Media company Wave Sports + Entertainment has intensified their focus on talent-driven original programming recently, and one person who has been a big part of that is Lucy Rohden at their football channel JUKES. Super Bowl LVI is a particularly big moment for WSE, as its Los Angeles location is near their new Santa Monica headquarters, and Rohden is playing a key role in their Super Bowl content plans. Last week, she spoke to AA about what got her into making funny football videos, what it’s like working for WSE, and how she deals with critics who don’t like seeing a woman discussing football. To start with, Rohden said she loved sports growing up, but always from a perspective of commentary rather than participation:
“I am super unathletic, and have been my entire life, so as much as I love sports, I knew that playing them was never going to work out for me. And my dad is a University of Iowa alum and a huge Hawkeye football fan, and Saturdays were like a huge holiday in my household, so I grew up just loving football: college football, NFL, loved it. And I kind of always knew I wanted to do video sports somehow.”
She said she began her media career in print, and also looked at more conventional just-the-facts TV reporting jobs, but those opportunities weren’t quite right for her.
“I started in print and wasn’t crazy about it. And I actually thought I was going to do like real TV sports, reading the highlights at 10 p.m. kind of deal, but it got old pretty fast. I started to make comedic content, and that was pretty fun, but then I graduated in the pandemic, unfortunately, and as you can imagine, the job market was terrible. I was like ‘How do I stay fresh? How do I keep going?’ And I was an avid TikTok watcher, so I was like ‘I’ll just make TikToks.’ And since then, it’s been my favorite thing in the world; I love making fun football content. It’s the coolest job. ”
Rohden said she thinks a comedic take on sports helps illustrate that it’s all just a game.
“People forget that sports are literally a game. You’re literally playing a game. It’s supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be funny. Sports, I think, are the best thing in the world. And I’ve had so many days where I’ve let a bad game ruin my entire week, I’ve totally let it happen, but sports are fun, and they’re silly, and I should just have fun with it.”
And she said those comedic takes helped her stand out.
“When I was doing it in college, I went to the University of Iowa and there were so many other media outlets covering football that obviously the student TV station wasn’t going to get any traction. What made me different was that I would like to think I’m funny! So I want to have fun with the content I’m doing. Sports are supposed to be fun, so we might as well laugh about them.”
She said she wasn’t always into comedy, and in fact, it was a breakup that really pushed her into it.
“What’s crazy is that I was a quiet kid growing up. When I was in college, I was like ‘Oh my god, I think I’m actually funny!’ And people would laugh at my jokes and be like ‘I love your stories!’ And Urban Meyer was at Ohio State when I was at Iowa, and I loved to make fun of Urban Meyer, so I would just do that constantly and people would be like ‘This is great content, this is really funny.’ And the origin of it, I haven’t told many people this, is that I got dumped when I was filming and writing my show that I did every week. And I was so mad that I did it satirically. And when I watched it back, I was like ‘That was hilarious, that was really funny!’ So I started to dive into it.”
While Rohden makes content for a variety of social media platforms, she said she particularly enjoys TikTok, and thinks it works well for humor from people without huge previous followings.
“TikTok is so awesome. My favorite thing about TikTok is that there is no entry barrier at all. And celebrities are actually like…they’re not not welcome on TikTok, but it’s an app for the people, and nobody cares about what my credentials are or how old I am. If I’m funny, they’ll like my stuff and they’ll follow me. And I think TikTok is such a great platform because I’m a firm believer, if you’re making TikTok content, it’s not a matter of if you go viral, it’s when you go viral. It just embraces creative people and doesn’t care about where you’re from, what you look like. It was an open platform, and really welcoming. I love it.”
There are still a lot of people willing to throw out sexist criticisms of women talking about football in 2022, and Rohden said she regularly experiences that. But she said it doesn’t get to her, and she’s particularly appreciative of the support she gets from other commenters on her videos in response to sexist remarks.
“Unfortunately, I have been dealing with that since college, so it’s something that I have been used to for a long time. So I have super thick skin and there’s nothing that really gets to me anymore. And you’ll still get those comments, but what I find really refreshing, on TikTok at least, is someone will comment ‘Oh, get back in the kitchen,’ and they’ll get ratioed so hard. So many people will be ‘Shut up!’, ‘She’s great!,’ ‘You’re just sexist!’ or whatever.”
Rohden also said that criticism of her sometimes gives her more content.
“And for me personally, the comments, as crazy as it is, it’s actually content for me. I just laugh about it. Literally last week, some random kid sent me a message of ‘I’m genuinely curious how you have a following when you are so not funny and you don’t know anything about sports.’ Whatever, most people would ignore it, and I do that most of the time, but this was an opportunity. And I responded with ‘I made a deal with a witch.’ And what’s funny is he actually responded and was like ‘Good answer.'”
