Auburn fan says Paul Finebaum lied about gifting tickets; ignoring plans for travel

Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Despite appearing to have kept his October promise to send Auburn fan, Josh Smitherman, to the national title game in Pasadena, ESPN Radio host Paul Finebaum still hasn’t booked any kind of travel or accommodations for his listener.

If you haven’t heard about this story, Finebaum made a wager with Smitherman  in October that if Auburn made it to the national title game that he would take Smitherman to Pasadena for the game. Last week, FanSided reported that Smitherman claimed on his Facebook page that Finebaum was backing out of the deal. Other outlets reported on this story as well and on Friday, December 27th, Smitherman appeared on Finebaum’s show and Finebaum offered to send him two tickets to the championship game and to work with him behind the scenes to work out travel details. A slew of stories were posted on the internet about Finebaum holding up his end of the bargain.

Case closed, right?

Not so fast.

FanSided reached out to Smitherman to get more details on the story and learned that Finebaum still hadn’t helped him book travel to Pasadena. We did some digging and found that there is more to this story than what has been heard on the air.

Smitherman called into Finebaum’s show on December 16th to collect on the bet. He  spoke to John Hayes, who answers the phones and screens calls for The Paul Finebaum Show. Smitherman explained that he was the guy that Finebaum promised to take to Pasadena back in October. Hayes put Smitherman on the air to speak with Finebaum. Finebaum admitted to making the wager then said that he would “see what they could do” and instructed Smitherman to call back in. After some time, Smitherman did call back in and spoke to John Hayes again at which time Hayes told him that the trip “wasn’t going to happen.”

Distraught and not sure what to do, Smitherman posted the original audio from October on his Facebook page and asked for advice on how to handle the situation.

This is when FanSided and other media outlets caught wind that Finebaum may be backing out of the offer.  24 hours after posting the original audio to Facebook, Smitherman called back into the show and John Hayes put him on the air again. Finebaum told Smitherman that he had seen the stories around the internet. Smitherman expressed to Finebaum feelings of guilt, claiming he never expected the story to blow up like it did.

Finebaum then went on to practically interrogate Smitherman about the call they had only a few days earlier and about Smitherman’s conversation with Hayes in which he was told that the trip “wasn’t going to happen.” Smitherman began to elaborate on what happened but Finebaum instead interrupted him to tell him that he had acquired tickets for Smitherman.

“If you’re interested in going to the game, I have acquired two tickets for you, at my expense, not to be concerned with,” Finebaum said on-air. “So you’ll have two tickets is that ok?”

Smitherman accepted.

“The rest of it [meaning travel] we’ll have to work together on,” Finebaum told Smitherman. “I’m not sure how, but it’s not impossible. You’re going to have to work with us behind the scenes.”

“The most important thing though was to find tickets for you. You can always get somewhere, but you can’t always get in, so I have you two tickets. Now the rest of it, we’ll have to work together on.”

Smitherman was shocked at the gesture and expressed his gratitude.  According to Smitherman, after the call, he gave John Hayes his phone number and address so that the tickets could be sent to him via FedEx.

Three days later, Smitherman called back into the show on the day the tickets were set to arrive. Smitherman started the interview by asking Finebaum if he has “his cape on” because he “turned into his hero on Friday.” Smitherman then asked if the travel arrangements had been set yet. Finebaum told Smitherman that he worked most of Saturday on it but they still haven’t resolved it.

This is where things began to get a little strange. Finebaum told Smitherman that he tried to get him on a charter through a friend but that there was no room. He then said that he nearly got Smitherman on a Delta flight but that he was unable to because he lacked Smitherman’s TSA information. We find this particularly odd, considering Smitherman gave John Hayes his phone number and the only information that would have been needed to book a flight for Smitherman would have been his name and birthdate. According to Smitherman, neither Finebaum or Hayes has ever attempted to call him.

Then Finebaum told Smitherman  “there are no seats to be had on commercial airlines.”

As of New Year’s Day morning, there were multiple options available for Delta and American Airlines flights out of Birmingham to Los Angeles.

Back to the call. Finebaum talked more about charters as the best potential option to get Smitherman to Pasadena but that it is hard to book one so late in the game. Finebaum then instructed Smitherman to “stay close if we do.” Smitherman assured Finebaum that he would stay in touch.

Next, Finebaum jokingly suggested that Smitherman sell one of the tickets to buy a plane ticket to get himself to the game. At this point, Smitherman said he thought about that and felt bad about Finebaum taking money out of his pocket.

“Don’t worry about that,” Finebaum said.

