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How Pursuing a Passion Fueled Mike Florio’s Media Rise

Brian Noe

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There are people in sports media that reach a certain level of success and simply mail it in. Mike Florio is not one of them. He’s a true grinder that has remained hungry to work in spite of achieving noticeable success in print, radio, and TV. With an extensive law background, Mike is a bright guy that knows the meaning of the word complacency but rages against the concept.

Jason Witten announced his retirement from the NFL last Thursday. Some of his words stood out. “Other players might have been more talented, but I can assure you, no one was going to outwork me. Whenever young kids come up to me and ask me how do you grow up and play for the Dallas Cowboys, have that type of career, my answer is always the same, ‘The secret is in the dirt.’ I learned early on in my life through many challenges that I could change my circumstances with hard work, but I would have to be willing to go out and earn it. I yearned for the daily grind, and I couldn’t get enough of it.”

I don’t know if Witten read a few posts on Pro Football Talk from Florio before giving that speech, but a lot of those same qualities can be found in Mike. Good luck outworking that guy. He has changed his circumstances through hard work and also yearns for the daily grind. “The moment you let yourself get complacent is the moment that it all turns around.” That quote is actually from Mike below, not Witten.

Mike’s journey throughout the world of sports media is an interesting one. There are epic stories about how he became a fill-in host for the Dan Patrick Show and his introduction to the radio hard out. In between a few laughs, you will get a sense that the key to Mike’s success is the time that he devotes to his craft. Like Witten said, “The secret is in the dirt.” A keyboard and microphone aren’t literally “the dirt,” but the idea of being committed to hard work still figuratively applies. Mike. 5’7. 167. Ding.

Brian Noe: Do you have an offseason personally?

Mike Florio: Not really. I’m on the same schedule that the NFL is on. Things slow down from the middle of June until the end of July when training camps open, but there is still always something happening. I get a little bit more free time because we take time off the radio and the TV show, but I still work on the website everyday. It really isn’t all that hard to open a computer and type. If we have a family vacation I’ll take it with me and I’ll work. If I’m just hanging out here I’ll make sure that I work during that time that we’re off on radio and TV.

It does slow down after the draft. The workload begins to diminish some, but by the middle of June it’s the lowest point. Even then I keep putting news out there for people to read or they’re going to go somewhere else. You can’t shut it down or you’ll lose your audience. We keep it going, but it’s coming — middle of June, end of July, that’s a nice four-to-six-week period where it’s not the usual grind. Then the grind starts at the end of July and it ends the following draft.

Noe: Do you have any funny stories from when news has broken during a vacation and you had to work on a story?

Mike: No, because it’s rare that there’s anything huge that comes out when we’ve been out somewhere. I can remember being on a family vacation back when they didn’t sign draft picks until not long before the start of camp and having to step out from family dinners and stuff. The one thing this year when Josh McDaniels pulled the plug on going to the Colts, I had just gotten back from the Super Bowl and I was out to dinner with a bunch of family members. I had to get up and run out the door and drive home to work on that. Usually I can deal with whatever I’m dealing with without having to just flat-out vanish and disappear.

Noe: What is your busiest time of year?

Mike: Free agency is the busiest time because it has that build-up a couple of days in advance. Then once it starts who knows what’s going to happen or who’s going where? It’s more of a concentrated off-we-go kind of a thing for free agency. The draft is more sustained and never quite as hectic as it is on the first day of free agency. That’s typically our busiest day, our highest traffic day, and then the draft would be a close second. Obviously during the season there are different times where things get hectic, but during the offseason — free agency is number one and the draft is number two.

Noe: With the interest for the draft being so high, how noticeable is the drop-off once it’s over? 

Mike: After the draft people are still reacting to what happened. They want to get everyone’s perspective. They are curious about what’s said by coaches and general managers. If anything the traffic gradually levels off during the period of time after the draft. I mean our traffic has still been pretty good since the draft but around Memorial Day weekend I’ll notice it start to dip. Then it gets into June and starts to recover in July.

Unless something crazy happens — probably the biggest offseason story was that Aaron Hernandez case. It’s now five years ago. That happened in late June. That drove everything through the roof for a couple of weeks because no one saw that story coming. I just happened to be home and not away at the time. I remember that one vividly. Without something crazy like that it’s a gradual, slow decline that then bottoms out around the 4th of July and starts to pick up not long after that.

Noe: How did you get involved in this business, working in print, radio, and TV?

Mike: The internet is the great equalizer where you can be anywhere in the world and have a voice. I was attracted to that immediately because I live in West Virginia and it gave me an avenue to have a platform and to be able to say things that people would be interested in. I first tripped over a website that was called NFLtalk.com in April of 2000. Back in those days I very rarely left the stuff that became available to you when you pop in the old AOL DVD or CD, whatever it was. They had content and I remember reading Sporting News content on there.

