June 5, 2023

Jamie Erdahl on her ‘Good Morning Football’ debut, her time with CBS and being a working mom in sports media

Read Time:21 Minute, 10 Second

There are plenty of things you don’t know about Jamie Erdahl because, as she will note herself, you did not tune into Alabama-LSU or Georgia-Florida for updates on her life. Her four years as the sideline reporter for the SEC on CBS were spent, in her words, “pregnant, breastfeeding, pregnant, breastfeeding.” She threw up or dry heaved in every stadium in the SEC, and because driving helped with preventing motion sickness, Erdahl ended up partnering with colleague Gary Danielson as they drove to game sites. (CBS Sports had policies in place during 2020 and 2021 because of COVID to limit the number of people together in cars.)

Erdahl has spent the last eight years mostly as a road warrior given her assignments at CBS, which included the NFL and NCAA Tournament as well as the best SEC football games. That now changes as she debuts Monday as the new host of NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football.” She replaces Kay Adams on that program, alongside Peter Schrager, Kyle Brandt, Will Selva and Jason McCourty. The show airs Monday to Friday at 7 a.m. ET, live from New York City.

“I’ve said to my family and close circle of people that I feel like this has changed the trajectory of my career,” Erdahl said. “Not saying that it has changed it to the course of I’ll remain in studio, but it will open up, as long as I do well, a wide variety of things. It doesn’t just have to be sports stuff, either. What I’ve really come to terms with is if you can be on television three hours a day live and talk about any topic, you can do any kind of TV for three hours a day. That’s just a skill set in and of itself that I don’t have yet, but I can’t wait to have it. This is going to be really good for myself and my family in terms of the contract I agreed to, and that’s as much as I can hope for right now. It’s going to make me a better professional. Those are a lot of great boxes to check in the next couple of years.”

Erdahl said she hopes to continue to do some work for CBS, including guest spots on “We Need To Talk,” which airs on CBS Sports Network and CBS. She also hopes CBS is open to her continuing to work the NCAA Tournament as a sideline reporter. Erdahl was part of the group with Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel that took a magical ride last March with Saint Peter’s.

Last week, I had a long sit-down with Erdahl on her new NFL Network role and how she navigated being a working mother in a high-profile sports gig. Here are some excerpts from our conversation, which you can listen to in full in the player below.

Why did you want this job?

I like a challenge. It’s different than what I had done for eight years at CBS, and they were amazing years. I try to wrap my head around the job this way: My job at CBS was to support the broadcast as the game unfolded. This job with “Good Morning Football” is about talent. We get to talk, we get to have our opinions, and we jump off the news and everything that’s happening in the NFL. I think five or eight years ago, I would have thought I could do this job, but I bet I wouldn’t have been as good at it as I probably will be today, hopefully. It felt like it was the time to broaden beyond sideline reporting, which is a great job. I circle back to what I would have thought about this job five years ago. I think if you had told me you have to leave your sideline job to go do something like this, I would have been like, “You never leave the sideline. You’ll never get back.” Then I saw that Melissa Stark was named the reporter for “Sunday Night Football” and that felt like a huge turning point for me, to see somebody go away from the sideline and come back in such a prominent role. It showed me that you can go other places, you can do new things and grow, and you could go back if you wanted to.

When these jobs become available, your representation, your agents, are paid to be aware of this stuff. You’re probably aware of it as well being in the business. When did you first learn Kay Adams was leaving this job?

(Kay and I) have the same representation. … My agent knew before anybody else knew or when “Good Morning Football” found out. So my agent, Josh Levy at WME, called me, and if I remember correctly, I don’t even think he said what the job was. He’s always been very sensitive about the way my life trajectory has gone. When I got married or started having kids, he really protected me because I’m somebody who will really feel badly, like Minnesotan guilt, if I don’t say yes to everything. For a couple of years he allowed me to just focus on my SEC job, focus on the NCAA Tournament and then when I was off, I was off. I could be a mom. Then it was, OK, the babies are not true babies anymore. He called me and said if there was a job that would have you guys move back to the East Coast, what would you think about that? There’s a lot of personal life stuff that goes along with that. But essentially it would be wildly beneficial to both my husband’s career and mine. So I said I think we would do that, even though we’re both Minnesota natives and like being around our parents. He told me Kay was going to leave “Good Morning Football.” I couldn’t believe that was the job, to be honest. Then I was like, “Let’s go after it.” That’s how I found out.

This job is very much a chemistry-based job. You have to have some kind of initial chemistry with the group or the producers and executives have to think that you can eventually form an engaging on-air group. You must have done some test shows with the current group?

