Mina Kimes, host of the popular football podcast The Mina Kimes Show featuring Lenny, joins us to talk about topics including:

  •  her move from Bloomberg to ESPN.
  •  insights on the business of the NFL.
  •  the NFL entering the streaming video wars.
  •  the stories she's watching this season.
  •  stats that fantasy football owners might want to keep an eye on.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Aug. 21, 2022.

Mina Kimes: I remember when I started covering investing every day I would read the Wall Street Journal investing section, and just stop anytime I didn't know something, and pause, and try to learn it. So as you can imagine, it took me about three hours, to read the paper, every morning for while. But it was a tremendous very quick education and of course did spur my interest in managing my own money.

Chris Hill: I'm Chris Hill and that's Mina Kimes. She's an NFL analyst for ESPN, and host of the Mina Kimes Show featuring Lenny. Every week, she talks all things football with special guests, and contributions from her football-loving dog, Lenny. But before all that, she was an award-winning financial journalist. We caught up earlier this month to talk about her leap from Bloomberg to ESPN, the business of the NFL, and something that every fantasy football fan will want to know before picking a quarterback this season. Mina started working for a division of Fortune Magazine right out of college. I began our conversation by asking her what it was about financial journalism that she found interesting.

Mina Kimes: The thing that was interesting to me, was that I was offered a job as a business journalist or actually more accurately an internship. When I was in college, I only really had two concrete aspirations. One was to be a writer in some capacity, and the other was to not spend a summer at home in Arizona. I was very lucky to get placed in the then-timing internship program, where they put you at a magazine. I was interested in sports, I was interested in music, arts. Time, Sports Illustrated, these sexy titles. I got a placement magazine called Fortune Small Business. I would say my reaction was quizzical at the time, in college I had not studied business in any way, I'd not taken economics, I knew nothing about business, forget small business. But I did accept the internship, of course, and ended up having a really illuminating summer. It was a fantastic internship. I think in part because it was a smaller magazine, so I was given more to do. I learned a lot about not just business and entrepreneurship, which is the focus of that magazine, but just reporting. When they offered me a job as a reporter there after college, I was thrilled and started there as soon as I graduated.

Chris Hill: And stayed in it for a while. You were a business journalist for seven years, eight years. What takes you from Fortune to Bloomberg?

Mina Kimes: First I had to make a leap to "Big Fortune," as we called it.

Chris Hill: Was that really what it was called internally, Big Fortune?

Mina Kimes: Just by I think some of us at Fortune Small Business, because Fortune Small Business is kind of like a little spin-off, and it was a really cool magazine. In small business, as you know, some of the stories are the most fun stories that you can write. It's literally you're writing about people's hopes and dreams. Of course, it touches on pretty significant micro-economic issues. I learned a lot about all, everything that went into running a small business and the policy that affects it. But, I believe it was 2008, before the financial crisis Fortune Small Business didn't shut down yet, but it shrunk in a pretty big way.

It was then that I decided to make a leap to Fortune magazine, I really had a temp job there at first actually didn't have a full-time job. I was immediately put on the investing beat. I think it was the Spring of 2008. As you can imagine, it was a pretty interesting time to start covering the markets. For me, I hate to say it's fortuitous because the entire economy crashed and there were cuts, but there was so much opportunity, and so much room to learn there. So I loved covering that beat. Eventually, I moved into an investigative beat at Fortune, and then from there, I moved to Bloomberg in 2014, joining their investigative team.

Chris Hill: Did your experience as a business journalist, did you more interested in investing? Less interested didn't have any impact?

Mina Kimes: Yeah, definitely. I knew nothing about investing coming out of college. It's [LAUGHTER] kind of funny because I was 22, 23 ostensibly giving investing advice in some of these. But I really wasn't, I was just asking the smarter people, money managers for investing advice and relaying it, really just learning. Honestly like in college, if you'd asked me how do bonds work [inaudible 00:04:56]? I wouldn't be able to answer that question. I remember when I started covering investing, every day I would read the Wall Street Journal investing section, and just stop anytime I didn't know something and, pause and try to learn it. As you can imagine, it took me about three hours to read the paper every morning for a while. But it was a tremendous, very quick education, and of course it did spur my own interest in managing my own money. Now when I say managing my own money, I don't mean day trading, but being very selective about funds, and ETFs, and that thing. Doing all the things that I think people in their early 20s should do with their money.

