McAfee Blasts ESPN Exec Over Attempted ‘Sabotage’ of TV Show

In a move that might be charitably characterized as ill-advised, Pat McAfee on Friday took a swipe at one of the most powerful executives on the ESPN org chart.

Speaking at the top of the third hour of Friday’s edition of The Pat McAfee Show, the titular host accused his ESPN partners of treachery. “There are some people actively trying to sabotage us from within ESPN,” McAfee said during the exclusive YouTube portion of his daily show, mere moments after ESPN’s regular noon-to-2 p.m. ET simulcast ended. “More specifically, I believe Norby Williamson is the guy who is attempting to sabotage our program.”

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McAfee went on to suggest that Williamson had leaked “wrong” ratings numbers to the press to establish a “false narrative” for his show, which ESPN began distributing on Sept. 7 as part of a five-year, $85 million licensing deal with the former NFL punter. After dropping that bombshell, McAfee referred to Williamson as a “rat.”

Williamson, who serves as ESPN’s executive editor and head of event and studio production, has been with the company since 1985. In C-suite parlance, he’s untouchable.

A story in Friday morning’s New York Post seems to have been the catalyst for McAfee’s attack. In the piece, Post reporter Andrew Marchand suggested that McAfee’s shtick is probably more trouble than it’s worth, as the show doesn’t draw the sort of ratings that are commensurate with a $17 million annual payout. Marchand reported that the McAfee show to date is averaging just 302,000 viewers per episode, a figure in keeping with the December linear-TV deliveries ESPN cited in a release that went out earlier this afternoon (332,000).

When McAfee’s YouTube and TikTok impressions are added to his TV numbers, the show last month averaged 886,000 viewers per episode. In that same release, McAfee was effusive in his praise for such top ESPN execs as president Jimmy Pitaro (“incredibly hospitable and motivating”) and content president Burke Magnus (“a strong ally”). Williamson didn’t get a mention.

As much as it’s unlikely that Williamson or any other ESPN higher-up would actively try to tank an $85 million investment, McAfee’s accusation demonstrates his unfamiliarity with how reporters go about their business. Williamson certainly wouldn’t find it necessary to “leak” ratings data to a sports-media reporter, as anyone on that beat who’s worth a damn is going to have access to all the requisite Nielsen deliveries. Ignorance is bliss, until you deliberately showcase that lack of knowledge in front of an audience that includes one of the key decision-makers at the company you’re partnered with.

McAfee served up his curious gambit just days after the show’s regular guest, New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, implied that the ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel had ties to dead sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. ESPN and ABC are sibling networks owned by the Walt Disney Co.

A day after Kimmel threatened to take Rodgers to court over his remarks, McAfee apologized for his show’s role in the controversy. In the next breath, McAfee effectively confirmed that Rodgers would retain his regular Tuesday guest spot, for which the QB is paid handsomely. “I can’t wait to hear what Aaron has to say about it,” the host said, before putting the issue to bed.

While it remains to be seen how Williamson and other members of the Bristol brass will respond to this latest confrontation, McAfee has a track record of splitting from his business partners before the contracts expire. In a mutual parting of the ways, McAfee negotiated an early exit from DAZN in May 2020, before going on to void his four-year, $120 million deal with FanDuel this spring—a move that cleared the way for his new ESPN gig.

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