From the Columbus Clippers to OSU basketball, and just about every sport in between — there’s a voice on the microphone igniting excitement throughout the crowd. You may not see him, but you can certainly hear + feel his impact. So who is the man behind (many) microphones in Columbus? His name is Matt Leininger, or “Big Matt,” and here’s his story.
How did you discover your passion for sports?
I played travel baseball growing up and then grew into this body, a large man to say the least, and joined the football team and ended up being pretty decent. I earned a scholarship to Bowling Green State University and was a part of Urban Meyer’s second recruiting class as a head coach.
I started for the football team for three seasons and then dropped out of school because I had no idea what I wanted to do.
How did you kickstart your career?
I was out of school for a few years and decided I wanted to go back to school to be a radio broadcaster. I went back to BGSU and was named program director at a campus radio station within a semester.
I found a broadcasting school down in Columbus and came down to try going to a technical school. Within my first few months at school, there was a competition to sit down at the TV sports desk and read the Blue Jackets starting lineup. They had fans vote on who they thought was the best, and I won the contest. The prize was then to announce one preseason Clippers game.
After that game they liked me and asked if I could fill in when needed, and a week later I got a call to announce opening weekend. By the middle of the season the role became mine, and this is year 12, season 11 with the Clippers. I’ve been full time for seven years juggling the website, social media, media relations, and PA announcing.
What other sports in Columbus do you cover?
OSU hoops was the first Buckeye sport for me because they needed someone to fill in for the OSU men’s basketball season opener and coach Holtmann’s first official game. I filled in, they seemed to love me, and the process started happening for me to take over that role. I have not missed a single hoops game since the job was given to me. I like to work.
From there, I had my first season with OSU women’s volleyball. That’s the first team I have fallen head over heels in love with. It’s so cool to have been one of the first voices to ring through the Covelli Center.
I added OSU men’s lacrosse and just finished my second season with them, and I’m the PA announcer for OSU men’s ice hockey as well.
With OSU wrestling and football, I’m a host and a hype man rather than a PA announcer. I’m also going to start doing that with FC Cincinnati.
How did the hosting roles come to be?
I had to fill in for a meet with OSU wrestling, and they loved me but didn’t have an opening for PA. A couple years later, I was given a role to go out on the mat and give it a big fight feel, like UFC or WWE. Every match is important, and we want the fans to get as loud and rowdy as possible. What I say might not matter to the athletes, but it gets the fans loud and the athletes hear the fans.
With Ohio State football, they brought me in to be down on the field at the Penn State game last season. That was the first time they said, “Let’s give Big Matt an open mic and see how loud it gets.”
It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I played in front of that crowd back in 2003, when BGSU played OSU, so it wasn’t my first time in front of 100,000 people. But it was my first time talking in front of 100,000 people and it felt so natural.
What’s the best part about your job?
You don’t work in sports to get rich. I genuinely enjoy every single thing I’m doing.
Ohio sports fans are a different breed. It’s nice when you’re on the same rooting interest as them.
Hearing that I-O after I give a big O-H, it’s just beyond cool. It’s cool when you’re walking out of the Shoe with 100,000 people and everyone’s happy. It’s fun to celebrate with fans at The Schott after a basketball victory. The wrestling fans are just gnarly nuts in the most awesome way. Most of my talking starts with “BUCKEYE NATION,” and then there’s just this rumble. They have figured out that when I talk, I’m trying to get them really loud and they get ready for it.
It’s been a whirlwind. I live a very blessed life and I get to do a lot of fun things for work.
I always thought I was going to be a pro athlete. But very few little league baseball players make it to the big leagues. I made it to Triple A as an announcer, I’ll call that a win for me.
A testimonial to Matt’s impact
Caleb Clark, the assistant athletics director of marketing at OSU, shared how Matt has impacted the Buckeye community.
“I was first introduced to Matt when he subbed for an Ohio State baseball game. I knew just based on one game that I wanted him to be involved as a voice for the Buckeyes.
When the opportunity arose for Matt to take over the PA duties at men’s basketball, I knew we could start something special. Matt quickly changed the atmosphere at the Schottenstein Center with his booming calls following dunks and three-pointers, but he also helped get the crowd into our games at the right moments. Something that had been lacking at The Schott for years.
On top of the great resume Matt has put together at Ohio State and elsewhere, last year we had the opportunity to have him host and inject energy into Ohio Stadium. After one game, our football staff, fans, alums and students all raved about how much Matt added to the atmosphere of the game.
I try to get Matt to do as many things as I can. Honestly not sure how he manages to do it all, but one thing about Matt that I appreciate the most is he treats every event he covers the same. Always progressional and whether there are 100,000 people in stands or 100, he always brings his all.”