Practice, Perseverance, and Madden: The Professional Journey of NFL Network’s Scott Cole

Scott Cole, ESPN broadcaster & CBS Radio Host

Scott Cole, ESPN broadcaster & CBS Radio Host

At the risk of stating the obvious, the world of sports and sports broadcasting is a vastly different place than just a couple of decades ago. This is in part due to the rise of new internet broadcasting platforms, ESPN3 perhaps being the most prominent, and the esports scene growing into a now billion dollar industry. Scott Cole is considered a pioneer of esports broadcasting, as well as a seasoned veteran of traditional sports broadcasting with 18 years of experience.   

Currently, Scott hosts Madden NFL Live on the NFL Network, regularly broadcasts college sports on the ESPN family of networks, and hosts The Scott Cole Show where he and co-host Ryan Alford discuss Scott’s beloved Clemson Tigers, among other sport topics, with a variety of guests. Before this, however, he was a student of John Brown University’s budding digital media program in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

“I was all lined up to go to a Clemson or a Furman University and study computer science or something crazy like that, but John Brown was one of the first schools to have a digital media program. So in 1997, people had never even heard of this interactive digital media world. I pretty much found out that I could get a degree in digital media and broadcasting because there was so many crossovers between the two. It was a unique opportunity because the school had a 100,000 watt radio station on campus too. It was a very hands on university and that’s the reason I chose it. I got to go there and broadcast sports and essentially be the voice of all the JBU sports teams for all four years. It just felt like it was four years of working and gaining experience and not just learning from books and dissecting Paul Harvey or Vin Scully.”

After calling over 200 sporting events as a college student, Scott was hired by the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars in graphic production. Here, he continued to pursue broadcasting by filling in on radio broadcasts when possible and networking with industry figures.

“It’s funny that Mark Cuban was the one writing my checks at the time, but internet broadcasting had still not really caught on. So I had to put it on the shelf as I realized, while I was driving Al Michaels and all these people around during the Stanley Cup playoffs, that I was a long way away from the opportunity that these guys have. So I sort of put broadcasting as a hobby and went into the advertising world, which is where the digital media degree came in.”

While waiting for the right opportunity to pursue his true passion for broadcasting, Scott worked in creative advertising for brands like American Airlines, Fossil, and Match.com. It was during this time that he became a highly involved member of the esports community and further stretched his broadcasting muscles. For those unfamiliar, Cyber Professional League, which has been described as the Mecca of the esports world, takes place in Dallas every year. At this event, and many like it, Scott provided commentary for the highest levels of video game competition.

“This was before video. What we would do is called “Shoutcasting” where we do play by play and color, just like you would over radio, but it was going out over the internet as an audio file. But in 2008, there was a sort of esports bust. It got big, people were putting a lot of money into it, but there wasn’t any infrastructure in place to handle player salaries and broadcast rights. So once again I go back to the advertising world, even though I traveled the world from Germany to Korea covering esports from the mid to late 2000’s.”

To go from being on the internet in your bedroom to being on a million dollar platform in a million dollar studio and spending your Thursday nights watching football with Rich Eisen, Marshall Faulk, Michael Irvin and Coach Mariucci, and then me: some random guy hanging out with Hall of Famers, it’s just kind of surreal.
— Scott Cole

In 2014, however, Scott’s luck changed upon his introduction to the gaming live broadcasting platform Twitch.tv, which had recently been purchased by Amazon for $970 million.

“A former colleague, who is the director of broadcasting for Twitch, got me into Twitch and I didn’t even know what it was at the time. It is no different than starting your own internet radio station or video podcast except it’s live streaming.”

Scott quickly established a strong presence on Twitch providing gameplay and commentary for EA Sports’ Madden NFL games, among other titles. He eventually became a paid partner for Twitch and his talent and charisma caught the attention of EA Sports and the NFL.

