Being Bret Bielema expands focus of radio personality’s company

(From left) Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly executive producer Bart Pohlman, host Bo Mattingly, and production director Sawyer Radler.


Broadcaster Bo Mattingly is celebrating his 18th year in the Northwest Arkansas market by introducing one of his company’s most innovative ideas with the forthcoming web docu-series “Being Bret Bielema.”

The web series features the Arkansas Razorbacks head football coach in all his gregarious and outgoing glory. Bielema is not one to put on airs. However, he generally speaks his mind, and more often than not, he’s pretty funny.

“It’s a behind-the-scenes snapshot at what being the head coach of the Razorbacks is like,” said Mattingly, the host of the statewide radio show Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly. “What I think people will find is that behind the scenes, Bret is absolutely the same as he presents himself in public. He’s a great guy to be around.”

The first five-minute episode of the series is set to premiere this month on YouTube, but the co-producers of the program, Sports Personality LLC and co-producer JM Associates of Little Rock, has released three entertaing trailers that can also be found on YouTube.

“In the course of the production, we liked what we were seeing so much that we wanted to give everyone a taste,” Mattingly said in a recent phone interview. “It’s been incredibly well received. We just released a third trailer and to already have 350,000 views in less than a day is so gratifying.”

Mattingly said the idea from the show began in discussions with Chris Freet, University of Arkansas associate athletics director for external affairs about increasing the UA’s brand exposure.

Mattingly, who interviews regional and national sports broadcasters and analysts on a daily basis for his talk show, felt that Bielema’s lightning-rod personality coupled with the coach’s genuine affection made him the UA’s most marketable asset.

“What I hear about Bielema from people around the area and media figures from around the country is that he is so real. ‘Genuine’ is the word almost everyone uses. I feel the exact same way, and what I’ve learned working even more closely with him on this project is that he’s the same all the time and with everyone.”

Now, there are a lot of genuine people in the world, but few could carry a web series that will compete in a similar space as Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Being Bret Bielema most likely won’t reach that rarified air, but to Razorback and college football fans alike, it offers a candid look at the life of a prominent coach that most never see.

Mattingly said there are plans for the possible expansion of the “Being” brand, but made it clear that the series is going to work because of who Bielema is.

“I thought people would find it fascinating to see how he is in his everyday life,” Mattingly said. “The more we can show him not coaching football and show more of his personality, his idiosyncrasies, his music, his flip flops, his jokes, and superstitions, the better. He’s just a unique guy.”

The show is not scripted, and while Mattingly acknowledges it will be characterized as a reality show, he sees it as more of a episodic slice-of-life. The current plan is for five, five-minute episodes on YouTube, but with the production still shooting, there could be more. Mattingly said making a lengthier cut of the material available for other platforms was a good possibility.

“We didn’t want it to be in a box,” Mattingly said. “Who knows where else it will go. This really happened fast. There are other possibilities with the Being brand both inside and outside of sports.”
Mattingly also praised JM Associates, a production company that has provided content to the likes of ABC, ESPN and the Weather Channel for 25 years, for their role in the producing the series.

“They are a co-partner in every sense of the word and have given us great material,” Mattingly said.

Mattingly spoke highly of Freet, the UA and most of all Bielema for being open to doing something different, but credit must also go to Mattingly for fostering relationships with the UA and its personnel. The UA wouldn’t trust just anyone with the access granted to Mattingly and his co-producers.

While producing a web series is a step in a new direction for Sports Personality LLC, Mattingly said it is totally in line with the business plan he and his partner Steve Graves developed when Mattingly stepped away from television broadcasting in 2007.

Mattingly credits Graves as mentor inside and outside of the business world.

“We are a content-development company,” Mattingly said. “We’re more known for the radio show because it’s out there each day but we see possibilities for more projects of this nature in the future.”

Mattingly praised the expertise of his team at Sports Personality LLC for allowing time for such projects. Mattingly leans on his executive producer Bart Pohlman and production manager Sawyer Radler daily to make the radio show not only run smoothly but also be topical and engaging.

