One simple question is almost always guaranteed to be asked to anyone that walks into a radio station looking for a part-time job. “Do you have any experience?” Whether it’s in the sports radio field, or any other line of work, just about everyone reading this has been asked that at some point or another. Jeff Thurn was no different, as he walked across the street from a Nashville restaurant to WNSR, a local sports radio station in town.
Curiosity had gotten the better of him, as he stared at the station from his seat inside the restaurant, wondering if this was a venture he would enjoy. Never afraid to talk to a stranger, Thurn walked across the street and inside the station to find any opening available. Shortly after arriving, he was asked the same entry-level question that can sometimes decide if a person is either hired or quickly shown the door.
“Oh yeah, tons!” That’s how Thurn answered when asked if he had any experience in radio. In reality, he had never walked into a studio, uttered a word on the air, or even touched any equipment that related to the job. Sure, he had a lot of experience in sports and knew what he was talking about, but he was starting from the bottom in terms of his knowledge of a functioning radio show. Regardless, WNSR needed a producer for their coverage of Tennessee Titans training camp and a face stood before them that was willing to be a part of it. It’s entirely possible the station could have believed Thurn’s claim to experience in the business, because a week later, he was offered the position.
Thurn and his wife were looking to move out of Minnesota. She had aspirations of grad school and he had one year of undergrad remaining. What they were sure of, is that they wanted to be somewhere together that offered a warmer climate. Meeting each other a couple of years earlier at the University of Minnesota, they narrowed down their possible destinations to Orlando, Atlanta and Nashville. As fate would have it, their trip to tour Nashville as their next home came with a job offer for Thurn.
Shortly after, in late July 2009, Thurn was at WNSR working his first sports radio job. After receiving a one-hour tutorial on how to operate the equipment he had never laid his hands on, Thurn was thrust into the middle of all action at the Tennessee Titans training camp. Players he had watched on television were walking by and interacting with him, all because it was part of the job.
Who cares if the limited role only paid slightly above minimum wage? He was in heaven. This was the coolest thing Thurn had ever done.
Some hosts have to wait years for their first big break to happen. For Thurn, it may have only taken two weeks. After one of the hosts of the training camp show fell ill, Thurn grabbed a headset and put himself on the show. Working with Bill King and Joe Biddle at the time, Thurn impressed enough for WNSR to approach him about doing a weekend show. He was offered the opportunity to sell his own advertising for the time slot and make himself profitable to the station.
For the next year, Thurn did his weekend show and flashed potential as an on-air host. After building up a decent clientele, he was bringing in enough money to the station for them to give him a show on weeknights.
Once again, fate was on the side of Thurn and his new show, as Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin resigned from his job and left for USC on the inaugural night of the show. The only evening sports radio show in Nashville, news cameras quickly swarmed to the studio to highlight what a couple of local hosts and callers were saying about the bombshell news. From there, the popularity of the show grew exponentially. People were now aware the show existed, just by the coverage they provided on one of the biggest Tennessee football stories in years. Sometimes, you catch a break. So far, Thurn had already caught a couple.
The night show continued to grow in popularity. So much, that it was voted the best sports radio show in Nashville against competitors in all other time slots. Truly, an impressive and rare feat for a show in the evening hours. Along with the show, Thurn’s popularity began to grow, as well. Bill King, a local radio icon in Nashville took note of this and offered Thurn a job as his producer from Sirius XM. The job offer was a no-brainer, as Thurn quickly accepted, but he also still wanted to do his evening show that had done so well in its time slot. The only issue, was that his show ended at 9:00 p.m. and was required to show up for King’s show at 4:00 a.m. Unless Thurn wanted to live like a zombie, he had to make a choice on which one to give up.
Eventually, the opportunity to be with King and Sirius XM was too great to pass up. He resigned from his evening show at WNSR and pressed on as a full-time producer. During his two years with King, he discovered a love for college football that hasn’t went away since. Though the gig was fun and rewarding, Thurn couldn’t shake the feeling that he wanted to chase the dream of doing his own show again. He soon realized it was the next step he needed to take in his career. After reaching out to several contacts across the country, he was offered a job in Sioux Falls, SD at the ESPN affiliate in town. Oddly enough, that’s where Thurn grew up and went to high school. After going from Minneapolis to Nashville, he now had the opportunity to go back home.
