One of the breakout stars of ESPN’s World Cup coverage was the delightful role played by the Men in Blazers from Bob Ley’s panic room. The team of Roger Bennett and Michael Davies has been a cult favorite amongst soccer fans for a good while, but the move of their podcast to Grantland and ESPN television work has seen their profiles grow exponentially. This was particularly true in Brazil where Men in Blazers added a great bit of levity to the proceedings with their appearances from Bob Ley’s panic room.
Now the Men in Blazers have parlayed their World Cup role into a new weekly television show on Monday nights. But it’s not at ESPN. Bennett and Davies are making the jump to NBCSN where they will become a part of the network’s acclaimed English Premier League coverage.
Details from the Wall Street Journal:
Starting shortly after the 2014-2015 Premier League season begins later this month, the Men in Blazers, as television producer Michael Davies and writer Roger Bennett are known, will have a weekly Monday night show on NBC Sports and will contribute radio, TV and written pieces for the network’s various outlets. The terms of their contract weren’t disclosed, and the show doesn’t yet have a name.
Messrs. Davies and Bennett, who have hosted a podcast about soccer for several years, were already popular among dedicated U.S. soccer fans before they began making television appearances on ESPN during the World Cup in Brazil. They have a shared lingo with fans—whom they call GFOPs, or Great Friends of the Podcast—and have hosted raucous live shows across the U.S.
But in Rio de Janeiro, where the pair made nightly appearances on ESPN from a tiny closet, their humorous commentary on the games attracted a new wave of fans. Recently, their comedy album made the top 10 on iTunes, and a show in Portland was live-streamed online by more than 100,000 people. During the show Mr. Bennett, 43 years old, said, “Not since Lewis and Clark have two men been so excited to be here.”
The Men in Blazers now have more than 78,000 Twitter followers and are regularly recognized on the street by fans. The duo will be expected to bring those fans with them to NBC, which in 2012 spent $80 million to broadcast Premier League games.
This is an incredibly smart move for NBCSN as they add one of the most popular duos talking soccer in this country. In addition to the weekly show, MiB can be a valuable asset across NBC’s platforms, both on television and online. And truth be told, their biggest asset might be adding a bit of laughter to the overall scope of NBC’s Premier League coverage. Although the EPL on NBCSN is excellent from top to bottom, if there’s one criticism you can have of the coverage, it’s that it is a little dry. Davies and Bennett will certainly change that with their unique brand of humor. NBC has said in their announcement that Bennett will serve in a special contributor’s role doing on-site features and appearing with Lowe in the studio.
AA was able to get a quick word from the Men in Blazers on their move to NBCSN via e-mail earlier this morning. On making the switch to NBC to predominantly cover the Premier League, Bennett said, “Top flight English football has filled both of our dreams since we were toddlers. Consequently, Davo has had much, much happier dreams than I have.”
And yes, the famous panic room is sticking around. “We have rebuilt the Rio Panic Room to exacting specifications in the Crap Part of Soho, Just like they built an Eiffel Tower replica in Vegas,” Bennett said. (My only suggestion is that they name the panic room after either Ted Lasso or Rebecca Lowe.)
But if one wants to play the pessimistic view, as we should in honor of two English soccer fans, it’s proven extremely difficult for NBCSN to build a following for original studio programming. The ghosts of SportsDash, The Crossover, and The Lights are a sign of just how hard it is for these startup networks like NBCSN and FS1 to have successful, thriving studio shows. Michelle Beadle didn’t bring any fans during her short stay at NBCSN. Regis Philbin’s name recognition couldn’t do it for Fox Sports 1. Will MiB fans be able to find the pair on NBCSN?
If there’s one advantage Bennett and Davies have over those other failed efforts, it’s that their show will have a direct correlation to the Premier League, where NBCSN has a loyal built-in audience. With ESPN losing the World Cup and now splitting MLS and USMNT games with Fox, their inventory of world class soccer has taken a hit. Now they are losing talent to their competitors. Will Men in Blazers be the first of an ESPN soccer firesale as NBCSN and Fox continue to build their own soccer empires? A high-profile move like this is certainly a sign of the changing tide on the soccer TV landscape.
On what it means to join the NBC family, Davies tells AA, “To join the sports division of the network that brought us ALF, The A Team and Miami Vice is a teenage dream come true for me and Rog.”