There are very few people in the sports world that can do what Colin Cowherd does everyday. He's turned a one-man radio show (now also with a TV simulcast) on ESPN into one of the most interesting shows in sports. I make sure to tune in everyday at 10am to The Herd with Colin Cowherd. Colin is always thinking outside the box and I always learn something from listening to his show. Colin is a disruptor and understands the what else factor- he is willing to dig a little deeper in order to uncover some of the most intricate details of big sports stories. He's also worked to become a New York Times best-selling author. I'm happy to have had the chance to get inside Colin's head last week when we spoke about his history coming up in the business, his book and his thoughts on a few current issues in sports.
Brandon Steiner: Why radio?
Colin Cowherd: As a kid when I grew up my Dad worked a lot and my sister was 5 years older, so radio was my friend. We only had one TV in the house and later two, but I had a little AM radio and I took it everywhere and listened to baseball. Radio became my friend; my companion. I was a little kid from a small town and I started listening to a lot of baseball games on radio, which is what really started it.
We had a Frank Lloyd Wright designed house with a flat roof and in the Summer when I had time I would sit up on the second-tier on my roof where I got really good radio signals and I would listen to hours of baseball every night.
BS: On your show you’re always trying to teach something. What do you try to accomplish on your show? Do you consider yourself a teacher?
CC: The two people that I really loved listening to were Vin Scully and Larry King on overnights for Mutual Radio. I have always thought that the people that I listened to influenced me and the people that I listened to on radio were teaching you stuff. They weren’t just entertainers.
If you grew up in New York maybe you like Howard Stern- he was an entertainer. He wasn’t always trying to teach you stuff. The people I grew up with were more-so teachers on the radio and they had broad topics, so that’s what I always liked. Even on my radio show I try to take sports and tell a story; tell a story about life. We don’t love every sport. You could be a baseball fan and I could be an NFL fan, but if I can find some connective tissue and talk about stories in life I think it’s more interesting for more people.
BS: What is your favorite thing about sports today?
CC: Television has made it so that you get a lot more than you used to for a game. There’s nothing like going to a game, but increasingly, television is pretty darn close. You’ve got the Red Zone channel; you can get so much information.
What I really like is that I get more analytical information and can really dig deeper. It doesn’t matter if you’re a sports bettor or collector, but there’s just more. If you really are inclined to dig for stuff and you really love sports beyond just the games, there’s so much there for you. There are so many back-stories and so much information that I think if you really love sports on several levels, there’s never been a better time to be a sports fan.
BS: Do you have a least-favorite thing going on in sports today?
CC: I think with that information comes the disclosure of private and legal stuff. The truth is I’d rather talk about the games and the fun and the explosion of the demographics and analytics. I don’t want to hear about Aldon Smith getting in trouble, again, this at LAX. The legal stuff to me-the Lance Armstrong stories- they wear you out after a while. I don’t mid controversy. I wish the controversy was more about individual plays in games or coaching decisions. I tire of the legal aspect of sports.
BS: Tell me about your book, “You Herd Me! I’ll Say It If Nobody Else Will” – what key takeaways that people should get out of it?
CC: I’ve always believed there’s a methodology and a theory behind everything. I wanted to talk about how a lot of times in the media because of advertisers you can’t talk about certain things on the air, or language has to be politically correct, and there’s just a lot of things in sports I wanted to talk about that nobody wants to talk about, especially at ESPN, which is a large corporation. Let’s get into some uncomfortable topics with race and some of my theories on why sports are sports; dig a little deeper.
It’s done really well. It made the New York Times Best Seller list and I’m really proud of it. I worked with really interesting people. What I try to give people on radio is what I tried to give them in the book- it’s just another level; the story behind the story; an unvarnished and often uncomfortable truth.
I don’t know if I’ll ever write another book. It’s a lot of work, it really is. Radio is fun and TV is fun. I’ve got kids and I’m busy and I don’t know if I have the time and commitment for another one, but I really did enjoy it. I really did and I’m really proud of it. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done. And, if that’s all I ever do, just one book, then I did the best I could possibly do and I’m okay with it.
It’ll make you laugh and it’ll make you think and I hope my radio show does that.
BS: How do you feel about the situation with the Northwestern football team and possible unionization? What solution do you propose may best solve the current issues with collegiate amateurism?
CC: There’s always been this fuzzy description of amateurism. Think about it- the Olympics. Carl Lewis was an amateur, but made millions a year. How is he an amateur?
Russell Wilson played college football, but could have played baseball in the offseason, made money, and still have been eligible to play college football. How’s that work?
