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Nick Wilson is Ready for Cleveland’s Summer of LeBron

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A decision looms in the NBA that could change the landscape of the league for several years to come. That’s to be expected when the greatest basketball player of all-time (yeah, I said it) has an open run of where he can play next season. But if you think Lebron James’ decision just affects the Cleveland Cavaliers, the rest of the Eastern Conference or even his legacy, you’re sadly mistaken. 

Lebron’s decision affects the economy of northern Ohio, the growth of basketball around the area and certainly from a media perspective – the popularity of sports radio in Cleveland. Sure, hosts will still be able to rely on topics centered on the Cavs, as well as the Indians and Browns, but there’s no denying that losing the biggest star in the NBA would have a considerable effect on sports radio stations in the city. 

Though that seems grim, there’s actually a big silver lining for everyone associated with sports radio in Cleveland. Name any market in the country and you’ll find sports radio stations bracing for lower ratings in the summer. It’s natural and happens every year.

Cleveland, however, may be preparing for its biggest ratings push of the year in the months of June and July, which is something that’s usually unprecedented in a major city Why? Well, there’s no bigger story in sports today than where Lebron is going to play next season.

Most hosts across the country might be scrambling for topics to fill a show during the summer months, but hosts in Cleveland have the luxury of covering one of the biggest sports stories in the history of the city. Though the NBA Finals are over, Clevelanders haven’t tuned out sports radio. They’re locked in as ever to hear the latest reports and rumors on where King James is leaning. If Lebron does leave Cleveland, he won’t do so without giving sports radio a huge ratings boost.

However, there’s certainly a lot to be gained for stations in Cleveland if Lebron decides to stay in town. Yes, it keeps the Cavaliers as a national brand in the NBA, but it also keeps the market held in high regard. As Nicholas Wilson of 92.3 The Fan told me, young talent from across the country have flocked to Cleveland to cover the best basketball player on the planet. If Lebron does leave, would that same talent stay in the city? Would Cleveland still be on the radar for talented, up and comers in the business? 

As the decision looms, Wilson shares insight on how much is at stake in the next month for local stations like 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland. 

TM: Would you say this the biggest sports story in the history of Cleveland? 

NW: It’s up there. I’ll honestly say that the Cavs’ title two years ago is probably the biggest story in recent history. Lebron owns the biggest stories of the last 5-10 years along with the Indians World Series run. But if you look at the way this thing is going to build, seeing as we’re a month out, I think the optics of this are different than the decision to leave in 2010 and the decision to return in 2014. I think the average Clevelander knows that there’s a lot of speculation on Lebron’s future. 

I think it’s still going to be a Top 5-10 story in Cavaliers history, but I think it’s minimized a bit because the championship has already been won. People in Cleveland still want Lebron to be back, but the stakes don’t feel as big as they were in 2010. 

TM: You just alluded to the frustration level not being as high as 2010 if he leaves. But as a show host, are you rooting for the outbursts if he decides to leave town again? 

NW:  I’m not so foolish to not show self-interest, absolutely. Lebron is the ever-ripened fruit on the evergreen tree. He always gives you content. 

Selfishly, I want him to be back because he makes the Cavs more interesting, but I don’t know if there’s going to be the outburst. There’s always going to one or two guys that try to make their name by giving the take Lebron James let Cleveland down by going. There always will be. That probably holds true with fans as well, there’s people who have still not forgiven Lebron James for leaving in the first place. 

I don’t think you’re going to see the mass hysteria like when he left in 2010, or when he came back in 2014, but I still think even though there isn’t going to be the anger, even though those coals don’t burn as hot, I still do think, that for sports radio in the next month, we’ve got you there. People are more calm and rational this time around, but I still think they really want to see where he goes. 

TM: Do you consider this the biggest month of the past year for Cleveland sports radio? 

NW: It’s pretty up there. Look, it’s a Browns town so their season is always a big time for us. I would say the NFL Draft was huge for us as well as the NBA Finals. But I think Lebron’s future in Cleveland is a cottage industry, because it touches all aspects of the NBA offseason. 

