For this year’s Final Four Saturday and national championship game Monday, Bleacher Report will again be doing alternate broadcasts. This year’s editions (B/R Final Four Live presented by Wendy’s) will feature Lefkoe alongside Tyler Hansbrough and Robbie Hummel, plus Ashley ShahAhmadi for the title game. They will air in the B/R app and on the B/R YouTube channel. Lefkoe told AA Wednesday in a Zoom interview that he’s loved doing these on-location alternate broadcasts, and the on-location energy is a big part of that.
“I’ve done this for a few years now, and there was one year that Wes Welker almost jumped out of our show. I think it’s number one, being in the arena and feeling the energy of that place. We can sit in our studios in New York or Atlanta and think about fans of FAU or San Diego State, but when you’re walking through the hallways and you’re seeing ‘Oh, these are the people,’ and you’re hearing it, I think that takes it to another level.”
He said he thinks there’s been an increased uptick in the popularity of alternate broadcasts, especially around ESPN’s ManningCast for Monday Night Football.
“I think also we’ve reached peak alternate broadcast. I remember doing this and being like ‘Are people watching this? Who gets this?’ And now, it’s like we’re seeking out alternate broadcasts.”
Lefkoe said alternate broadcasts are freeing, allowing him to bring in both his traditional TV background and what he’s learned from podcasting and social media-focused roles.
“The thing I’ve enjoyed about this, because I am a traditional TV broadcaster, I know what that broadcast is. I know how to set the scene, I know what people are looking for. This is an opportunity for me to think ‘How do I incorporate my podcast background, how do I incorporate social media?’ When I’m watching the game and a referee falls, and I’m watching it at home, I know that there’s a mad dash on Twitter to clip that out and get that turned into a GIF.”
“I know that I have it in my producer’s backpack, that if something happens that’s more socially-focused, that’s what we’re going to talk about for the next five minutes. If you’re looking for three-point percentages and fast break stats, this is more the broadcast where something fun happens and we settle on that, or where Hansbrough or Hummel can give us a lot more storytime. It doesn’t have to be as fact-based, and we also don’t have to play it straight. You feel more comfortable telling it like it is in a broadcast like this.”
He said there’s also less assumption of pure impartiality, which has led to some fun for him in the past, and may again this year.
“A few years ago, in the midst of a live broadcast, I built a shrine to Texas Tech, which pushed them forward into the final. I haven’t decided yet who I’m going to build a shrine to yet. But I think FAU is speaking to me. I know in this world, everyone’s supposed to be unbiased, and that’s cool and all, but I think I’m going to channel the college basketball gods and do my part to get the Owls of Florida Atlantic to the final.”
Lefkoe said this particular group is going to be fun to work with as well.
“Ashley’s a pro, so she’s going to kill it. Hummel I’ve worked with a bunch, and it’s funny because these are the guys who were going to college at the same time I was going to college. I’ve never met Tyler, but I just remember his friend smashing ping-pong balls on his shirtless body when he was in college. That was an early form of those videos that go on social media and stick in your head forever. I just remember Tyler being one of the most intense athletes I’ve ever seen. So now that he’s on this side, I’m excited to experience that. And I’ve heard from everybody that they’re really good dudes.”
He said Hummel is interesting as someone who has worked really hard to turn a stellar playing career into long-term media work.
“There are some guys that are so talented that they have a hard time explaining their journey. And he’s one guy that I think America was rooting for, because he was so talented. But injuries kept coming up. There are a lot of athletes I’ve worked with that do not realize the athlete experience is two deaths. They experience their death, like all of us, but they experience the death of their career, when no one comes up to you any more and remembers ‘Oh.'”
“And I think because he went through so much of that journey, it really actually mentally prepared him to start that transition. Because a lot of athletes, I think, have to get over the ego part of thinking ‘Oh, I can still do that.’ “And if we’re being honest, it creates this timeline in which maybe they’re not relevant enough where they finally come to grips with ‘Oh, I want to do this.’ ”
He said Hummel’s early dive into broadcasting may have helped him. But it also helps that he’s been easy to work with, as per a variety of sources.
“I think Robbie had that early. I remember working with him, maybe like eight years ago, and that was when he was just getting started. And then I started seeing him on ESPN, I started seeing him all over the place, and I’ve talked to a lot of play-by-play guys and people who know him in the space, and I’ve never heard a bad word about him. And a cool thing about this business is that if you’re a good person, that resonates and it spreads. And if you’re somebody that’s on the other side, you don’t hear from them that often.”
“Because when you’re on the road and you’re calling games, that is a family. And my compliment to Robbie would be that he is a workhorse, he’s willing to take on any single gig. Anyone he works with, they always tell me he’s a pleasure.”
Lefkoe said Hummel has also shown off great knowledge of even less prominent teams, which will be helpful this year.
“I think the thing with Robbie with this tournament in particular is that not everyone’s going to know FAU and San Diego State. But when you’re covering this the entire year, those are the sickos that are like ‘Oh, FAU, they’re all 6’8”, and they’re all great.’ So I’m just going to be milking his brain as much during the broadcast as possible.”
He said it’s interesting to see that, as many players of Hummel’s playing stature have not necessarily turned into great analysts, while some with less of a prominent playing record have. But he thinks Hummel’s usage of time during his injuries to study the game and talk to people helped there.
“I used to do a podcast with Chris Simms, and we would talk about how backup quarterbacks are great broadcasters, because they’re forced to watch a lot. I think that kind of is a big credit to Robbie. When you’re going through injuries, you also become a coach, and then you also become a trainer, and then you also start having time to meet with the analysts, because you’re recovering from your injuries.”
“And I think my biggest compliment to Robbie would be that he didn’t waste any of that time. All of that was put to good use to build up the repertoire for what he does now. And I think it’s cool to see. At the time, it was ‘I feel bad, because I don’t think he’s getting the opportunity to show everyone how good he was.’ But now, seeing what he’s turned that into, I think it was a blessing in disguise.”
As for Lefkoe himself, he said he’s excited about working with these analysts, and eager to set them up.
“I love, at this point of my life, I get a weird satisfaction of not having been in a combination before. And again, my job is throwing alley-oops. So I love that notion of ‘I’ve never done this with these people, and I can’t wait to throw it up and see how they take it.’ It’s always a unique combination.”
The Final Four games see Florida Atlantic against San Diego State Saturday tipping off at 6:09 p.m. ET, then Miami against UConn at 8:49 p.m. ET, with the national championship following Monday night at 9:20 p.m. ET.