I found NFLtalk.com in a USA Today article and I started going there on a regular basis. One thing led to another. They were looking for writers and I thought, “Well, this would be kind of fun.” I threw something together and they hired me. Of course by hired, it means I did a bunch of work and didn’t get paid, but I didn’t care because it was a hobby. It was fun. I just always had this vague sense that if I do this, and I keep doing it, and work at it, maybe it’ll lead somewhere. Who knows where it’s going to lead, but either way it’s just kind of fun.

I remember having that conversation with my wife because I’d write two, three things a week. Then they’d have me do a little bit more and never paid me. I didn’t care. I was just like this is fun. I enjoy it and she says wait a minute. Why? I’d say I could go golf and I’d spend 50 bucks and be gone for four hours and be pissed off when I get home. So I just view it as a hobby. I’m here at the house and yeah we’re not making any money off of it, but I just have this weird feeling if I keep doing it, it leads somewhere good. That’s how I got into it.

Radio opportunities came from there because people we’re looking for NFLtalk.com writers to come on different shows. The first show I ever did was WGR 550 in Buffalo. I realized how potent sports talk radio was just from the standpoint of getting reps, getting better at it, understanding the medium, understanding how to make your point quickly, which I’m not doing today. One thing led to another and here we are 18 years later.

Noe: When you initially broke into radio, how long were you doing hits and sporadic shows before you got a full-time opportunity?

Mike: What happened was I was doing 10-to-15 minutes spots all over the country. I got to a point around 2006, 2007 where I started trying to get paid for them. I understood at one level it was valuable marketing for the website because people didn’t realize it was even an ad. It’s part of the regular content. They’re hearing the name of the website and hopefully they’re coming to it. I thought that part of it was great but I was doing so many. I thought I was decent at it and hoped that maybe I could start getting paid to do it.

I started by encouraging some of the different stations, “Look find a sponsor for the segment and basically let’s split the money.” I t was becoming a little bit of a profit center. It wasn’t until July of 2010, I used to do spots at Dan Patrick and I still do whenever he calls me, but I was doing them after he left ESPN and started his own show in 2007, 2008 time frame whenever that was.

I remember one time as his show started to take off on its own — they had the TV simulcast, 200+ stations and it’s doing very well — somebody called me middle of July in 2010 and said, “Hey, Dan’s out next week and they want to know if you can do the show.” I was like, “Yeah, have the fill-in host call me and just let me know what time, 9 to 12, whenever just let me know and we’ll work it out.” They were like, “No, no, no you’re the fill-in host.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s funny. That’s a good one, but just have the actual host call me.” They’re like, “No, Dan thinks you speak in sound bites and you understand how it works and he wants you to be the guest host.”

I’m like wait a minute. I don’t know how to do this. I have no training in this. All I do is answer questions when people call me up from the radio shows. I have no clue what to do. I remember being so stressed out about it. I remember having a full binder full of notes. I had every segment of a 12 segment, three-hour show planned out like there was no extemporaneous thought. It was all, “I’ll say this, this, this, and this in the first segment, and the second segment I’ll say this, this, and this.” It’s stupid but I didn’t know what to do.

After doing it one time — and it went fairly well — they called me the next time he was going to be off. They had me go to the studio in Milford, Connecticut with his guys. I remember being a nervous wreck about that. I remember having a stack of notes for that. It was idiotic but I didn’t know what else to do because I wasn’t thinking of it as this medium where you have an idea of what you’re going to say, but it’s very freeform and flowing and you just go.

After doing it enough times it just gets to the point where I told my wife the other day, you could just give me a microphone right now and say, “Oh, we’re doing a three-hour radio show, start right now,” because I understand how it works. Any given moment you start talking about whatever the top story is and then you go for seven or eight minutes and you have five or six minutes to regroup and figure out what you’re going to say next.

That’s where it started. I sat in for Dan somewhere between 30 and 40 times, maybe more than that I lost track. When an opportunity came up to have a show on NBC Sports Radio, by that point it was natural. It was obvious and I was ready to do it. It wasn’t a question of can I do it. It’s like well this is just the next logical progression.

Noe: What do you remember most about those first couple of shows when you were so nervous? 

Mike: It’s like anything else, the more you do it the easier it gets. I remember the first time I did it, we had a hard break and I had no idea what a hard break was. I had no idea that not only was it mandatory you be done by then, you had to take it all the way to then. I thought you could just stop whenever. Well, if you stop a minute before a hard break, there’s going to be a minute of dead air before the news update takes over.

