Episode 34 - Matt Keenan

January 24, 2019 16 min read

Episode 34 - Matt Keenan

  

  

In this episode, we are joined by Matt Keenan, sports commentator, reporter, radio presenter and event MC who works predominantly with cycling and triathlon. He has worked for numerous cycling and triathlon events popularly known all over the world such as the Tour de France, Ironman, Giro d’Italia, and so much more..

In this episode we cover: 

  • The things he enjoys about working as a commentator.
  • How his interest in cycling started.
  • Matt shares an interesting story about John Trevorrow
  • Maintaining his work - life balance despite his busy schedule and traveling for work.
  • He shares something in his bucket list that he would still like to take on.
  • Events that have stood out in his commentating career.
  • Funny stories from his experiences at work.
  • The biggest challenge for cycling today.

Links


        Transcript:

        FELICITY:

        This is episode 34. Welcome to the All Torque podcast, where each episode we interview an inspiring person to share their story with you. I'm your host, Felicity Dales, managing director of Body Torque.

        I have Here today, Matt Keenan, a sports commentator, reporter, radio presenter, and event emcee who predominantly works in cycling and triathlon. Matt has covered events working as part of the television broadcast as a commentator and, or reporter. Including events, the Tour de France, Jira D'Italia, Vuelta a España, UCI World Championships, both track and road, Commonwealth Games in 2006 and 2010. The Ironman Melbourne, Port Macquarie, Cairns, Western Australia, ITU World Triathlon Series, the ITU Triathlon World Cup, New South Multisport Festival, and the Equitana, which is equestrian.

        You’re an ambassador, Matt, for the Baker Research, which is research for heart disease and diabetes research, you also hosted and produced a weekly cycling show "The Bike Lane" on SBS, prior to that Matt was the host of First Off the Bike for three years, a weekly cycling and triathlon radio show on SEN1116 and he's a regular guest on the ABC Grandstand 3AW and 6PR. In addition to broadcasting, Matt writes for Cycling Magazine and has written opinion pieces online for the Australian Financial Review, the Herald Sun, and SBS Cycling Central. Prior to venturing into the world of sports broadcasting, Matt worked in corporate affairs, marketing and media relations for government departments, Work Safe Victoria as well as Sport and Recreation in Victoria, a publicly listed accounting and financial planning firm Stockford Limited, and a privately owned marketing and media organisation, Jump Media and Marketing.

        Welcome Matt.

        MATT:

        You make it sound like, at the end there, at least I had a real job at some point, because all the stuff that you speak about at the start. I'm really luck that I get to go to those events and I get to sit in front of the monitor and commentate on events that I'd be watching anyway and that I'd love to go to simply as a spectator and I get to play a small role as being part of the event without actually racing the event, so on the easy side of the fence.

        FELICITY:

        Well it's great that you enjoy it and are so proactive and you interact a lot.

        MATT:

        Yeah, and it's one of the things about being a commentator is you get fully engaged in the race. The first couple of games you made reference to that I commentated on in 2006, in the women's final for the sprint, Anna Meares up against Victoria Pendelton, theirs was the best rivalry in track cycling that we've seen in ten or fifteen years, it was fabulous. And they were coming around the final bank and it was the third race in the best of three and, as they were throwing to the line, I was that engaged in it, I was on the edge of my seat, and it was one of those office seats with the wheels on it. I threw the line at the same time they did and I crashed and fell onto my backside in the commentary box.

        FELICITY:

        So you needed a massage after that.

        MATT:

        Yeah, luckily nobody saw it so my ego was well looked after as well.

        FELICITY:

        So when did you actually take up cycling?

        MATT:

        I rode my first ever bike race in November of 1990. It was on the Velodrome out at Northcote Velodrome on a Thursday night, and I was really consistent. I finished last in all three races. But being a confident 15 year old, I just thought, “Well this is gonna make for a fantastic opening chapter in my autobiography after I win the Tour de France”. From last to first.

