I always say and I picked up.
BN: Going forward is there anything in particular that you’d like to experience or accomplish in the future?
DD: This is going to sound really stupid. [Laughs] You know how when people go give speeches at colleges, people riot. They attacked Tomi Lahren the other day, and people get all mad. I want to get to where people get mad if I’m giving a speech somewhere. How f–ked up does that sound, right?
One of the highlights, my buddy Bart Fox was our producer when the whole crowd at Michigan State chanted we hate Dakich one day because of some stuff I put on Twitter. Izzo talked about it after the game and all this crap. Well, my buddy Bart, when I call him, his ringtone is the crowd chanting, we, hate, Dakich. It’s unbelievable. And so I want to get that in the political realm. When I go somewhere, I want an assassination attempt. [Laughs] Or I want some crazy political zealot to go nuts on me or something.
And look, I know I’m on the wrong side of the media. I understand that, I get it. When something gets picked up, the piling on factor happens. With me, I can literally tell you when something happens, okay, Jeff Goodman is going to come out and be a pain in the ass. This guy’s going to get mad and I know the cast of clowns that are going to come out of the woodwork. I love it.
You said it earlier, just don’t go through life being anonymous, or not at least standing up or saying what you think because it seems boring to me if you do.
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 email@example.com.
Robert Griffin III Wants to Tell Your Story the Right Way
“Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
During last season’s VRBO Fiesta Bowl, Robert Griffin III was part of ESPN’s alternate telecast at field level alongside Pat McAfee. Suddenly, the Heisman Trophy winner took a phone call. Once he hung up the phone, Griffin divulged that his wife had gone into labor and proceeded to sprint off of the field to catch a flight. An ESPN cameraperson documented his run and jubilation as he returned home to welcome his daughter, Gia, into the world. It encapsulated just what motivates Griffin to appear on television and discuss football, and why he is one of ESPN’s budding talents with the chance to make an impact on sports media and his community for years to come.
“This was an opportunity for me to go out and be different in the way that the media covers the players and truly get to the bottom of telling the players’ stories the right way,” Griffin said. “I look at this as an opportunity to do that.”
Griffin was a three-sport athlete as a student at Copperas Cove High School, and ultimately broke Texas state records in track and field. In addition to that, he played basketball and was the starting quarterback for the school’s football team as a junior and senior, drawing attention from various schools around the country. He ended up graduating high school one semester early and quickly became a star at Baylor University in both football and track and field.
Robert Griffin III’s nascent talent was hardly inconspicuous, evidenced by being named the 2008 Big 12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year and then, three years later, the winner of the Heisman Trophy. In the end, he graduated having set or tied 54 school records and helped the program to its first bowl game win in 19 years.
Ultimately, he transitioned to the NFL in a career with many trials and tribulations, but through it all, he never lost his sense of persistence. Nearly a decade later, he returned to college, but this time as a member of the media covering the game from afar. Unlike a majority of former players though, Griffin did not formally retire from playing football when inking a broadcasting contract with ESPN.
“I haven’t retired yet at all,” he said. “I tell everyone that asks me the question that I train every day [and] I’m prepared to play if that call does come. I’ve had some talks with teams over the past two years; just nothing has come to fruition.”
While Griffin’s focus as a broadcaster is undeniable, he never thought about seriously pursuing sports media until his broadcast agent pushed him to do so. He was urged to take an audition at FOX Sports. Griffin broke down highlights and called a mock NFL game alongside lead play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt. He was not prepared for that second part, but impressed executives and precipitously realized a career in the space may not be so outlandish after all.
Griffin then moved to ESPN where he experienced a similar audition process, this time calling a game with play-by-play announcer Rece Davis. Once the audition concluded, it was determined that Griffin would not only begin working in the industry, but that he would be accelerated because of his ability to communicate in an informative and entertaining style.
As a player, he saw the way media members covered teams – sometimes bereft of objectivity – and therefore saw assimilating into the industry as a chance to change that. Now, he is focused on telling the stories of the players en masse while being prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice.
