Sat. Aug 18th, 2018

Q&A with Clay Travis

I was watching the movie Fight Club the other day. Brad Pitt’s character says at one point, “If you wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs.” That thought is a good description of Clay Travis’ style. Gaining a lot of attention and a monstrous following sometimes involves ruffling a few feathers along the way.

Clay’s on-air style makes me flash back to those old-school Rolling Stone descriptions of heavy metal bands. You know the ones that are littered with a flurry of colorful and unique adjectives. The uncompromising national host of Outkick the Coverage on FOX Sports Radio, Clay Travis unleashes a relentless fury of persuasions in headstrong and unapologetic fashion. Pointed, biting, yet mixed with an authenticity and honesty that isn’t commonly accessible. Sure, that’s a little thick, but it’s also accurate.

“People who get mad at me fuel the people who like me.” If that isn’t a great evaluation of the reaction to Clay Travis, I don’t know what is. Coincidentally, those comments come from Clay’s mouth in the interview below. Clay also explains that owning his Outkick the Coverage website affords him a luxury that many others don’t possess. It helps unlock his no-holds-barred honesty on the airwaves.

Another line from Fight Club fits — “I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I’m free in all the ways that you are not.” In many ways, Clay Travis is the Tyler Durden of sports talk.

BN: Do you ever just wake up and say, “I don’t feel like dealing with crazy responses today?”

CT: (laughs) I don’t ever think about how people are going to respond to me. I definitely think when my alarm goes off in the 4:15 range in the morning central time — because I’m on east coast drive time living in the central time zone — I definitely think when it’s pitch black, “What am I doing with my life getting out of bed at 4:15am?”

I don’t really think about the way people are going to respond to what I say or write or do at all, but I definitely think, “My God, I’d like to just hit the alarm off and sleep for another three hours.” I would say that’s the most common thought I have at 4:15am when the alarm goes off. The other one is to turn the alarm off fast so I don’t wake up anybody else in the house.

Another thing is I’ve gotten pulled over a lot driving at 4:15-4:20am. I just hop in the car and get moving. It’s funny because the cops who are working the overnight shift will pull me over for going 45 in a 35 or whatever I’m doing on my way to work. It’s almost like they’re just checking to see if I’m coming home for the night or on my way to work. As soon as they see I’m on my way to work, they’re like, “Yeah, you’re fine.” I think they’re worried about drunk drivers and stuff like that because a lot of people, frankly, are still finishing their day when I’m starting mine.

BN: How long does it take for your mind to start functioning while you’re doing the show early in the morning?

CT: It doesn’t really take any time for my mind to start functioning. I’ve done middays and I’ve done afternoons. I think morning is a lot more challenging. Now, I will say it’s a lot more fulfilling because we get to talk before the new story of the day is set. Nobody has talked at all about any of the games that have happened by the time we’re talking.

I did afternoon drive for a long time in Nashville, and it’s crazy to me now with Periscope and Facebook and social media, that when I got started, I might be talking about a game that took place at noon on Saturday, and not talking about it until Monday afternoon. That’s 48 hours after the game has been over. That’s crazy to me now to think about doing something where it takes that long to react.

The other thing I’d say is great about mornings is I’m ahead of everybody. Sometimes I feel like the only people awake in the country are me and Donald Trump because I check my Twitter feed and nobody is tweeting anything. Then the president gets up and says something crazy on Twitter and it feels like he and I are the only two people up and moving that early in the morning getting in front of the news cycle. I think that all factors in. You definitely have a good sense of accomplishment. Like right now (while we’re doing this interview) it’s 10am my time and I’ve already been up for six hours.

The biggest challenge is as a dad. I used to love the time in the evening after my young kids were asleep. I could sit back and watch Netflix or I could read more regularly, and the news cycle would slow down. I would go to bed at midnight or 1am pretty much every night. I’m more of a night person than I am a day person. Now, I can’t stay up that consistently hardly at all and then turn around and do a three-hour morning show getting up at 4:15 in the morning. 

BN: What has your career path been like up to this point of hosting Outkick on FOX Sports Radio?

CT: I came to do everything I’m doing through writing. I still think of myself primarily as a writer. If I had to give up everything else, I think I would give up writing the last. I moved from writing initially for an audience of zero on my own website with nobody who had any clue of who I was while I was a practicing attorney, to doing radio. I started doing radio just as radio hits as a guest.

I always tell people who are writers to do every radio interview that somebody requests (especially when you’re young) because it’s good practice. I found out that I was pretty good at radio by doing 10-15 minute hits as a guest talking about the columns that I had written. That led to a once-or-twice a week show on 104.5 The Zone. I think I was getting paid nothing. Then eventually I got paid 50 dollars a show. That led to middays on 104.5 The Zone, which led to afternoon drive, which then led to doing an NBC Sports national show. Then, I left and eventually FOX Sports Radio recruited me to come back and take over their morning show a couple of years ago.

