On November 13th and 14th in Brooklyn, the first-ever BlazerCon will take place. BlazerCon is being organized by the suboptimal NBC Sports soccer duo, the Men in Blazers, and “was motivated by a desire to create a forum where the best global football minds could engage directly with an audience of Americans from across the nation who have fallen truly, madly, deeply in love with the game.”
There will be a number of speakers from across the soccer world, including (but not limited to) Premier League Executive Chairman Richard Scudamore, NBC’s Rebecca Lowe, ESPN’s Bob Ley, Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre, beIN’s Ray Hudson, and the USWNT World Cup winning trio of Ali Krieger, Heather O’Reilly, and Becky Sauerbrunn.
Half of the Men in Blazers, Michael Davies, took time out of his busy schedule to chat with Awful Announcing about BlazerCon, some of the criticism the event has received, and what the future may hold for himself and partner in tweed Roger Bennett.
The inspiration behind BlazerCon was simple – the support of the Great Friends of the Pod (GFOPs). “Our inspiration has always been our GFOPs and the people that listen to us and commune with us and come to our live shows, and figuring out how to bring them something of value,” said Davies. “That would be a weekend commune where we could bring some of the biggest people in world football, the biggest people that are going to determine where soccer in all its forms, all its leagues, is going to grow in America over the next decade.
“And I also think, for Rog and I in our bizarre role as navigators of the soccer world in America, we’re just really interested in talking to these people and exploring ourselves, hearing what they have to say about the American market, how they’re thinking, and where it’s going.”
But BlazerCon will be more than just a good time with beer, pies, and soccer talk. Davies identified some of the main goals from BlazerCon. “We always think of our brand in three ways. It’s about the GFOPs – what would be something that they’d be fascinated by or interested in? And secondly, the people that we want to talk to. Very often, as I’ve said before, Rog and I would be doing the podcast on a weekly basis even if we had no listeners because we just like talking to each other about topics. These are conversations we want to have, these are people we want to meet, these are things we want to see and hear. A lot of it is for us as well, to satisfy our curiosities of what’s going on.
“I think the third thing is the communal aspect of it, and this why this conferences are so good. Rog has a spot at these video conferences time and time again. John Green is a huge friend of ours, big GFOP, and he’s talked a lot about this con for us. So this idea that this commune of both sides of our world, the people we know in the world of soccer – team owners, broadcasters, people at the league, people in consumer brands who are really into soccer and the future of soccer in America are so important – but our GFOPs, our listeners, our viewers, many of whom are really fascinated by the world of soccer, want a deeper understanding of what it’s all about.”
BlazerCon also isn’t something that came together overnight – Davies claims that Bennett has been dreaming about putting together an event like this for over a year. “Rog dreamed about this in his enormous brain during maybe the beginning half of 2014. That’s the first time I remember talking about it. It was such a good idea the second he said it, I knew how important it was for him to go and do it.”
There are plenty of guests and panels lined up at BlazerCon, which I partially outlined above. Davies is (naturally) excited for all of them, including the man kicking off the event.
“The fact that Richard Scudamore, who is the Roger Goodell of the Premier League, is coming to open the entire conference, I think that’s going to be a massive statement about BlazerCon and a massive statement about how important the American market is for the Premier League. Rebecca Lowe’s going to be interviewing him, and I’m really interested in what he’s going to say.
“We also have managers like Roberto Martinez of Everton, team owners, the CEO of Liverpool Ian Ayre, Southampton’s Ralph Krueger, Manchester City’s Ferran Soriano coming and talking. These are going to be amazing opportunities to hear these people with control in the game talking.
“Plus we have NBC Sports and Fox Sports talking about the way they cover the game and the future of the game the way they see it in America.”
Davies and Bennett aren’t clones of one another, however.
“Rog tends to be the slightly more journalistic one – he makes these amazing films, and he’s really into the in-depth soccer stuff. I tend to obsess over the more entertaining aspects. I can’t wait to have Barry Hearn over talking. I’m really looking forward to Katie Nolan interviewing three of the stars from the Women’s World Cup. That’s going to be fascinating – she’s going to bring her own spin to that session. And we’re going to be doing these shows on Friday and Saturday night – good old-fashioned Men in Blazers. Lots of beers will be consumed, pies will be eaten, and we’re going to have a rip-roaring good time on our Friday and Saturday night shows.”
BlazerCon has also received a bit of criticism from some corners of the soccer universe, be it over the high ticket prices for the event or the focus on European soccer. And Davies and Bennett are listening – to some of the criticism, at least.
“I want to make it really clear – we listen to everything that our GFOPs have to say. It means a lot to us – we survey our GFOPs, we read every email, we read our tweets, we follow everything. So when our GFOPs have concerns about what they’re doing, we always take them seriously. We always talk to each other about it.
“I think where I particularly feel strongly is the people who aren’t our GFOPs, the people who aren’t our fans, the people who aren’t necessarily into what we do. What we do is primarily focused around the Premier League, though we do love the other leagues and we’re passionate about MLS, passionate about the US Men’s National Team, passionate about the US Women’s National Team. But people who aren’t into us? Their criticisms of what we do don’t move me at all. That doesn’t make a lot of difference to me. We’re interested in the people who follow us and like us and are into us – we always take seriously what they have to say.”
Davies and Bennett have expanded the Men in Blazers empire dramatically over the past year, going from “just” a podcast to making appearances on ESPN’s 2014 World Cup coverage, to moving to NBC and hosting a self-titled NBC Sports Network show, to hosting Esquire’s Running of the Bulls over the summer, and most recently, their Yahoo/NFL “Tackle Football” series of videos. What’s next for the duo?
Well, Davies doesn’t know.
“The interesting thing is that a lot of this is coming to us without us necessarily chasing it. The Running of the Bulls was just a phone call that came out of the blue from an old friend at Esquire Network. The NFL Films project came from another old friend of mine, Jordan Levin, who is now running content over at NFL. Big fan of Men in Blazers, thought we could do something unique for them with this partnership with Yahoo for the Wembley game on October 25th.
“So in some ways, we don’t know, because we don’t know what phone is going to ring and who it’s going to be from. We don’t say yes to everything – we have to be super interested in doing it, and it’s gotta be on brand. Soccer and the English Premier League particularly is our Torah, it’s the center of our brand and the middle of everything we do, but Rog and I are really interested in a lot of sports, and interested in sports coverage as a whole.
“Men in Blazers is called ‘Men in Blazers’ – that’s not a soccer reference, that’s an American sports broadcasting reference. When we both came to America, everybody who spoke about sports on television was wearing a blazer with a blazer patch. Men in Blazers is a brand designed to deal with everything. The first time we ever went on television together was to cover Six Nations rugby for BBC America. I think we want to do more sports and continue to branch out beyond soccer, but soccer will always be at the center of what we do.”
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