“As esports started becoming more popular, they were looking for professionals. So out of nowhere, Twitch, EA Sports, and the NFL got together on a project called Madden NFL Live. Because I had met those Twitch guys two years earlier in New York, who had recognized my work doing college sports on ESPN3, and because of my work as a partner for Twitch, they decided to give me an audition. So I went on that audition and the second audition and somehow got the job. I just told my dad that I was going to see the studio, maybe meet Rich Eisen and Michael Irvin, and say it was a cool trip."

"Twenty something episodes later, the show has nearly half a million viewers on a Saturday and it is the number one weekend show on the network and hopefully it is coming back for season two. To go from being on the internet in your bedroom to being on a million dollar platform in a million dollar studio and spending your Thursday nights watching football with Rich Eisen, Marshall Faulk, Michael Irvin and Coach Mariucci, and then me: some random guy hanging out with Hall of Famers, it’s just kind of surreal.”

This opportunity prompted Scott to leave the advertising world and pursue broadcasting full time.

“Up until last October, I’ve always had a day job. When I got the national television job with NFL network, that is what pushed me to make the jump and try to make a run at my dreams. I’ve started now filling in on radio shows and hopefully I’ll have my own show launching this summer that reaches the Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina, area and parts of Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina. It’s not work to me. A three to four hour show feels like five minutes. I’m sure you get worn down over time, but some people were made to talk.”

Scott’s presence on Madden NFL live, along with his active presence on gaming platforms like Twitch and XBOX Live, have provided him with unique networking opportunities with prominent figures of the football world, such as Cam Newton and Maurice Jones-Drew.

“With these athletes, if you call their agents, you are probably going to get the run around. But since I have a commonality of being a sort of gaming celebrity, especially in sports games, I can see Cam Newton and say ‘Cam, let’s play a game of Madden some time.’”

This has also taught him some of the finer points of relationship building. One of the most recent guests on Scott’s podcast was former Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers running back Ahman Green. Scott and Ahman’s friendship was mostly grown over interactions on XBOX Live.

“He came on the first episode of Madden NFL Live and we talked about playing games together, and now we’re doing projects together. I’m helping out with his charity, and he came on my radio show. Agencies want to know what the situation is with money but building relationships is what these players are doing. People think they’re going to clubs and all that, but these guys are actually going home and playing FIFA, Madden, NBA 2K and Call of Duty. They just want to be regular people. That’s what I’ve found out meeting guys like Joe Montana or Herschel Walker. They just want to be people. They’ve had people worship them long enough. When it comes to the younger generation of players, they just want to find some buddies to game with who don’t want anything in return.”

Gaming and esports have provided for many, like Scott, the opportunity to pursue their dreams. However, some traditional sports media figures, such as Colin Cowherd, have been adamant in their dismissiveness towards esports’ legitimacy.

“Everyone is susceptible to change. For example, when NASCAR got popular, people were questioning whether those guys were really athletes when the car is doing a lot of the work. In some sort of way, the computer is doing some of the work in esports. I think they realize, and even Colin Cowherd has come back to admit, that these guys have amazing reflexes and the way their brains work… it’s fatiguing. You have to be in shape. You even have teams now that are going to IMG Academy in Florida to train (for esports). They’re mixing in cardio and physical activities and brain testing, working on their reflexes. I’ll admit it isn’t football and no one is going to hit you, but any time you’re doing something professional for money, you have to be in shape for it. For most people it is just ignorance, the uneducated about what is really happening. It’s hard for people to understand what’s going on, but for a lot of teens and twenty somethings, that’s their world.”

Because of esports’ massive popularity amongst younger demographics, Twitch has the potential to be a training ground for the next generation of broadcasters in many facets of entertainment. Scott can personally speak to its effectiveness.