It touches the NBA Draft, because the Cavs have the No. 8 pick. It touches the trade market because of Kevin Love and the questions of his trade value. It touches free agency, because Lebron is a free agent and the Cavs are going to have to go about that two different ways, depending where he ends up. From a sports radio perspective, you could not set up the next four weeks any more perfect than how they’re set up. 

TM: There are rumors that have already come out about Lebron’s next destination and others will come out in the next month. As a host, how do you sort through what’s worth bringing up on the air versus what doesn’t?

NW: This is the million dollar question. For me, I just always try to consider the source. Like, I love Gary Payton and he’s the one who originally said that Lebron James Jr. was going to enroll at a Los Angeles high school next year, but that dude talks as much as any human being in NBA history. Not that I refuse to believe the report, but there’s a part of me that can laugh about it a little more that Gary Payton would be the guy to break this kind of news.  

Having seen Lebron for so long, I think everything is automatically something that you can take a little skeptically, which I think makes it a little more fun. But I actually think that’s part of the on-air stuff. I think some of the best conversations that I’ve heard on Lebron James and his future, are do you trust this report? You cannot get two Clevelanders who trust the same source of information the exact same amount. It leads itself into a battle royale over things like where Lebron’s kid will go to high school. 

TM: Aside from Lebron himself, what kind of guests are you looking for in the next month to add insight to this story? 

NW: I really love the Cavs beat. Dave McMenamin, Jason Lloyd, Joe Vardon from the reporter perspective. I like all those guys. From the current player perspective, give me Richard Jefferson or Channing Frye. From Lebron’s camp, I would say it’s probably be Rich Paul. From Cavaliers historical, it’s Mark Price. It depends on the way you look at it, but I love listening to those number of perspectives for different reasons. Each one can give you an insight into Lebron that are so fascinating and so singular in terms of how they view him and the pursuit of his legacy.

TM: Let’s say Lebron doesn’t sign in Cleveland. Are they now on the back burner in terms of your topic list? 

NW: I don’t know way less Cavs, it’s interesting, because when Lebron left in 2010, there was still a lot of talk on the team because it galvanized people in a direction. The Cavs had been kind of listless, near the top of the Eastern Conference but never able to get over the hump or able to get another great player to town. 

So Lebron leaving that first time, there was an intense amount of interest for the first 16-18 months of the Cavaliers. Then, of course as rebuilding processes do, people fell by the wayside and the feeling toward Lebron lessened and lessened. I do think that any decision that he makes, for the first year, is going to galvanize people in one direction or the other. 

TM: In terms of capturing your audience, are the Browns poised to pick up where the Cavs fall of if Lebron leaves? 

NW: The Browns have been poised to pick off anybody from any audience, no matter Lebron James, the Indians, any national story, they’ve been poised to pick this thing off since they came back in 1999. As a matter of fact, it took Lebron coming back in 2014 to really kick the Browns off their mantle. Even though the Browns have lost an asinine amount of their fan base, for what’s happened the last three years, I still think the Browns are going to be king of this town if they start winning. 

What I will say, is if Lebron stays along with the championship expectations, I don’t think it’s going to be a clean victory by the Browns. At that point, it will probably be a similar ratio as to what it is now, but if Lebron leaves and Baker Mayfield turns out to be a nice quarterback and the Browns start to win, you could just say a prayer for the Indians and the Cavs because I may not get to talk about them for the next 5-6 years. 

TM: Does the allure of a sports radio job in Cleveland hinge on Lebron being in town? Especially with people that aren’t from the area?

NW: Oh absolutely. Cleveland is an interesting market because it’s very insulated and there’s a lot of people that have been doing it for several years. I do think for a lot of the younger guys, Lebron holds a lot of the intrigue. Some younger have to ask themselves, I’m going to follow the old trend of staying in Cleveland for your career, or are there other places where there might be more interesting teams or just as interesting cities as Cleveland without Lebron. 

Any young guy making his name in radio in Cleveland, has to think about that, because from the external standpoint, I get a lot of publicity just off the fact I’m in Cleveland and know a few people in radio. When they need someone to talk Cavs, boom, I’m on CBS or I’m on in Portland with my boy Chad. Just for me, who’s someone that’s broken through the Cleveland market in the last 5-7 years, if I’m getting attention like that I can only imagine what someone who’s been here longer or in any of the drive shifts is getting, publicity wise. 

