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Meet the Podcasters – Matthew Berry, NBC Sports

There are all kinds of options for the path to a sports media career. Matthew Berry may have a path that is one of one though. Can you name anyone else in our field that got their start writing on Married…With Children and went on to become one of, if not the authoritative voice on fantasy football? Add a writing credit on the third (I didn’t know there were two) Crocodile Dundee movie and an appearance in Avengers: Endgame to the resume, and you are truly talking about a one-of-a-kind path.

Last year, Berry announced that he was leaving ESPN and taking all of his fantasy content with him to NBC. It was no small loss for Bristol. Sports Business Journal noted that the 2022 season of Fantasy Football Now saw its audience drop by 9% over the previous year. Is it a coincidence that happened to be ESPN’s first football season without Berry? Probably not.

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Very few people thrive in the world of digital sports content like Berry. We discussed how he structures a fantasy football podcast to make sure it doesn’t sound like an endless string of numbers and how his love of Jimmy Buffett helped him find his professional voice.

Demetri Ravanos: As podcasting became more and more popular, how did the expectations of fantasy content change? I would imagine when you got started it was a lot of just presenting straight stats and answers to questions, and now maybe there’s more personality involved. 

Matthew Berry: Yeah, it’s been quite some time, but when I started, there weren’t a lot of fantasy podcasts out there, if any. I’m talking about Fantasy Focus at ESPN, which we started in 2007 with two guys: Jay Soderberg, who everyone knows as PodVader and Nate Ravitz.

The three of us sort of started that show in 2007, and there weren’t a lot of podcasts in the fantasy sports space in general. In fact, there wasn’t even that much fantasy content overall, at least compared to now. So, my biggest thing was, and this has been a hallmark of my career that when I broke into the industry, a lot of content – the majority of it being written – was for lack of a better way to describe it, very nerd-based. Heavy on statistics and analytics, very dense, very numbers based. Sometimes you felt like you were reading homework. I always took the approach of, “This is fun, man.” It’s a hobby and we we all want to be good at it, win, and be smart about the choices we make, but there’s a way to learn about players and trends and tendencies and trends in analytics without making it feel like homework. This is something we do for fun and the content should reflect that.

My big pitch when we present the content in an audio format – the podcast – I told my co-hosts and producer, “For this podcast to be successful, it can’t be nerds talking to nerds. What we should really do is a morning radio show that just happens to be talking about fantasy football the entire time.”

It has all the trappings of a morning radio show in terms of of bits [and] nicknames, sound drops and segment ideas, all of that. That obviously resonated with a lot of people, and it quickly became the #1 podcast in the space and one of the #1 podcasts at ESPN. When I left, it was the #1 podcast for original audio at ESPN and had been for a number of years. It was one of the top sports podcasts across the board in general subjects by whatever metric you want to use.

My work has always been about trying to bring more people under the tent. I’ve expanded that now to sports betting, but again, we all want to win, and winning is important because it’s more fun when you win. The idea here is that this is a hobby. This is something we do for fun; this is something we do to spend time with our friends and family and our colleagues and have a little bit of action on the game in sporting events that we might not care about otherwise. So, it should be fun.”

I’ve tried very hard to create content that breaks down those barriers and doesn’t make it seem scary, nerdy or like homework, just more about what it should be – talking to your friends at a bar.

DR: Is that something you take into your online presence away from the podcast? Essentially being someone who is sought out for more than just answering, “Hey, do I start Travis Etienne or Bijan Robinson this week?”

MB: Sure. It’s a very specific choice, right? The show that I do for NBC and Peacock, the daily show, which is a podcast, but also you can watch it on YouTube; you can watch it on Peacock both live and on demand; clips from the show air on NBC Sports’ digital channels, including RotoWorld.com. It also airs as a radio show on Sirius XM. It’s distributed in a number of different ways and on many different platforms, but there’s a specific reason why it’s set in a bar.

The Monday through Friday show is called Fantasy Football Happy Hour with Matthew Berry, and Sunday morning show, same thing. You can watch it on YouTube; you can watch it on Peacock; you can stream the audio; you can listen to the audio on SiriusXM Sunday mornings. It’s called Fantasy Football Pregame. It’s kind of a double entendre. Obviously, they’re before the games, but also, what do you do before you’re going out? You pre-game, right? So both shows take place in a bar; we have drinks in front of us; we do shots on air, and the vibe of the show; the look of the show is very specific and a choice because I believe that’s how most people talk about sports. They’re on their phones; they’re at a bar; they’re watching with their buddies [and] hanging out. If it wasn’t a bar, it would have been a living room. I really didn’t want a nice desk and three people in suits and ties. It needed to look like how people actually do this.

