Pat McAfee slyly acknowledged the potty-mouthed elephant in the room Tuesday afternoon when he officially announced his move to ESPN.
Speaking in New York during Disney’s upfront presentation, the logorrheic punter-turned-media personality told a crowd of advertisers and agency execs that the marriage of The Pat McAfee Show and ESPN should drag a whole new audience of younger viewers into the cable giant’s programming orbit.
“Being live [on YouTube] and on ESPN, we should be able to reach the entire world!” McAfee said. “Hopefully. If I don’t f— it up. Which I might’ve just did by saying the F-word in this room, right here.”
McAfee’s cheerfully profane disclaimer was in keeping with the overall vibe of his show, which as he notes, reaches an army of Gen Zers. As much as he’s going to want to excise that particular Germanic borrowing from his vocabulary now that he’s working for the Mouse House, McAfee’s casual detonation of the F-bomb can be interpreted as his way of tweaking fans who don’t think he’ll be able to adapt to a more corporate media environment.
A week ago, McAfee did his level best to deflect the rumors that he was taking the show to ESPN, telling his cohosts, “We are too dumb to change.” While the segment did little to suppress the rumblings about the move, McAfee’s comments about his own sclerotic inability to fancy up his self-proclaimed dumb-guy act now seem more palliative than defiant. In other words, a) he knows what he’s doing, and b) he has no intention of messing up.
In terms of letting the blue language fly, McAfee’s brief address didn’t hold a candle to the volume of curses Gordon Ramsay managed to produce during Fox’s Monday afternoon upfront show. (Advertisers always get a kick out of that kind of thing, provided their brands aren’t anywhere downwind of it.) Be that as it may, as a member of the cable ranks, McAfee isn’t beholden to the sort of puritanical content-policing that characterizes broadcast TV. Cable isn’t regulated by the FCC, so the occasional exclamation that gets picked up on a live mic every now and again isn’t an invitation for the government to start piling on the fines.
McAfee’s a smart guy, even if he’s forever characterizing his own existence as the “dumbest life of all time,” and so advertisers really shouldn’t be overly concerned about aligning their brands with the show. This became evident when he spoke about his vision for the show and his motives for bringing his IP to basic cable.
“I think the future of sports media is certainly something that we’re creeping in on,” McAfee said. “Because right now we’re sitting in a beautiful intersection of media that has never happened before. Digital has become an influence, it has the structure, and it has the ability to reach millions and millions of people on a daily basis. And linear ESPN is still reaching more people than it’s ever reached in the past.
“The future obviously says that linear television is going to be dead,” he continued. “ESPN the channel won’t be able to exist. But when is that? Is that a year from now? Ten years from now? Twenty years from now? By that time, I’m 65, 70 years old, and I’ve completely missed out on the powerhouse that is ESPN linear!”
Or, as ESPN president of content Burke Magnus said to McAfee during a recent strategy session (according to McAfee, anyway), “We need to embrace both what tomorrow is and what today is.” McAfee, who said he shares that vision, then earned himself a few points from his new overlords by referring to Magnus as a “handsome bastard.”
Even if Magnus has to promote a hyper-alert Bristol staffer to man the dump button whenever McAfee’s on ESPN’s air—in addition to the linear flagship, the show will air live on ESPN’s YouTube channel and stream via ESPN+—the horde of young fans who follow the McAfee Show are among the most sought-after consumers in the mediascape. And, as McAfee promised the throng of advertisers, this is a loyal bunch.
“We have been able to generate a group of humans that will ride with us wherever we go,” he said. “We hope to knock it out of the park every single day, and we’d be honored to do business with all of you.” Which would have been a great exit line, if McAfee hadn’t decided to wrap with a remark about his newborn daughter, who “just started farting two days ago.”
This guy can’t change. He doesn’t have to.