I do think the intrigue factor with Lebron has been something that’s incalculable the last four years. I guarantee you, a young kid who just graduated college from Syracuse, who’s looking at two similar jobs, is saying, oh man, it would be cool to go and talk about Lebron. But if he leaves and we become Browns centric, it will be interesting to see what that does for the young professionals. 

BSM Writers

Kevin Burkhardt Is Broadcasting’s Most Unlikely Success Story

“To go from a car lot to the main NFL on FOX booth in less than 20 years is about as likely as one quarterback leading his team to seven Super Bowl wins.”

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There is always something appealing about the 50-75% off rack in a clothing store. It is the hope against hope I can find a shirt in my size that doesn’t look like a 1980’s Bill Cosby sweater and a velour tracksuit had a baby. That is not where FOX went shopping for Tom Brady.

Nope, FOX paid top dollar for their newest NFL analyst. Though the actual number first reported by Andrew Marchand of the New York Post (ten years, $375 million) hasn’t been confirmed by FOX, it is safe to say Brady will be the highest paid sports analyst in television history. “Will be” because he has that pesky little roadblock of finishing the greatest NFL career we’ve ever seen first.

I’m glad Brady could finally catch a break, looks like things are turning around for the poor guy.

The reason Brady is even being hired is that FOX is in the relatively unique position of having an entire booth opening for their top NFL game telecast with the departure of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to ABC/ESPN. The closest thing we’ve seen to this situation was the 2006 move from ABC to NBC of Al Michaels and John Madden. Of course, ABC was moving Monday Night Football to ESPN at that time and the break felt a little more natural.

As another side note, that was the Al Michaels/Oswald the Lucky Rabbit trade. Yes, one of the greatest play-by-play voices in television history was traded from ABC to NBC for some Ryder Cup rights, an Olympic highlights agreement and the rights to a cartoon rabbit. Oswald, of course, was the forerunner to Mickey Mouse. That must be the cartoon equivalent of what it was like being the opener for The Rolling Stones. The house lights are up, the single guys are hitting on the single ladies and everyone is coming back from the concession stands ready for Oswald to shut up so Mickey can take the stage.

What this has created for FOX is the search for the play-by-play partner for Brady, the role 46-year-old Kevin Burkhardt has earned. You’ll notice I said “earned” instead of “was given”. No, Burkhardt has absolutely worked his way to the top of the FOX ladder, starting by covering local high school football in New Jersey. In fact, my favorite part of this story is Burkhardt, not Brady. 

Burkhardt is as good an example of perseverance paying off as you will find in sports broadcasting. As Richard Deitsch once profiled for Sports Illustrated, just 15 years ago, seemingly having given up on hitting it big, Burkhardt was selling cars for Pine Belt Chevrolet in New Jersey. His silky smooth voice has been one of the reasons Burkhardt has climbed the FOX ladder but can you imagine him describing what is under the hood of a 2005 Chevy Suburban? Or him saying, “We have cars for every price range starting as low as $10,000. From ten to 15 to 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50…”

To go from a car lot to the main NFL on FOX booth in less than 20 years is about as likely as one quarterback leading his team to seven Super Bowl wins. Maybe that is why this pair will work. Brady, himself, was fairly close to using that business degree from Michigan. If not for a fortuitous draft pick and a Drew Bledsoe injury, the car salesman-sixth round pick broadcast team may have never happened.

Burkhardt’s climb is a lesson for young people looking to break into the sports broadcasting field. I’d be writing this from my summer home in Santorini, Greece if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how to get on the air in sports radio or TV. My answer is the same every time: go to your local radio or TV station that carries high school sports and tell them you’ll volunteer to be part of the production. Trust me on this, local stations make good revenue on high school sports and are looking to produce it as cheaply as possible.

I did that when I was in college at Jacksonville State University and worked my first football season, 14 weeks, for a free game of bowling and a free meal for two at a local bar-b-que joint. I can’t calculate now how much that bowling and bar-b-que has been worth to me since. I was able to get on the air, learn the craft and make all my early mistakes in a very forgiving environment.