Demetri, to answer your question in terms of how I engage with people online or socially, I mean, I don’t want to say it’s a choice because that makes it sound like I’m not real [and] that it’s some sort of act. It’s not. I guess the choice is just to not put on any kind of broadcaster-y type deep voice. “Hello. I’m an announcer for sports.” It’s much more trying to be myself and just react and be real.

Two things here and then we can move on. The first one – back when I was at ESPN, they did a study. I don’t know when this exactly happened, but they did some sort of focus group of a bunch of ESPN talent. “Who do you think was the most knowledgeable?” “Who was the most respected?” You know, all these different categories. I’m not privy to the results other than what they told me, which was that that I scored the highest of any ESPN personality at the time as the guy you’d most like to have a beer with. I took that as a massive compliment, because, by the way, I think I am pretty fun to have a beer with, but I’m very much like, “This is sort of who I am.”

I’m a massive Jimmy Buffett fan and when he passed away, I wrote an article about him – my Week 1 Love/Hate on RotoWorld.com. One of the things I talked about [was] the fact that Jimmy was once asked about his place in the music industry. They asked about the fact that he was he was pretty popular and successful, but he never really won Grammy Awards. When you talk about the great singer/songwriters of the universe, he never got mentioned in the same breath as the Springsteens of the world. I’ve never forgotten his reaction. This is the exact quote. “I’m not that good a singer, and I’m a so-so guitar player, but I’m great at being Jimmy Buffett.”

The minute I heard that – and this is what I wrote in my column – my career completely changed. I was so worried about “I need to be better at stats like Nate Silver. I need to be like that kind of analytics expert.” Then I was like, “I should have as many inside sources as somebody like Mike Florio or Adam Schefter.” Then I would be like, “No, I need to be able to break down film like an X’s and O’s guy like Chris Simms or Devin McCourty,” two of my colleagues on Football Night in America.

I used to beat myself up over all of those things, and the minute I read that quote, I realized, “screw all of that, I’m pretty good with stats and I’m pretty good with access. I’ve got pretty good contacts, but I’m not elite at any of them. What I am really good at is being Matthew Berry, so I’m just going to focus on being Matthew Berry. The people that dig it will come along for the ride. The people that don’t, you know what? There’s lots of great options out there for them.”

DR: Because the value proposition you are offering people is, “You want to spend time with with Matthew Berry,” I wonder how much you feel like you need to do promotion of the show at this point on social media. Obviously you have a reputation. You built up a fan base and you’ve built up a perception of expertise that I would think, and you tell me if I’m wrong, that when there is a new Fantasy Football Happy Hour, you could feel pretty comfortable knowing your people are going to come check it out.

MB: I don’t want to speak for NBC, but I think I’m safe in saying that they’ve been thrilled so far with the with the numbers on all of my all of the content that I produce. There’s something they put out publicly. In terms of digital traffic, it’s up.

[Editor’s note: NBC reports that “In the past year, NBC Sports’ and Rotoworld’s fantasy football and gaming social media platforms saw tremendous growth, with video views more than tripling (up 222%) and new followers having more than doubled (up 131%) in the span.”]

In general, for sure, I think that, again, not my place to speak for NBC, but my perception, in terms of what they’ve said to me, is that they’re over the moon and pleased with the numbers. Content I do for them on all platforms is delivering. The other piece of it is that you can sort of just see it, right? My Peacock show is “Served by Applebee’s.” We have a sponsorship with Bud Light. We have a sponsorship with DraftKings. It’s a presenting sponsor in Applebee’s, but we also have two other significant sponsorships. Companies are putting their money where their mouth is wanting to reach our audience. So obviously we’re doing something right.

With promotion, it’s twofold. First, I’m very flattered. When I left ESPN, there was nervousness. I have a big audience and I think I have a big following and I was hopeful that they’d follow me, but you never know. ESPN is super powerful and certainly people that are critics of mine would say to me, at least prior to be leaving, “the reason you have the following you have; the reason you get numbers is because you’re on ESPN.” 

DR: The sight of those four letters can do a lot of heavy lifting for some people.

MB: Correct! Those four letters do, in fact, do a lot of heavy lifting for some, not everyone. We’ve seen this throughout the history of ESPN. I’m not going to take any shots here, but there have definitely been people that left ESPN and prospered. There have been others that have left ESPN and it’s, “Where are they now?”