We did not sit at a set together until after I had the job.

Wow. OK, that surprises me. That’s interesting.

I don’t know what that means in terms of their process or their decision-making. That’s above my pay grade. I certainly spoke with a lot of executives. But the first time I met Peter and Kyle was a week or two after I got the job. We did one secret show that we kind of joke about now. They were at NFL Films doing a show and they brought me in. They did a whole show, and then I sat down after they did three hours of TV. I felt terrible because I was like, “You guys just did this and now we have to redo these segments that you just did.” We had fun with it. We were joking in the middle of it that this is going to be the thing in five years that we remember, a secret show. I had not met or chatted with them, but you put your feelers out. I’m pretty close with Ian Eagle and he knows Schrager well. Ian was like our go-between, essentially telling us about the other person. And people just rave about Kyle’s brilliance and his creativity. I’ve always prided myself (on) how close I’ve become with my cohorts on TV. Any crew I’ve ever been on, I’ve become incredibly close with those people.

You’ve done live games in front of millions of viewers. So the producers already know you can do quote-unquote sports television. What was the interview process like for this job?

It wasn’t so much rapid-fire questions with the executives as much as it was them telling me the most challenging parts of the show. I don’t want to say the worst parts of the show, but the most challenging parts. They essentially were asking me, “What do you think you would do if this situation were to come up? Why do you even want to be in a situation that is very different from what you’ve been doing for eight to 10 years?” My husband always says I get real crabby like two or three weeks after March Madness ends because I feel like I don’t have an outlet. I have ideas bubbling and the three-year-old doesn’t want to hear it and the one-year-old can’t talk yet. It’s just like there’s no place for my professional energy to go. I start thinking maybe I should be doing sports talk radio in the offseason. I do some stuff locally and that kind of fills my cup. But there had just been this growing thought that I had more to give.

Every year on the SEC (football) you gain more knowledge and you get more stories. The SEC games are unbelievable. But that sometimes comes to the detriment of the sideline reporter because you’re left with these stories in a basket that never hits the air. You have these conversations, you do this digging, you try to be as creative as possible, and then it doesn’t get on the air because the game is amazing. Nobody wants to hear about how so-and-so’s elementary school teacher in the stands taught someone how to throw left-handed when it’s a one-score game and you’re in College Station. I think the biggest adjustment for me is just not feeling rushed. The joke among reporters is the producer says, “You have 20 seconds to do this, but if you can do it in 15, that’d be great.” That’s just so not this show. It’s exciting for me to be able to think in this three-hour window every day.

Jamie Erdahl

Jamie Erdahl interviewing quarterback Bryce Young after Alabama won the SEC title last December. Erdahl spent four seasons as the lead sideline reporter for the SEC on CBS. (Brett Davis / USA Today)

“Good Morning Football” has been critically praised, and it’s watched by a ton of NFL people. People associated with the league watch it. But it’s watched by far less people than if you were doing LSU-Alabama or the NCAA Elite Eight. That’s different for you in a big way.

People were not going to watch LSU-Alabama just to see me, and that’s fine. People didn’t watch the Red Sox or the Bruins just to see me (when she worked at NESN). That’s how I’ve operated my entire career. I had an interesting conversation with (executive producer) Michael Davies about this. He really made sure I understood how talent-based this show is. I’ve done some self-work to make sure I’m prepared for that. It goes against kind of like my baseline humility chip that I have. I’ve had to kind of push some of that aside. I’m just ready for different. I don’t know how else to explain it. The fact that it is less people, it doesn’t bother me. I mean 10 people could watch it and I would still be happy to talk about the NFL for three hours a day. I stopped by the Vikings facility before I left Minnesota, and their PR team said they have the show on and the guys have it on in the locker room. I just think that is awesome.

When you announced that you had gotten this job, people on social media were really happy for you. Your colleagues have always said very nice things about you. That must have made you feel very good.

Yeah, I mean, thank you. That was really cool to see. I mean, sorry. (Erdahl took a couple of seconds to compose her thoughts after tearing up.)

Usually people are crying on this podcast because of my terrible questions. Not out of happiness.