Chris Hill: I was looking through some articles about your career in business journalism. You were clearly very good at it, because you were winning multiple awards. This is over a 7-8 year period. In 2014, ESPN comes calling, and hires you to write for the magazine and ESPN.com. Clearly, you're very passionate about sports. But I am curious, given what you had accomplished at that point, as a business journalist, not just as a skill set, but essentially equity within the industry, you'd made a name for yourself. Did you wrestle with the decision to jump from business journalism to sports?

Mina Kimes: I was pretty apprehensive about shifting. Not just shifting beats, but really just shifting my entire paradigm of how I worked. I was losing that institutional knowledge, of not having institutional knowledge, as I took on a new challenge. It's some ways the tools are the same. You are a reporter and a writer, and how to gather information and structure stories is pretty similar. But there are so many little things I didn't know. Like if you wanted to interview an athlete, what does it even look like? Who do you call? It's not like a company where there's PR, and then you have sources, and whatnot, and there's documents that are very different.

I was a little bit nervous about having to learn all that on the fly. But I had one benefit or I guess something that made it easier, which is, I wasn't transitioning to sports as a beat reporter covering a team, or anything like that I was a features writer and a columnist. That meant I wasn't responsible for doing that many stories. If my first story is on Derall Rivas, that was my very first covers story in ESPN, I remember. I don't have to turn it in immediately. I don't turn it around in one week. I have had a couple of months to figure things out and go about it that way. It was daunting for sure, but it's similar to starting in business journalism a lot of learning on the fly.

Chris Hill: At what point did you really start to settle into the NFL? Because you are recovering a lot of different things, as you said, as a features writer, you get the opportunity to go in a bunch of different directions. But at what point did you really settle in on, this is the area I'm the most interested in?

Mina Kimes: I settled in on analyzing football. Till the end of my writing career, I was writing about different of things. I think actually near the end was a story on Luka Doncic. I got to go to Spain and watch him play basketball as a teenager which was one of the coolest experiences of my life. But I would say around 2016 or so, I started doing football podcasts. My friend Bill Barnwell has a podcast at ESPN that is pretty and centric doing football radio. As a writer, I continue to write about a pretty wide variety of topics, e-sports, screen-baseball, the Olympics, whatever. But then as an analyst, I zeroed in on football as being my primary interest around then.

Chris Hill: Let me ask a couple of questions about the business of football. From a big picture standpoint, it's overwhelmingly the most popular professional sport in the country. Toward that end, why do you think there's never been really a viable competitor, professional competitor to the NFL? People have tried with the XFL, the USFL. Why do you think that is that nothing has really broken through?

Mina Kimes: I think it's a few reasons. One of which is, I'd say primarily it's just the NFL has such a stranglehold on talent. There's so many NFL players, it's not like basketball where their rosters are a lot smaller. Although basketball there's not obviously a competitor either. But because there are so many players and NFL teams and because every super talented player from high school on aims to be in the NFL. It stands that obviously any competing league is going to have lesser talent. There might be some names that you recognize and guys who maybe will go back-and-forth between those leagues and the NFL. Is something we saw with the XFL, which is pretty cool. But for the most part, there's obviously a pretty big disparity between the caliber of players who are available to those leagues.

Also because the NFL, even though it has a restricted season, is still a year-long sport, if you're an aspiring NFL player and you're hanging around the practice squads, you're not going to go play for a spring league or what have you. The other thing I think is just the money. Football's a very expensive sport because of the size of the rosters and everything that goes into it. We've seen time and time again that financially it can be really challenging for these spring links to stay afloat because of the costs and the overhead. I think for it to work most likely, you'd probably have to see some give-and-take with the NFL, similar to what basketball has with the G League. But even that is not a massive business of course. But yeah, it's just so big and so dominant. I would say from a labor and capital perspective, it's just so hard to compete.