The local high school broadcast teaches you how to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. You will, at some point, call a game from a booth shared with a member of the home team’s quarterback club, a man who lives for the free pizza and cookies in the Friday night press box. He’s certain the game officials are either blind or on the opposing team’s payroll and doesn’t care if your crowd mic hears him yelling it.

That’s if you are fortunate enough to have a spot in the actual press box. When I was in college, doing high school play-by-play on WHMA-FM in Anniston, Alabama, we once were told there was no room in the home team’s press box for a state playoffs semifinal game. We convinced the station’s sales team to go to the local equipment rental store and negotiate for us to use a scissor lift at the stadium. They delivered it for us and it became our perilous mobile broadcast booth for one Friday night. 

The lessons learned in those years shaped my career. Those same types of lessons were also the building blocks for the man who is now slated to call the biggest games on FOX, including the Super Bowl, for the foreseeable future.

It is crazy to think a man drafted 199th is now paired in one of the biggest jobs in sports TV with a man who once tried to convince people to add on things like the Platinum Level Pine Belt Chevy Service Agreement. Those are the stories we love in sports. Now, those two will tell us those types of stories for years to come.

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BSM Writers

Patrick Beverley Announced Himself As the Next Sports Broadcasting Star

ESPN shouldn’t have let Beverley leave its studios without signing him to a contract that put him in an analyst role as soon as his playing career is over.

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@ESPN on Twitter

Last week, Fox Sports announced the signing of what the network hopes is the next sports broadcasting star in Tom Brady. More dazzling headlines came from Brady’s mega-deal with Fox, though the network disputes the 10-year, $375 million figure reported by the New York Post‘s Andrew Marchand.

This week, however, viewers may have seen the emergence of another future sports broadcasting star. And unlike Fox, ESPN didn’t tell us NBA player Patrick Beverley would be an impactful commentator based on name recognition and contract size. The network showed us Beverley’s talents and capabilities with sharp, biting opinions on its Monday daytime studio shows.

Beverley, who played this season for the Minnesota Timberwolves, has long been known as one of the NBA’s most provocative and irritating defenders. Coaches regularly task him with checking the opposing team’s best player.

He obstructs opponents physically with quick footwork and hands that result in steals, blocks, and rebounds of missed shots. But he also throws players off their game verbally and mentally, getting in their heads and forcing them to think about matters other than the game at hand.

That talent for highlighting weaknesses and insecurities in opponents serves him well as an analyst, which Beverley demonstrated by skewering Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul during appearances on Get Up and First Take. On the Monday morning after the Suns’ shocking 123-90 Game 7 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Playoffs, the NBA guard went beyond stating that Paul had played badly.

Appearing with JJ Redick, Beverley could’ve said something obvious and safe like the Suns needed their leader to score more than 10 points with their season on the line. Paul needed to elevate the rest of the team and make them better. But given a national platform, Beverley pushed harder than that.

“They benched the wrong person,” Beverley said, referring to center Deandre Ayton playing only 17 minutes (and less than four minutes during the second half) in what Suns coach Monty Williams called an “internal” matter.

“They should’ve benched Chris… Once you see they started attacking Chris early and that might become a problem later on, you need to see how my team works without Chris in the game.”

On First Take, Beverley continued his criticism of Paul, especially his defense.

“There ain’t nobody worried about Chris Paul when you play the Phoenix Suns, nobody in the NBA,” Beverley said to Stephen A. Smith. “He’s finessed the game to a point where he gets all the petty calls, all the swipe-throughs at the end.

“We wanna be really honest? He should’ve fouled out. The last game, too. You see the replay against [Jalen] Brunson, hit him on the shoulder, hit him on the mouth, ref don’t call anything. If that’s me, ‘Oh, review it! Flagrant 1!’ If that’s him, they don’t call it.”

Beverley went on to say Paul can’t guard anyone and called him “a cone” that stays still while opponents run around him. That is scathing commentary coming from a current NBA player, criticism not typically heard on a studio show.