It’s not about the social media response. It’s more … when I speak to college classes, one of the pieces of advice that I always give is if you want to be on-air talent, and I always pick a really alarmingly high number when I do this example, I say 70 percent of you being good at the job has nothing to do with being on television. The young woman who’s sitting in the front row who thinks it matters if she looks a certain way or her makeup is trendy, I just really want that person to hear it. Because people come and go. You can look great and you can sound great but if you’re not a good person, people aren’t going to want to work with you. Coaches aren’t going to want to be around you. Players aren’t going to want to talk to you. Over the last 10 years, I have felt in moments intimidated, sad or frustrated that I didn’t get certain jobs or certain moments. I’ve tried to remain steadfast. My father says, “Be a good person and then you will be good at the job.” I’ve always tried to be that way. … I was an intern at ESPN when I was in college and I used to run scripts out for the Highlight Express to (former ESPN-er and Marquee Sports Network host) Cole Wright. I like to think I was the same person then. So it was just a really amazing thing to watch all these people remember who I was, and I was also really proud of it.

Your background of working SEC football and the NFL would seem like a really good fit for a daily show on the NFL.

I start looking at teams and rosters, and those guys from the SEC are everywhere. They may not remember me from Adam but that’s cool. I remember them. I’m not walking into it blind. The four years that I was on the NFL on CBS, a lot of those guys are still around. The biggest challenge I have found in my preparation is the coaches and the coordinators. That is like spiderwebs across the league. My biggest challenge is like trying to connect all the dots and where people have come and gone.

Here’s an Instagram post from the airport that you wrote last March:

I can only imagine how exhausted and tired you were as you navigated this high-profile job. What was that experience like as a working mother?

Well, my four years on the SEC were spent pregnant, breastfeeding, pregnant, breastfeeding. The first time around I didn’t know any better. It was brand new and I just was flying by the seat of my pants. I had a happy, healthy baby. I had a great support system. The SEC on CBS bus had a fridge and the guys were totally incredible. Gary’s got like 14 grandkids. Couldn’t have had a better support system on the road. The second time (pregnancy) around was the fall of 2020. I was pregnant with my second and I wore a mask on the air the entire football season in the SEC. I did not share that I was pregnant until I had the baby. I was a little bit more public with my first pregnancy. Simply said, it just didn’t feel like the time to be celebrating something like that when other people were dealing with their own stuff. I also didn’t really want to give people a reason to know why I was wearing the mask. I just kind of wanted to be like, “Yeah, I’m wearing a mask all football season. Leave me alone.” I got sick, ironically, in January. I did an entire season of traveling and being around coaches, and then I got COVID.

I would say breastfeeding, pumping on the road, it really honed my skills to advocate for myself. To just kind of state things in a way that this is the expectation, this is the standard that I would like to set for how I am operating in this circumstance. I think as women in the industry, especially when you’re younger, you often start talking, and you finish your sentences on the way up as if you’re asking a question every time. It’s like, “And then I’m going to take this flight and get in to Atlanta around 2:00?” Essentially, it’s, “Is that OK with everybody?” Then it became, “I will be arriving in Tuscaloosa at 8 p.m.”

I had to be OK with that. This is what works for me. I had very unpleasant pregnancies. I got sick in every stadium in the SEC. I don’t passenger well. I have to drive the car. CBS had rules that you could only have two people in a car so the entire 2020 season when I was pregnant with my second, I drove and Gary sat in the way back of a Tahoe. Things were done, sacrifices were made, because I can’t sit in the back seat of a car. I felt like that’s what you do when you want to feed your kid. Fed is best, though my kids still got a formula bottle at night. Breastfeeding was manageable for me, so I did my best. I also think, for me, being away from young kids, it was a way for me to feel connected to them when I was gone three days in a row on the weekends. It brought me back to them every time I pumped. I always told myself I’d do it until I hated doing it. When March Madness came around and those trips are longer, that’s when I really started to resent it — the act of pumping on the road. That’s when I wound down and that felt good to me. I’m very proud of the length of time that I was able to do breastfeeding for both of them. It really gave me a voice that I didn’t know I had. Whether that is right or wrong. I was protecting myself and my kids and also trying to do a really good job for my employer. I think all of those things can exist.

The Ink Report

1. Per Sports Media Watch : The ESPY Awards have cratered in viewership since the mid-2010s. This year’s awards averaged 2.5 million viewers on ABC, down 35 percent in viewership from 2019 (3.87 million). Last year’s show (on a Saturday night) drew 1.24 million on ABC. Sports Media Watch said the 2022 ESPYs ranked as the least-watched since 2013 (2.27M) and is tied as the lowest rated since 2011. The troubling number for ESPN, as noted by Sports Media Watch, is that the show failed to win the key demos on the night.