So I’m getting ready to throw it to break a minute before the hard break thing and hey, I saved some time. Good for me. Look I didn’t take the full time. I heard the engineer say, “Ahh, you have to keep going.” So I just completely froze. I was like, “Ahhhh, ooooo-kaaaay?” I got through it, but that was the most important aspect of on-the-job training. I had no idea that the hard break meant you talk up until the moment where the music stops and they go to the news update or whatever comes after the hard break. So, hard break 101 — don’t just stop talking when you feel like stopping.

Noe: (laughs) Yeah, that’s important. What did you learn either on your own or from someone else that you find the most valuable?

Mike: Well, nobody really taught me anything. It’s all self-taught because you watch and you listen and you learn. That’s how I became a decent writer — by reading and understanding how people communicate effectively in the written word. Picking up just the way of saying things. How to phrase a word in the active voice versus the passive voice. How to be concise and when not to be concise.

The same thing with radio, it’s just listening. I think I learned a lot from listening to Dan Patrick on how to aspire to be a good interviewer and how to try to have that conversational tone and get to a point where it just feels like two people shootin’ the breeze, not an interview per se. It’s just reps and reps and reps. The more you do it, the easier it gets. That’s always the key.

After so many shows, after so many interviews, and after so many times doing it, you feel like you get to a point where you understand it pretty well. Even after that I think you always strive to find ways to improve and ways to get better and not get complacent. I think the moment you let yourself get complacent is the moment that it all turns around.

Noe: What’s the most enjoyable part about all of the jobs that you have?

Mike: I think the most enjoyable part of it is, none of it’s really work. Right? I’m getting paid to do stuff that I would do for free. I always add the caveat don’t tell anybody I said that cuz they’ll try to stop paying me. I like that what I do now has very little stress. There are moments of stress when you’re on TV on Football Night in America, but it’s nothing compared to practicing law, which I did for 18 years before I got out of it for good in July of 2009, really into early 2010. I kept a couple of cases once we joined NBC just a wrap them all up properly.

When you’re handling someone else’s interests and they have one chance at justice and you’re the one who’s trying to get it for them, and if you make a tactical error or say the wrong thing at the wrong time or whatever the case may be, there are consequences for them. Consequences for you too, you look like an idiot, but beyond that there are consequences for them. That’s so different than this. If I screw up something now, I’m the only one who looks like an idiot. I’m not making anyone else look bad.

It’s just a much more enjoyable way to exist because there’s so much less stress in what I do. Even the worst day. Even the day that feels like the biggest grind is still so much better than so many of the “normal days” I used to have when I was running around trying to handle 25, 30, 40, 50 cases at once and try to juggle everything and not screw everything up for anyone and everyone I represented.

Noe: Is there anything from your law background that you bring into print, radio, or TV in terms of the way you think or present things?

Mike: Yeah, I remember feeling horribly inadequate when I first started in the website business because you’re trying to be a “journalist” with absolutely no training or experience. A lot of it I picked up on the fly. I realized based upon all of the various legal issues that have come up in professional football — whether it’s players in trouble, whether it’s labor issues, whether it’s employee rights as they develop in this anthem controversy — I would feel ridiculously inadequate trying to do the job if I didn’t have a legal background.

Again plenty of journalists are doing the job without a legal background, but I assume that a lot of them have lawyers they talk to all the time in order to understand what this all means. A lot of the things that happen, I know right away what it means. I can explain here’s what it means and here’s where it goes from here. I can’t imagine being efficient if I had to contact somebody every time that there was a different case, a proceeding, whatever and trying to find out exactly what it all means.

Noe: Do you see that with the media? If you hear a sports talk host or you read something online — with the legal background you have, are there common mistakes made by other media members?

Mike: Yeah, it’s obvious when the person has absolutely no idea how it works. I think most of them just stay away from it. What’s the old adage, it’s better to remain quiet and be perceived a fool than open your mouth and confirm it. Where there are gaps — the person who’s writing it, the person who’s talking about it just doesn’t understand how it all works and what’s next. How do you expect them to if they haven’t lived that life, if they haven’t done it, if they haven’t handled cases like that or understand the system enough to say this is what it all means and this is where it goes from here.

It’s not that there are people who have no idea what happens next so they say something that’s wrong. It’s just you get to a point where there’s a gap and you feel like I need to know more here. I feel like I’m in a position where, especially in those situations, I can add more about where it goes next.

That’s what we try to do when we aggregate. We try to take what someone else has reported and analyze it and say here’s where it goes next. There are so many of those opportunities to apply that, here’s what it means in the NFL from a legal perspective whether it’s a legal proceeding, whether it’s a labor issue, whether it’s analyzing a contract. Again I don’t know how I would have done this job and I don’t know how people do the job without having the ability to take that stuff and interpret it and analyze it.