Yet if Beverley sounded bitter and resentful toward Paul, it’s because he is. The 10-year veteran holds an intense grudge against the Suns guard going back to when they faced each other in high school and college, which he explained to Redick earlier this year on his podcast, Old Man and the Three (via Awful Announcing).

“Chris, he does slick s**t,” Beverley told Redick. “People don’t know, that’s a little dirty motherf***er, man. Chris know that too, man. I know you don’t want to say it, but I’ll say it for you, though. I know he was your teammate.”

Paul wasn’t the only Suns player targeted by the guest analyst, however. Besides saying the entire Phoenix team was “scared,” especially of Mavericks star guard Luka Dončić, Beverley had plenty of criticism for Ayton, saying he was “OK” after Redick called him “fantastic” on First Take.

“I’m all about greatness,” Beverley said (via the Arizona Republic‘s Duane Rankin). “What would Wilt Chamberlain do? What would Shaquille O’Neal do? Get it off the rim. Y’all don’t have him in the pick-and-roll, I’m going to get it off the rim. I’m going to go get it. I’m going to go get it.”

Ayton only scored five points in Phoenix’s Game 7 loss. By “get it off the rim,” Beverley meant that there were plenty of opportunities for offensive rebounds and putbacks with all of the shots that Paul and Devin Booker missed. (The two shot a combined 7-for-22.)

ESPN shouldn’t have let Beverley leave its South Street Seaport studios in New York City without signing him to a contract that put him in an analyst role as soon as his playing career is over, as Fox did with Tom Brady. Actually, the network should make sure Beverley appears across its daytime schedule while he’s still an active player, as Turner Sports does with Draymond Green. And why not on NBA Countdown as well?

Fox drew the headlines last week for signing Tom Brady to its top NFL broadcast team without having any idea if he will be good at calling football games. He received a reportedly massive contract to prevent him from going anywhere else after he retires, and Fox is banking that casual fans will tune in out of familiarity and curiosity.

Patrick Beverley doesn’t have that kind of mainstream recognition. The NBA isn’t as nationally popular as the NFL. And studio analysts aren’t typically as well-known as game commentators. But maybe that’s more true of football. Who is the most famous basketball analyst? It’s Charles Barkley, by far.

Barkley is known for his candor and pointed opinions, which stand out in a studio setting far more than they would during a game broadcast as the action keeps moving. His jokes and jabs can be easily captured in video clips that play well on social media and have a shelf life on YouTube. ESPN has never had that kind of personality for its NBA coverage. No matter how hard it’s tried, the network has never produced anything close to Turner’s Inside the NBA.

But ESPN, whether realizing it or not, may have found its guy in Beverley. Put him on NBA Countdown and it instantly becomes a better program. Let PatBev argue with Stephen A., as he did on Monday’s First Take, and the pregame show is something that generates buzz and conversation.

Maybe Beverley, Redick, and Stephen A. would make for a good post-game show, something ESPN has never done while Inside the NBA shines in breaking down what just happened. Yes, there’s SportsCenter and Beverley could appear with Scott Van Pelt afterward. But a strong NBA postgame show could become a key part of the overall package. What if SVP played moderator as Ernie Johnson does with Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal?

Doesn’t that already sound better than what ESPN is doing now? Don’t let PatBev get away! He could be the network’s next big, must-watch star. Especially if he has grudges against more NBA players besides Chris Paul.

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BSM Writers

Mike Raffensperger Examines The Business of Sports Betting

“McAfee asked some outstanding questions, as he often does, while Raffensperger pulled back the curtain on a lot of things listeners and customers of the book were wanting to know.”

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Pat McAfee has built quite a following since the end of his playing days. Last December, the former Indianapolis Colts punter signed a four-year, $120 million deal with FanDuel to make it the exclusive sportsbook of The Pat McAfee Show, where he seamlessly blends gambling talk with football talk every weekday. 

Last Thursday, McAfee welcomed Mike Raffensperger to the show for a very insightful and informative segment. The Chief Marketing Officer for FanDuel touched on numerous topics during the interview, ranging from how likely it is that each state will eventually have online gambling, to which show member was having the worst gambling run per their account history.