It took a leap of faith to do it, but Thurn arrived at ESPN 99.1 in Sioux Falls in the year 2012, where he’s still at today. Since then, he’s never regretted the move for a second. Though a small market, he’s had the opportunity to cover events such as the Super Bowl, MLB All-Star Game and many other prime time events across the country. Thurn also has the ability to use his own original ideas on the show, a privilege some hosts would be jealous of.
Thurn’s story is one that happiness in this business doesn’t have to come from just fame and a huge paycheck. Sure, we should all strive to be better and improve, but sometimes, the situation we’re in is one we take for granted. Jobs in bigger markets for less pay have often come available for Thurn, but he’s happy and his family his happy in a growing market. In his eyes, he’s totally content.
Chasing after big aspirations isn’t a bad thing, but neither is choosing to be happy, either.
You can hear Thurn every weekday on ESPN 99.1 from 3-6 CST.
TM: Whether it’s a certain team or sport, is there one single topic that’s most relevant in Sioux Falls?
JT: I would say that it’s two-fold. When it comes to college football, I would say Nebraska football leads the conversation. We’re actually the Huskers affiliate in the area. So, that’s a big one.
As far as the NFL is concerned, it’s the Vikings and Packers. We’re the Packer affiliate, but I’d probably say there’s more Vikings fans in the area. To have, what some people consider the greatest rivalry in the NFL, is great because you have a true split and get to hear from both sides. If the Vikings are terrible, you hear from more Packers fans and vice versa.
At the end of the day, football drives the bus, I don’t care what part of the country you are. In the middle of the summer, we’re talking football, gearing up for the draft, we’re doing all those kinds of things. We do have a lot of Twins and Timberwolves fans, and we’ll go through those cycles, but football in this market, still drives the needle.
TM: How critical is it to be involved in the community when doing radio in a market like Sioux Falls?
JT: I think it’s huge, the thing about Sioux Falls, it’s crazy, because I grew up and went to high school here, but there was probably around 90,000 people. Now, in the metro area, there’s over 220,000 people. The two health entities, Sanford Health and Avera Health, are in an arms race to have the best sports performance things you can have.
There’s the Sanford Pentagon in town, which sits about 3,200 people. It’s housed college basketball games that have involved Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Colorado, this year it’s Oklahoma State and Nebraska that are playing here. It’s also held preseason games and Division 2 National Championships. At the event center, which seats 12,000 people and was built at the same time as the Pentagon, we’ve hosted Women’s Sweet 16, Regionals for college hockey, big time rodeos, the summer league tournament that draws the most women’s basketball fans for any weekend in the country and other great events. Growing up here, I would have never thought these things would exist around here like a G League team, which allows us to see a number of NBA guys come through here.
It’s crazy to see all the people that come through here, like Kirk Hinrich, Adam Thielen and Bob Knight, who have all recently been through. We’re involved in all of it, which makes it awesome. I host a lot of events for them. Sports Talk in Sioux Falls has really been taken up, not just because of us, but because of the growing community, because people have moved from all over.
Back in the day, you would have a sports talk host in town that would just report what’s going on locally. Now, people can actually voice their opinions about the NFL and everything else. Just in general, the media has grown, the sports community has grown and it’s so unique that we don’t have a team here. It’s totally different than a lot of other markets.
TM: I think it’s awesome you get to travel to as much cool stuff as you do. But about that, where has your station benefitted from branching out from local stories, to sending you to cover the Super Bowl, MLB All-Star Game and other big events?
JT: We still stay true to the local stuff, including a big emphasis on live broadcasts for teams in the area and the regional teams that people care about, the Huskers, Packers, Vikings and Twins. But I’ve noticed, for example, if we post an article on a regional story or national story that involves the NFL, our page clicks will be way more than if we post something on Augustana University, which is a D2 school. That’s just something we’ve noticed, over the years, in terms of interest on the digital side.
On the air, we still have the local coaches on the show every week, it just doesn’t bring up the same sort of conversations, because those schools aren’t Ohio State that have 100,000 people on Saturday that are showing up. Augustana may only have 3,000 people show up to their games, so if you think about that from the perspective of how many people are listening to your show, knowing you’re only getting a percentage of that number, versus all the people that are NFL and MLB fans, I just think for our market it makes more sense to go more towards what people really care about.