ESPN’s intention was to implement Griffin on its studio coverage, but once executives heard him in the broadcast booth, the company had a palpable shift in its thinking. He was told he was ready to go out into the field and start calling games immediately, something of a surprise to him. FOX Sports felt similarly. This led to a bidding war between the two entities, which ultimately concluded with Griffin inking a contract with ESPN. He appeared over its airwaves plenty of times as a player, and even participated on a variety of studio shows in 2018 where he was almost permanently placed on NFL Live. This time around though, Griffin was suddenly preparing to work with Mark Jones and Quint Kessenich on college football games. He did not have time to consider the implications of the decision, instead diving headfirst into the craft and remaining focused on what was to come with producer Kim Belton and director Anthony DeMarco at his side.
“These guys took me under their wing, and I’m beyond indebted to them for that,” Griffin said of his colleagues. “They taught me everything that I know about the industry. They taught me everything I know about how to present things to the masses to where it can be easily digestible. They’ve allowed me to allow my personality to shine through.”
Demonstrating his personality was a facet of his makeup Griffin felt was inhibited by playing professional football, but he knows it would have been considerably more difficult to attain a chance to cover the game had he not laced up his cleats. Calling college football games with Jones accentuated his comfort in the booth because of Jones’ adept skill to appeal to the viewers and penetrate beyond the sport.
“He has the way to connect different generations of listeners to hear what he’s saying and perceive it in the same way,” Griffin said. “To me, that’s what we all strive to do in this industry is to be able to find the connective tissue between the fan who is 60 or 70 years old, and the fan who’s in their late teens or early 20s.”
From the beginning, everyone told Griffin to be himself and not adopt an alternate persona in front of the camera. That advice has guided him as he approaches his third year working in the industry.
“It is so hard to maintain a character or try to be someone that you’re not, but if you are who you are every single day, then every time you show up on camera you will be that person,” Griffin said. “I’ve made sure that when I stepped foot in front of that camera, I was going to be myself.”
Griffin identifies his style as pedagogical to a degree, critiquing players as if he was coaching them on the sidelines. He will never look to penetrate beyond football with his criticism, as drawing conclusions and using unrelated parlance could be viewed as indecorous. In short, Griffin III knows what it means to represent ESPN.
“We’re not a gossip website. We’re supposed to be critically acclaimed, prestigious journalists, and at the end of the day, that’s how I try to approach the job that I do. That’s why I got into the business – because I felt like there was a little of that going on, especially during my career, so I would never do to somebody else what was done to me.”
Over the course of his NFL career, Griffin was subject to immense criticism that went significantly beyond the gridiron. For example, sports commentator Rob Parker suggested that Griffin was not fully representative of the Black community and proceeded to question if he was a “cornball brother.” The incident resulted in Parker receiving a 30-day suspension from ESPN, and after he defended his comments and blamed First Take producers in a subsequent interview, the network decided not to renew his contract.
“My goal as a member of the media is to tell players’ stories the right way, and if I don’t know you personally, I’m never going to make it personal,” Griffin said. “Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
In addition to broadcasting college football games with Jones on ESPN and ABC, he also appears on-site for Monday Night Countdown, the network’s pregame show leading up to Monday Night Football. Making the decision to add NFL coverage to his slate of responsibilities meant that Griffin would be able to tell more stories and utilize his knowledge of players during their collegiate careers to enhance the broadcast.
The energy that he felt attending tailgates and interacting with fans at the college level gave him a unique skill set to translate to the NFL side, leading him to present the production team with an unparalleled idea for Week 1. He wanted to race Taima the Hawk, the live game mascot for the Seattle Seahawks who flies around Lumen Field prior to the start of each home game. It was an outlandish idea, but one that made sense for television because of the visual appeal it can present.
“If you know anything about hawks, they can fly up to 120-140 miles per hour, so they’re like, ‘There’s no way he’s going to beat this hawk in a race, but we’ll do it,’” Griffin said. “To that crew’s credit, they never once balked at any of the creative ideas that I brought to the table because they want to try different things and be exciting and have fun on the show.”