Noe: How much of your radio show is tied to the metrics of your website? You’re obviously going to lead with what’s hot, but if there is something that you think is interesting, but you just don’t see the reaction you anticipated online, do you say, “Well I’m not going to talk about it. It’s not hot.”

Mike: I’ve always been guided by what I’m interested in. I think if I’m interested in something then I hope that the audience is going to be interested in it. I don’t know how accurate that is, but it’s worked. I think part of it is, if you care about something and you have genuine interest in it then it spills through into how you handle it — how you write about it, how you talk about it. You talk about something you just don’t give a crap about, I think the audience senses that and they think, “Well if this guy doesn’t give a crap about it why should I?” That’s always been the guiding principle for me.

People talk about clickbait. It’s funny, to me clickbait is when you misrepresent to someone what a story is about so you will bait them to click on to it when they otherwise wouldn’t have. I think that a lot of what we do, we entice people to come read about the things that we have written. It is bait, but it’s real. It’s not phony. It’s not bait and switch. It’s, “Hey, come find out more about this.”

If you do a tease at the end of a segment to carry people over to the next segment and what you talk about isn’t really meshed with the tease, the people have a right to be pissed off. I think the same thing if you have a tweet or a headline. If what’s there doesn’t mesh, then they have the right to say that’s just clickbait.

You want people to keep listening to your show. You want people to read your work. I think the key is, frame it in an interesting way and choose things that are interesting and people remain engaged. That’s what we do. We provide the context and the framework for talking about the things that are interesting when it comes to sports and specifically for me when it comes to football.

Noe: Over the next 10 years, do you still want to keep doing exactly what you’re doing or would you like to move to another realm?

Mike: I don’t know what else is out there. I mean I like doing what I do. Things evolve, opportunities arise. In any field, in any industry, there’s value in promoting your own agenda. Having a list of, “This is what I want to do next, and then I want to do this, and I aspire to this, that, and the other thing.” For me that has never really worked. You aspire to climb a mountain and the next thing you know you’ve climbed a mountain that you didn’t even know was there.

I just do what I do. I’m guided by my sense of what I’m interested in. If opportunities arise as a result of that, then so be it. I don’t have any grand plan other than keep doing the things I like to do, pivot and change as necessary to meet the changing landscape of however it may change, but to keep doing what I do. Keep doing things I’m interested in and hope there are people out there who will be interested in it as well — whatever format it happens to be in — and keep trying to get better at everything that I do and everything else takes care of itself.

There’s a certain point where your track record gets you where you are. That’s the best reason and the best argument for continuing to do that because here I am 18 years later and it’s worked. So the next 10 years, the next 20 years, however many years I’m able to walk upright and think straight and articulate my thoughts, I’ll just keep doing what I do.

I remember one time my wife said, “You ever think about when you’ll retire?” It’s like retire from what? If I have enough money to take care of myself, my kid, and his kids for their entire lives and you just shut it down and do nothing, what would I do? I would do what I’m doing now. So there’s the answer. You just keep doing it and you just see where it all goes.

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Jason Barrett Podcast – Dave LaGreca

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Evan Roberts, Self-Professed Sports Maniac, Thrives at WFAN

From an early age, Roberts knew that radio was the medium through which he wanted to express his fandom, especially WFAN.

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Evan Roberts made his first appearance on WFAN at just 10 years old, filling in for NBA play-by-play announcer Mike Breen delivering sports updates on Imus in the Morning. The opportunity came after he sent a letter on a whim to the station asking for a job since he enjoyed listening to the station with his father. Desiring to become a radio host was the result of dynamic career aspirations that transitioned from wanting to work as an architect to trying to become the play-by-play announcer for his favorite baseball team, the New York Mets.

“Listening to Mike and Chris, and Benigno in the overnights and Somers – I was like ‘That’s what I want to do’,” Roberts recalled. “….It couldn’t be any more specific when I’m listening to the Fan saying ‘I want to be on the Fan.’ About a decade and a half later, I was able to get it done and I’ve been there ever since.”

From an early age, Roberts knew that radio was the medium through which he wanted to express his fandom, especially WFAN. As a native New Yorker, Roberts connected with the teams in the area and sought the chance to talk about them for a living on a sports radio station with a storied history in the area.

Since 1989, WFAN has been one of the pillars of New York sports coverage and a place that helped pioneer the sports talk radio format. Getting there, though, required that Roberts had deft knowledge of sports, an ability to connect with fans, and experience that ensured he was ready for an opportunity in the number one media market in the world.

