Sports media personality Pat McAfee said Sunday that he has not re-signed a contract to appear on ESPN’s “College GameDay.”
McAfee wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that fan criticism of his work on the show is part of the reason he hasn’t.
“I have heard you all very loud and clear since the beginning of my stint with GameDay. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I have not resigned a contract with the legendary show,” he said. “I’m not right for some crowds and the ‘distinguished’ College Football folks are definitely one of those.
“Excited to enjoy the rest of this year, that’s shaping up to be a GREAT one, and then see what the future holds.”
“College GameDay” viewership is down four percent in 2023 prior to Saturday. The show has averaged 1.956 million viewers so far in 2023, compared to 2.043 million viewers in 2022. Despite the statistically very small drop, this year is the second-most-watched year of the show since 2010. “College GameDay” averaged 2.1 million viewers in 2022 — the most-watched regular season and second most-watched overall season.
In his tweet, McAfee referenced a story from The Athletic on how readers watch college football. More than 3,100 readers responded on topics from broadcasters, ESPN versus Fox, how they feel about McAfee on “College GameDay” and more in the second annual college football TV survey. Among those who took the survey, 30.1 percent said they like McAfee on the show, 48.9 percent said they don’t and 21 percent had no opinion.
“Pat has been a fantastic addition to the ‘College GameDay’ family and our viewership gains from the past year and a half are evidence of that fact,” an ESPN spokesperson said Sunday. “He’s got a home on the show for as long as he would like.”
Fan reaction to McAfee on the show
McAfee finds fans and detractors in everything he does, and “College GameDay” is no different. He has a legion of fans from his radio show and podcast, which has turned into a multimillion-dollar business. With his rise has also come a collection of people who find his antics over the top, especially as he finds his way into more ESPN platforms like “College GameDay.”
It came to a head a few weeks ago when the show got into a mini-feud with Washington State over misconstrued comments by Lee Corso about conference realignment. After Washington State coach Jake Dickert and former quarterback Ryan Leaf criticized ESPN, McAfee fired back, saying “College GameDay” supported WSU and its flag when the program was down, people should “shut up” and that he was “about sick of you.”
Anecdotally, I began to hear from a lot of upset fans from that point forward who felt that McAfee didn’t appreciate college football by taking a shot at a school when it was hurting. Our second annual college football was just a small unscientific online poll, but it seemed to upset McAfee on top of the other backlash.
Personally, I’ve enjoyed the increased energy McAfee has brought to the show, especially his banter with Kirk Herbstreit. I also enjoy him as a WWE commentator, but I understand that style is not for everyone. To not apologize or be more playful with a “College GameDay” tradition like Washington State turned a lot of people off. The show is meant to be an on-campus party every week and not be taken too seriously, but it’s also a sport built on traditions that fans want to be respected. — Chris Vannini, national college football writer
Could he still sign on?
I won’t bury the lede: I expect McAfee to return to “College GameDay” next season. I know enough people who work on “College GameDay” to know that McAfee enjoys the camaraderie of the group both in front of and behind the camera. He’s also a very savvy business person when it comes to his brand and he knows the connection to one of ESPN’s iconic properties is very good for “The Pat McAfee Show” brand. It’s also a fun gig — a travel grind, for sure, but a fun one.
There’s nothing in the viewership data to suggest McAfee has any negative impact on the show — and that’s what matters to ESPN executives. These things have a way of working out and I’ll bet on McAfee being on set next August. — Richard Deitsch, sports media writer
News of McAfee potentially not returning to “College GameDay” comes after he signed a multiyear deal with ESPN in early September to join the show as a full-time analyst. He previously appeared on “College GameDay” as an analyst in 2022 and contributed to ESPN’s college football postseason coverage.
At the time of the announcement, ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro told The Athletic, “I think that’s largely because he’s real, authentic and unafraid. His top attributes are exactly what we look for — he’s willing to say what he believes, he is genuine, incredibly knowledgeable and passionate. He resonates strongly among young fans, and he has a significant and engaged social presence. He’s that rare talent that both my teenagers and I find compelling.”
McAfee’s “College GameDay” deal followed his first deal with ESPN in May to bring his show, “The Pat McAfee Show,” to the network.
Last year’s “College GameDay” viewership increased in all key demographics with an overall eight percent increase across all viewers. In 2023, the show has had three of the five most-watched pre-November “College GameDay” telecasts since 2010: Week 6’s Red River Rivalry (2.29 million viewers), Week 3 in Boulder for the Rocky Mountain Showdown (2.27 million viewers) and Week 4 in South Bend as Notre Dame hosted Ohio State (2.24 million viewers).
(Photo: Andrew Wevers / USA Today)