From Fan to Media Member: Jay Riddle
Jay Riddle is synonymous with the exponential growth of Atlanta United supporter culture. From his numerous ATLUTD hype videos to the popular podcast he cohosts, Unrelegated, Riddle is riding the wave of Atlanta’s success. We sat down to discuss his many projects, the dominance of his favorite MLS side, and the rise of new journalism.
Hey Jay! Tell us about yourself.
I'm a bit of a nomad who's lived all over the midwest and northeast before finding myself in Atlanta, Georgia some 15 odd years ago. Now, even though I'm a transplant, I consider myself an ATLien at heart and have really immersed myself in MLS and Atlanta United culture since the team's inception a few years ago and part of the way I stay plugged into everything Atlanta United is through co-hosting the Unrelegated podcast with Kelly Frances and Jessica Charman. I have a number of team-centric tattoos that have become a part of my story and I've recently developed a passion for creating Atlanta United hype videos that I publish to the Unrelegated YouTube channel which I use to tell stories about the team, supporter culture, and players through music and editing that I believe go beyond your everyday "goals/skills" highlight videos -- or at least I hope people that watch them can see (and feel) that. It's been a wild couple of years, to say the least.
Your podcast, Unrelegated, is really catching on, can you give non-listeners a nutshell version?
What started as a guy and girl recording their instant reactions after watching the LA Galaxy versus Atlanta United match last spring live in a bar has turned into quite the adventure. Last year, in addition to recording after home matches, Kelly and I visited 13 different watch party locations all over Georgia where we pulled in and interviewed supporters, soccer journalists, recognizable media personalities like Kevin Egan, Dan Gargan, and Jillian Sakovits, and more -- all in person. We also did some experimental "travelogue" episodes when I traveled to an away match at NYCFC and Kelly went to an LA Galaxy match and got a tour of the trophies, kit room, and so on. I also did an episode on the road where I flew to Nebraska to meet with NPSL side "The Bugeaters" owner, the Cooligans, Daryl and Taylor of the Total Soccer Show, and the leaders of American Outlaws all in one episode! That was crazy. You won't find us doing a lot of phone interviews. We really try to say community focused and explore Atlanta United culture, with some crossover into grassroots soccer locally, charitable podcast-a-thons for local grassroots soccer organizations like Soccer in the Streets, and tailgate culture. Lastly, we have a new member of the team, Jessica Charman, who works for Soccer in the Streets and provides some great perspective coming from England, and playing goal keeper through college. Her and Kelly are joining forces to record a bi-weekly podcast called "Queens of the South" which publishes to the Unrelegated podcast feed. If you're looking for in depth analysis of matches and statistical breakdowns we probably aren't what you're looking for.
Podcasting is the new media outlet, it seems, why do you think that is happening?
I don't know if it's all that new, but it does seem to be growing and evolving. I think it’s one of the quickest ways to get information or find people that share your interests or talk on topics you enjoy. And now I think podcasting is often extended into the digital realm thanks to technology so you see a lot more podcasters simultaneously recording their podcasts on Facebook Live, or YouTube or even broadcasting live and posting the podcast so people can interact with the show much in the same way you can with Twitch streamers. It's a brave new world, and we've got some of own adventures into the digital media realm in store. We'll be gradually revealing more of our plans up until the Atlanta United regular season home opener. Stay tuned!
What makes a good podcast?
I think there are a lot of different and unique things that can make a good podcast. I'll come at it from the angle of "what really grinds my gears", though. I tend to focus in on audio quality, authenticity, and engagement. There's nothing worse than listening to a podcast that has garbled audio, or poor mixing where you can barely hear one person, and the other person blows out your eardrums. I also think most people have an ear for what may be well organized content, but organic vs clearly scripted content. If you want to record scripted content, go sign up for a slot on your local public broadcasting station and read from a teleprompter. Ain't nobody got time for that. Lastly, if the podcast doesn't engage with the listener in some fashion these days, I think you're missing the plot. Your listeners are your lifeblood. Why wouldn't you address them, loop them in, and make them feel apart of your family. Whether that's reading reviews, emails/tweets, or doing what we do where we share events we'll be at and encourage our listeners to join us, and sometimes even record with us. But some minimal amount of listener engagement is important in my books.
What podcasts do you listen to?
I have a rotation because I've gotten to the point where I'm spending so much of my free time CREATING content now, that I don't have as much time to listen to podcasts as I did a year ago. Here's my current "Top 5":
Soccer Down Here
Home Before Dark - Atlanta United FC Weekly
Solids & Stripes (new!)
Your podcast is focused on ATL UTD. Feelings on the Cup win?
What an emotional roller coaster. I don't think it ever felt real until we beat New York Red Bulls after getting our asses handed to us by them all season. I teared up, Kelly cried, and what's a rare occasion -- I was speechless for almost ten minutes after the final whistle. I'm not going to use this to recap all the things the team did or didn't do to get there, about the player chemistry, Tata Martino, the parade, so on and so forth. What I will say is that the entire run to the MLS Cup help inspire me to create some videos to the theme "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us" by Starship which was a springboard to the passion for videography I have now. So, without MLS Cup, I may not have started learning how to edit video. In the end, I think it was validation for Atlanta United fans that the team, how they do business, all of it -- much to the chagrin of a lot of other MLS fans. But more importantly, it meant our supporters went on a journey through the playoffs and MLS Cup together that only solidified the words uttered by Josef Martinez in a Player Tribute article earlier last season: "Atlanta es familia."
