During his 15 years with ESPN, Matthew Berry became the face of fantasy football, but not without reluctance from some of the company’s elite talent. Apparently, that included Chris Berman.
Berry recently joined Ethan Sherwood Strauss on his House of Strauss podcast to discuss his ESPN career and the decision to leave the Worldwide Leader for NBC. During the interview, Berry was asked about his relationship with Berman, who as an elder statesman at ESPN, didn’t always see the need or value in fantasy football content.
“I think he was reticent when I joined the company,” Berry said of Berman. “Not specific to me. But I just think he didn’t feel like fantasy had a place on Sunday NFL Countdown or Monday Night Countdown, on the shows that he was hosting.”
While Berman may not have welcomed fantasy football coverage with open arms, it didn’t seem to impact his relationship with Berry.
“On a personal level, he has been nothing but lovely to me,” Berry told Strauss. “I love the man and I would never say a bad thing about him. Really enjoy him, we text to this day because he likes betting. While he personally doesn’t play fantasy – although randomly, he plays fantasy golf…he understands the importance of [fantasy football]. His kids play, he knows that fans care about it. And by the way, in 2007, who am I? Chris Berman built that place, he built NFL Primetime, he built Sunday NFL Countdown, Monday Night Countdown, who am I, some dumb kid, to say what should or should not be on those shows?”
Berman, however, was not alone in the belief that Berry’s content wasn’t needed on ESPN. Just as Berman felt fantasy sports didn’t have a place on ESPN’s primetime content 15 years ago, current executives apparently didn’t feel Berry’s analysis fit on the network’s premier NFL shows. Despite a large digital footprint, Berry wanted his role as an analyst to feature more linear TV components. Berry’s stature at ESPN grew immensely during his 15 years with the company as fantasy football skyrocketed in popularity, but that didn’t push the Worldwide Leader to feature its senior fantasy analyst as part of their NFL coverage.
“It was important to me to be part of NFL coverage somewhere and I knew that as long as I stayed at ESPN that just would never happen,” Berry said. “I’ve asked many times over the years. The last year I was at ESPN I was actually less involved in NFL coverage than I was the first year I was there.”
According to Berry, he believes ESPN was less inclined to use him on their main network because the company felt its fantasy audience would seek his content wherever they put it. Berry’s fantasy content for ESPN did not need to be on Sunday NFL Countdown to be consumed, audiences would find it whether it was on a primetime show or a podcast. NBC, however, was eager to give Berry the opportunity to join its NFL coverage. And the fantasy guru can now be seen weekly on Football Night in America, and on his own Peacock show (which is seeing the last hour of its Sunday edition get some pickup on local owned-and-operated NBC affiliates and on CNBC).