Former NFL Star Pat McAfee Lands Daily Show on DAZN and Westwood One (Exclusive)
The pact follows McAfee's deal to join ESPN's Thursday night college football booth with former Colts teammate Matt Hasselbeck and a secret tryout with the Chicago Bears. "It was a nice moment of closure for me."
Former Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee is finalizing a multiyear deal with DAZN and Westwood One Radio for a daily two-hour show set to begin Sept. 9.
The deal follows McAfee’s ESPN pact, announced July 29, to join the Thursday college football announcing team with Matt Hasselbeck (his former Colts teammate) and Adam Amin, and appear on ESPN morning show Get Up. Westwood One will launch The Pat McAfee Show in 40 markets initially, while McAfee will also broadcast his show live from DAZN’s marquis boxing and MMA cards and contribute to the streamer's nightly baseball show ChangeUp, which is hosted by erstwhile ESPN announcer Adnan Virk.
McAfee also will create football-focused segments for DAZN Canada and Germany, where the streamer has NFL rights. Additionally, DAZN will begin video-streaming McAfee’s podcast, which will expand to three times each week.
McAfee, 32, has had a peripatetic media career since opting out of his deal with the Indianapolis Colts in 2017, forfeiting close to $6 million on his five-year contract. He was always an unlikely crossover star; punters are not traditionally the most celebrated or extroverted players in the NFL. And so when he decided to retire from the league, there was not much demand for his services from legacy sports media outlets where broadcast booths are generally reserved for offensive stars and coaches.
"I had a guy who was a pseudo agent for me who reached out to the networks to see if anybody had any interest in me," says McAfee. "I probably had about 600,000 followers on Twitter at that point. I had already done a stand-up tour. I sold some jerseys in Indianapolis, which is absolutely ridiculous for a punter. And that pseudo agent texts me back within like 10 minutes that there is zero interest from any of the TV networks."
The rejection only made him try harder. He also got a real agent . (CAA's Michael Klein and David Koonin hammered out the ESPN and Westwood One and DAZN deals.)
"It put another chip on my shoulder. Do I hold any grudges against anybody in the past who didn’t hire me? Absolutely," he laughs. "It’s my job to make them look very dumb in five to ten years. But I’m also very thankful for people who have given me the opportunities."
In 2017, he landed at Barstool Sports, but broke with Dave Portnoy's company last summer after internal disagreements over profit sharing, but he remains on good terms with management and talent. And he says the experience educated him about building a business on the Internet. He called multiple NFL games for Fox Sports last season. In December, he finalized a multiyear deal to appear as a personality at WWE events. He also publicly campaigned to join ESPN’s vaunted Monday Night Football booth, to no avail.
And until about three weeks ago, he was seriously considering returning to the NFL. He had a tryout as field goal kicker with the Chicago Bears, something he alluded to in an Instagram post announcing his ESPN deal. "I was hitting the ball well, it felt good. And as soon as I got on the plane (back to Indianapolis), my knee started to swell up," he says. "It was a nice moment of closure for me. Mentally, I may have wanted to do it, but the body said, no sir. You are talking into microphones now. We are not kicking balls anymore."
Maintaining his independence is a priority to McAfee. He produces his podcast out of a studio he built and owns in downtown Indianapolis with a team of close friends, several of them childhood pals from Pittsburgh. He will have profit participation on the Westwood One show, which DAZN will license. The latter will produce the video version of the show.
Sources tell THR that ESPN executives initially pursued McAfee for more days on its platforms than his deal with Westwood One and DAZN will allow. (During football season, he’ll do his radio show from Indianapolis Monday through Wednesday, from the college football game location Thursday and from New York, where Get Up is based, Friday.) McAfee’s array of media deals underscore the increased leverage social-media savvy athletes have in an insatiable content environment. For DAZN, which is still building a footprint in the U.S. with several recent rights deals for boxing and MMA programming, McAfee’s ESPN association is additive. (ESPN’s Thursday primetime college football coverage averaged close to 1 million viewers during the most recent regular season, when it was up against Thursday Night Football on NBC.)
McAfee was prolific on social media when he was playing in the NFL, which did not always sit well with management. When former Colts general manager Ryan Grigson — since fired — fined him for posting an Instagram picture of himself in the Colts’ equipment room, he made a final decision to leave the team. His blend of extreme enthusiasm and positive populism has earned him a devoted following that has grown since he left the league.
"Many fans consider Pat McAfee to be the most likable sportscaster," notes Jamie Horowitz, executive vp content at DAZN. "He has a self-awareness that’s hard to teach. That’s why he’s beloved — because he is of the people."
Adds Westwood One's Bruce Gilbert: "He’s humble, even though he’s been an elite athlete in a locker room full of elite athletes. He’s just relatable to the average fan. He’s a great storyteller. And he’s a younger voice finally in sports radio."
McAfee’s self-deprecation and everyman persona make him a logical choice for ESPN's college football coverage. And executives there are clearly banking on chemistry with former teammate Hasselbeck. But he also joins ESPN at a time when sports has become highly politicized and ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro has tried to draw a clear line on political speech on ESPN’s platforms.
"We’re just trying to give people a mental vacation," he says. "I just want people to listen to us, and escape from whatever is going on in the world.
"I respect and appreciate everybody who is taking a stand for something they truly believe in," he says, when I ask him about ESPN host Dan Le Batard’s recent comments about Donald Trump’s "go back" tweets.
"The people who are taking a stand and saying something have such an emotional [response]; they want to make the world a better place. Whenever I say I am not smart enough to figure out the politics of the world, I genuinely mean that. I don’t think I have the right answer. And I think that when you take a stand on something, you have to really feel as if you have the right answers."
And he says that ESPN executives have not advised him on the rules of engagement when it comes to ideological and potentially controversial topics.
"I think I’m in a very lucky situation, everybody hires me and just tells me we just want you to be you."