Just before flying to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl this week, Clay Travis shared his predictions for the game on the popular sports podcast Outkick. San Francisco 49ers defeat Kansas City Chiefs.
Other topics on this episode are the future of college football and whether President Biden will be “actually up to the job” in the White House.
“That's a question we'll continue to figure out,” Travis said.
The Super Bowl may be the one event that can unite Americans from all walks of life, but the chatter about it, and the discussion about sports in general, is becoming increasingly divided along partisan lines. . A growing number of sports pundits and celebrities are enthusiastically merging sports and politics, capitalizing on the same highly partisan market as other media outlets.
For the most part, this class of sports commentators reside primarily on the right side of the political spectrum, bringing a large and influential voice to audiences who often ignore traditional political reporting. (Analysts suggest that audience demographics explain at least some of the rightward shift of these shows. Sports talk listeners, like Republican voters, skew male) .)
Among those jumping into the political fold is ESPN regular Stephen A. Smith. He frequently appears on Fox News and hosts an independent podcast where he complains about Biden's handling of the economy and the Ukraine war. “Trump is up for re-election because the economy was thriving when he was president,” Smith said this week.
Travis Vaughan, a professor at the University of Iowa who studies sports media, said the once-dominant highlight shows have been largely rendered obsolete by viral clips on the Internet, a trend that may be a product of the rise of all types of commentary in sports media. He said he could not.
“The culture of sports is pretty conservative,” Vaughan said. “The way to cancel out all the noise is to dangle some red meat provocatively in front of the audience.”
But Travis said he wasn't just trolling in anger. He intends to influence the political conversation.
“It's just fun to argue about who wins the Super Bowl. No one's life changes based on who wins the Super Bowl. Their life changes depending on who wins the election,” Travis said in an interview. Told. “For me, it’s important to be able to talk about things that really matter.”
Here are the new political sports talk sheets:
Who is in the starting lineup?
In recent years, digital media company Barstool Sports has become a destination for a young, male-dominated libertarian counterculture known in some circles as “Barstool conservatism.” Its most popular show, the sports talk show “Pardon My Take,” regularly ranks in Apple's top 20 podcasts.
Overtly political content isn't common at Barstool, but the brand, whose founder Dave Portnoy is a vocal supporter of former President Donald J. frequently criticizes the cause of For example, a two-minute video in which Portnoy claimed that YouTube was censoring him has received more than 10 million views on X since it was posted in November.
Last month, Portnoy announced a partnership with Rumble, a streaming platform popular with right-wing figures such as Alex Jones and Roger Stone. News of the deal increased Rumble's valuation by about $500 million.
Travis, an attorney, entered the world of sports by writing a column for CBS and founded his own media company, Outkick, in 2011, which he sold to Fox Corporation in 2021. In its mission statement, the company defines its role as “revealing information.” It advocates the “subversive nature of 'woke' activism” and calls itself “an antidote to mainstream sports media that serves an elite, left-leaning minority rather than American sports fans.”
Last year, the number of monthly unique visitors to OutKick's website increased by 65% compared to 2022, reaching an average of 7.2 million monthly viewers, according to media measurement service Comscore. In addition to his daily half-hour podcast, “Outkick,” Travis also broadcasts his 3-minute podcast, which is syndicated on more than 400 radio stations and airs in the time slot formerly held by “The Rush Limbaugh Show.” He serves as co-host of his radio show Time Talk. World Series winning pitcher Curt Schilling, who was fired by ESPN for anti-transgender comments, also appears on Outkick.
Smith, best known for his apolitical daytime show First Take, surprised fans when he appeared on Fox News' Sean Hannity show in 2022 and continues to appear regularly on the station. are doing. In late September, he started his own podcast separate from ESPN, where he said he could expand “his interests beyond the court and the arena.”
Perhaps no show has garnered more headlines in recent years than The Pat McAfee Show, a lunchtime gabfest starring tough men in neon tank tops. McAfee, a former National Football League punter, worked at Barstool for two years before ESPN picked up his current show.
Although McAfee focuses narrowly on sports, he gained attention for offering New York Jets star quarterback Aaron Rodgers a friendly forum to share his anti-vaccine views.
ESPN did not respond to requests for comment about the political content of McAfee and Smith's shows.
McAfee said his show focuses on sports. “I'm rather sure no one wants to hang out with us to hear us talk about politics,” he wrote on social media site X.
What about sports for Democrats?
There is no center-left program that can compete with these right-leaning sports programs. In Travis' view, that's because the mainstream sports conversation already caters to Democratic demands.
He talked about Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL, quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, and more. He pointed out that he thought ESPN was reporting positively on events that transcended the larger culture.
Sports media veterans dispute this characterization, arguing that mainstream sports reporting and most major sports commentators adhere to an ethos that “sticks to the sport.”
“I always told the hosts, 'Please don't talk politics,'” said Mark Chernoff, who has led the show for 30 years on WFAN, the nation's first all-sports radio network. . “No matter which side you take, you'll quickly lose half your audience.”
Some said that criticism of mainstream reporting mainly comes from people who explicitly want their sport to be covered in a political light.
Former ESPN anchor Jemele Hill, who was suspended in 2017 for calling Trump a “white supremacist” on social media, said, “If the coverage isn't overtly conservative, it's liberal.'' There is a sense of abnormality in some areas.” She left ESPN the following year.
Hill said there is “no liberal alternative” as media companies have proven reluctant to invest in center-left sports programming.
That's a missed opportunity for media investors, said Keith Olbermann, a former ESPN anchor turned liberal political commentator on MSNBC who now hosts the podcast Countdown. He said the market could sustain sports programming with a progressive perspective.
“That's part of the left's problem,” Olbermann said. “We don’t shop for the audience.”
What do they think of Taylor?
In September, news broke that billionaire pop star Taylor Swift was in a relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end and ruffled right winger Travis Kelce. But when the team made it to the Super Bowl, some people's anger reached 11, prompting speculation that the couple's relationship was an elaborate CIA “psychological operation” designed to ensure Biden's reelection. The theory spread.
It's worth noting that conspiracy theories are not the domain of sports commentators who take politics seriously. Travis called the meltdown caused by Swift an absurd distraction from the actual game, and Smith, who took his daughter to a Taylor Swift concert, told Sports Illustrated this week that the relationship was in the spotlight. “It's causing trouble,” he said. received.
Jason Whitlock, an ardent Trump supporter and commentator who once said the left supports “satanic” ideas, does not condone Swift's panic. . Whitlock has worked at ESPN, Fox and OutKick, and currently hosts a podcast on Blaze Media, a conservative platform founded by former Fox News host Glenn Beck.
“We have to get out of Taylor Swift derangement syndrome, because that's what's happening right now,” he said.