One response we get a lot from listeners is that they’re really impressed with the guests we get on our show. They tune in because we hone in questions to national guests that are centered on the regional teams in the area. They get to hear the voices and faces they see on national television talk about their favorite teams. I just think we have a really good mix of national and local content.
TM: What makes your market so unique and special?
JT: First off, I think it’s the melting pot aspect, where we don’t have strong ties to a local team, so, as a radio host, you don’t have to be super biased to the team, because the team might get mad at something you say. In five years, I’ve talked bad about the Packers and Vikings when they’re playing bad and never had anyone call up to say I can’t do the coaches show that week because I said something bad.
I think that happens in a lot of places. You got to be choosy with your words. In general, I think Sioux Falls really is encouraged about its growth. People are all-in with continuing that and it’s just a wonderful community. There’s not that much crime, people love living here, so you’re getting people from all over. People just love to come here and we’re really getting a ton of sports fans from all over. It’s awesome.
Meet The Market Managers: Ryan Hatch, Bonneville International Phoenix
“Our pitch is that these brands have a connection to the market. That works for us, and that works because it’s emotional. It works because it’s local. It works because of the creative messaging behind it.”
For as long as I have known Ryan Hatch, he has been a good friend, encouraging me to take advantage of each opportunity put in front of me. When someone treats you that way, you cannot be anything but thrilled when you see them do the same thing.
Late last year, Ryan was elevated from a programming executive role with Bonneville to become Market Manager of the company’s Phoenix cluster. He is now overseeing every aspect of a building that he has worked in for a long time.
I thought it would be fun to visit with him to see what has changed. The last time I profiled him, he was serving as PD of Arizona Sports 98.7. The last time we profiled Bonneville Phoenix for this series, it was Scott Sutherland in the Market Manager’s chair. So, what has changed?
In this conversation, presented by Point to Point Marketing, Ryan and I discuss the changing nature of our business, retaining great talent, and supporting the person who’s tasked with filling your former position and leading the programming team forward. When a company is ahead of the curve with its digital strategy and generating strong ratings and revenue, what’s next?
Demetri Ravanos: So how has the transition gone moving from programming into the market manager’s seat? We’re a little over six months into the change. How steep has the learning curve been?
Ryan Hatch: You know what? It’s been fantastic. And I have to give so much credit to Scott Sutherland, who was in the chair before me, and others within the company for really preparing me for this moment. But it’s not just a transition from programming. I would think even if I came up through the sales, marketing or finance side there would be a curve.
I’m learning new things every single day and loving it. So whether it’s six months or six years in this chair or more, I hope that I can always say that.
I love the job. I love the market. Obviously, you know, I’ve been here for such a long time and it’s the best chair to be in. I’m thrilled.
DR: You mentioned Scott and I started thinking about this after you and I set a time to talk. There’s this advantageous environment of education there, right? Because Scott is still in the area. He held your job before. You’re obviously in the building and that’s got to be advantageous for Sean Thompson. How much do those conversations take place day-to-day? There seems to be an opportunity for everybody to learn and build on the person that came before them because they can just walk down the hall and ask.
RH: Absolutely it can be advantageous because you’ve got institutional knowledge. Every person that’s been in your chair before can certainly provide important information to help expedite the onboarding process.
The other side of it is making sure that there are clear boundaries. I can speak with Sean Thompson coming in on the programming side. My goal is to empower him and embolden Sean to take this brand to a different level with new ideas and thoughts.
I’d been in that chair for so long, we were certainly ready for somebody new to come in with a new perspective and new experiences, and Sean’s done a wonderful job doing that. I think if you talk to Scott, he would probably say something similar. So when you ask the question, “is it advantageous?”, the answer is unquestionable. Yes, it is. At the same time, you have to really be clear on where those boundaries are, how much you want to give and share, and how much you want to let that person learn and experience it on their own as they’re creating their new environment, if that makes sense.
DR: So with those boundaries, are there things you see Sean putting into place that make you think, “Oh man, that’s really cool. I kind of miss programing at this moment”?