While attending school, Roberts was hosting a radio show called Kidsports on WGBB, a radio station based in Freeport, N.Y. serving Nassau County on Long Island. He then moved to Radio AAHS to host What’s Up With Evan Roberts and Nets Slammin’ Planet, the latter with famed high school basketball player Albert King and NBA insider Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson. Aside from being able to refine his hosting skills, Roberts made valuable connections in these roles including one that would help him land his first job out of high school: Danny Turner.

Before he was named the senior vice president of programming operations at XM Satellite Radio in Washington, D.C., Turner served as the engineer for Roberts’ shows on Radio AAHS. He helped to coordinate the technology associated with broadcasting since the shows were done remotely rather than from out of a studio.

“[He] ended up working at XM Radio and heard one of my tapes as it went on and said ‘I remember him. I like him,’ and then sent it to the right person and they ultimately hired me,” said Roberts. “It was my first real, real job working out of high school, and that was about meeting someone earlier on and remembering who that person was and sending as many tapes as I could.”

As a graduate of Lawrence High School, Roberts quickly made the move from Cedarhurst, N.Y. to Washington, D.C. to begin working at XM Satellite Radio, a place he would stay for the next two years. Then, he made the move down I-295 from D.C. to Baltimore, Md. where he worked at 105.7 The Fan WJFK-AM and had to adjust his sports consumption to align with the interests of those listeners. It taught him the importance of research and preparation, important aspects of working in sports media that he still utilizes to this day.

“When I was in Baltimore, I had to be Baltimore,” said Roberts. “I had to understand what makes the Orioles fan tick; what makes the Ravens fan tick. I didn’t grow up as an Orioles fan or a Ravens fan. The Ravens had won the Super Bowl years earlier. I know nothing about winning Super Bowls; I’m a Jets fan.”

At 21 years old, Roberts made the move back to “The Big Apple” when he was hired by WFAN as an overnight host, a role he stayed in for the next two-and-a-half years. Simultaneously, Roberts was working on Maxim Radio doing a night show on the Sirius Satellite Radio channel. Balancing those two roles, while it may have seemed daunting, gave Roberts the chance to broadcast in his home market and talk about the teams he grew up rooting for; the aforementioned Mets and Jets, along with the then-New Jersey Nets and New York Islanders.

Then in 2007, Roberts got his big break when he was named the midday co-host with Joe Benigno on the program Benigno & Roberts in the Midday. Benigno, who got his start on WFAN as a regular caller, had grown a rapport with listeners since joining the station in 1995, making the task for Roberts, a 23-year-old at the time, more difficult in terms of fitting in. Roberts is grateful that Benigno, a host he grew up listening to on WFAN, was accommodating and amicable towards him – plus it helped that they aligned in their rooting interests as Mets and Jets fans.

“He was very welcoming, and he didn’t have to be because I was a lot younger; he had no idea who the hell I was,” said Roberts. “….Right out of the gate, I think he saw my passion [and] my knowledge; he saw a little bit of himself in me, and we were able to bond right away.”

To make a name for himself in the new midday time slot, Roberts stuck to the principles that had been given to him from his early days of radio; that is, to be himself. From the start of his foray into sports media, Roberts and most people around him knew that he was, in his own words, “a sports maniac”, and he needed to maintain that genuine identity on the air. His relatability and passion for the teams as a fan made him an ideal fit for the station synonymous with New York City bearing those iconic call letters and an unbeatable afternoon duo.

“I think as time [went] on and Joe and I developed even more and more chemistry, the audience knew who we were,” said Roberts. “They certainly knew who he was, but they learned ‘Evan’s a die-hard Mets fan. He doesn’t miss a game.’”

While it was important for Roberts to emulate his fandom for the teams he roots for, he quickly developed a cognizance for trying to talk about other teams impartially while on the air. It is a challenge, to a degree, to maintain objectivity daily with intrinsic fandom for certain teams, but being able to understand how other fan bases feel after monumental victories or crushing defeats renders the art of appealing to the listening audience easier. It also upholds WFAN’s commitment to serve as an outlet for all New York sports fans rather than just certain cohorts of them.

“We’re trying to appeal to everybody,” said Roberts. “We want everybody listening. Not just Yankees fans; not just Mets fans; not just die-hard sports fans; not just casual fans. How do you keep every single person wanting to listen to the radio?”

When Roberts first joined the station in 2004, most New York sports teams were rebuilding aside from the Yankees. Today, the preponderance of professional teams in the New York Metropolitan area are contending or at least have the chance to appear in their league’s playoffs, something that is exciting for fans like Roberts but presents a challenge in doing effective sports radio that accurately depicts the emotions of listeners.