Griffin ended up winning the race, commencing the new season of Monday Night Countdown with immediate excitement before the Seahawks’ matchup against the Denver Broncos. He thoroughly enjoyed his first year on the show and having the chance to work alongside Suzy Colber, Adam Schefter, Booger McFarland, Steve Young, Larry Fitzgerald and Alex Smith.
“They always tell me, ‘Hey, anything you’re not comfortable with, you just let us know and we won’t do that thing,’” Griffin said of the show’s producers. “My answer always back to them is, ‘Well, I won’t know if I’m uncomfortable with it if I don’t try.’”
While Griffin had what looked like a seamless assimilation into the broadcasting world, he had a difficult moment when using a racial slur on live television in discussing Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. The clip quickly gained traction across the internet, and Griffin issued an apology on his Twitter account for using the pejorative language and claimed that he misspoke.
“I was shocked that it came out in the way that it did, and I immediately jumped on it and apologized because there’s no need to deny,” he said. “You messed up. You move forward, and I think that’s the easiest way to get over those types of things and to get back on your feet.”
The football season at both the college and professional level is undoubtedly a grind, and it requires a combination of dedication, passion and persistence few people possess. Robert Griffin III has garnered the reputation of being an “overpreparer,” often partaking in considerably more information than necessary to execute a broadcast. The information he consumes and conclusions he draws combined with his experience at both levels has cultivated him into a knowledgeable analyst who makes cogent, intelligible points on the air.
“I over-prepare for everything, and 70% of the information that I soak in going into a game or going into a broadcast for Monday Night Countdown, I don’t use because there’s just not enough air time,” Griffin III said. “There’s not enough opportunities to talk on it all.”
At the same time, he makes a concerted effort to make the most of his time with his family and separate himself from the field, engaging in activities including playing ping pong, going to the movies and supporting his children. He also embarks in charity work through his RG3 Foundation and strives to teach his daughters the importance of giving back. The mission of the nonprofit foundation is to discover and design programs for underprivileged youth, struggling military families and victims of domestic violence, and it has made a significant impact since it was launched in 2015.
“Trying to end food insecurity; making sure that our under-resourced youth have access to the things that they need just to survive – talking about food, clothes, books, the ability to learn [and] putting on these after-school programs,” Griffin elucidated in describing the organization’s mission. “We want to have an impact on our community. We mean that with everything in us and have shown that to be the true case of why we do this.”
Griffin’s wife, Grete, serves as the executive director of the foundation and also runs her own fitness business. Staying physically and mentally in shape is something they actively try to accomplish in their everyday lives, and lessons they are passing down to their daughters.
“I’m 33 years old right now, so if I want to continue to train every single day, I can do that for the next 10 years if I need to,” Griffin said. “Not taking hits and being physically fit is also a good thing for your own health, which is something me and my wife are extremely passionate about.”
Although his experience is in playing football and working in sports media, Robert Griffin III does not believe in limiting himself and would consider exploring opportunities outside of sports and entertainment. He wants to become the best broadcaster possible no matter where he is working in the industry and continue finding new ways to be distinctive en masse.
“We’re storytellers,” he said. “We’re here to break down things [and] to tell people a story the right way; things that people are interested in, and that expands across all media levels. We’re not closing the door on anything from that standpoint.”
While he was playing in the NFL, Griffin dealt with a variety of injuries that ultimately kept him off the football field and made it difficult to display his talents. Ranging from an ACL tear, shoulder scapula fracture and hairline fracture in his right thumb, staying healthy was a challenge for him over the time he played in the NFL.
Through surgeries and rehabilitation, he learned how to face and overcome these challenges. It has shaped him into the broadcaster and person he is today as he looks to set a positive example to aspiring football players and broadcasters everywhere.
“The eight-year career that I was able to have thus far didn’t come without roadblocks in the way [and] didn’t come without adversity. Learn from the adversity that you go through and learn from all the things and the lessons that you have that sports teaches you, and then go be able to present that to the masses.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pac-12 Pushing Enhanced Access, Deion Sanders Reeks of Desperation
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Coach Prime if those game telecasts aren’t seen?