BN: When you were doing the afternoon drive show on The Zone, was that a two or three-man show?

CT: Three man. Now, I was doing a Saturday show for NBC — a three-hour show by myself on Saturday mornings. For several years I did six days a week of radio, three hours a day. That wasn’t counting whatever radio hits I’d be doing around the country as well. I had never hosted a five-day-a-week show by myself — and look I’m not technically by myself all the time — I’ve got a couple of producers in L.A. and a producer in Nashville as well. There are a lot of people who think they can do a three-hour solo show for years at a time. I think the reality is there aren’t that many people who can do it — at least do it very well.

BN: How would you describe the differences between writing, radio and doing television?

CT: I think what you have to learn about writing versus radio versus TV is they’re all different. I think writing is the most difficult. Radio is the most time consuming. TV is the easiest. In TV, you have a huge collection of people trying to make you look good. Writing, you’re sitting in front of the screen all by yourself. Radio, you’re basically by yourself. TV, you walk in and there’s like six or seven producers and they’re like, “Hey, we think these are the 10 best topics to talk about. What’s your opinion on each of these?” If you talk for more than a minute in a row, you’ve talked for a long time on TV. By the way, a 30-minute television show is 23 minutes without commercial breaks.

There’s a reason why people don’t go very often from TV to radio to writing, and why writers, if they have the ability or the interest or desire, can go from writing to radio to TV easier. I think each step gets progressively easier. Now, there are certainly things about TV that you can’t control. You can’t control what you look like. You can’t control your mannerisms. You can’t control how your suit looks or whether your tie looks good or whether your hair looks normal. Like those are all cosmetic things and much of TV is about how you look as opposed to what you say. That’s different, where as radio everything you say — and writing, frankly, is all about the words. There’s a lot more cosmetic aspects of TV.

BN: When you’re listening to a sports talk show host, what type of style interests you most? 

CT: I like to be entertained. I think the standards that apply across all those disciplines is what I try to be — smart, original, funny, and authentic. Not necessarily in every subject because sometimes you’re talking about serious subjects. Sometimes you’re talking about totally funny subjects so being really smart about it doesn’t necessarily apply, but I think over the course of your show on any given day, or over the course of my website, certainly over the course of television, my goal is to be smart, original, funny, and authentic. I think people who accomplish that on a daily basis are people that certainly I appreciate.

I’ve always said the guy I kind of pattern what I do in sports after as a young guy — I’m 38 now so I’m not that young — but the guy I used to pattern myself after to a large extent was Tony Kornheiser. I think he was the first guy to be great at writing, to be great at radio, and to be great at TV. My goal is and was to be good — and not just good but great — at all three of those disciplines.

BN: What annoys you about sports radio these days?

CT: First of all, I don’t spend that much time listening to sports radio. I think once you do it, if you spend very much time worrying about what other people are doing, I just don’t have the time and effort and energy. Other than listening to an interview here or there, or I put on Cowherd a lot because I think he’s so good, I’ll flip him on television and obviously people will send me segments and things to watch. I just don’t spend any time worrying about what anybody else is doing in sports talk radio at all. To me, I’m entirely focused on what I do, almost like tunnel vision. If I do a good job, then that’s my goal. Frankly, I really don’t care what anybody else does.

BN: When you deal with backlash over one of your comments, are you ever surprised by which ones people take exception to the most?

CT: It’s to the point now where it’s impossible to say anything on social media without backlash. Frankly, I don’t worry about it. My wife says it’s a unique part of my personality — I genuinely don’t care what people think about me. When I say that, I care what people who know me think. I care what my wife thinks. I care what my kids think. I care what people who work with me on a regular basis think, but it doesn’t really impact me what some stranger thinks about my opinion. It has zero impact on my day-to-day existence.

I think it’s almost impossible to not have backlash this day and age. I think much of it, frankly, is just total bullshit. I think it’s fake. My position has always been if you like something — watch, read, or listen to it. If you don’t, don’t. I don’t watch any television shows because I hate them. I don’t read any books because I hate them. I understand that there are certain people out there who do that. I just don’t have the time or the luxury to spend on paying attention to things I don’t like.

I spend most of the time evangelizing about television shows that I love. I don’t remember the last time that I talked about a television show outside the world of sports, and I was like, “Man, this show sucks.” I’ve got a 9-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 3-year-old. I’ve got whole seasons of television shows taped on my DVR that I haven’t been able to get to.

I don’t really worry too much about backlash at all. Maybe initially I did. Only in the sense of, “Oh my God, am I going to get fired?” But once I started my own business, and once I owned Outkick, I’m never going to fire me. So, I don’t really care what anybody says or what criticism I get because as long as I’m the boss, what are you gonna do to me?