“We discuss a plan for the show every morning, and bounce ideas off each other” Mattingly said. “We want to be as topical and engaging as we can.

Hawgs Illustrated publisher Clay Henry and recruiting editor Dudley Dawson add expert insight and give a first-hand view on the ins and outs of the Razorbacks program. Mattingly and his crew balance the program by seeking national and regional guests to give listeners an idea of how their beloved Hogs and the Southeastern Conference are viewed from a national perspective.

“We pride ourselves on being a content-driven show that’s informative but also entertaining,” Mattingly said. “We have a plan each day. We endeavor to be fresh and insightful and to give our listeners a perspective or different take than they might get somewhere else.

Mattingly, who moved to Fayetteville in 1998 when hired to the KHBS-KHOG 40/29 team by sports director Mike Nail and news director Craig Cannon, said he did not plan to stay in Northwest Arkansas at first.

“When I moved to Arkansas, I thought I would be here for a year and then move on to a bigger market,” Mattingly said. “I was close to taking a job with a sports radio network out of Las Vegas a few months after arriving, but I wanted to stay in TV at the time and frankly was scared to move to Vegas.”

Mattingly said the passion of Razorbacks fans has always made covering and commenting on sports in Northwest Arkansas interesting.

“Being a part of something that matters to people is the most gratifying part of the job,” Mattingly said. “It’s fulfilling to put in a lot of hard work and effort to give people something they appreciate and to know that you’ve done your best.”

Mattingly’s marriage to his wife Ashley, a Northwest Arkansas native, and their children — King, 19, Payton, 16, Ty, 9, and Lenon, 5 — kept him in Northwest Arkansas. Spending more time with them was the impetus behind forming his partnership with Graves.

In 2005 Mattingly coordinated the rebranding of KNWA and KARK television sports news as The Razorback Nation. The two NBC affiliates for Northwest and Central Arkansas pooled their resources to focus primarily on Razorback coverage.

Bo Mattingly / Courtesy photo

It was bold to move from a tried-and-true format that spread its resources thin in an attempt to cover all levels of sports in each region to deeply focusing on the subject that meant the most to the most people.

While Mattingly said he sees the value in both formats, he is happy to The Razorback Nation format still working almost a decade later.

However, in 2007 Mattingly decided to step away from the format he not only created but also championed to spend more time with his family.

“The Razorback Nation was and I know still is a time-consuming effort for everyone involved,” Mattingly said. “There is a ton of travel and really crazy hours for a family.”

Mattingly loved the work when he was single, but once he married Ashley and became father to her two sons and then added a third son to the mix a year or so later, his view was different.

“I went from being a single guy with no obligations other than myself to being a husband and father of three in little more than a year,” Mattingly said. “I had a wife and children that not only needed more of my time but deserved it.”

One of the wishes on his 5-year-old son Payton’s Christmas list in 2006 was for Mattingly to be home from work earlier each night.

A unique opportunity arose for Mattingly in 2007 when the UA hired talk radio host Chuck Barrett as Paul Eells’ replacement as voice of the football Razorbacks. Barrett could not continue his Sports Rap radio show that he had produced for the better part of two decades and be the Razorbacks’ play-by-play man due to a conflict of interests.

“Chuck let me and a few others know what his plans were and that there would be an opportunity in the radio market when he ended his show,” said Mattingly, who had operated talk radio shows in the area previously. “My wife and I prayed about the decision. It was probably the toughest professional decision of my life, but I haven’t regretted a day since I made it.”

While Mattingly’s workday is still full, gone are 10 p.m. sportscasts and a great deal of the travel. Mattingly is able to structure his work so that he can keep more traditional hours most of the time.

That freedom has also allowed his creative juices flow into other areas such as Being Bret Bielema, which could lead to further business growth.

“We have more ideas and there is interest,” Mattingly said. “We don’t want to be in a box. We think this is just a start.”

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