Getting experimental has drawn some attention to USFL and XFL broadcasts during each league’s seasons. The Pac-12 is apparently hoping the same approach will draw viewers to its football telecasts beginning this fall.
Last week, the conference announced that its broadcasts on ESPN, Fox Sports, and Pac-12 Networks would feature enhanced access for viewers. Head coaches will be interviewed during games. Players and coaches will be mic’d up during pregame warm-ups. Cameras will have pregame and halftime access to team locker rooms. And handheld camera operators will be allowed to film parts of the field and game experience which were previously prohibited.
Those familiar with USFL and XFL telecasts will likely see some similarities to the greater access that those leagues allow their TV partners. Coaches are mic’d up on the sidelines, giving viewers insight into play calls and strategy. Players are interviewed during the game, providing near-instant reactions to success or failure. Cameras in the replay booth show how officials decide to either overturn or uphold calls on the field.
What the Pac-12 intends to do with its broadcasts won’t go as far as the USFL and XFL. Access to coaches and players is being expanded but will still have limits. The conference doesn’t have to demonstrate familiarity, credibility, and legitimacy to fans and media.
Spring pro football leagues are a tough sell to mainstream sports fans accustomed to college football and the NFL from September through January. Especially when the level of play is subpar and rosters are filled with unfamiliar names, the USFL and XFL have to give fans more reasons to watch.
USC, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon are established national brands and regularly compete with the top teams in college football. Utah has played in the past two Rose Bowls, seen on millions of televisions during the New Year’s Day holiday. All five of those schools finished among the final AP Top 25 rankings of the 2022-23 season. USC quarterback Caleb Williams won the 2022 Heisman Trophy.
Yet the Pac-12 is promoting the gimmick of enhanced access because it needs to attract positive fan and media attention. Right now, most of the headlines the conference is generating aren’t flattering.
Notably, the Pac-12 needs a new media rights deal. Losing two of its most prominent schools, USC and UCLA, to the Big Ten in 2024 certainly isn’t helping with that. Rumors have persisted that Washington and Oregon could soon follow. Additionally, the Big 12 is reportedly eyeing Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah as possible expansion targets.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is left to tout Colorado’s new head coach, Deion Sanders, as a selling point in a new media rights deal. Never mind that Sanders hasn’t coached a game in Boulder yet. The Buffaloes are also coming off a 1-11 season and have won more than five games only once since 2007.
If Coach Prime is as successful as Colorado hopes, how likely is he to jump to a better program and stronger conference? And as mentioned in a previous paragraph, even if Sanders sticks around, Colorado could be poached by the Big 12. How much value would Coach Prime provide for the Pac-12 then?
ESPN’s deal with the conference expires in July 2024, shortly before USC and UCLA defect, and reportedly has no intention of renewing. (ESPN could still agree to a package of lower-tier games for late-night broadcast windows, but Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reports that doesn’t appear likely.) Fox’s agreement is up at the same time, though prospects of a renewal seem more optimistic. The network needs Pac-12 games to fill its college football Saturday inventory.
The options from there aren’t promising. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reports that current speculation has USA Network, part of the NBCUniversal conglomerate, as a possible landing spot. According to The Athletic, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff believes that the conference’s next media rights deal will have a large streaming component with Amazon and Apple TV+ mentioned as potential partners.
A streaming partner might be good from a financial standpoint, helping produce some of the revenue that ESPN has cut off. But forcing fans to find your product and asking them to pay for another TV platform isn’t a good way to draw interest. It may well be a path to irrelevance and obscurity. That’s not going to compete with the Big Ten and SEC, or even the Big 12.
And as The Athletic’s Chris Vannini points out, how can streaming be expected to save a conference like the Pac-12 when it isn’t even helping TV networks (or standalone providers) right now? Disney is losing money with Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu. NBCUniversal has lost billions on Peacock, as has CBS with Paramount+. Maybe the Pac-12 won’t care about that because it got paid. But there’s little chance for growth.