While some questioned the decision to give McAfee such a high amount of money in the deal, it appears to have paid off handsomely for FanDuel. In a report put out last week by their parent company, Flutter Entertainment, the book signed up 1.3 million active new customers in the first quarter of 2022. In addition, their 1.5 million active customers on Super Bowl Sunday was the highest single-day total ever, and the 19 million bets they processed during the NCAA Tournament signaled the most popular betting period in the book’s history. 

Raffensperger discussed some of the challenges that have been overcome with getting the FanDuel online service up and running in states as they slowly begin to legalize it. He stated that 15 states currently offer online services, but that getting all 50 will never happen.

He cited Utah as an example, as their state constitution clearly outlaws gambling, but stated that many states have legalized it because it is “pretty common sense legalization.” He does believe we will see many more states, including California, legalize sports wagering in the coming years, however. “You will see a continued, steady pace for the next few years, and then you will get close to a critical mass, but you will never get to 50.” 

McAfee asked how much of a role COVID-19 played in the legalization of sports gambling, and Raffensperger said many states were forced to explore new ways to recoup tax revenues lost during shutdowns. “From a state, municipal budgets, they needed tax revenue,” he said, while also discussing how it went from being something done in the shadows to commonplace. “It is taking a black market that is unregulated and unsafe, into a safe and regulated environment, and creates tax revenue for the state. It’s very common sense.”

One of the more informative discussions came when McAfee asked what Raffensperger would say to listeners that complained they were unable to take advantage of odds boosts or promos that FanDuel offered through his show, yet were not available to listeners in every state. This is a common issue for radio stations throughout the country that have gambling ads in multi-state markets.

“It tends to be a little more restrictive,” Raffensperger said regarding how states tend to regulate what can be offered in the months following legalization. “Then over time, as states get comfortable, we build a good relationship with our regulating partners.” He added, “it does tend to open up a bit more over time” as they build that rapport within a state, but fully understands the frustration for customers and listeners. “At the end of the day, we gotta own what the customer experience is, and it’s FanDuel’s job to work through those regulatory challenges to make it as easy on customers as possible.”

When McAfee asked him about whether more brick-and-mortar book sites might be coming in the future at professional stadiums, Raffensperger was quick to point out it was also impacted by state regulations. Stating that 90% of all their bets were made online, he also questioned to what end a physical site would be a prudent investment.

“Beyond a physical teller and placing a bet, what is a super premium or luxury experience that would make being at a sportsbook different than what you have in your mind of a Vegas sportsbook,” he asked theoretically, “but being at a retail stadium?”

He also said that physical sites, like online apps, are tied to regulation on a state-by-state basis. “You’re either allowed to take a physical bet in a sports facility or not. Most of the time, and in most of the laws, you have to have already been a gambling establishment, either a race track or a casino, to have a physical book.” 

They also touched on the McAfee same game parlay for Super Bowl LVI, which Raffensperger confirmed was tailed by more than 200,000 of his listeners. Paying out nearly eight-to-one, the wager was for Cooper Kupp to score a touchdown and to have more than 60 yards receiving, in addition to Odell Beckham Jr scoring a touchdown, and Joe Burrow rushing for 12 or more yards. Raffensperger said the parlay, which needed just nine rushing yards from Burrow to hit, may have been “the biggest parlay liability in the history of gambling,” and would have cost the book nearly $50 million had it come through. 

One final interesting fact was the rise of women in the sports gambling space. A report over the weekend from Global Wireless Solutions stated that the growth rate of women signing up with sportsbooks is 63% higher than the rate of men during the same time frame. They also reported that in 2021 FanDuel added almost 1.7 million new female customers, with DraftKings adding close to 900,000 in the same span. As sportsbooks look to bring in higher market share and look to find new ways to advertise their services, women are likely the next major demographic the books fight over. 

All in all, it was a terrific interview from all sides. Entertaining and enlightening, McAfee asked some outstanding questions, as he often does, while Raffensperger pulled back the curtain on a lot of things listeners and customers of the book were wanting to know. The partnership appears to be greatly beneficial for all parties involved, and hopefully the positive reception to the McAfee interview will lead to more transparency and open dialogue from sports book executives to their consumers.

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