RH: Well, the irony is in asking that question, I think today is actually his 90th day on the job. So we’re still in the basic stages of him taking that chair.
He’s full of ideas, full of energy. I can’t wait to see so much of it come to fruition. But again, when you’re only three months in, you’re doing a lot of listening and a lot of learning before you dig in to start making change. I expect that to come, but he walked into a position with a great on-air staff, fantastic talent, an unbelievable digital team, with a great marketing and promotional support team behind him as well.
I’ll tell you what I’m most excited about is what’s going to happen this fall. After the listening and the learning is done, we’ll be starting to really build some exciting plans into the NFL season around the Cardinals and the NFL. We’re also hosting the Super Bowl in February of ’23 as well. So we’ve got a great big build coming here in Arizona.
DR: So let’s talk a little bit about the future and where things can go, not just for Phoenix, but for Bonneville overall. I told you this a million times. What has always impressed me about the company, even before you and I got to know each other, was that you guys were so ahead of the curve on recognizing the value of digital content. Arizona Sports is not a radio station, it is a brand.
I wonder now that you are in the market manager’s chair, how you look at all of the money from these different companies being put into podcasts. I mean, the deals being made to turn podcasts into TV shows or movies, do you ever think about what is possible or maybe what the next evolution for the digital side of Bonneville could or should be?
RH: Well, I think as a company, and not to speak for Tanya Vea, who’s in a new EVP position helping oversee a lot of our content initiatives, we’re opening up a mechanism for local ideas to be funneled up to a team led by our VP of Podcasting, Sheryl Worsley. The idea is to be able to support a local that might scale on a national level and help it achieve that potential. I think that we’re very aggressive. I think that we’re also very strategic in the podcasting world.
There’s a blessing and a curse there. The blessing is that that audience is expanding rapidly and the revenue’s been following, you know, slowly, but still following in that direction. The downside is how much time and energy and creativity a lot of our best talent have.
Do we want to put our talk show hosts, who are spending 4 hours a day creating live broadcast content, at the forefront of that effort? How many more hours a day of creative juice do they have left for a podcast or a passion project? It could be something that might not be entirely complimentary to the brand.
I think you have to be smart and strategic and understand how big of a bed it is you want to make. I think we’re being strategic about it and making the best decision for each individual circumstance.
DR: So what about from a broadcast angle? As podcasting continues to grow and becomes the kind of thing that sellers see as easier to get clients involved with, what are the things that terrestrial radio is going to have to do to secure its own future?
RH: Well, speaking on behalf of our properties here, where we’re all local news and all local sports. Really, that’s our business. I don’t think that there’s anything that can replicate the power of live, in the moment, information-based content. And that is the value proposition that broadcast has.
Now, will that traditional radio audience continue to decline and find other venues? Potentially. I mean, that’s just natural, and I think that we’ve seen that accelerate through the pandemic. That doesn’t take away from the importance though.
If you look at Bonneville Phoenix, whether it’s Arizona Sports or KTAR, our streaming numbers are way, way up. Our monthly app users are way, way up. Our smart speaker usage is way, way up. And I think too many times we categorize one as digital and one as radio. I look at it more through the lens of what is a live broadcast and what is driven by more destination-based, story-based, topic-based choices. That’s a different experience and you can serve both.
DR: What is your view of having that live content accessed by both radios and streaming devices? When you’re a programmer, I think it is it is easier to say, “Look, people are coming to this content. This is good content. That is what matters.” But now that you’re the market manager, I know you are a real advocate for total line reporting, but now the ratings take on this whole different meaning to you than they did before. What is your view of the right path forward to paint that picture easily and accurately for advertisers about just how powerful these brands are, whether it’s Arizona Sports or KTAR?
RH: Thank goodness we have fantastic sales management and account executives on the streets telling that story and big brands to back them up with that unique content that our stations are delivering. And as I’ve told you in different settings over the years Demetri, Nielsen is one of many tools that tell that story. When we’re on the streets talking to a potential advertiser, and understand that our game is not as national or our market is not as regional, we are hyper-locally focused. In Phoenix, Arizona, that’s a lot of small to medium-sized businesses. So when we can walk in and share a total audience report that gives a glimpse of Nielsen, which we know is antiquated and really, really needs to be reformed and updated. You’ve got to bring your Google Analytics and your Triton numbers. You have so many other tools to use to evaluate how our content is being delivered and consumed. You’ve got to paint that entire total audience story, and I will tell you that it’s a story that is very well received in Phoenix with our products.
