Clay Travis has emerged as one of, if not the most newsworthy figure in all of sports media. At the forefront of the anti-PC culture, Travis has separated from the pack due to the topics he touches on, the stances he takes, the theories he believes, and his well-documented opinions on the monolith known as ESPN.
Travis spoke to The Big Lead for an in-depth, three-page interview on a wide variety of topics. Travis goes deep into what sports media has become, how to be successful, his thoughts on ESPN and what they think of him, he gets into what happened during his segment on CNN, where his career is going, what is next for Outkick, and much more:
Bobby Burack: What has the response from ESPN been? One of their PR reps had tweeted out the number of the times you said the word “boobs” on radio, and you have broken several stories about them. Do you feel as if ESPN is now watching your every step to see what you say or report about them? Would you be interested in interviewing Skipper or Bob Iger?
Clay Travis: ESPN has many outstanding people who love me and Outkick. They also employ many idiots, some of whom hate me and Outkick. Honestly, the number of ESPN employees who are fans of what I’m saying and writing would be staggering, I think, to most people in the general public. After all, the stories I’ve broken about ESPN have all come from inside ESPN.
I was told former ESPN president John Skipper told several people he’d never rooted for anyone to be hit by a bus before, but he’d make an exception for me.
I thought that was a pretty good line.
Having a PR executive Tweet out the number of times I said boobs on one of my radio shows — it was 53, by the way — was absolutely tremendous. I love that ESPN PR somehow thought that was going to reflect negatively on me. The level of incompetence over there is often staggering.
Yes, many ESPN execs read everything that’s on Outkick, yes, they obsessively monitor my Tweets, yes, they listen to everything that I say or have everything that I say monitored. I’m sure many of them also hope I get hit by a bus as well.
But, again, I have lots of good friends at ESPN too. Friends who, in many cases, would love to have me on their shows and they can’t because ESPN has banned me. I think I’m the only person in America banned from appearing on ESPN, which is a badge of honor, honestly.
I’d like to talk with both Iger and Skipper. I’d love to do that publicly, but I’d also be willing to do it privately off the record. I think both men have no idea how destructive their decision making has been to the ESPN brand. I often get branded as anti-politics in sports, but that isn’t accurate. I’m anti one sided politics mixed with sports. I believe if you’re going to argue Colin Kaepernick is a hero you ought to have just as many people who think, as I do, that Colin Kaepernick’s an idiot and his protest makes no sense.
As for whether I grew up a fan of ESPN, of course. I’m the exact same age as ESPN. I doubt there is anyone my age who loves sports and didn’t grow up loving ESPN.
Burack: Clay, right now you are a radio host, a writer, and the host of an afternoon live internet show. That leaves off television. With the media constantly changing, how do you see the four mediums in terms of importance over the next five years?
Travis: I believe that over the next five years all of these mediums will converge and what we’re moving towards is an era when people will simply say, “Give me what Clay Travis (or any other content creator) did today,” and the most recent show I’ve done will appear for them in their home, their car, or on their phone. That content could come via audio or video or it could be in written form. People will choose which type of content they want to consume by picking one of the options in front of them.
In the coming era I believe distribution will matter much less than the quality of the content. Right now there are people with audiences entirely because they are distributed by powerful companies. I think that era is ending.
That’s what ESPN used to say, right, that they could let talent go because the network was the star, not the individual people on the network. I think Colin Cowherd and Skip Bayless, for example, have proven that model isn’t true anymore. If you’ve created a tribe of people who care deeply about what you say or do then they will find you. I made that gamble in 2011 when I started Outkick, that my audience would find me online even if I wasn’t on ESPN or CBS or NBC or Yahoo or any of the powerful Internet distributors back then. At the time it was a little bit risky, but I’d seen the growth of social media and I believed that people who liked me would find me. And if they were only reading me because they’d been reading the site I was on? Then those weren’t “my” readers anyway. They were the readers of that platform.
I saw this repeating itself anew in 2016 or 2017 when Facebook turned on the author spigot. One of the things I saw with the rise of the Facebook algorithm was writers bragging about their millions of pageviews. And I always thought that was backward because those weren’t “your readers”, they were the algorithms readers. It’s seductive to believe two million people read what you wrote and make you believe that makes you of greater importance than you are, but that isn’t important, what’s important is how many of those two million people will read something else you wrote and continue to follow you in the weeks and months ahead. Most of the time those huge pageview rushes didn’t create any staying power. Because, and this is the additionally important thing, most of the time the author doesn’t matter on the stories that go viral. If a kid gets hit by a deer, everybody would have up the same article. Most people don’t look at who the writer is for a story like that. You, the writer, literally don’t matter.
My advice to writers is simple, don’t just write what people read, write what people read that you can provide better than anyone else. Otherwise you’re expendable.
So I think the power of the individual content creator will rise and the power of the distributor will decline in the years ahead.
Now distribution and support from major companies with money will still be massively important, but I think the days of creating stars simply because they’re on your sports network are over.
I also think the size of audiences will become less important and what will matter much more is the depth of that audience’s engagement.
I’ll give you an example of one of the things I’m wrestling with in my current business. Our Outkick the Coverage podcast of my Fox Sports Radio show does in the millions of downloads each month, but we’re not monetizing that very well as a podcast right now. So one of the things I wonder about is this, should I not put the podcast behind a paywall? I do a live radio show every morning for three hours from 6-9 am eastern and you are free to listen to that show live on nearly 300 AM/FM affiliates nationwide, on satellite radio, and via streaming on FSR or Iheart apps. As soon as that show ends we also put up the entire show as a podcast, except that entire show is stripped of all the ads that aired during commercial breaks during the three hour show.
So people can then listen to the entire show without a single commercial break, knocking it down to around two hours.
What sense does that make from a business perspective? Shouldn’t the people who want to download the entire podcast have to pay for the convenience of not having to wait through the commercial breaks and being able to listen to it at their convenience? I think so. Now my opinion might be different if I wasn’t doing the entire radio show live for free, and if I weren’t doing an afternoon show on Periscope and Facebook for free and if wasn’t putting up every article I write for free, but isn’t there a strong argument that everyone should be charging for the podcasts of live radio shows?
I get not charging if you’re going direct to podcast and your show is only distributed that way, but from a business perspective wouldn’t I rather have 10,000 people paying me for the podcast of my live radio show each month than a million listening to the podcast for free?
So I don’t claim to have all the answers here yet, but I do claim to probably spend more time thinking about the business side of what I do than most in sports media do.
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