“I think what’s going to be a real challenge… is [when] the Mets are in the playoffs, the Yankees are in the playoffs, the Jets look competent, and the Giants look competent, and it’s a Monday,” Roberts expressed. “You’ve got four monstrous fan bases that care about their team. How the hell do you find a way to keep them all entertained?”

To express the true extent of his fandom for niche sectors of the audience, Roberts turns to another form of aural consumption: podcasts. There has been much discussion over the ability of traditional radio and podcasts to coexist in this digital age of media; however, Roberts believes that the two mediums provide a unique combination that was previously nonexistent.

In his opinion, podcasts are a method to delve deeper into topics or teams that do not garner as much time on the radio, specifically those that do not generate as large of a market share or which are not as representative of the interests of the majority of listeners.

“I do a Mets podcast specifically – I called it Rico Brogna because I loved Rico Brogna as a kid and I figured ‘Why the hell not?’”, Roberts said. “…I do an hour breaking down the Mets in a hard-core way that I’m not going to do on WFAN for an hour. I may do it for a couple of minutes. I think those two things work perfectly side-by-side.”

Still, most listeners, according to Roberts, will likely turn to terrestrial radio to get their sports fix, especially if they do not express allegiance to solely one team. 

“The majority of people are still going to turn on WFAN and say ‘Okay, entertain me. I don’t know what I want to hear. You just entertain me’,” said Roberts. “I think those two forms of entertainment can work side-by-side. That’s why we do it.”

When Mike Francesa signed off WFAN in December 2017, the station had to make changes in the afternoon drive-time slot which it did with the debut of Carlin, Maggie & Bart. The show was eventually disbanded though when Francesa ended his retirement just over four months later, returning to afternoons. His return to WFAN did not last long though, departing the station again in December 2019. Again, WFAN had to make a change in afternoons, this time moving Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts to do a 2 to 6:30 p.m. show renamed Joe & Evan.

For Roberts, the opportunity to host in the afternoon slot that he had grown up listening to Mike Francesa and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo make famous with their program Mike and the Mad Dog was an opportunity he did not hesitate to accept. Yet the change in time also required a change in approach regarding topic selection; after all, since the show would be starting later in the day, it was more important to preview the forthcoming action than recap that of the previous day.

“Even though you’re doing the same thing because you’re the same person, you’ve got to realize the audience is thinking about things a little bit differently; they’re not always analyzing what happened last night,” said Roberts. “I always find that interesting [trying to] balance the two [and] it’s almost like a game.”

When Benigno retired from the station in November 2020, Craig Carton made his return to the New York City airwaves pairing with Roberts to form the new afternoon duo Carton & Roberts. Carton had previously been with the station hosting mornings with Boomer Esiason on Boomer and Carton from 2007 until his arrest in 2017. He served time in prison for fraud-related charges, and ultimately sought and received help for addiction related to gambling.

Since his return to WFAN, Carton has been vocal about his struggle to overcome addiction and the lessons learned from his time serving in prison, hosting a special weekend program titled Hello, My Name Is Craig to discuss these issues in-depth. On Carton and Roberts, the duo has experienced immense success, recently topping ESPN New York 98.7 FM’s The Michael Kay Show in the spring ratings book. From the onset of Carton and Roberts working together though, there was some trepidation as to whether their personalities would blend well together on sports talk radio.

“I remember the first time I was told ‘Hey, there’s a possibility of you and Craig together.’ I was like ‘What?,’” Roberts said. “My first reaction was ‘Really?’”

Now nearly two years in, Roberts enjoys working alongside Carton and learning more about his perspectives and thoughts on the radio industry. Following advice he was given from both Russo and Esiason on working with Carton, Roberts has let him take the lead and discover how the show can effectively inform and entertain its vast listening audience.

“Let’s take a step back; don’t have an ego,” Roberts recalls thinking when he started the new show. “Watch this magician figure out how this show is going to work and then lean into it. I think that’s what I did and it has worked, and I feel very comfortable, I know he feels very comfortable and we’ve got a successful thing going on now.”

Roberts views Carton as an informed talent in the radio industry, aware of the changing nature of the medium and the potential it has to serve its audience. Roberts indeed experienced success in his previous roles, most notably when working in middays with Benigno; however, he is always willing to try new things and form new approaches towards jaded industry practices and show formats.

“I know that I have a guy who I’m working with who knows the medium as well as anybody,” said Roberts. “If he has a vision on how this could work with his personality and my personality, I’m going to listen; I’m going to follow along.”