DR: Maybe this is more of a question for your sales staff, but is it a matter of walking potential advertisers and current advertisers through each individual number, or do you find a way to synthesize it down into a simple illustration of how many people are listening to your content every day?
RH: It’s not a numbers game. It’s not getting into detail about how many tens of thousands of listeners we have on one platform and how many on another and how many views or clicks on websites. Our pitch is that these brands have a connection to the market. That works for us, and that works because it’s emotional. It works because it’s local. It works because of the creative messaging behind it. When you have something that works for your advertisers, they’re not going to be coming in and scrutinizing the numbers left and right.
Now, you have to deliver to the audience, and we have significant audiences. In fact, I’ll tell you right now, combining everything together. And it’s not apples to apples, because these are all different channels. But our audience is here in Phoenix between our websites, our apps, and our radio distribution. Our audiences have never been better. I mean, that’s a wonderful and easy story to tell.
DR: Play-by-play is obviously a big part of what you do on Arizona Sports. You and I have talked before about the landscape of Phoenix sports, and I think you’ve described it as, because Phoenix is a transplant market, you find yourself talking about everyone’s second favorite team.
So how does that play with advertisers? Do they buy into the idea that this is a unifying thing or is there some concern that it is too much of a transplant market for the value returned by play-by-play doesn’t match the cost to advertise in that space?
RH: Our original franchise, the Phoenix Suns, while, they had a disappointing end of the season, it couldn’t have been more galvanizing. That is the one team that has been here for 50-plus years. That orange blood does run deep. The Cardinals have had their moments. The Diamondbacks have the only championship in the major sports here, but that was back in 2001.
I’ll answer that question in a couple of ways. Number one, we are catering to the fans and to the super fans, but we try to create content that is going to be accessible and interesting for those that would claim that any of the franchises are their second favorite team in a given league. When you move into a market and you head to the office or nowadays maybe it’s a Zoom call, you still want to be able to have a conversation about something that’s relevant. You want a shared experience with your coworker or a neighbor, somebody at school when you’re hanging out waiting to up the kids. So often that conversation is sports.
We have a fantastic sports market. Now, where’s the passion level? Is it as high as a Boston or Philadelphia? Of course not and we’re not going to act like it is. But at the end of the day, what does an advertiser look for? They’re looking for an audience and they’re looking for something exclusive to put their message on. That’s what we’re able to offer with our play-by-play. On top of that, what’s become more and more important to us in our model, especially on the digital side over the years, is the access to those decision-makers, to the coaches, the exclusive access to the general managers with weekly calls, and things like player shows.
There’s so much more that you can offer beyond just the game itself that makes these partnerships great for our business and the advertising community.
DR: So coming out of what is being called The Great Resignation, what are you experiencing as a market manager and what are your other hiring managers experiencing? What are the new challenges of recruiting, whether it is sales or programing, any kind of talent in an environment like this?
RH: Well, let’s add to that and talk about inflationary pressures as well. I mean, there are so many factors at play right now, and I think it’s as tough as I can ever remember it.
What we’re doing here at Bonneville Phoenix is really leaning into our culture and making sure that we’re an employer of choice because we have a culture that people want to be a part of. It’s a good team environment full of hungry people that want to succeed not just for themselves. So the more hungry, humble, and smart people we find, the better off we’re going to be.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t lost. There’s been a dramatic shuffle. Right now, I can say that we’re close to a full boat, but that wasn’t the case a month ago. There are so many different forces at play right now. It is a difficult environment. Our news side alone faces unique challenges. News itself has been under attack for multiple years. Don’t you think that burns people out?
Absolutely I have concerns, but what can we control? Well, we can focus on executing the vision that Bonneville has provided. It’s built on passionate people and innovation. It is about creating a culture people want to be a part of.
