Pat McAfee Continues To Reshape The Sports Media Landscape

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Pat McAfee’s emergence successful nan sports media scenery has been meteoric, arsenic nan erstwhile player-turned-media characteristic put his imprint connected radio, TV, podcasting, and ESPN’s “College GameDay”—all astatine nan aforesaid time.

It has besides generated nary shortage of controversy, and experts opportunity McAfee reflects a changing sports scenery astatine ESPN and beyond.

“He's a performer,” Prof. Mark Hyman, head of nan Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism astatine nan University of Maryland, said. “That's what ESPN is seeking and is paying him to be. He's bringing eyeballs to ‘College GameDay’. That's nan bottommost line.”

Pat McAfee, shown connected nan "College GameDay" group pinch Rece Davis, left, and Lee Corso, right, has been ... [+] a celebrated and polarizing fig since joining nan ESPN team. (Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A punter pinch characteristic earlier becoming a master wrestler and later a media star, McAfee brought his YouTube-based “The Pat McAfee Show” to ESPN successful May pinch a five-year, $85 cardinal contract. This fall, he arrived connected nan “College GameDay” set.

Although criticized for adapting his show for mainstream cable, ratings for nan first 4 weeks connected ESPN, from Sept. 7–29, show his fame has continued, averaging 1.4 cardinal viewers per show crossed some platforms.

Viewership connected “College GameDay” is averaging 1.956 million, nan second-most-watched twelvemonth of nan show, down only 2.043 cardinal viewers successful 2022.

But McAfee has besides faced challenges and critics.

He joined ESPN weeks earlier nan web laid disconnected aggregate high-profile personalities, including Jeff Van Gundy, Max Kellerman and Suzy Kolber, arsenic good arsenic “College GameDay” mainstays Gene Wojciechowski and David Pollack, whose spot is now occupied by McAfee.

Among McAfee’s biggest gaffs were a tweet astir convicted activity offender Larry Nassar designing Michigan State’s alternate uniforms and nan clip connected “College GameDay” he criticized Washington State, proclaiming, “Shut up, Washington State. I’m astir sick of you.”

Perhaps nary move gained much attraction aliases vitriol than nan revelation he paid New York Jets backmost Aaron Rogers much than $1 cardinal annually to travel connected nan show and talk football, arsenic good arsenic conspiracy theories.

Ben Koo, laminitis of Awful Announcing, said McAfee represents a look of sports media that started changing pinch nan integer presence of Barstool Sports successful 2007 and made sports sum much astir entertaining than purely informing an audience—a alteration that proved highly lucrative.

“It's not astonishing that different media companies are paying attraction to that and, to immoderate extent, following,” Koo said. “There's an assemblage for group who get successful beforehand of nan camera and execute nan measurement Pat McAfee does. If there's an assemblage and it tin beryllium monetized, it's astir apt going to extremity up connected TV.”

Koo said ESPN and genitor institution Disney brought McAfee onboard to reside a increasing interest that younger audiences were not buying into nan marque arsenic overmuch arsenic nan anterior procreation had since nan commencement of nan Entertainment and Sports Programming Network successful 1979.

That move is besides represented successful nan hiring from Bleacher Report of Omar Raja, who serves arsenic commentator for ESPN’s integer and societal contented and, for illustration McAfee, has brought edgy and sometimes arguable content—and a batch of eyeballs—to nan company’s channels.

“It seems for illustration it's paid disconnected successful nan consciousness that I don't deliberation anybody has talked astir ESPN rather arsenic overmuch arsenic they person successful nan past mates months,” Koo said.

Despite nan return connected investment, location has besides been a value extracted from ESPN, namely successful nan respect for journalistic standards that look to person softened, Koo said.

“Something you're seeing travel into play much and much is [ESPN saying] these guys lick a large problem for us, and we’ll springiness them a batch of leash to get nan results,” he said. “The juice is worthy nan squeeze, moreover though we do person these editorial headaches aliases weird moments wherever group are questioning what we do.”

ESPN has agelong been known arsenic overmuch for reporting news arsenic it has for providing commentary and covering games. It has besides featured some of nan sports world’s champion journalists, including Pulitzer Prize victor Steve Fainaru, CNN seasoned Mike Fish, Washington Post seasoned Michael Fletcher and characteristic writer Katie Barnes.

Some of McAfee’s actions create a situation for nan web that, successful 2019, changed its name from “The Worldwide Leader successful Sports” to “Serving Fans. Anytime. Anywhere.”

“Journalists don't salary for interviews; it crosses excessively galore ethical lines to count,” Hyman said. “But Pat McAfee isn't a journalist, truthful nan rules don't apply. Journalists spell to nan story; they stitchery information, they portion together facts. Whatever you deliberation of Pat McAfee, that's not what he's doing.”

Fan disapproval of his activity connected “College GameDay” has truthful acold kept McAfee from re-signing pinch “College GameDay,” stating on X, formerly known arsenic Twitter, “I’m not correct for immoderate crowds, and nan ‘distinguished’ College Football folks are decidedly 1 of those.”

Koo agreed that McAfee is not for everyone, but he added that sports fans who activity much straight-up study from experts tin still find it successful much focused environments for illustration nan Big Ten Network aliases down paywalls for illustration The Athletic.

No matter McAfee’s path, large personalities for illustration his will proceed to predominate networks for illustration ESPN, Koo predicted.

The reason: It’s what viewers want.

“A batch of group are nether nan belief that ESPN is forcing this connected us,” Koo said. “They are, but it's really america arsenic an assemblage that is pointing them successful that direction.”

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