Q&A with the ‘Men in Blazers,’ the voice of soccer in the U.S. | For … – For The Win
There’s never a moment without banter around Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, the two co-hosts of NBC Sports’ soccer talkshow “Men in Blazers.” They sit around a long meeting table strewn with various papers. Above them is a large television illuminating pre-match coverage of the pivotal Tottenham-Chelsea Premier League game, and the air around them is littered with never-ending — but entirely good natured — shots at one another. The talk is fast, non-stop, and almost always self-deprecating. The men’s receded hairlines is a frequent topic of discussion.
“It was a shame to see that happen to a bald icon” Roger Bennett said of American soccer manager Bob Bradley, who earlier that week had been fired from his role as Swansea manager.
Us, Khaleesi, Mother of Dragons, and Olivier Giroud. Thanks to all at @nbcsports for looking the other way as we desecrated their Holy of Holies. We had as good a time as @kylemartino when he looks in the mirror.
A photo posted by Men in Blazers (@meninblazers) on Jan 4, 2017 at 4:41pm PST
The two hosts met each other while commiserating around a television showing the World Cup at a wedding reception in 2006. Eight years later, while Bennett was a writer at ESPN, the pair started a podcast for Grantland. It was just a handful of exiled soccer fans listening at first, a group the two now title “GFOP” (Great Friends of the Pod), but it grew. Then, in 2014, NBC Sports signed on the two to complement its newly-purchased U.S. television rights to the Premier League.
As the Tottenham-Chelsea game kicked-off, Bennett and Davies get to work preparing for the show. Chelsea were chasing a record-breaking 14th consecutive Premier League victory — a streak that Tottenham snapped 90 minutes later with an incisive 2-0 win. Bennett and Davies decided to mark the occasion by shooting their show for the first time from live from inside the NBC Sports headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.
For The Win was in the room as they prepared for that broadcast. We asked them about the show, their career, and their plans for the future.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.
Luke Kerr-Dineen: Thanks for doing this. I’m a big fan.
Roger Bennett: Oh no, I’m so sorry.
Michael Davies: You have terrible taste
LKD: Alright, first off, how do you feel like your profile has changed as soccer has grown in popularity in the U.S.?
RB: We feel as though that we’re the crest of this massive tidal wave as America discovers soccer. It started when [Michael] and I met each other, but not because we met each other…
MD: …although it’s an interesting theory. Like the butterfly effect, with really unattractive bald butterflies.
A photo posted by Men in Blazers (@meninblazers) on Sep 14, 2016 at 11:29am PDT
RB: World Cups are a big thing. Every four years you feel more people falling in love with the sport, and then with access to the narrative of the Premier League on a week-in, week-out basis, you see two things: America falling in love with soccer and soccer falling in love with America.
MD: I think we’ve seen there’s a kind of gold rush [in soccer] to mine this fresh, new, massive audience, and we’re benefitting from that.
LKD: And the podcast becoming a TV show?
MD: That was the really big thing for us, getting on television. We’d never get recognized doing the podcast, but NBC has given us this new platform while allowing us to keep our show feeling the same.
LKD: I was about to ask you about that. There’s a very intimate feel to the show. Is that something you think a lot about?
MD: Absolutely. We look straight into the camera, there’s no cutting; it’s a single cut. That connection with people is what keeps things fresh.
RB: It’s very much a three-way conversation between us, and the viewer.
LKD: And on soccer itself, why this sport?
RB: We have a passion for the game. We watch for those hectic and balletic moments of athleticism, but also for those moments in between. The own-goals, officials acting like they’re the stars, mascots. Diego Costa, Alexis Sanchez; there have been heroes this season, but for me, the true hero is the Chelsea fan English beef. That moment was everything. It captured, in a second, the decline of the British Empire and the mad passion we all felt for the game. It reflected back to you, in that moment, the experience we’re all feeling.
MD: You watch that and think, ‘never change, England.’
LKD: English Beef really was the kind of quintessential ‘Men in Blazers’ moment, in many ways.
MD: I think there’s a very legitimate question to ask about whether ‘Men in Blazers’ could exist in a world without social media. That real-time communication with fans is what we thrive on. We listen as much as we speak. We may have been finding some of clips like that before others, but really this all came from a point of view that we’re all in this together.
RB: Soccer contains every emotion. Joy, rage, glory, pain, exhilaration; you live through real human drama, and it takes you to these moments that we’ve all felt.
LKD: So, these are the kind of moments you’re looking for?
RB: We’re not even looking for them, they just happen. Fans will come to us and say, ‘English Beef will make the opening credits of your show,’ or we’ll see Big Sam stuff his big, beautiful British head into that tiny hat and think: ‘who told him that hat looked good? That has to get into the show’
MD: That’s also why it’s so valuable for us to be here at NBC. We get access to all those moments that we wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise. From there, it’s simple. I’d say that 100 percent of the time I find something funny, [Roger] does too. It’s a very pure form of television.
LKD: Finally, so much has happened since the conception of the show to now. Looking ahead, what do you think is next for Men in Blazers.
MD: Just to be clear, you say “conception” of the show, but there was never really any conception. There were no marketing people or anything like that. I don’t think Roger and I have ever had a disagreement on whether something is funny, so when we started doing this, it all sprouted up very organically. For that reason, it’s very hard to foresee where this is going next.
RB: I’m not going to make any bold predictions until I find out which team Landon Donovan goes to.