Drinking With Men in Blazers

The podcasters who helped make soccer a thing in America talk Budweiser, baldness and the Shakespearean nature of the sport.

On a recent Monday evening, Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, hosts of the soccer podcast and television show Men in Blazers, are posing for a photo shoot off a cobblestoned street in Tribeca. As the pair cracks a couple of Budweisers they’ve toted along as props, the breeze begins to blow in from the Hudson and the sun glints off their shiny bald heads. Every so often, Bennett raises his beer and exclaims, “America!” for the camera.

Baldness is a Men in Blazers meme. In their 2018 book Encyclopedia Blazertannica, a chatty catalogue of the madcap Men in Blazers universe, there are entries under “Bald Denier,” “Balding Sectors” and “Hair Island,” plus a hypothetical dream team of bald soccer players. An entry under “Carroll, Andy” shows an illustration of a beefy male footballer in profile with cornrows and a man bun, accompanied by the editorial note, “it is criminal that some men go bald early in life, yet Haired People like Andy Carroll fritter away their gifts in this dangerous fashion.” They often mention that their baldness is complementary; if you put their remaining hair together, they would have a mostly lush mane.

The two clink bottles and drink the room-temp Buds. The camera shutter clicks away. “We’re English,” shrugs “Rog,” as he is fondly known on the pod. “America!” he says again. His enthusiasm is totally genuine. Bennett, who is from Liverpool, and Davies, (“Davo,” as Rog calls him), who hails from London, love America—earnestly and unabashedly.

“You grow up in Liverpool in the 1980s and see Fantasy Island and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. You’re like, ‘I want that.’ That’s where life is lived in color,” says Bennett. His childhood bedroom was plastered with Americana—superheroes, sports stars, a giant American flag. Davies papered his with Cadillac and Coca-Cola ads torn from 1950s issues of National Geographic. Of course, you already know that. Because if you’re reading this, you are probably a GFOP (Great Friend of the Pod). And if you are a GFOP, you are nothing if not fanatical.

But just in case you aren’t, let’s back up to July 9, 2006, the day of the World Cup Final, Italy versus France. Bennett, a sports journalist for ESPN, was stuck at a wedding on a boat circling Manhattan, resenting the fact that he was missing one of the most dramatic games in recent World Cup history. “I was being disgusting to everyone,” he says. He spotted Davies, who was, admittedly, also being disgusting to everyone. The chemistry—and the Britishness—was undeniable. They lamented their circumstances and talked soccer for four hours. “The World Cup has punctuated our entire relationship,” says Davies.

“For us, it’s like the greatest telenovela played out live, with the world watching,” says Bennett.

Photo shoot wrapped, the two head inside to Smith & Mills, one of Davies’s regular haunts. “I’ve had a lot of wild nights here,” he says, shaking the bartender’s hand. Davies, in a double-breasted navy blazer and his signature Stan Smiths, orders a tequila on the rocks, as he always does. “Three limes, never four, Rog,” he says. Bennett, MiB Warpig tie loosened, glasses perched, orders a Talisker. He once hitchhiked to the Isle of Skye, where Talisker is made, and has refused to drink another brand of Scotch since.

After tossing around ideas for a few years, in 2010, the pair traveled to Johannesburg and recorded every day following the World Cup matches. Podcasting was still fringe, but Grantland (RIP), then owned by ESPN, picked them up, and by 2014 they were the number-two podcast on the site behind Bill Simmons’s show, The B.S. Report. ESPN invited them to go to the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, where they were given, literally, a closet from which to broadcast. The space was so small that guests had to sit behind them. Though their studio is now the size of a small tool shed, the guests still sit behind. (John Oliver, Will Ferrell, Laura Linney, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Bacon have all taken the back seat. So have Diplo and Elmo.)

By the time Germany won the 2014 finals, Men in Blazers had gained an even bigger following. “Someone wrote that we had won the World Cup,” says Davies, who owns and runs the production company Embassy Row. Davies introduced America to Win Ben Stein’s Money, The Man Show and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Today his company produces Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee as well as a dozen other shows. His salesmanship has undoubtedly contributed to Men in Blazers’ success.

One might naturally assume that a show about soccer and the men who created it would be bawdy, foul-mouthed and aggressive. It isn’t, though. They don’t analyze technique or individual plays so much as they decode story lines about the game itself. They see soccer as a crucible and a mirror refracting the world around us—politics, economics, gender and race. (“For us, it’s like the greatest telenovela played out live, with the world watching,” says Bennett.) Davies describes the Women’s World Cup and the rise of France against the United States—the latter of which basically created the template for women’s soccer—as “Shakespearean. It’s Greek. That’s a tale of yore.” This enthusiasm and the bizarre, sweet, unlikely universe they’ve created around it have built a mainstream American audience for soccer where there wasn’t one before. Also, English accents.

Today, the podcast has 350,000 listeners and, during the Premier season, the two tape a version of it as a weekly television show on NBC Sports. Bennett and Davies also have deals with Jägermeister and Budweiser, the latter of which has sponsored a special segment called “Legends of America” where Bennett sits down for a beer with key players in the Women’s World Cup, plus a national tour of live shows. After each show, they hit the bar with their fans.

What’s that like? “I signed a baby!” says Davo, of a night post-live show in Austin, Texas. “On the baby.”

At these events, Davies and Bennett see themselves as helping American fans create a deeper connection with the sport, which has long struggled to gain traction with U.S. audiences. “There’s a less discussed drinking culture [around soccer], which is people going to the pub after a game and talking with each other about what happened,” says Bennett. “It’s about making memories.”

Bennett drains his Scotch and gets ready to head to the Upper West Side. Davies is still working his way through his second tequila (three limes, always). The following week, the two will meet in Portland on the trail of the live tour to talk about the thing they love most. Before Bennett goes, the two grab hands across the table. “Love yous,” says Davo. “Good luck tomorrow,” says Rog.

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