        FELICITY:

        That's right.

        MATT:

        And it was a family friend actually that inspired me to get interested in cycling in combination with watching the channel nine coverage on Wide World of Sport, which was the only coverage we had of the Tour de France then. And with Greg LeMond winning the Tour in '86 and I thought I'd be first Australian to win the Tour de France. I was completely unrealistic, had never even ridden a bike at that point. But I thought, sure I will! I hadn’t raced a bike anyway, but the family friend that got me interested in the sport, unfortunately he was killed riding to work on the first of April 1987. But he was a friend of my mum and dad's and his wife, or his widow was one of mum's closest friends, and his daughter ended up becoming my childhood sweetheart.

        FELICITY:

        Oh wow.

        MATT:

        And then just seeing photos of him and hearing the stories, I was well aware of the risk and that it was a dangerous sport, but it seemed like a really romantic sport. And watching the Tour as well on television, it seemed like a sport completely foreign to anything that we had covered really in Australia. Australia at that point was Cricket in the summer, and Football in the winter. And it was a chance to explore and I was hooked, it took me a few years to convince mum and dad to let me race. And eventually I got on a track bike, sure I finished last but I was still in love with the sport and I still am today.

        FELICITY:

        That's fantastic. And we do have a lot of diversity today, don't we? I mean when you talk about, as you say football and then the mandatory sort of sports that we grew up with, there is a lot of diversity today and even with cycling.

        MATT:

        There's a lot more competition for people's time, and particularly busy parents, what they'd choose for their kids to be able to do. And your kids, at a certain age, they're not sure what they want to do, so each parent exposes them to a whole bunch of sports and they might pick one or they might pick two or whatever it may be, but you see how many kids now are playing soccer that are challenging the sport like Australian Rules Football and how many kids playing basketball in particular.

        I've got an eight year old daughter who plays tennis and does gymnastics. And my son at the moment, he does Auskick, he's six years of age and he really loves soccer. When I was their age, it was football or cricket, and I did play fair bit of tennis as a kid as well because my parents played tennis. But there's so many more options now.

        FELICITY:

        Absolutely. Well it's great to have a dream and have the one that you did at 15, I saw you at the Baker Inst's launch last year and you surprised me with your history and you had a story about John Trevorrow, let's talk about that.

        MATT:

        Well, John Trevorrow, he's one of the big characters of Australian cycling, would be the best way to describe John Trevorrow.

        FELICITY:

        Absolutely.

        MATT:

        And you know, four time Australian champion Olympic games representative, three time winner of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, a fabulous cyclist. But he's also done a lot in terms of organising bike races and changing the shape of the Australian cycling summer. Before John create the Bay cycling classic, the cycling season was divided in winter and summer. Winter was on the road and summer was on the track. And John in 1989 he started the Bay Cycling Classic in the summer and that was the catalyst really for a lot of the events that we have now. Such as the National Championships being in summer, the Tour Down Under being in summer, and also the Jayco Herald Sun Tour's move to a summertime slot as well.

        So he's done a lot in that regard. And because I had no contacts within the sport, I didn't have very good networks or so on, and I really wanted to ride that race. And in 1992, so my second year really of racing, I'd been racing slightly over two years, or less, anyway, I wanted to ride that race and it was only team events, and I didn't have a team, so I rang John up and pleaded my case and he let me start. So everybody was in a team and I was out there on my own. And then it was also one of the first races that I ever commentated on, and it was through commentating on that race that I got to meet Phil Liggett and work with Phil Liggett and develop the relationship with him and then, likewise, with Paul Sherwen. And those two guys are the ones who have actually been the big leg up for me in my career in recommending me to ASO, who are the owners of the Tour de France and giving me that opportunity.

        FELICITY:

        Oh lovely. So, they've been your mentors?

        MATT:

        Oh, very much so.