WFAN and SportsNet New York (SNY), the flagship network for the New York Mets and New York Jets, agreed last year to simulcast Carton and Roberts from 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays. While the move, which has been made with various other WFAN programs over the years including Mike and the Mad Dog and Boomer and Gio puts the radio program on a visual medium, Roberts’ approach to the show did not change.

The thought always was that he would be doing a radio show with the curtain pulled back, giving longtime listeners the chance to see the two co-hosts during their discussions and on-air interactions.

“They’re listening to the radio, and it’s cool sometimes when you get to peek in and say, ‘Oh, look at Craig’s expressions. Look at Evan’s expressions. Look at the way they’re looking at each other. Boy, they hate each other right now,’” Roberts said. “I think it’s people looking in on a radio show, and that’s what I always try to remind myself. It’s on TV – that’s great – but we’re a radio show first, and I think a lot of people kind of like to eavesdrop on that.”

One of the challenges of doing a radio show whether or not it is simulcast is in taking calls, and various hosts and producers have differing opinions when it comes to their value on the air. Still, while the hosts, producers, and caller themselves may enjoy their interactions, it is fundamental awareness is placed on the audience that does not call in and their enjoyment of listening to a caller.

“I think when you’re talking [to] somebody, you’re not just thinking about the conversation you’re having with them,” said Roberts. “You’re thinking about the 98% of the audience that doesn’t call in and if this is entertaining or not; if this is informative or not; what are they getting out of this?…. I love callers – it’s a big part of WFAN – but as I interact with them… I think the thought that I always try to have is ‘How is everyone else listening feeling about this discussion?’”

While Carton and Roberts continues to do well in afternoon drive among the demographic of men 25-54 years old, the way the ratings are interpreted by each person and entity in radio differs. Something the Nielsen ratings do not take into account is the number of people listening to the show on-demand as a podcast or watching its simulcast on SNY. During his time with Benigno, Roberts scrutinized the numbers, looking at copious and exiguous details, similar to how he consumes professional sports.

The difference is that while it may be good to have a complete understanding of show performance, getting caught in the minutiae of ratings and trying to improve in weaker areas can sometimes be, according to Roberts, a means without an end.

“I think I realized as time went on that’s going to give you a headache and it’s not going to really help anything,” said Roberts. “I think I learned a little more that you still look at numbers but maybe with a broader view of things; not as specific. I look at [them] a lot, but sometimes it’s tough. I don’t think you want to alter a show too much based on what you think is a pattern but may not necessarily be a pattern.”

This fall, both Carton and Roberts will be starting new roles in media while continuing to host their afternoon show. Carton is going to begin hosting a new national morning show on Fox Sports 1 with a co-host yet to be determined, a move that will place him primarily on television in mornings against WFAN and CBS Sports Radio’s simulcast of Boomer & Gio. Roberts will continue to stay on WFAN, adding a new Saturday program with his former co-host Joe Benigno beginning on September 10.

“It’s like getting back on a bicycle,” Roberts said of working with Benigno. “It’s always comfortable…. It’s going to be [like] our old show – just once a week on a Saturday.”

WFAN was the sound of Evan Roberts’ childhood, and a large reason he became as invested in professional sports as he considers himself to be today. Throughout his time at the station, he has worked with various hosts and recently welcomed new program director Spike Eskin to the station. He says the contrast between Eskin and previous program director Mark Chernoff is stark – yet they are similar in where it matters most: being able to effectively lead WFAN.

“I think they both very much understand radio, and that’s the most important thing,” said Roberts. “You’re the program director of WFAN; I think you have an idea of what good radio is… [They are] both very, very intelligent radio guys that I trust, but everything else about them is probably polar opposite.”

For aspiring professionals looking to pursue a career in sports media, Roberts advises them to take advantage of the innovations in media and communications especially when it comes to podcasts. With widespread evolution and progression in technology coupled with altering consumption habits and means thereof, putting in the time allows novices to hone their skills and position themselves well in sports media. That and always being willing to learn and study to be the most prepared and informed host as possible – especially when talking to listeners, many of whom have seen teams in their ebbs and flows.

“My wife knows that I’m going to watch every pitch of the Yankees and Mets game,” said Roberts. “I may do it on DVR, and I may do it at 2 in the morning because we need to have a life; I don’t want to get divorced, and I want my kids to love me, but she also knows that I want to be as informed as anybody on the radio and that’s not going to stop.”

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Jake Paul, Betr Pair Micro-Betting With Media

There are plenty of hurdles, though, that still need to be overcome before this takes over the betting landscape.

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I’ll be completely honest: I can’t get into TikTok. I’m closing in on 40 years spent on this planet, and it’s simply not my thing. It’s not meant to be, though. The current generation is one with shorter attention spans, the kind that wants a quick highlight of a sporting event so they can shift their focus to something else. When I tell folks a decade younger than me stories about how I–and others of my age group–would sit around and watch an entire SportsCenter, they look at me like I’m crazy. Not sure how they’d look at me if I told them we used to often watch the rerun an hour later, but that’s another discussion.

