Pat McAfee needs to produce better ratings to be worth $85 million and headaches for ESPN

Pat McAfee needs to produce better ratings to be worth $85 million  and headaches  for ESPN

Its always about the numbers, not the words.

Thats how big-time sports TV talent is judged, and it will be no different with Pat McAfee.

Upon hiring McAfee in the fall, ESPN knew he would be a headache. They even agreed to it, allowing him to swear on its air, wear a tank top and keep ownership of his show. ESPN executives correctly believed that if you are hiring McAfee, you cant neuter him.

McAfee has appeal as a WWE-style talk show host who brings energy. ESPN wants its audience to become younger and, in theory, McAfee should bring that. But the 36-year-old former Pro Bowl punter does what he wants.

This week, McAfees paid show contributor Aaron Rodgers defamed star ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel by falsely implying that Kimmel would be on the Jeffrey Epstein list. The implication of pedophilia resulted in Kimmel blasting Rodgers on social media and threatening to take him to court.

Which brings us to the numbers.

Pat_McAfee_needs_to_produce_better_ratings_to_be_worth__85_million__and_headaches__for_ESPN3Pat McAfee (l.) and Aaron Rodgers (r.) on “The Pat McAfee Show” on Jan. 2, 2024. The Pat McAfee ShowSince the inception of McAfees show on ESPN in the fall, Stephen A. Smith and First Take are handing McAfee a 583,000 viewer lead-in, and McAfee is maintaining just 302,000, which is a 48 percent drop.

As compared to the same window last year, which featured SportsCenter, McAfee is down 12 percent. On FS1, Colin Cowherds show has nearly beaten McAfee on some days and saw 19 percent growth from last year to average 156,000 viewers.

Now, ESPN counters these numbers by noting McAfees direct-to-consumer and social following. It is a point to be taken in our new media world.

The show averages 403,000 viewers on YouTube, according to ESPN.

As we previously reported, ESPN is paying McAfee in excess of $85 million over five years to license his show and appear on College GameDay, while Rodgers is paid more than $1 million a year to be a weekly guest on the program. ESPN believes the McAfee deal will be profitable for it.

The question is: Can McAfee last in the Disney universe? McAfee never finishes contracts. He failed to with FanDuel, DAZN, BetOnline, SiriusXM and WWE, to name a few. So on McAfee lasting the full five years on the ESPN contract, put us down for the Under.

Pat_McAfee_needs_to_produce_better_ratings_to_be_worth__85_million__and_headaches__for_ESPN3A shirtless Pat McAfee (r.) on ESPN’s “College GameDay.” APHe is not a corporate guy, and the deal is structured so Disney can try to distance itself from what is on its air. But it is on its air.

This was Disney-on-Disney crime, against someone who does produce in Kimmel.

It is very difficult for anyone to be too edgy under the Mickey Mouse umbrella. The media world that McAfee, who started at Barstool Sports, grew up in doesnt really have many, if any, rules. This leads to Rodgers weekly spot, which is basically a combination of news about whether he will play, some guy talk and conspiracy theories.

Pat_McAfee_needs_to_produce_better_ratings_to_be_worth__85_million__and_headaches__for_ESPN3ESPN’s Pat McAfee at the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29, 2023. Getty ImagesRodgers clearly doesnt like rules. He spouts his hypotheses about vaccines and pedophilia lists without any known expertise. Hes entitled to his opinion, but the only reason people listen is because of his numbers: He is a four-time MVP with the fifth-most passing touchdowns ever and one Super Bowl ring.

In the end, the numbers decide if the headaches are worth it. McAfee usually walks before the end of his deals. If that happens, ESPN will only have regret if McAfee is really producing.

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