Fantasy sports expert details unconventional journey to sports television

by Dakota Palmer

April 11, 2019

Matthew Berry ’92 touts the value of 'saying yes to every microphone.'

Matthew Berry '92
Matthew Berry '92

Matthew Berry ’92, senior fantasy sports analyst at ESPN and one of the leading voices in fantasy football, discovered fantasy sports, sometimes known as rotisserie or roto sports, in 1999. The self-dubbed “Talented Mr. Roto” and owner of fantasy sports site Rotopass.com sat down with adjunct professor Matt Park April 5 to discuss his time in the industry.

While studying at Newhouse, Berry saw a behind-the-scenes video from the 80s sitcom “Family Ties” and decided he wanted to work in comedy television. He formed a relationship with television writer Sam Simon, who helped him land his first job after graduation as a stage production assistant on “The George Carlin Show.”

“You never sort of know how people are going to wind up impacting you,” Berry said.

Berry has been playing fantasy sports since he was 14. In 1999, he responded to an advertisement on Rotoworld.com asking for writers. He followed up three times and got no response, so he emailed one of the writers and arranged to write a column for the site for free. 

“No one was really making a living out of it [fantasy sports],” Berry said. “I think after I had been there for like a year, they were like, ‘Hey, you’re doing really good work and we’d like to pay you.’”

He wrote for Rotoworld until 2003 and then in 2004 launched TalentedMrRoto.com, a site for fantasy sports content, and Rotopass.com, a site that allows users to have subscriptions to many different fantasy sports sites. In the meantime, he supported himself by writing screenplays in Hollywood. 

“I’m very lucky in that I was financially stable enough in my showbiz job that I could afford to say, ‘I don’t need to make money on this website,’” Berry said. “I’m a big believer in, you play the hand you’re dealt. I wasn’t worried about making money, I just wanted to build awareness.”

In 2004, Fox Sports Radio asked him to do a fantasy sports segment with sports commentator Steve Mason. While they wanted to do the segment over the phone, Berry wanted to meet in person

“I think it’s even more true today in a world where you tweet and you text and you Instagram—in person is always the best way possible,” Berry said.

This led to him meeting people at Fox Sports who asked him to come back for more segments, and then two segments, and then a whole hour, and then co-hosting with Mason. Mason went to 710 KSPN, an ESPN Radio affiliate, and recommended Berry for more fantasy sports segments.

“And so again, as I’m going out there and being like, ‘Hey, I’ll write for you for free, I’ll come on your air for you for free, I’ll work for free.’ I was on local radio on ESPN,” Berry said. “Fake it ’til you make it.”

Through his radio connections at ESPN he “finessed” his way into doing a segment on the ESPN2 sports morning talk show “Cold Pizza.” Then he did the same for ESPN News and ESPN Magazine.

“[I said] ‘Why don’t I write for you guys? I’m doing ESPN News and ‘Cold Pizza,’ and 710 out in LA—I’m already in the family,’” Berry said of his pitch to the various ESPN organizations.

In 2007, ESPN purchased TalentedMrRoto.com and named Berry director of fantasy sports.

“All that saying yes to every microphone that was offered to me had worked out,” Berry said. “By the end of my current contract, I will have been at ESPN for 17 years.”

Dakota Palmer is a graduate student in the magazine, newspaper and online journalism program at the Newhouse School.