It’s a big reason why micro-betting is considered the “next big thing” in sports betting. Similar to in-game betting, micro betting goes a step further and focuses on individual events within a sporting event, such as the outcome of a drive, whether a baseball player will get a hit in his upcoming at-bat, or even something such as a coin toss at the Super Bowl. A perfect example of micro-betting is the rise in popularity of betting on whether or not a run will be scored in the first inning of a baseball game. For a generation that wants a quick resolution to their bets, it makes total sense. You place a bet, you find out how it did, and then you move on–whether that’s to another bit of action or something else entirely.

Something else I can’t get into is the whole hoopla surrounding the Paul brothers. Logan and Jake Paul have built an empire for themselves on the back of YouTube, with Jake Paul having more than 70 million followers on social media. For various reasons, I’m not a fan of either individual. Again, though, they aren’t coming after my demographic. Like them or hate them, you have to respect their grind –and you have to admire their business acumen — as they parlay their notoriety and success into sports entertainment by way of boxing and the WWE, as well as a new sports drink company that has already partnered with Premier League side Arsenal. 

Monday’s announcement by Jake Paul of a new micro-betting site simply furthers the narrative and does so in a manner that can’t be ignored by those in the sports betting space. Betr, a joint venture between Paul, sports betting entrepreneur Joey Levy, and the sports betting company Simplebet, was announced yesterday morning. Backed by a $50 million investment from multiple venture capital firms, the new company is backed by ownership groups of franchises such as the Boston Celtics and San Francisco 49ers, and also has financial backing from current and former NFL players including Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, and Richard Sherman. Musician Travis Scott has also put his financial backing behind the product.

The other very interesting tidbit from the press release was the announcement of a media company that would feature, among other shows, “BS w/ Jake Paul”. Their new YouTube channel, which already has over two million subscribers despite not a single video being posted as of Monday afternoon, will feature sports-betting content from Paul and other content creators and will focus on micro betting. In an interview with Axios, Levy said that consumers can “expect 10+ videos a day from emerging content creators we’ve brought into the company,” but that things would begin with a focus on “premium content natives, starting with Jake’s show.”

Sports radio and television have long been focused on making their products more appealing to younger generations. Just take a look at ESPN, where they’ve long been doing “SportsCenter” episodes on Snapchat. This could be a game-changer, provided they can help drive micro-betting into a wider market. 

There is plenty of potential in the space, a big reason Paul was able to acquire such high amounts of funding. Just last year, JP Morgan estimated that more than $7 billion per year would be wagered on micro bets by the year 2025. And earlier this year, the CEO of Oddisum stated in an interview that micro-betting would account for the majority of wagers placed on sporting events within the next three years. Even DraftKings CEO Jason Robins has talked about plans on how his company expects to embrace the trend.

There are plenty of hurdles, though, that still need to be overcome before this takes over the betting landscape. The biggest one is the delivery of data. As we move more towards a society that streams sporting events and other digital content, the delay between real life and what shows up on your mobile phone can be the difference between placing a wager or not. For some services (I’m looking at you, Peacock) there’s often a delay of more than 90 seconds, which means the play I want to bet on is still two or three plays away from being seen with my own eyes. That makes it difficult to place a bet with any sort of confidence.

The other major obstacle will be getting their gambling service legalized. In their press release, Betr stated they will start as a “free-to-play” app in all 50 states, and eventually they will add real money gambling services as they become licensed to operate within individual states. That’s not going to be so simple, though, as gambling addiction concerns continue to rise and multiple state legislatures are already having discussions regarding the matter. 

As addictive as betting on sporting events can be, micro-betting is often exponentially more. A study last year from CQ University in Sydney, Australia indicated that micro bettors are more likely to be younger players and that they usually “have high trait impulsivity”. An author of the report also stated, “there’s a very strong link between micro betting and gambling problems”, and pointed out that the short amount of time between placing a bet and having it resolved leaves little time to evaluate performance or track one’s bankroll. 

Whether or not those things are overcome in every state possible is a discussion for another day. The fact is, micro-betting is more likely than not to become a huge growth market for sports betting companies over the next two to three years, and Paul and Levy have become the first big players to jump into the media space. It’s not a question of if, but when, others will follow them into the realm of micro betting sports content, but their announcement on Monday raises the stakes. It also reminds those of us in business, especially sports media, that while we may not fully understand the allure of what the younger generation enjoys, we ignore it at our peril. 

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