There’s always been this: “Well he’s an amateur, but you can pay him…” College sports is just going to have to simply-and it won’t be that difficult-change the label; tweak the term amateur. Say, “Okay, they’re still amateurs, but they can get stipends, two flights home, and a reservoir of money if they graduate if they were able to digitally sell jerseys.”
I think there are going to be some athletes, like a Johnny Manziel, that are going to get a $100,000 payout the minute they leave college because they sold a bunch of jerseys. You could tweak the meaning of amateur then. So, the minute they graduate you can give Tim Tebow a check or Reggie Bush, or one of these really transcendent stars. There’s not that many of them by the way, but one of these guys like an Anthony Davis or a Jabari Parker.
We’re all tweaking! Airline pilots have to go to constant evaluation and teaching because the cockpit changes. We’re just going to change the term amateur. We’re going to figure out a way to compensate male and female athletes, or maybe primarily football players because that makes all the money, and we’ll all be fine. That being said, a Nick Saban is not going to make anything less, but the players will be compensated at some level.
BS: I’ve got to ask you, are you a collector?
CC: No, in fact I was offered to buy a memorabilia shop in Vegas years ago and I just didn’t think I had the business background or acumen to do it.
Here’s the funny thing about sports: there are so many things that are tied to sports, but I have always had respect for people that are in the sports business. A lot of people might say, “Colin, you should own a memorabilia shop, or a sports bar because you’re in sports.” Well, a sports bar isn’t a talk show, and your job isn’t television.
The truth is, you’re connected to sports, but the sophistication level and the years you’ve been doing this, you’re a professional memorabilia retail expert. I’m a sports radio host. Those seem connected, but they’re miles apart. And, the methodology that works for me on my show wouldn’t work for you in your business.
So, even though I purchase things for people and even though I go to sporting events, I’ve never thought I have the expertise in that field to go into it and I think just to be a really smart collector takes such a time commitment that I really don’t have. To be a really savvy collector, you’ve got to know your stuff. It’s a business that I’ve always looked at and thought it’s almost intimidating to me because the people who do it really know their stuff.
BS: It’s tricky; I tell you it’s definitely gotten trickier.
CC: How come? What’s the trickiest part?
BS: The unknown. It’s the whole steroids thing. As smart as I think I am about sports, I didn’t see it. I didn’t see the impact and how all of a sudden I wouldn’t be able to sell a Roger Clemens ball; I wouldn’t be able to sell a Mark McGwire ball- I made a ton of money on Mark. I had the balls to sign him and then on the back end of the deal I’m stuck.
CC: So you can’t sell his stuff anymore?
BS: No! Someone can do a lot of bad things off-the-field in sports and people will forgive you. Yet, you cheat with steroids and it’s like a non-forgivable thing in this country.
CC: So you can’t sell anything if it’s PEDs connected?
BS: Yes. A-Rod’s a small exception, but very very small. I can’t sell Bonds, I can’t smell McGwire, I can’t sell any of these guys. Sammy Sosa- nothing. It’s like these guys are not even part of the conversation and I didn’t see that coming.
There are a couple other little things. The movement; the movement of the teams and the markets they go in can be tricky. The good news is that you have people collecting all over the country right now, they’re not only in New York, Chicago and Boston. You’ve got people collecting all over the country in a much bigger way, so that makes it easier, but listen, if Eli Manning got traded to the Cleveland Browns that would be a game-changer. That would mean I’d take a different approach to the way I do business.
With Peyton Manning going to Denver, that ended up being a very good thing.
BS: So, last question. You’ve become very prominent at ESPN. I’ve got to ask my famous What Else question. What’s next for you? What’s the ultimate career goal?
CC: I think there’s one more TV project out there. I’m 50, but I feel great. I’ve got a meeting coming up with a bunch of executives about it and they’re going to ask that same question.
I think there’s a television project out there that’s part-Jon Stewart, part-O’Reilly Report, part-Daniel Tosh, part-Bill Maher; it’s a combination of all those shows. Smart, funny, interesting. Politics, sports, life. Put Bobby Flay next to Joe Torre, next to Phil Jackson, next to Carrot Top.
I like interesting people. I like digging and finding stories from interesting people. I like to laugh. I like drama. I think there’s a sports show out there that’s never been done and I’m going to try to create it. I don’t know if it’ll happen. Really great shows are really expensive, but I think there’s a TV project out there that’s never been done and I don’t think I’m that far away from it. I’ve got it in my head I know what I sort of want and I’m trying to create it.
BS: When you think about it, it’s like, “Why not?” We could use a little bit more funny.
CC: There’s so much intensity in sports- laughing’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with laughing.
BS: Thank you, Colin.