ESPN's Matthew Berry on Sports, Comedy, and Happiness
Andrew C. Stone
For million of men and women, fantasy sports have become a bona fide obsession. Whether it’s football, hockey, basketball, soccer, or any other sport, ESPN and ESPN.com provide the stats, games, and community to immerse yourself fully in the world of “roto” (fantasy’s most popular nickname, short for rotisserie) and allow your dream teams to square off against your smarttalking buddies. At the center of it all is ESPN’s top fantasy-sports analyst, Matthew Berry, a largerthan-life roto devotee who left a thriving writing career in Hollywood in favor of his own fantasy website, The Talented Mr. Roto. Now a regular face on the network and its outspoken Web columnist, Berry doles out his expertise with a side of laughs, and proves that one man’s hobby can be another’s bread and butter. As baseball season approaches, we sat down to get the tale behind the talent of Mr. Roto.
LOS ANGELES CONFIDENTIAL: You have the dream job of most men in America.
MATTHEW BERRY: It’s amazing. It didn’t occur to me that you could make a career out of this.
LAC: How did you make it happen for yourself?
MB: I think it’s a combination of being in the right place at the right time, and being the right person for the job. In 1999, I was working as a sitcom writer in Hollywood, and there was a website that was looking for a fantasy sports writer. I sent them a note, saying I had passion and love for fantasy sports, was a professional writer, and would love to do a column on the side. It started out as a hobby. They sent me a note the next day, and the guy in charge loved Married With Children, the show I was working on at the time. So I wrote a column for that site. It became popular, to the point where I felt like I could start my own website in 2004. I didn’t have the money to promote it, so I went to every TV and radio station and said, “Let me do a fantasy sports segment on your show, free. The only requirement is that you mention my site.” Steve Mason, who’s now at 710 ESPN in LA, had been a fan of what I was doing. When he went to ESPN, they said they wanted to do a fantasy show and he said, “I’ve got the guy.” That was so instrumental in getting me my start. ESPN eventually chose me to be their on-air expert, and while movie and TV writing was paying the bills, all I cared about was my website. In 2005, I said I’m going to make a go of this, and made it my full-time career.
LAC: You’ve been playing fantasy sports for a long time now, right?
MB: Since I was 14.
LAC: What drew you to it, and what holds your interest today?
MB: There are many reasons.… There’s the camaraderie, because who doesn’t love talking trash with their friends? It’s a great way to keep in touch. I’ve known about job changes and weddings and life events that I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. Then, if you’re a sports fan like I am, it gives you a vested interest in every single game. For example, I love the Angels; I’m going to watch every single game I can. Am I necessarily excited about a Royals–A’s game? No, except I’ve got Alex Gordon on my fantasy team. Suddenly I care.
LAC: How did your comedy writing help you with this new career?
MB: It was the thing that immediately differentiated me. There are only so many ways to say, “I think Peyton Manning’s going to have a good year.” If you can bring humor and pop culture to it, it stands out, and fans have really responded.
LAC: Do you ever miss your entertainment business days?
MB: Not one iota. I was a reasonably successful screenwriter—not an A-list guy, but my writing partner [Eric Abrams] and I worked on projects for Tim Allen, The Rock, Hilary Swank—but I was miserable. I was making a good living in a very competitive industry working on good projects, and absolutely miserable and couldn’t figure out why. A couple of years of therapy later, I realized the reason was that it wasn’t my passion. All I cared about was this dumb little fantasy sports website. And I decided ultimately that I want to be happy, that money isn’t important.
LAC: It definitely paid off, it seems.
MB: By doing what everyone else thought was crazy, I’ve gained a lot of respect from my old acquaintances in Hollywood. When I talk to my writer and producer and director friends, everyone is always saying, “Good for you.… I can’t believe you had the guts to do this. I get it, good for you.”
Fashion shoot: December 2013 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.