Chris Hill: One of the things we've watched over the years on this show is what we refer to as the streaming wars. As streaming video becomes more and more prevalent, we've seen major streamers make their way into professional sports. We've seen this with Amazon Prime with Thursday Night Football, Apple has got baseball games on Apple Plus. I don't want to speak for all of my colleagues, but a lot of us were scratching our head at the recent announcement that the NFL has decided to enter this very crowded space with their own streaming service, NFL Plus. What was your reaction to that news and what do you think is the aspiration? Because on the surface, it seems like the NFL has done quite well parcelling out its rights to different networks in different streamers. On the surface, NFL Plus look like, actually, our endgame is, that we're going to have all of this ourselves and no one else is not going to have this.

Mina Kimes: I'm not a complete expert when it comes to the subject, but I don't think that's the end game with NFL Plus. I just think that there's so much money coming in from not the tech companies, but also obviously the legacy media companies. As I understand it, it seems to be just more them taking all of their digital products and putting them under one roof. Whether that's a game pass or all the things you get when you subscribe to various NFL properties. It seems like they're still pretty content to be in bed with all of us. [laughs] When you look at the dollar figures, it's not hard to see why.

Chris Hill: I was looking through some notes of an interview I did years ago with Leigh Steinberg and one of the things we had talked about was a topic that still gets a lot of attention, but it seems like it may have peaked a few years ago and that is concussions, player safety, player health. There was a point in time where the attention around concussions in the NFL in some ways seemed like this is the business competitive threat to the NFL. I don't know if that's still the case anymore, but I'm curious. To put your business journalism hat back on, what do you think is the biggest threat to the business of the NFL these days?

Mina Kimes: God. It really sure seems like nothing. The NFL is such a juggernaut and it seems to steamroll anything that stands in its way including self-created problems or as you just said, the concussion crisis, which I would say public concern about that has waxed and waned over the years around 2009-2010 is when I think the depths of the issue and also the NFL's attempts to obfuscate what was happening really emerged. I think since then, as there has been more transparency and I think greater understanding on the part of the players of what they're participating in although you never want to use that as a catch-all for saying, well, it's OK now that this still happens and that this is still a problem. But I will just say from a business standpoint and from a public standpoint, it seems to capture less interest and concern than before.

I think going forward that I actually do still think that is a potentially existential problem for the sport, and this is a really 50,000 foot view, if participation drops in future years or is I would say separated by class and that sort of thing. Outside of that, I would say probably the one thing that I imagine the NFL is thinking about and media partners, everyone in around the sport of thinking about is interest on the part of young consumers. I'm sure you know that kids these days, Zoomers and below, their attention is a lot more segregated. People always stare at video games, example, but it's not just video games, it's the Internet, it's everything, it's streaming, it's all that. I haven't seen what the numbers are like in terms of interest amongst the younger generation but I think that would probably be the one thing. When you look to live sports, generally and whether they can keep growing, that probably is the single biggest issue that I imagine people with a much higher pay grade than me are thinking about.

Chris Hill: Where does sports gambling fit into all of this with respect to the NFL? Is it an opportunity that the league is looking to embrace? Is it something they are cautious about?

Mina Kimes: Oh, it's definitely something they're embracing, which is remarkable because it's such an about-face from, I don't even remember, it was, I want to say five or six years ago when they got Tony Romo for hosting an event at a casino or something [laughs] and you got in trouble for that. Since then, now, you're seeing just an explosion of obviously as the legalization of gambling happens, content promoting, and that's not just in the NFL, that's in all NFL adjacent content and broadcast and that thing, programming around it.