In another life, I wrote annually about the ESPYs and it was always interesting to hear from the ESPN staffers back home who didn’t get the Wonka ticket, as well as those who questioned the large expenditure (they once gave away gift bags to guests worth at least $23,000). The ESPYs were designed many years ago by ESPN execs as a way to pucker up to athletes, Hollywood, and, most of all, to market ESPN. For me, the show’s saving grace, amid the hubris, was that it often produced beautiful and important television with the Jimmy V, Pat Tillman and Ashe awards — and raised a boatload of money for the V Foundation. I’m not sure how much value it has for ESPN in 2022 given the expenditure in a budget-conscious era (someone smarter than me can offer an ROI projection on partying with CAA, Octagon, Wasserman, and WME agents), but if they keep it around merely to honor the memory of Maura Mandt, one of the true life forces in sports television whose production company, MaggieVision Productions, has produced the show since 2006, that’s cool by me. Mandt is missed. A true original.

2. Notable piece here by Tripp Mickle, Benjamin Mullin and Kevin Draper on why Big Tech is making a big play for live sports.

2a. The Athletic’s Daniel Kaplan examined how Amazon created a new “Thursday Night Football” theme.

2a. Via Scooby Axson of USA Today: Uninterrupted, the company co-founded by LeBron James, filed a trademark for the phrase “Shut Up and Dribble.”

3. Episode 223 of the Sports Media Podcast features a roundtable with Boston Globe sports media writer and general sports columnist Chad Finn and Sports Business Journal managing editor/digital Austin Karp. In this podcast, Karp and Finn discuss MLB viewership at the All-Star Game; baseball’s decision to sign deals with so many different media partners; whether the Home Run Derby can outdraw the All-Star Game; why younger people like the Home Run Derby more than the game; where we stand in the post-Tiger Woods world as far as media interest; whether LIV Golf will get a deal (we think yes); an examination of the USFL viewership; John Ourand’s report that ESPN is hiking the price of its ESPN+ by 43 percent starting next month and what it means; if we will watch ESPN’s Derek Jeter doc; the future of the ACC; and more.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, and more.

4. Sports pieces of note:

• One night in London: Allegations of sexual assault and a reckoning for Hockey Canada. By Katie Strang, Dan Robson, and Ian Mendes of The Athletic.

• Via The Athletic’s Jayson Stark: On Tim Kurkjian, the joy of baseball writing and Cooperstown.

• MLS broadcaster Brian Dunseth, via the Grant Wahl podcast, on the impact of the recent CTE-in-soccer stories.

• Inside Son Heung-min’s £11 million academy, where shooting is banned for under-15s. By Charlie Eccleshare of The Athletic.

• How Shannon Curley became one of the most important voices in the Blue Jays organization. By David Singh of Sportsnet.

• Michael Schumacher Is the GOAT. Michael Schumacher Is Absent. By Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated.

• Does Soccer Still Need the Header? By Rory Smith of The New York Times.

• Michigan State coach Mel Tucker opens up about the gravity of his civil rights trip to Alabama: ‘I’m still processing.’ By Bruce Feldman of The Athletic.

• Gary Smith Teaches Mindfulness to Elementary School Kids These Days. By Joseph Bien-Kahn of Sports Illustrated.

Non-sports pieces of note:

Read this thread. It’s worth it. Then take the day off.

• Alan Dershowitz’s Martha’s Vineyard Cancellation. By Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker.

• They still haven’t gotten COVID. Here are some of their theories as to why. By Ellen McCarthy of The Washington Post.

• Josh Hawley’s effort to reap political rewards from Jan. 6 scampers off. By Phillip Bump of The Washington Post.

• Police may have cracked a 1975 killing — by digging through trash. By Brittany Shammas of The Washington Post.

• I’m a veteran ER doctor. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. By Liza Agrba of Maclean’s (Canada).

• The Haves and the Have-Yachts. By Evan Osnos of The New Yorker.

• The white-nationalist Patriot Front is getting bigger, and more visible, in New England. By Laura Crimaldi, Dugan Arnett and Amanda Milkovits of The Boston Globe.

• Bed Bath & Beyond Followed a Winning Playbook—and Lost. By Suzanne Kapner of The Wall Street Journal.

• Vince McMahon Retires as WWE CEO Amid Sexual Harassment Scandal. By Ted Mann, Joe Palazzolo and Denny Jacob of The Wall Street Journal.

• Unleash the Bots! (But only on Studio Execs). By Sonny Bunch of The Bulwark.

• Pregnant, homeless and living in a tent: Meet Mckenzie. By Gale Holland of the L.A. Times.

• Michael Mann’s Damaged Men. By Jonah Weiner of New York Times Magazine.

• Toronto’s airport is now worst in the world for delays. The reason may not be what you think. By Richard Warnica of The Toronto Star.

(Top photo: Brian Rothmuller / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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