Will ATL UTD take CCL seriously?
Deadly serious. I think you see it in the lineups our new coach, Frank de Boar, is putting out in these preseason "friendlies". While other teams are just getting ramped up, getting looks at reserve team members, cycling reps to avoid too much physicality too soon; you see Atlanta United clearly preparing to start a major tournament in just a few weeks. I believe the team has been very open about CCL being their number one priority, even above MLS Cup.
Shake up in head coach got you worried at all?
I think there are always concerns when a team rotates players, but especially coaches. Tata Martino and Frank de Boer are extremely different culturally, and from what little we saw on a streamed preseason match with Tijuana's reserves, he's trying different formations and tactics from what the players were used to last year. Not drastically different, but partly (I think) as a result of Miguel Almiron no longer being there and Frank's philosophies -- especially defensively and how the team must maintain more possession. It means they can't rely as much on the Josef/Miggy counter-attack and have to integrate Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco into the squad which changes the dynamic in the midfield. The shape we saw was exciting to see. The soccer was very fluid, and the attack looked insanely aggressive. There are also other differences between coaches. I've been informed of from sources that point out that Tata Martino had a larger staff than Frank de Boer has, and Tata let his assistants run large parts of training. Frank seems to be in control of everything and has the final say. And although his assistant coach, Orlando Trustfull, is engaged somewhat in training, it's clear that Frank is running the show and he likes to get stuck in himself. You can tell he really enjoys playing, and uses that as a primary way of connecting with his players. In contrast, Tata connected with players off the pitch at an emotional level -- almost like a father figure, and it didn't hurt that he's revered as a legend by the South American players. It feels like Frank is the spearhead in Darren Eales' and Carlos Bocanegra's plans to model themselves more like a big European club. You can tell by just how they run the club from the facilities, the types of player moves taking place this season -- all which is to be expected if they're trying to elevate themselves into the global market so they can become an attractive selling club to teams in Europe, and ironically, even back to South America. However, nothing I've seen so far raises any major concerns. We really won't know how well the transition is going until the team faces some real adversity so we can see how they handle it.
You're an MLS guy, thoughts on Pro/Rel?
I'll just say this. I support our local grassroots clubs. I sometimes drive an hour and a half south of where I am in Atlanta to watch NPSL side Georgia Revolution play matches at a high school football stadium. I've visited with Jonathan Collura, owner of the Bugeaters, and spent hours and hours driving around Nebraska with him, going to their training, and learning about the joy some owners get by running these clubs and helping young guys have a place to play in the summer, and often elevate their prospects for moves to the USL, or even lower league teams in England (thanks fo Jonathan's connections and previous experience owning clubs in the 5th division in England). It has been eye opening. I'm really keen on seeing how NPSL Pro works. I'm excited about the increasing number of teams in the Southeast across the UPSL, NPSL, and USL. I've learned a lot about the struggle teams faces when they are relegated and quite often, promoted where they have to suddenly compete at another level financially. We've seen teams go bankrupt in England trying to avoid relegation. It's a messy business. I think if it's going to work, NPSL Pro is the best potential use case as to whether Pro/Rel can work. I don't think it's a good fit for MLS and I don't forsee any model in the next decade where Pro/Rel would become viable to MLS. MLS will, however, need to start decentralizing their control over certain aspects and allow more MLS teams to fail as the league grows stronger. Until the league reaches a level where teams can afford to fail without shutting down, parity will remain the path set by MLS for the foreseeable future.
Do you follow any lower tier clubs?
Yes! I'm a member of the Uprising Revs supporter group which supports NPSL side Georgia Revolution, an NPSL. I'm waiting to see what happens with Atlanta SC (previously Silverbacks). It's unclear what their path forward will look like.
One criticism of Atlanta soccer fans is the lack of interest in the Silverbacks. Why the indifference? Is the criticism fair?
You may get different reasons from every person you talk to, and that's because I believe there are a myriad of reasons, but a bad stadium leasing deal, the fact they don't even own the rights to their own name, and a history of poor treatment of the team by ownership and a lack of investment. The venue is falling apart, to be honest. It's really disappointing. It began to kill any sense of enjoyment from attending matches. East Atlanta is also not an ideal geographic location to attract fans during rush hour on a weeknight. The team's schedule would constantly change because they had to play around other activities hosted at the venue which made it difficult to predict and follow. I know some of the staff at the Silverbacks. There are people there trying to work hard to turn things around. Unfortunately, for a lot of fans it's too little too late. And now, after being held hostage for years by their current venue's ownership, they have decided to find somewhere else to live. Unfortunately, the owner of "Silverbacks Park" owns the rights to the name. So they are now moving forward as "Atlanta SC". I hope to get in touch with someone from the communications team there to get on the podcast and talk about their roadmap.
Chips Ahoy - Original or Chewy?
Chewy. All Day. Don't @ Me. Original are for savages.