OK, Lincoln Riley, Chip Kelly, Dan Lanning, and Kyle Whittingham could be interviewed during games. But they probably won’t say much interesting during a game. Caleb Williams, Bo Nix, and Michael Penix Jr. will be mic’d up during warm-ups. Maybe we’ll see coaches and players going crazy in the locker room at halftime. Just remember that Peyton Manning said most players only have time to use the bathroom and have a snack. There’s your compelling television.
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Deion Sanders if those game telecasts aren’t seen by large audiences? To say otherwise is desperate. That’s exactly where the Pac-12 is.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ESPN Deal Used to Mean Stability for ACC, Now It Means Anything But
It was April 19, 1775 when the first shots of war were fired on battlefields in Lexington and Concord that would send shockwaves across the world. Some brave soul among a group of rebel farmers and blacksmiths, doctors and lawyers literally pulled the trigger on what would become known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”. Indeed, the world would never be the same.
The college athletics version of that event was June 11, 2010. On that day, regents at the University of Nebraska officially applied for Big Ten membership and were unanimously approved by the other eleven schools (if the number in the conference name not matching the number of schools in that conference is something that bothers you, this column may not be for you). From that day forward, we have never really exited the “expansion era”.
One conference that has gone largely untouched in that time is the ACC. Only Maryland has left the ACC since 2010, heading to the Big Ten, and the conference has added Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville in that same window. That is significant when you consider only the SEC and Big Ten have avoided any departures in this era. Every other major conference has seen great turbulence while those three conferences have primarily seen only growth.
That trend may actually continue for the ACC and that may not be a net positive for the conference or the ACC members. This is thanks to the long term grant of rights deal the conference schools negotiated with ESPN. The grant of rights means ESPN holds the broadcast rights to all home games of the current ACC schools, and do so for the next 13 years.
When the deal was signed in 2016, the 20 year media rights deal seemed like a win for the ACC, creating stability in a time of great instability. Now, what seemed like a “must have purchase” may be the impulse buy that the league schools regret for decades.
Put simply, the ACC has been lapped in the media rights race by the Big Ten, SEC and even the Big 12. At best, the ACC schools are working at a $10-15 Million per year deficit when compared to Big 12 schools. At worst, they are operating at a much larger $30-$40 Million annual deficit when compared to Big Ten and SEC programs. It would be a battle of monumental proportions for the ACC to compete on the same level as those other conferences at that large of a disadvantage.
The conference’s options are slim. ESPN has a deal that is locked for 13 more years, what benefit would it be to them to renegotiate just so the ACC can compete? For instance, it would require $140 Million annually from ESPN just to place the ACC in the same financial neighborhood as the Big 12 Conference. What would be the benefit to ESPN in doing that?
The other option for ACC schools would be to bang the departure drum. Almost all legal analysts have painted a very grim picture for the schools that would be itching to leave. The exit fee is $120 million and may get the schools some nice parting gifts but does not give them their media rights. Their home game broadcast rights will still be a part of the ESPN deal with ACC. That greatly reduces a departing school’s value to any other conference.
Maybe ESPN is willing to broker a deal for a departing school if it is going to a conference, such as the SEC, that has a large rights deal with ESPN. If one of the schools desires a departure to the Big Ten, who has large deals with networks not named ESPN, one would have to think The Worldwide Leader would be in less of a deal-making mood.
Some league athletics directors, led by Florida State’s Michael Alford, are suggesting teams be incentivized for success. Breaking the code; rather than equal distribution, the power schools want a bigger share of the money. This is where Wake Forest points out that it is all they can do to exceed football expectations on their current stipend, what will become of them if that money shrinks? It seems that conferences and leagues that steer away from an equally shared revenue model have had a difficult time making that work long term.
Maybe the ACC teams that are ready to punch out could flash back to the period of time our country was in with the events we started this column remembering. They have a team in Boston, go throw some tea in the harbor and revolt, have a modern day Boston Tea Party. As it stands now, there are several ACC members that want to leave the party they are part of. Their only problem is they are all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.