        FELICITY:

        Oh, that's fantastic. Well, we've got the late Paul Sherwen now which is a shame. That's been a tragedy of last year, hasn't it?

        MATT:

        Heartbreaking. 62 years of age. Fit 62 years of age as well. Full of life. He was one of those guys that, you know when you see somebody's name come up on your phone and you're trying to work out, “Do I answer this or do I not?” When Paul's name came up, you couldn't swipe it on quick enough. And a smile always came to your face. And as soon as he walked into a room, before he even opened up his mail, everybody would voluntarily smile because you knew the room was about to light up. Beautiful human being. Sadly missed.

        FELICITY:

        Absolutely. Some people have that amazing energy and we'd like to pay a tribute to him while we can.

        MATT:

        He's special.

        FELICITY:

        Yeah. You've travelled extensively to cover the various events. How do you balance that with family and writing because you do like to keep fit? Since events such as the Tour de France are quite intense for an extended period of time, along with being in a different time zone?

        MATT:

        Yeah, thank heavens for Skype and Facebook. It'd be a lot more difficult to maintain a marriage if I was doing this in the ‘80s or the ‘90s. Modern technology has been wonderful for that, so in terms of staying in contact with my family whist I'm away, I spend about five to five and a half months a year in a hotel bed and when I'm in Europe, because of the time zone, as soon as I wake up before I go to breakfast I Facetime with the family and just before I go to bed I Facetime with the family as well. And we're at opposite ends of the day, effectively.

        So that's really good in that regard of just being able to maintain that contact and, in terms of the upshot of, yeah I'm away for a long time, but I've had a normal job, and I know the structure of a normal working week, and I think across the 12 months of the year, I would spend more time with my kids than the average parent would that has a full time job. Because if you've got a full time job, you're probably leaving home at 7:30 and you're getting home at 6:30, so the time that you're spending then with your kids is functionary. It's having breakfast, and then it's having dinner and getting ready for bed.

        So when I'm home, I write articles or have to do invoice or organise trips and so on, I can do all of that stuff while the kids are at school, so I get to take them to school, pick them up from school, take them to whatever activities that they're doing, and I think across the 12 months, I would probably see them more than I would see them if I was doing the previous job that I had before commentating. At least, that's the argument that I make to my wife.

        FELICITY:

        Yes, that's right. And it's all about scheduling isn't it, so that you can get that in, talk to them twice a day and still have quality time with them.

        MATT:

        Yeah, but when they were really young, we're talking you know less than one year of age or whatever it may be, you go away for four weeks, you come home and you're a stranger in the house. They don't want dad, “Who are you?” They want mum, mum's number one.

        FELICITY:

        That's right, yeah. Is there anything on your bucket list that you would still love to cover?

        MATT:

        In terms of commentating, cycling wise, no. I've commentated on all the great bike races that I really wanted to commentate on and I just wanna keep commentating on them and I want to get better at commentating on them.

        The other sport I'd really like to commentate on at some point is tennis, which I made reference to already. I've had the privilege of commentating on some really great triathlons and it'd be pretty cool to go and call Kona, I know it's a long day, it'd be a huge broadcast. But that's an amazing event and I've been to Kona, I've been to Hawaii for a holiday, but I've never been there for the Ironman, and I'd love to go there and experience that on the ground. That'd be pretty cool.

        FELICITY:

        I went over and watched Greg Stewart race many years ago and you're right, it's an epic event and yeah, it's worth going.

        MATT:

        Yeah, it's a bucket list event.

        FELICITY:

        It is, yeah.

        Is there any event that stands out in particular? If so, why is that?

        MATT:

        In terms of fun to cover or that I've enjoyed covering?

        FELICITY:

        I think enjoyed covering.

