This week has seen even more discussion than usual about Pat McAfee and The Pat McAfee Show, which made headlines this week around recurring paid guest Aaron Rodgers’ suggestions that ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel would be on the released list of Jeffrey Epstein associates (Kimmel has not been included in any released documents to date).
But a particularly interesting spinoff discussion came from a piece New York Post columnist Andrew Marchand wrote Thursday on the controversy, opining that McAfee may not reach the end of his full five-year, $85 million deal with ESPN.
NEW COLUMN: If Pat McAfee is going to continue to be a headache for ESPN, he needs better TV ratings.https://t.co/UzNCCrGx3g
— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) January 4, 2024
The general thrust of that column is about how McAfee’s linear TV ratings on ESPN come to 302,000 viewers. And that’s certainly not ideal for a show with this kind of highly-paid host. And, as Marchand notes, that’s 12 percent down from what SportsCenter was averaging in that slot last year. (That continues a trend from the show’s early days on ESPN.) So that’s certainly not great for a new and splashy addition.
However, ESPN says that McAfee’s show is averaging 403,000 viewers on YouTube. That’s not an apples-to-apples comparison on several fronts. It’s YouTube data versus Nielsen panel data. And that revenue stream is monetized differently than traditional linear ESPN programming, with at least some of it presumably going to McAfee and his show under his overall licensing agreement with ESPN.
But it is notable to discuss how much traction McAfee gets on YouTube. And that speaks to why ESPN’s parent company Disney is interested in maintaining a relationship with him. And they’re continuing to do so despite this and other controversies.
Despite that, perhaps the more significant note in Marchand’s column is about how many previous contracts McAfee did not complete to term. And yes, that’s all the information that’s been out there. But it’s interesting to see it presented in one place, especially with questions about whether he’ll make it through his full ESPN deal:
The question is: Can McAfee last in the Disney universe? McAfee never finishes contracts. He failed to with FanDuel, DAZN, BetOnline, SiriusXM and WWE, to name a few. So on McAfee lasting the full five years on the ESPN contract, put us down for the Under.
He is not a corporate guy, and the deal is structured so Disney can try to distance itself from what is on its air. But it is on its air.
Under McAfee’s overall deal with ESPN, that daily show (which began airing on ESPN platforms in September) has its first two hours air on linear ESPN as well as ESPN+ and YouTube, with the third hour airing exclusively on ESPN+ and YouTube. And yes, the linear viewership numbers on ESPN are certainly significant. But they’re not the only part of this picture.
The ability to make this show into content for ESPN+ and YouTube (both available without a multichannel video programming distributor) is notable for Disney. And it’s worth discussing in terms of trying to reach people who don’t have Multichannel Video Programming Distributor (MVPD) packages and don’t usually consume ESPN content. And there is some evidence that Disney views this show in particular as an outreach to that group.
In fact, in a LinkedIn Fireside Chat event Thursday, Disney advertising president Rita Ferro had some interesting comments on putting ESPN content on YouTube in general. There, she said, “It’s a competitor, but at the same time it’s a revenue stream for us.” She also said, “I see them as more of a strategic partner.”
To be clear, Ferro’s comments were about ESPN YouTube content overall, not specifically The Pat McAfee Show. That show has the aforementioned licensing weirdness, where it’s a show ESPN is licensing rather than something they’re creating in-house. And it’s not clear how YouTube monetization plays out for the show itself versus ESPN/Disney.
The show itself certainly has expenses, from salaries for staffers to stipends for recurring guests like Rodgers. And some of the money presumably goes towards those costs rather than to Disney’s coffers. But it’s not clear how that breaks down. However, Ferro’s comments are still relevant for helping to illustrate why Disney and ESPN currently seem high on McAfee despite lackluster TV numbers and mounting controversies.
The larger question of whether McAfee will last five years at ESPN is still worth discussion, though. At the moment, it seems like the ESPN side of that equation will live up to that deal, with not even this Rodgers-Kimmel controversy (Disney-on-Disney crime tends to get the most backlash) yet producing serious reports of Disney forcing McAfee to make any change.
But the question is if McAfee will be happy there for five years. He’s already pushed back at critics of his College GameDay appearances. He certainly does seem to take notice of criticism, whether from fans or media figures. The spotlight is much higher at ESPN than at any job he’s held until now and there is that history of him regularly moving on.
We’ll see if this proves to be the right fit where he sticks it out, or if this is yet another deal he moves on from.