“It’s great practice for being live on camera. There’s no other feeling like that. There is no start over, there is no hold ups. There’s no take two. It is a live platform. Whether you are trying to get into radio or TV, having that pressure of having your brain think about what you are going to say because it is out there forever is good. As far as sports goes, I think play-by-play for a game like Rocket League or play-by-play for college soccer is pretty close. Having any ability to describe something live is a great platform, especially for someone that’s younger. The funny thing is a lot of times, when I’m broadcasting, let’s say on the SoCon digital network, it’s about a tenth of my viewership than if I was playing on Twitch. So sometimes Twitch is a larger platform, but for some reason broadcasting college baseball seems more legit than broadcasting MLB The Show on Twitch, even though 500-1,000 people might be watching concurrently on Twitch, maybe 10,000 people pass through in an hour." 

"A college baseball game on the SoCon Digital Network, if you go over a couple hundred people that feels like a pretty big deal. It’s just that stigma you talk about like ‘this isn’t real’ or ‘video games aren’t real’ or ‘esports isn’t real’ or ‘real broadcasting’, but I think there’s so much money involved that it will be. Now these shows, like the one I do, are hitting national television and there’s now Counter Strike on TBS. They’re playing for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. People are going to expect better production not only from the quality of the production but from the quality of the broadcasting."

"The difference between esports and college football or baseball is there is a precedent with college sports, like Brad Nesler or Kirk Herbstreit for example. There are guys who are household names. There isn’t that in esports so when people tune in to listen, who may not be familiar with it, they have nothing from their past to be able to base it off of because it is so new and so foreign to them.”

With his love of gaming and sports appealing to audiences that may not always intertwine, Scott has struck a balance with his public presence between being authentic and professional.

“The easiest thing to do is be you. It’s hard work to be something you’re not, and I’m just too lazy. Somebody calls in and wants to talk about the Kentucky Derby and I’m like ‘I appreciate it, but I don’t know anything about it.’ But if someone called in and wanted to talk about the ’85 Bears and how they compare to last year’s Broncos’ defense, I can talk about that passionately for an hour. I think if you’re true to you, you build an audience that has an affinity for the topics that you like to talk about around you."

"It’s been tough, I’ll be honest. With my social media, this is probably the first year where I’m going all in on sports and sort of leaving a little bit of the esports behind because you have to find your lane and stay in it. When you’re all over the place, people don’t know what to do. At one point I’m like ‘Yeah! Clemson is ranked again in Baseball!’ and the next moment, I’m like ‘I can’t believe there’s a new Halo coming out.’ People are just like ‘who is this guy?’ Some of those are just lessons learned.”

While hard work, perseverance, and passion have lifted Cole to the level of success and status that he enjoys today, he acknowledges that his journey as a broadcaster has been an unconventional one.

“I sort of do feel like I skipped a step, going from my bedroom to national television. Where was my small local broadcast? Where was my local sports show that lead to the NFL network? It was just all of a sudden because it’s niche programming. It’s not another show with three guys in suits; it sort of skipped over all of that. I think for a lot of the veteran broadcasters, they don’t understand it. They ask ‘how do you have 100,000 followers?’ And I said I gained 30,000 in one episode on national TV. That’s the difference of having the NFL retweeting you and being verified on Twitter overnight compared to being some local guy. I felt like now I got to go back and find my roots and find what my broadcasting baseline is. One night I’ll be broadcasting women’s soccer to 50 people, then the next I’m on national TV to 500,000. But it still feels the same to me and that lets me know that it’s my right profession.”

When building your own path to broadcasting success, saying yes to everything is undeniably essential. Mr. Scott Cole is living proof of this.

“Even if you’re doing a local radio show at two in the morning, don’t turn down any opportunity. Even if that means you might have to miss something that you want to do. The one time you say no might be the last time they ask you. It’s such a select group of people and so many people want to do it, there’s going to be someone that says yes. Where you had your own seat, all of a sudden you’ve lost it. It’s that competitive. Broadcast anything you can. 100 people watching me on Twitch turned into a national TV job.”

Follow Scott on Twitter here.

Connect with Scott on LinkedIn here. 

This interview was presented to you by the University of Nebraska - Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration 

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