        MATT:

        Well the commentary moment that I enjoyed the most was Matt Hayman winning Paris-Roubaix. I was lucky enough to commentate alongside Phil when Cadel Evans won the world championships in 2009. That was a result in many respects that didn't come as a surprise as expected because Cadel Evans is the greatest cyclist to ever come out of Australia. And you always expected him to win big things. I was there as a part of the commentary team when Cadel won the Tour de France, and that was amazing. But when I was in that role at the Tour I was just the warm up act. So I'd stop commentating with 80 plus kilometres to go most days and Phil and Paul would do that main part, the important parts.

        So, I didn't really like I was a big part of that commentary. But the first Paris-Roubaix that I ever got to call, and it was alongside Robbie McEwen, it was 2016 and Matt Hayman was in the breakaway with 180 Ks to go, down to a group of ten with 80 Ks to go, in a group of five with 30 Ks to go, and I thought, “Fantastic, he can get on the podium.” It wasn't until he went across the finish line that I thought he could win and he's one of the nicest guys, known him for a long time. You try not to be biased in commentary, but gee I was happy to see him get that one. That was awesome. It was great. And what a privilege to get to call it.

        FELICITY:

        Absolutely, especially an Aussie, we were all proud, us Aussies. Do you have any funny stories you can share with our listeners?

        MATT:

        Uh, driving with Robbie McEwen is stressful. We were going on the wrong side of the road one time throughout the 2018 Tour de France, evacuating from one of the mountains and a Gens D'Armes pulled us over, and I thought well now would be a good time to apologise. And as the Gens D'Armes was steaming towards us and you could see the smoke coming out of this guy's ears, Robbie asked if it was okay if he could provide us with an escort.  So straight on the front foot.

        FELICITY:

        He's really got that cheeky factor, doesn't he?

        MATT:

        Yeah, I thought it was hilarious. The Gens D'Armes didn't but the Gens D'Armes was completely disarmed by the boldness of the request, it was fantastic. And I'm a bit of a stickler for being organised, and schedules, and doing my homework and so on, and Robbie's a little more relaxed.

        The day before our first day together commentating on the Tour, we had dinner just the two of us, and he said, “Okay Keenan, I need you to know I don't do schedules”. The race starts at a particular time and we've got be commentating at that time. You're gonna have to have a little bit of a schedule.

        And then there was one other time where he did a corporate ride and I was left commentating the first two hours on my own and was meant to be one hour, ended up being two hours. And then he’s walked into the commentary box with a tray full of food and just started eating and then wrote on a post it note and slipped it across to me, "I'm hungry." And he sat there and ate for fifteen minutes whilst I was commentating the most boring stage there was, pancake flat two man break away, 205 kilometres.

        FELICITY:

        Could have used some help.

        MATT:

        Yeah, look after me will you?

        FELICITY:

        Hilarious.

        MATT:

        In the Tour of Spain, I've had them accidentally start packing the truck down before the broadcast is finished, so they’ve pulled the plug out and I've been commentating to a blank screen whilst everybody else in the world knows what's on the screen and I'm just trying to make it up based on the audio that I can hear from the venue. Yeah, travelling with Robbie is one of the entertaining parts of the job.

        FELICITY:

        Fun. You not only commentate and then report on iconic events, but you also ride and participate. How do you manage that when you're travelling so much?

        MATT:

        I never travel with a bike, just logistically it's too difficult. Everybody that's travelled with a bike knows how much of a pain it can be. And when you're there to work as opposed to ride, and a lot of the races I'm on, there might be three or four people in the car, so there's just not any room. So, I don't get to ride my bike when I go out. So, I've been on the Tour twelve times now in a commentary capacity, haven't ridden my bike there once. So, I try to go for a run every second day and do some exercises in the room each day. Little circuit exercise I do, incidental exercise, use the stairs instead of the lift. Walk everywhere, those sorts of things, minimise the use of the car.

        And it's good for my mental health as well. I'm not a great person to be around if I haven't done some physical activity. It's equivalent to other people that don't get enough sleep. If I don't get some exercise, I'm a grump. When I'm at home, if I'm being a bit grumpy, my wife tells me to go. Go for a ride, go in the garage and jump on the rollers for a half an hour. Do something.