I imagine their hope and also the hope of, I guess people, the media companies as it has the same effect as fantasy football, where so much of the, I wouldn't say a ton of the growth of the NFL, but certainly a lot of interest in it has been driven by fantasy over the last decade or so. It's undeniable. It keeps people engaged, it makes them more excited about games that they wouldn't necessarily be excited about and players, and it really just functions as an incredible marketing tool. I have to think from a content perspective, the league and its partners probably hope that gambling has the same effect.

Chris Hill: Speaking of fantasy football, I want to see if we can help out our listeners who are fans of fantasy football, because, on your Twitter bio, you've included the line, wins are not a QB stat, which is something you appear to be very passionate about. I've seen you talk about this in different forums. To that end, what is an under-the-radar stat that doesn't get as much attention? Because you're right, quarterbacks do weirdly get credit for an overall team win, but for people who are looking ahead to their fantasy draft, what is a stat or two they should be looking at when evaluating players?

Mina Kimes: Well, a quarterback stat that I do like and not a lot of us, I would say [laughs] those of us who like numbers have embraced a bit more is something called completion percentage over expectation, CPOE. Essentially, as players now are chipped, they've been chipped for a while, but we have so much data about where they are in the field or the ball is on the field, what's happening, and next-gen stats, which provides this. It was able to take all that, look at where the quarterback is, the difficulty of throw, where the defender is, and say, here's what the completion percentage should be in this situation. The expected completion percentage is based on millions of throws.

Not millions of quarterbacks, but a very large sample size, which is always, of course, an issue with football relative to baseball. And then you look at that and you say, well here's the quarterback's actual completion percentage. It's really useful because it shows you whether the quarterback has outperformed what was available to them based on both where the players are, the defense, etc., but also the scheme. Players [inaudible], for example, always have a very high expected completion percentage because Kyle Shanahan the 49er's play caller is so brilliant that he sets up pretty easy opportunities for him. Instead of just looking at completion percentage, which is a pretty dumb stat, and saying, he completed 70 percent of passes. You can see, well, did he exceed what was expected? I think that's really useful.

Chris Hill: Are there storylines going into this season that you're particularly intrigued by? Not just the obvious. Who do we think is going to make it to the Super Bowl? Can the Bengals repeat the run that they had last year? Is there, whether it's a particular chip on someone's shoulder that you find more interesting than maybe some of your colleagues do?

Mina Kimes: Well, the biggest storyline that permeates a league is because there's been a lot of change in quarterbacks switching teams this year. You have Russell Wilson going to Denver, now you have Baker Mayfield in Carolina, and you have Matt Ryan in Indianapolis. I think it's going to be fascinating to see how these various quarterbacks play. What I would say certainly with Wilson and Ryan, for example, have the potential to be on playoff teams since you can see how they perform in new spots. That's always interesting to me because I think you get a sense of it's so hard to separate quarterback play from their surroundings and when you see a quarterback in new surroundings, you get a better sense of who they are and you can really take stock of their careers.

Chris Hill: I'm going to switch sports for a second. I know this is going to be a little bit painful for you, but it is a fact that the longest playoff drought in major professional sports in America is your team, the Seattle Mariners. However, in early June, they're five games below 500, and they have a home game against my Red Sox, and you throw out the opening pitch for the Mariners. As of this conversation, the Mariners are eight games above 500. My question is, if they make the playoffs and end that drought, how much of the credit goes to you throwing the opening pitch? Because to me, it's greater than zero.

Mina Kimes: I know, a lot of people are saying that, so I appreciate it. No, I'm just kidding. I wish it would have been a little bit cleaner if the Mariners didn't have a losing streak right after I threw that pitch, but it's baseball, you got to really back up and look at the entire body of work. Yeah, it's knock-on-wood, but it's a pretty exciting time to be a Mariners fan. Try to keep your expectations in check, but things are looking pretty good.

Chris Hill: Seattle Mariners are still hanging in with a shot to make the playoffs, so good luck Mina. Check out the Mina Kimes Show featuring Lenny wherever you get your podcasts.

As always, people on the program may have an interest in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don't buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. I'm Chris Hill. Thanks for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.