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November 27, 2023 2023 INNOVATORS ISSUE

2023 Innovator: Former ESPN personality Dan Patrick carves independent path in competitive sports media landscape

Dan Patrick in his memorabilia-filled studio — known as the “Man Cave” — in Milford.
Greg Bordonaro These are photos of The Dan Patrick Show studios in Milford.
Greg Bordonaro Paul Pabst is the executive producer of The Dan Patrick Show and one of the on-air personalities known as the "Danettes."
Dan Patrick Bio Box
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The business attire is decidedly relaxed when Dan Patrick makes the 12-minute drive to his Milford production studio, known as “The Man Cave.”

He’s there by 7:15 a.m. to prep for his 9 a.m.-to-noon radio and television show. No more tailored suits, like the ones he rocked at ESPN for 18 years when he was one of the network’s signature personalities in the 1990s to 2007.

Today’s wardrobe is a blue NBA New Orleans Pelicans hoodie and patterned shorts. The relaxed wear matches a persona that is congenial, curious, sarcastic and witty.

He is the CEO of Dan Patrick Productions Inc. and host of the “Dan Patrick Show,” a nationally syndicated program that covers sports, entertainment and pop culture.

The show is available on TV, radio and in podcast format via platforms like iHeartMedia, Fox Sports Radio, Sirius XM and NBC streaming network Peacock.

Patrick’s celebrity in the sports media world attracts an eclectic array of guests. Sports broadcaster Al Michaels, former professional athletes Charles Barkley, Troy Aikman, Deion Sanders and entertainers such as Darius Rucker, Bryan Cranston, Adam Sandler, Sally Field, Will Ferrell and Melissa Etheridge have all made appearances.

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Topics can range from the Major League Baseball playoffs and NFL regular season, to a new book or movie. The show is live and unscripted. So, it can veer off, such as the time Patrick mentioned a former colleague’s infatuation with the dating-app Tinder, which the colleague believed was “one of the greatest inventions of all time.”

All this happens from the Milford studio on Naugatuck Avenue, where Patrick moved his show in 2019. He turned the former United Rentals warehouse into a sports-memorabilia shrine and production studio.

Originally leasing the property, Patrick ended up buying it in 2020 for $1.15 million.

The 67-year-old Ohio native’s company now employs 12 people, including Patrick and four in-studio producer types — Paul Pabst, Patrick O’Connor, Todd Fritz and Marvin Prince — known as the “Danettes.” They are akin to a rock star’s backup singers and regularly banter and jocularly joust on air with Patrick.

Patrick was one of the early ESPN personalities to leave the Bristol-based sports media behemoth — which he often refers to as the “Mothership” — to launch his own independent brand, show and company.

Other sports media personalities have since followed in his footsteps.

But things weren’t always glamorous.

After leaving ESPN in 2007, Patrick initially launched the show out of the attic of his Milford home. He had to build it — including the audience, distribution partners and even sponsors/advertisers — from the ground up.

The transition to entrepreneur has been rewarding because Patrick gets to do what he has always loved to do — make a living in the sports and entertainment world, on his own terms.

He is the boss, sets the agenda and even gets involved in closing sponsorship and partnership deals.

His revenue primarily comes from radio and TV revenue-share contracts and sponsorships.

Patrick is also an actor, and has had minor roles in several Adam Sandler movies.

‘Fighting for recognition’

Of all his broadcasting success over the past 40 years, and multiple national awards, Patrick said he’s most proud of the Dan Patrick School of Sportscasting, launched six years ago at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida.

There, he shapes the curriculum, lines up guest speakers from the media industry and mentors aspiring sports broadcasters.

“We are changing lives there by getting people jobs,” Patrick said. “I make time for (the school) because the stories of students securing broadcasting jobs are so overwhelming. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”

Dan Patrick counseling students at Full Sail University.

Patrick recently signed a contract extension with NBC Sports and iHeartMedia, which will run through 2027.

In announcing the renewed multiplatform distribution deal in July, iHeartMedia said the “Dan Patrick Show” is heard on more than 360 radio stations nationwide, and is attracting 7.3 million monthly podcast downloads.

When the contract expires, Patrick said he plans to retire at age 71.

He bristles at the word “retirement,” insisting he’ll still be productive, but with a more scaled-back schedule.

“I have fun coming here every day,” Patrick said. “I demand a lot, but I still have fun. I get to do this every day and it’s challenging. I’m still fighting for recognition for this show, not necessarily for me, but the show. I want the show to win a Sports Emmy. I have won them. I want (the staff) to experience it. That would be awesome.”

Competitive zeal

To best describe Patrick’s career and work-life balance these days, one could lean on two of his most popular on-air catchphrases as ESPN anchor.

The first is “Dare I say, en fuego” — the English translation is “on fire.”

The other: “You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.”

He earned all-conference recognition in basketball as a senior at Ohio’s Mason High School in 1974. Patrick then attended Eastern Kentucky University, where he saw limited playing time on the basketball team for two seasons.

He transferred to the University of Dayton, and earned a communications degree.