        So, I try and stay active and I think it's really important to understand the sport that you're commentating on and remind yourself of how difficult it is, ‘cause it's really easy on the comfortable side of the fence to say they should do A, B, C, or D. And that's not really my role, that's Robbie's role as the ex-pro cyclist. But it's good to remind yourself what it's like to get a wet backside out on a bike ride, to battle a headwind home for the last 30 kilometres. Suffer up a long climb and to have a little bit more of an understanding, some sort of context for what it is that you're commentating on.

        FELICITY:

        Absolutely. You want to have more empathy with your audience.

        MATT:

        Yeah, plus I love doing it. I love riding my bike, it's awesome.

        FELICITY:

        It’s fantastic. How do you see cycling and triathlon evolving from now?

        MATT:

        The biggest challenge for both sports, and this is for all sports in fact, is the evolution of media coverage and all sports need to engage really well on the social media front, you see the American professional sports in particular do that really well. NFL, their Facebook coverage and NBA, their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram accounts are phenomenal and you get a lot of backstage access. Cycling, one of the issues that it's got in particular, and triathlons are in a similar position, the athletes don't get a piece of the pie from the media rights.

        And, in fairness, in cycling there's only a few races that make money out of the media rights and the Tour is quite obviously one of them, but the race organisers and the teams, slash the riders need to actually be on the same boat whereas in those big football codes, all those professional American sports, the players get a percentage of what the TV rights earnings are. So, they've got more incentive to participate in the media. And through doing that you build the bigger personalities. And it's the big personalities that attract people to the sport.

        FELICITY:

        Absolutely.

        MATT:

        Peter Sagan and Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, as controversial as he is, they're big personalities that have dragged people into the sport. And we've seen in triathlon with the super league, the Chris McCormack's being a big part of actually putting on the ground, trying to create innovating racing, fast racing that is reasonably short. Cricket's evolved with 20/20, that's moved a long way from just watching test matches and even a one day international which is 50 overs feels like a long day of watching cricket. You wouldn't watch a full day one international. But 20/20 is grabbing people's attention and I think that cycling needs to learn a bit from those sports as well.

        FELICITY:

        It also encourages or opens up to a new audience as well. I think it brings more people in who wouldn't normally watch it, like I've been to the 20/20 and it was fun actually, so it's interesting whereas I'm obviously not really in that audience normally.

        MATT:

        That highlights for all sport to be successful, whatever the sport is, it needs to appeal to both genders. And if you look at the NRL and the AFL, they get really similar viewing numbers in terms of the TV audience, but the AFL gets a bigger fee for their TV rights because they've all sort of got that 50/50 split in terms of the people that watch it. And advertisers and so on, they want access to men and women.

        FELICITY:

        Yes, that's right.

        MATT:

        Whereas if it's just mainly men watching, then there's a lot of advertisers that that's not appealing to. So, you know cycling and triathlon--triathlon does it a lot better than cycling. Triathlon is a much better gender balance.

        FELICITY:

        Yes.

        MATT:

        Between participants and spectators of the sport and cycling’s behind the eight ball. It’s improving but it’s still got a long way to go.

        FELICITY:

        Yes. Well I’d like to thank you for joining me today, Matt it’s been a pleasure to host you on our podcast. Our listeners can find you on Facebook as Matthew Keenan and Insta and Twitter @MWKeenan. All those details will be in our show notes, so I wish you all the best with the Tour Down Under coverage, the rest of it for the week and look forward to hearing all about the rest of the races that you cover.

        MATT:

        Great, thanks for having me.

        FELICITY:

        Thanks for listening to the All Torque podcast. We'd love it if you would leave us a rating and review on iTunes. This helps us to deliver content you want to hear about. Please take a moment to share it with your friends and family on Instagram and Facebook. I'm Felicity Dales, see you next episode for another story of inspiration and motivation on the All Torque podcast.


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