“So I feel like the best way to deal with it is laugh, and make it funny, and tweet out the screenshots of the interaction, and people support you. You have to embrace it, you have to embrace the negativity. It’s going to suck, but if you can make people laugh with it, it’s going to happen less.”
She said she’s loved working for WSE so far, as they embrace the kind of content she wants to do.
“It has been the coolest thing in the world. This is my first job out of college, and sometimes I’m like ‘Is it fair for this to be my first job out of college?’ I love it. I have the ability to say what I want and make the content that I want, and they’re like ‘Great, go for it.’ If I want to make a video ranking all the nicknames that people have given to Aaron Rodgers, I can do it. If I want to make a video where I talk about how much I love offensive linemen for 10 minutes, I can do it. They let me make videos about Iowa all the time! The freedom that it gives me to talk about what I want to talk about, in the way that I want to talk, it’s such a supportive environment. And they let me be funny, which is not something you see across many media platforms. I get to have my own voice.”
And Rohden said she thinks their creator-focused approach will be copied more widely in the years ahead.
“This is kind of the direction media is heading, where it’s all social media based and it’s all content creator based. And I think WSE and JUKES are really ahead of the curve there, and I think it’s really going to show when we produce some amazing Super Bowl content.”
Rohden wears her fandoms on her sleeve, particularly with Iowa. And she thinks there’s an appeal to presenting coverage with an admitted fandom rather than trying to remain thoroughly neutral.
“I think it is so stupid for you not to be a fan when you’re covering sports, because the content you’re making is for fans. People love my work because they’re like ‘Ha, I totally get it; I’ve wanted to cry after my college football team has lost a game too.’ It’s content for the fan. It’s better for people to know me, and know the teams I root for, and understand why I make fun of Nebraska so much. Being a fan is fun, and fans are the ones consuming your content. There are very few Rob Lowe “NFL” fans out there in the world, it’s all people who have a team and a rooting interest, so you should have one too, you know?”
An interesting part of what JUKES has done so far is some on-location content from live events, and Rohden has been a key part of that. They’re going to be doing that again in the lead-up to the Super Bowl. Rohden said she thinks there’s a lot of merit to being at the site of a game and working in the reactions she sees from fans.
“I think there’s so much value, because people are so unpredictable. Like, we went to Michigan-Georgia and said ‘What would you do for Michigan to win a national championship?’, and this guy said ‘I would sleep with my mother-in-law!’ And we were just like ‘What?!’ It brings that level of unpredictability, and it’s so much fun.”
She said that’s also a useful way to spread awareness of their content.
“I think it’s honestly just great for a grassroots campaign; get out there, meet people, show them what JUKES is, show them ‘Hey, I’m the talent there, this is the type of content you’re getting.’ This is content for fans by fans, so fans should be included in the content too.”
As for the Super Bowl itself, Rohden said she’s looking forward to covering the lead-up to it, and thinks she’ll get good chances to interact with both fans and athletes.
“I am so excited for the Super Bowl. It is going to be the busiest, craziest, most enjoyable week ever. It’s all around the comedy thing. You’re going to get every single ESPN reporter asking you ‘Tell me about your time with Tom Brady,’ ‘Talk about the Bengals’ o-line’ or whatever. I’m really excited to get out there and talk to the fans that are going to be in LA, and I think it’s going to be way more Bengals’ fans, so I’m really excited to talk to them.”
“I’m excited to ask athletes questions about who they are as a person outside of football. I want to know ‘What is the song on your Spotify that you listen to that you’re so embarrassed of that you will never tell anyone?’ I want to ask you dumb questions our audience wrote that are just so silly and stupid. I want to see the person inside of these amazing athletes, because we all know who they are as football players. This gives us the chance to have a comedic, fun approach, but it’s also like our audience is learning something.”
She said there even will be some high stakes for her with a scavenger hunt.
“I’m excited to meet fans, talk to players, and we’re going to do some wild stuff. We’re doing a scavenger hunt, and I’m not a fan of this idea, I want to make that clear, but if I don’t win the scavenger hunt, I have to watch the Super Bowl with a blindfold on. I’m like ‘I did not sign up for that!’ But that’s the type of stuff we’re doing. It’s different, it’s weird, it’s funny.”
Rohden said overall, she wants to make content that feels like a fun hangout.
“The whole approach I take, when people are watching my videos and they’re listening to me talk, it’s like they’re hanging out with their friends at a bar watching a football game. You want it to be silly, fun, goofy, and casual. So that’s the whole appeal; we’re going with a fun attitude and doing some wild things.”