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Patrick currently carries an 11-handicap in golf, up from a five-handicap when he was playing regularly years ago.

By nature, the once painfully shy kid who was preoccupied with reading Sports Illustrated — where he would eventually work for a time after leaving ESPN — is highly competitive and a perfectionist. Those traits influenced him to make the pivot from ESPN to entrepreneur in 2007.

As he was entering his 50s in the early 2000s, Patrick was still co-anchoring the weeknight and Sunday night SportsCenter. He also hosted “The Dan Patrick Show” on ESPN Radio — aired by about 300 stations.

He watched as several colleagues moved on to new challenges within ESPN, or new opportunities outside the “Worldwide Leader in Sports.” For example, colleague Chris Berman was assigned an ESPN Sunday NFL show; Chris Fowler was doing college football; and Mike Tirico started doing play-by-play.

Meantime, his former co-anchor, Keith Olbermann, went to Fox Sports Net before becoming an outspoken liberal political pundit and hosting his own politics-related show on MSNBC.

Time was passing by, and so were Patrick’s work peers and friends.

“I took inventory and said, ‘man, I’m kind of the old guy doing SportsCenter,” he said. “And I think it’s a young person’s game. I just thought I needed to do something that’s going to get me kick-started again.”

So, one of ESPN’s most popular on-air personalities decided to bet on himself.

“I said, ‘well, let me see what kind of cache I have in leaving,” Patrick, a Milford resident, said sarcastically. “I realized that I didn’t have as much as I thought because we ended up doing the show out of my attic for three years.’’

Laughing now, he added: “That’s not the move a lot of people make — that you’re doing SportsCenter and now you’re in your attic doing a radio show.”

Early on, Patrick went “door-to-door” to get radio stations and other distribution partners to take the show.

He eventually got connected to Fox Sports Radio. KLCA in Los Angeles put Patrick in a desirable 6 a.m.-to-9 a.m. slot. That “changed the trajectory” of the show, Patrick said, because other radio stations began to follow suit.

Entering the ‘Man Cave’

After three years of working in his attic, Patrick reached out to DirectTV to see if it would be interested in simulcasting his broadcast. An agreement was reached and the show moved from the attic to a location above a nearby Milford bar.

Four years ago, a former United Rentals building on Naugatuck Avenue in Milford was identified as an ideal location for a larger production studio.

The 20,000-square-foot structure that once rented industrial tools and equipment was repurposed into what looks like an all-things-sports museum.

The Man Cave is complete with 13 studio cameras, a mini basketball court, scoreboard, lounge-area studio, bar, barbecue patio, large collection of professional athlete photos and posters, sports memorabilia and Adam Sandler movie posters.

Patrick’s competitive zeal and perfectionist nature were aligned to the realities of the business world where he is fighting daily for ears and eyeballs, sponsorships and partnerships.

“Dan has a saying: ‘Every day is the Super Bowl,’ and that is his expectation,” said Eric Jones, Patrick’s director of operations.

Jones has worked with Patrick for the past 11 years.

“He gives us the space to do our job, but he expects us to be very agile and efficient in both the creative process, as well as the more mundane tasks that it takes to run a business and a facility.”

‘Voyeuristic feel’

The show thrives on spontaneity and active listening. Patrick’s questions are succinct, conversational, probing and open-ended.

He wants his listeners to be so riveted by the conversation that they must stay until the very end.

“There is a voyeuristic feel that I try to create,” Patrick said. “Like you are eavesdropping on something that maybe you shouldn’t, but you are glad you are. I put so much emphasis on every segment. You just can’t ease up. You can’t go in and say: ‘Let’s mail it in today.’ Every single day you want someone to come away from your show telling someone about your show — an interview, a comment, whatever.”

The business world is driven by the mantra: If it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense.

But Patrick believes that if the focus is on delivering great content, the business and revenue will follow.

“I learned not to chase money,” Patrick said. “When you do, you are doing it for the wrong reason. I want us to put out a quality product every single day.”

Some of the show’s sponsors include Mercedes-Benz, Keeper’s Heart Whiskey, Sleep Number and Traeger Grills.

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Recently retired ESPN communications director Mike Soltys, who worked 43 years at the network, said Patrick’s gift is that he is an outstanding studio host and exceptional interviewer.

“Dan wanted his career to evolve, wanted to do less SportsCenter and work close to his home,” Soltys said. “ESPN, at the time, wouldn’t allow what he wanted, but likely would today. Everyone follows their own path and has their own circumstances. Dan was able to reinvent himself and still flourish.”

Upon retirement, Patrick said he will stay involved in his sportscasting school. He’ll also spend more time traveling with his wife of 37 years, Susan, and step up his golfing, reading and acting. The father of four is also a grandfather, one who loves music and fast cars, particularly Porches.

Patrick’s message for young broadcasters and would-be entrepreneurs is to “utilize their full ability.’’

“Don’t let someone have a glass ceiling above you,” he said. “You will hit it eventually. But don’t let someone set it for you. And don’t take ‘No’ for an answer. … You must be obsessed with being great. Every day.”

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