DR: We’ve heard a lot about burnout when people talk about why they leave a job in any industry. We hear about work-life balance. You’re responsible for the entire building, so what are you telling your managers on the sales and programming side about creating an environment for employees that respects that those are real and valid concerns while still maintaining the level of expectation of quality for Arizona Sports and KTAR.
RH: We’re still committed to the highest standards, and we always will be. And we found that certain parts of the business can work pretty effectively from home, while other parts of the business really can’t. I will tell you, on the content side working from home, we did it when we had to. We did it, I would say fairly effectively for a few extended periods. But overall, in a local news and local sports environment that really is driven by the breaking news, the need to work together in a space is real. You just can’t do things as quickly or as effectively or as creatively if you’re separated. You just can’t.
Now, on the sales side, we want them on the streets. We want them out of the office, but there is a balance. So what are we asking our great sales managers to do? We’re asking them just to make sure that they are up to speed on where the activity is and that we’re doing all the jobs that need to be done. Do I ever see us going back to five days a week in the office? I don’t. I think that ship has sailed and I think that’s just fine. I think there’s some real benefit to that.
The way to make this all work is to empower our department heads to come up with a plan that’s going to work best for them, for their people, and deliver on what our expectations are for the business. And then as leaders, we have to understand that the plan is going to be evolving. It really is. This is not going to be decided on a new policy set. I think that we’re in a new world, probably for the rest of our lives.
Broadcasting Fills The Baseball Void For Keith Moreland
“When I got through… I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”
Sports color analysts are more often than not former players. This has been a consistent norm across sports broadcasting at all levels. The analyst is there to add “color” to the play-by-play broadcaster’s metaphorical and verbal “drawing” of the game. For former MLB slugger and catcher, Keith Moreland, this was the surprise post-playing retirement career that has boosted him to a key figure in Austin media and national media alike.
Moreland played football and baseball at the University of Texas before making his way to the MLB for 12 years with key contributions to the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs in the 1980s.
Moreland reminisced on his decision to play baseball full time: “I thought I was going to be in the NFL, but Earl Campbell changed that. I had just played summer ball. We had won a championship and I missed the first few days of two-a-days. I hadn’t even had a physical yet and I’m in a scrimmage. I stepped up to this freshman running back and as he ducked his shoulder, one of his feet hit my chest and the other hit my face mask and he kept on truckin’. I got up and I thought ‘I could be a pretty good baseball player.’
So I told Coach Royal after practice I was going to focus on baseball and he asked ‘what took you so long? We were surprised you came back because we think you have a really good shot at playing professional baseball.'”
It was a good choice for Moreland. He was part of the 1973 College World Series winning Texas Longhorns baseball team. While at Texas Moreland hit .388 and became the all-time leader in hits for the College World Series. After being drafted by the Phillies in the 7th round of the 1975 draft, Moreland would go-on to play in the majors from 1978 to 1989.
“You go your whole life trying to get to play professionally. When I got through my opportunity to play in the big leagues, I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”
Broadcasting was not the original retirement plan for Moreland. He first tried his luck at coaching with his first stop being his alma mater as an assistant for the Longhorns. At the time, Bill Schoening (a Philadelphia native and Phillies fan), was the radio play-by-play broadcaster. Schoening made Moreland a go-to for a pre-game interview and convinced him to come on talk shows. Schoening even convinced Moreland to practice live broadcasting skills by taking a recorder to games and listening back to them to learn.
“Bill was the guy who brought me onboard and I still have those tapes and I really learned from them, but I don’t want anyone else to ever hear them!” Moreland adds with a chuckle on how far he has come in over 25 years of broadcasting.
Moreland has been a key part of University of Texas radio broadcasts for baseball since the 1990s and has catapulted that broadcast experience to Texas high school football, Longhorn football radio and television broadcasts, ESPN, the Little League World Series, the Chicago Cubs and more since hanging up his cleats and picking up a microphone.
While his playing days are well behind him, Moreland still takes the spirit of his professional athlete background to his broadcasting:
“If you don’t bring energy to your broadcast, somebody’s gonna turn the game on and wonder ‘what’s wrong? Are they losing the game?’”, Moreland remarks, “So you have to come prepared and with energy for the broadcasts.”
Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting
The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.
As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.
For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.
While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements.
While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized.
Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.
People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.
First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.
The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues.
None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.
As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.