BN: When someone is coming at you on social media, what do you consider off limits?

CT: I’ll block people immediately now if they say anything about my kids or my wife. To me it’s like the mafia. The mafia didn’t go after kids and wives. If you have an opinion with me you can say whatever you want. Pretty much, I don’t care. I might block you if you’re just blowing up my timeline. I think we’re up to almost 600,000 Twitter followers now. It’s hard to keep up with my mentions, frankly, and some days I just can’t. But if I look at something and I’m like, “Man, this guy has tweeted me 20 times in a row and he’s clearly an idiot,” I’ll just block him because I don’t like when people fill my timeline up. Outside of my timeline getting filled up, obviously wife and kids. To me it’s all business or family in general. That’s just beyond the pale to me. So, other than that, it just doesn’t even register with me.

BN: If you’re looking at it from your audience’s point of view and evaluating yourself, what would you say is the #1 strength you have that has helped you create a massive following?

CT: I think it’s probably honesty. Authenticity. I think we live in an inauthentic age. I think there are a lot of people who don’t always agree with my opinion, but I think the people who really like Outkick and like what I do appreciate the fact that I don’t pull any punches, and I tell people exactly what I think. I think that’s rare. I think people are so afraid of getting fired or so afraid of offending someone that they tiptoe up to their opinion, or they don’t really say what they think if they’re afraid it’s not a politically-correct opinion — it’s not a politically-correct answer.

What I see the most is people saying, “Thank God for saying what you actually believe, because I think that’s rare.” I would say that’s probably what resonates for the people who like me the most. That’s probably what they would say or resonates the most. Like I said, my goal is kind of an acronym context — it’s SOFA — smart, original, funny, and authentic. I think authenticity is so rare that it’s what registers the most.

BN: Is having the freedom to say something that somebody else might not what you love the most?

CT: When I started Outkick, my goal with the website was to say exactly what I wanted to say and not ever worry about what anybody thought, and have total creative freedom to write, say, and think whatever I want. That is what I value the most. Plenty of people are like, “ Oh, Clay Travis says what he says for money or attention” or whatever else. I’ve turned down money in exchange to maintain my creative freedom.

I would say there are certain people out there who say, “Clay Travis is a sellout.” To the extent that selling out means that you will do whatever it takes to make the most money possible, you can talk to every employer that I’ve ever worked with. Whether it’s FOX, whether it’s FOX Sports Radio, whether it was The Zone back in the day, whether it was FanHouse, Deadspin, CBS Sports, all of them. There have been times where I’ve been offered more money to do what I’m doing, but have to have more restraint on what I say, think, or do. I’ve turned down the more money in favor of creative freedom.

Certainly you can say it at FOX. Certainly you can say it at FOX Sports Radio. You can certainly say it at FanHouse back in the day, everywhere else. I kind of gravitated toward the space where I can say what I want to say, and write what I want to write. I haven’t chased money because I could’ve made more money just by kind of tamping down and tapering off some of the stuff that I say.

BN: How would you assess your time doing Outkick on FOX Sports Radio?

CT: I think it’s going really well. We developed a really substantial audience. They can speak to the numbers better than I can, but I think our numbers are up something like 84% over the last year. We’re approaching 300 AM/FM affiliates, got satellite radio, the podcast — I don’t know what the final numbers for January are going to be, but it’s going to be in the millions. It’ll be the biggest month that we’ve ever had. I kind of pay attention to that stuff along the way.

I know that we’re growing and growing pretty rapidly just based on what I see on Facebook and Periscope and whatnot. I’ve enjoyed it and think it’s been successful. Do I want to do it forever? No. If you told me in 15 years that I was still going to be getting up at 4:15, I don’t think I’d want to do that, but I like it now. And I love my producers, who work hard on the show, and my bosses. They’ve had my back completely. Don Martin and Scott Shapiro are the best bosses I’ve ever had.

BN: You’ve been involved in a few controversies. I don’t want to get too personal, but how does it work at home? How does your wife handle some of the things you’ve been in the middle of? 

CT: I think she was more nervous before I quote unquote “made it” with Outkick. Now, I don’t want to say that I could never work again because I’m obviously not that wealthy, but if suddenly I didn’t have any jobs from anybody other than Outkick, I would be perfectly fine for the rest of my life.

I think the fear on her part is she would say certainly much of being married to me is living in a constant fear that I’m going to say or do something that provokes an outrageous and outlandish reaction. I think that fear kind of diminishes every day, week, and month going forward because at this point I think my audience has got my back. I control so much of the means of my own distribution that what are they going to do? Just stop reading my articles on Outkick? Stop reading my tweets? Stop watching my Periscope and Facebook shows?