Smitherman interrupted to say he “is the type of guy to worry about that” and that he wouldn’t “want to take food out of someone’s mouth, with money they’ve worked hard for.”

“Josh, that means a great deal to me,” Finebaum replied. “We want you to experience this as best you can, the best we can make it work.”

Finebaum then told Smitherman to continue to communicate with John Hayes off air. According to Smitherman, however, as soon as he was taken off air, the line hung up and he never spoke to John.

The tickets arrived, as promised, later that afternoon.

Only the tickets didn’t come from Finebaum. Inside the envelope with the tickets was a letter from a former Auburn coach, who asked Smitherman who then asked us, to keep his identity anonymous. The  coach originally got the tickets with the intention of giving them to a former player and current military service member, however, the serviceman couldn’t make it to the game. The coach then gave the tickets to Finebaum and instructed him to give the tickets to an Auburn fan.

Arguably, Finebaum ignored the spirit of the coaches request and simply used the tickets to cover his wager with Smitherman. Not out of his pocket or “at his expense,” at least financially, as Finebaum seemed to let Smitherman and his listeners believe while on air.

Here is the transcript of the letter:

To Josh, Friend (Please keep this anonymous as I do not with others to know)

You are receiving these two tickets because you must have been  good person and treated people right!
I asked Paul to find someone who really loved Auburn and would appreciate this gift. He had 100’s of opportunities to choose someone else but he chose you.
Please enjoy your time and keep a journal of every special moment to reflect on! These tickets were originally purchased by me to give to one of my former payers who loves Auburn. But he is unable to go as he is preparing for a journey to Afghanistan to bring home our troops. He, like all our military, is a hero and he will want to know everything about your journey to Pasadena.
Continue to be a good man and always remember to “do something good for someone who can never repay you” as many times as you can and you will have lived a good life.
Name redacted
P.S. You will be sitting by my wife and I’s dearest friend from our Auburn days – she will introduce herself. Hope they bring home the win.

It is nice that the coach wants Smitherman to keep a journal of the experience but Smitherman still has no idea whether or not he is actually going to be able to get to Pasadena. Smitherman claims he still hasn’t heard from the station or Finebaum on travel arrangements.

In fact, as mentioned above, Smitherman reports that neither Finebaum or Jon Hayes have ever directly reached out to him directly. All of Smitherman’s appearances on Finebaum’s show, including the call where Finebaum told Smitherman that he had acquired the tickets for him,  were a result of Smitherman calling in voluntarily to check on the situation.

“I feel like he is not planning on getting me out there like he said he would,” Smitherman told FanSided. “He just keeps lying and they’re not calling me back. He said [Monday] we needed to handle this behind the scenes on-air but behind the scenes they’re not calling me back or communicating with me.”

Smitherman said he has called the station roughly eight to 10 times since Monday, and hasn’t gotten in touch with anyone. The situation has left Smitherman with two tickets and no transportation or hotel.

Meanwhile, Finebaum managed to save face by following through and giving him two tickets he got for free, yet implied that he purchased.

FanSided reached out to Finebaum for his side of the story. Finebaum maintained that he was still trying to work out travel arrangements for Smitherman to Pasadena, and that it wasn’t an issue with ESPN or the station and something he was doing personally.

Finebaum reiterated that money wasn’t the issue in regards to booking a commercial flight that he was worried primarily with making the trip as seamless as possible for someone who would be flying for the first time. That was why Finebaum focused heavily on charter flights, something that would get him to and from the game as simply as possible.

Since that option has seemingly been exhausted though, it is somewhat baffling that he hasn’t gone ahead with booking a commercial flight for Smitherman. He is nearly 30-years-old and could likely figure out a flight with one-stop both directions.

Finebaum did suggest that if a trip couldn’t be worked out they could work on something else, but he did not promise. It is the fact that he cares about the callers and listeners of his show that Finebaum took this on personally in trying to arrange travel and acquire tickets.

Finebaum did acknowledge that the tickets were from a friend and he knew he’d be including something, but focused more on the travel than the tickets during our conversation.

Though Finebaum claims he is still trying to book travel for Smitherman, it seems to us he isn’t trying very hard. We find his behavior and lack of communication throughout this situation very curious. If not for Smitherman’s persistence and the media stories about Finebaum backing out of the deal, we aren’t sure Smitherman ever would have gotten the tickets. We also aren’t sure why Finebaum claimed there were no seats available on commercial flights or why he acted as if it would have been impossible for him to get Smitherman’s information for the alleged Delta ticket when Smitherman had previously provided his phone number.

