“Chris Christie talks so much BS he may not be bad.”
That’s what longtime 94.1 WIP radio host Howard Eskin thinks of the embattled New Jersey governor’s chances of succeeding as a sports talker, a role he’ll be officially auditioning for next week on Sports Radio 66 WFAN in New York City.
“I just hope they let him bring his beach chair into the studio,” Eskin added.
On the heels of numerous guest-hosting sports in the morning alongside former Jersey Guy Craig Carton, Christie will fill in for longtime WFAN host Mike Francesa on Monday and Tuesday next week from 2 to 6:30 p.m. alongside Evan Roberts. Former NFL quarterback Chris Simms, son of Giants Hall of Famer Phil Simms, is also gunning for the spot, as is Detroit sports talker Mike Valenti.
“He likes sports; he likes to talk. He’s obviously very comfortable behind the microphone,” Francesa said of Christie in March. “He already got a brand, so he’s ahead of the game from that standpoint.”
That brand could be a benefit and a weakness. Last month, Christie’s approval rating plummeted to 15 percent, lower than any governor in modern history, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll. And that was before Christie made national news by brazenly using a beach at Island Beach State Park that was closed to the public due to the state’s government shutdown, a move that landed an official ethics complaint from Hudson County lawyer Mario M. Blanch.
But sports fans also seem to love a good heel, and the reportedly $25 million contract Fox Sports gave to Undisputed host Skip Bayless shows that Christie’s brand of combativeness — a Cowboys fan deep in the heart of Giants country — could pay dividends for the current governor, especially considering his willingness to poke fun at himself on air.
“Eagles fans will love to pound him, and Giants fans will have something to complain about,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who has successfully pivoted from politics to sports, said of Christie last year. “He can turn all that into fun controversy that’ll fill hours of air time.”
Mark Chernoff, WFAN’s program director, wasn’t immediately available to comment. But last October, Chernoff praised the governor’s on-air performance and indicated he would be a serious contender for any open position at the radio station.
“It’s not bad to be a lightning rod in that sense,” Chernoff said. “But if I didn’t think he could do a good job as a sports host, I’d tell Craig not to have him on.”
So far, Christie’s appearances have led to slight ratings increases, according to NJ.com’s Ryan Dunleavy. But sports radio consultant Jason Barrett, a former program director, cautions reading too deeply into such a small amount of data.
“Yes, he’s got a little bit of an uptick compared to other days — which, if you are WFAN, is something you are looking at,” Barrett told NJ.com. “But the other part of this is, would Christie over the span of five days be seen as somebody who wears you out or somebody you look forward to listening to more?”
One current sports radio program director, speaking to Philly.com on the condition of anonymity, said Christie checks off a lot of boxes but worried that he doesn’t have a deep enough knowledge of sports to carry a daily show, especially in the country’s largest sports market. Another questioned if Christie really was willing to dedicate himself to being a full-time host, noting that the job requires hours of research and planning, and sometimes involves publicity stunts and appearances aimed at pleasing advertisers.
Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch was even less optimistic of Christie’s chances.
And WFAN will lose big longterm when listeners move to ESPN Radio in his time slot after the short term publicity pop. https://t.co/ZSnysMa7s0
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) July 7, 2017