People who get mad at me fuel the people who like me. It’s a 50/50 universe. And so, the idea that somebody out there would decide, “I want to shut down Clay Travis. He shouldn’t be able to say or write what he says,” I think fuels the people that are out there that support me. I don’t think those people are ever going to leave. I just don’t worry about it. I’ve got a big audience and I think that audience has my back and won’t leave me as long as I continue to be smart, original, funny, and authentic.

I can’t speak to my wife’s day-to-day opinion of me. Like any wife I’m sure she’s frustrated and upset with her husband on a regular basis, but I don’t think it’s necessarily because of anything I’m doing in a professional context. Look, I’m a pretty good dad. I’m around my kids a lot. They don’t judge me for any of my public persona because they don’t listen to the show. The feedback that they get growing up in Nashville is phenomenal. We’ve got a huge fan base here. The kids, I don’t think anybody’s ever said anything bad to them. They’re like, “You’re dad’s Clay Travis. That’s awesome. I love the show. I love his site.” From their perspective, I think they genuinely believe everybody on Earth loves their dad because the negativity they’re not exposed to.

BN: Do you think that your style brings out more honesty and edge with the people around you on the show such as your producers, the board op, update guy and even your listeners? 

CT: Well, I think honesty is rare. When you are honest, sometimes people are initially shocked by it, and they will follow it up with more honest responses than they would typically give. I think much of sports and sports talk radio is cliché now. To the extent you can break through the cliché with a direct honest opinion — I think that works to the benefit of the show whether it’s producing, callers or tweeters. I think all of that kind of melds together into a symphony of an outstanding way to spend the morning. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s ultimately for other people to judge, but that’s kind of my goal every morning.

BN: As far as approaching topics on a show, how do you decide what to focus on?

CT: I think I’m good at knowing what subjects people are going to care about. I think that comes from writing. I think that comes from being active on the internet. I think you can give me 10 subjects and I can say, “Okay, I can make these three interesting. And I have strong opinions on these three.” I don’t think it’s always the best subjects. I think it’s the subjects that you feel the strongest about.

For instance, as we’re having this conversation, I just finished the show a couple hours ago and this morning the baseball Hall of Fame vote came out. Some people will spend a lot of time talking about whether they think Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens should be in the Hall of Fame. I think the answer is yes, but I don’t find that to be a very interesting subject. Like okay, the answer is yes, and what then goes beyond that? I can talk about it, but I don’t particularly care. If I were in my car, I wouldn’t want to hear somebody talk about the same subject that has existed for what? 10 years? That’s been debated how should you consider steroids?

For the same reason I don’t do Michael Jordan versus LeBron James. There’s literally nothing that somebody can say about that subject interestingly until every year of LeBron James’ career is over. Then you can go back and say, “Okay, how does LeBron compare to Michael Jordan after 12 years” or whatever, but even in the middle of the summer when there’s nothing else going on, I don’t find that to be an interesting topic.

Now, I think much like with cable news, they have found out that you only want to talk about the three or four biggest stories in your mind in your world. That’s what I do. There are some people — we’ve got 12 segments in a three-hour show — there are some people who will come on with 10 or 12 different subjects and have their entire show kind of sketched out that way. I’ll rarely go more than four subjects total. And that’s because I think about if I’m in my car driving to work, do I want to hear Clay Travis talk about the three or four biggest stories in detail, or do I want to hear him touch on 12 stories? I want to hear the three or four biggest stories in detail, something that I care about on that day’s basis as opposed to just having somebody go all in on it.

The other thing is, we don’t have that many guests. A lot of people guest up. We don’t ever have a guest on Monday. There’s so much to react to during football season, I come on and I just talk. Usually, there’s a lot of stuff that happens over the weekend and on Mondays there are a lot of topics in general. It’s rare that we have more than two guests. In a three-hour show we might have a guest on for two segments. So that means we’ve got 10 segments to fill.

I’m not a big guest guy. I think people are tuning in because they want to hear what I have to say, or what people on the show have to say. I think they want to hear us talk about the biggest possible stories. That’s what I kind of work towards in the context of what the show structure should look like.

BN: What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now if you’re not waking up at 4:15 in the morning and getting pulled over by cops?

CT: I don’t know what I’m doing in six months. 10 years from now to me is so far in advance. The easy way to answer that is 10 years ago I was a 28-year-old who was publishing his first book. 13 years ago I was graduating from law school and never could’ve projected where I am today, not necessarily having to do with the success of it at all, just what I’m doing. I don’t think that I ever would’ve predicted that I’d be doing what I’m doing now. So a decade from now? I’ve got no idea. I just don’t want to die. I hope I’m still alive in ten years because I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think the next decade is going to be really fun.

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