Smitherman hasn’t given up hopes of getting to Pasadena. He has set up a Fundly account trying to help him raise funds to get to the game. Any donations would be greatly appreciated and anything that isn’t used for travel and hotel accommodations will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project.

ticket letter from auburn coach

UPDATE: Finebaum has still not covered any travel costs. Instead, he has recommended that Smitherman sell the tickets to get some money out of the deal.

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Tags: Auburn Tigers BCS National Championship Game ESPN Paul Finebaum

  • Sherri Silas

    He has tickets whether Finbaum actually bought them or not. Why don’t he book himself a flight if he wants to go so bad? Can not believe someone would ask for donations to get to a ballgame!!!

    • Patrick Allen

      Well I think he is upset because Finebaum said he would pay for his entire trip to the game and now he can’t even get in touch with him. He has two tickets and no ride, in short. He said on the air there was no way he could afford to send himself.

      • DeltaMark

        Finebaum should be ashamed and ESPN should hold his feet to the fire. He is setting a terrible example and I think it reflects badly on ESPN. Phil Robertson looks like a saint compared to Finebaum!

    • Jamie Jackson

      Sherri he said before he couldn’t afford plane tickets. He’s from some backwoods town in Alabama and not everyone can just buy a plane ticket like it’s a McDonald’s Cheeseburger. Finebaum promised him the whole trip and needs to deliver.

    • TexCube

      This is about principles Sheri. Something Finebaum doesn’t have. The vile POS should learn not to open his mouth and make bets he can’t back up. This is the perfect example of why ESPN needs to send this hack back to the bush leagues of local sports radio. So the nation doesn’t have to listen to this ugly bald headed piece of trash.

    • Mike Grigsby

      Auburn fan

  • Keith T

    Poor guy. Someone gave him extremely expensive tickets to a game. Anyone with two brain cells would have known Finebaum was talking in hyperbole to show how little chance he thought Auburn had of making it. That the entire world is now up in arms is baffling to me. He gave the kid tickets which IMO is far more than he was required. I hate to imagine what happened to this guy when he found out Santa wasn’t real.

    • Allen Luna

      If someone makes a bet with you, you pay up! I bet if it was promised to you then you would be doing the same thing.

    • DaleC

      Not to mention that leap frogging an undefeated team was the question central to the bet. That didn’t happen., therefore, he didn’t win.

  • Polo

    Nice job putting the letter on here with the watermark. So, it’s Tony Franklin.

  • Jason L Richardson

    Anyone who has listened to Finebaum, especially when his show originaten in Birmingham Al. know Finebaum is a cheat and lie, he will do anything to promote his nshow and get ratings., He is a pot stirrer and will do or say anything to get ratings. I will never understand why ESPN hired this weasel. it had to be for entertainment, he know nothing about sports. He will cut anyone’s throat for ratings and fame.

    • Mike Grigsby

      I live in Birmingham and that isnt the Paul Finebaum I know. He just tells it like he sees it, some people get their feelings hurt. cheat and lie I dont think so

  • Joshua Smitherman

    i knew Santa didnt exist wen my moter passed away when i was 6 and to be honest when u dont have a father that sometimes puts kids in a difficult situation u know one where all promises just about it are broken but i just didnt think someone who had $ and connections like him would lie like that but to be honest its fine cause at the least i dont have to answer for the bad choices hes made and the idea to set up the account to raise $ was someone else trying to help. i dont want to be a charity case but i do wish that when someone makes a promise they would follow through on it.

  • Chris Moody
  • TexCube

    Paul Finebaum … I just don’t get why people like this guy. Especially those over at ESPN. This past football season was enough to prove to me how little talent he has in making predictions or being a college football God. Paul Finebaum thinks being nasty and vile sets him apart from the rest of the crowd. I equate him with the likes of Jerry Springer or Maury Povich. Not to mention that I can’t stand to look at him. Here’s what I’d like to see next year on ESPN. NO PAUL FINEBAUM. I’d love for him to go the way of Craig James and disappear from TV.

    It’s obvious I hate the guy. But that’s because he comes across as a smarmy POS. He never has anything nice or positive to add. Is it me or does he come across as someone who would be better suited reporting for the National Enquirer or TMZ. God I hate this guy.

  • islanchief

    Finebaum said this, because in his blinded view, Auburn would never,ever make it to Pasadena, hence no risk.
    Now that cheap, welshing, no good, low down, piece of lint on my taint, won’t pay up.
    About average for him.