You’re always a little nervous. You’re leaving the mothership and and asking yourself, “Will everyone follow me?” I was blown away. I did not expect the audience we have to immediately be there. I thought we’d have to build something, and honestly, we are still building. I’ve been thrilled with the amount of people that have found me on NBC, but I would be lying if I said that every single person knows that I’m there.

I will still go out in public and run into people who recognize me, ask for a photo, and want to show me their fantasy team and they’ll say, “Hey, I love you on ESPN.” I’ll usually be like, “Well, I’m at NBC now. I’m at RotoWorld.com. Come and find me there. Come listen.”

I was at ESPN for 15 years. I’ve been at NBC for one. I remember talking to Trey Wingo. He was just like, “I’ve been off of ESPN five years and people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I love you on ESPN,’ or Michelle Beadle, who’s also a friend, same thing.'” When you’re connected with a certain brand for so long, it gets ingrained in some people’s minds. So part of my job now is just trying to reinforce that, “Hey, I’m team NBC now. I’m part of the Peacock family. Come find me there.”

There’s also a halo effect too to my content that people may be aware that, oh, my podcast is there or they know where to get my podcast because they subscribe on Apple or Spotify or wherever, but they may not be aware of exactly, “where is Love-Hate now?” “Where are my rankings?” “Which website has my rankings?” So I try to help with that branding because what happens is that people come and they’ll find my content, but then they’ll also discover the content of a lot of my colleagues as well. Part of my job is not only to bring traffic to what I work on, but to what my colleagues and friends at NBC work on too.

DR: I’ve heard in the last month, two radio hosts in two different major markets make the comment that as soon as sports gambling became legalized in their market, they found that interest in their fantasy football segments just plummeted from listeners.

I wonder if you have noticed that in traditional media yourself. Has sports gambling replaced fantasy sports for some people? Maybe it’s just a matter of the depth that you can go to on the radio that is better suited for podcasting where most fantasy players are going to look for their information.

MB: It’s probably a combo. First of all, I’ll put on my analytical hat just to say, “Small sample size. “Two hosts in two markets. Maybe their fantasy segments weren’t that good.”  

For me, I have not noticed that. Now, one of the reasons could be because we actually integrate betting into our shows. One of my co-hosts on both Fantasy Football Happy Hour and Fantasy Football Pregame is Jay Croucher, and Jay is a betting analyst for NBC Sports. He spent five years as the head trader at PointsBet. He’s got real credibility in the sports betting world. We integrate odds, sides and lines and player props all the time, every day on the show. So as a result, I think we probably scratch that itch in a way that those radio hosts don’t.

There’s certainly, to your point, more competition both ways. There’s more competition in terms of trying to get your question answered. There’s a lot more podcasts, websites, social media [and] a lot more people willing to engage a lot more startups. I have a carve out with NBC called FantasyLife.com. It’s 100% free. You can get any question you have about your fantasy team answered.

So I think there’s partially that. There’s also more casual players interested in winning their bets than winning their fantasy leagues. The participation in fantasy sports though is at an all-time high when you look at studies across the industry.

There’s probably more competition for your time. I just know for the casual player, maybe there’s more resources available. I still go back to the theory that maybe their segments just aren’t very good.

DR: I will note that neither of them are shows where you appear as a regular guest. 

MB: There you go. I really only do one radio segment a week. I’m just too busy, so I turn them all down. The only one I’ve done, and I’ve done it for years, is a weekly segment with Mason & Ireland on 710 ESPN in LA. I do that because Steve Mason gave me my start way, way, way back.

The very first person ever put me on the radio as a fantasy expert was Steve Mason so, in addition to just being a longtime dear friend of mine – him and John both are – I’m also just loyal to them. So, I’ll do that every week that I can as long as they’ll have me.

My point of bringing that up, Demetri, is that I’ve done that segment now for almost 20 years. Those guys have been on the radio, obviously for a long time. They’re legends. We still get a ton of calls, texts, tweets. I mean, it is always, “Sorry, we’ll get to you next week.” That’s always what happens at the end of those segments.

To learn more about Point-To-Point Marketing’s Podcast and Broadcast Audience Development Marketing strategies, contact Tim Bronsil at [email protected] or 513-702-5072.

Demetri Ravanos
Demetri Ravanos
Demetri Ravanos is a columnist and features writer for Barrett Media. He is also the creator of The Sports Podcast Festival, and a previous host on the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas in addition to hosting Panthers and College Football podcasts. His radio resume includes stops at WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC.You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos or reach him by email at [email protected].

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