The late Dennis Green, an NFL head coach for the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals, had a great philosophy. Green said the following on NFL Network’s America’s Game that chronicled the 1998 Vikings: “Desire, dedication, and determination are the three D’s and they’re really for me the essence of life. Desire is establishing what you want; what do you want? Dedication is the price that you pay to get it. Determination is how many times can we be disappointed and still not lose the fire in our belly?”
Scott Kaplan definitely hasn’t lost his fire in spite of dealing with a lot of adversity.
Kaplan is a sports radio host that has carved out a very impressive 18-year run in San Diego. His level of determination has been greatly tested as his former radio home, the Mighty 1090, went off the air four months ago in April. It was never in Kaplan’s DNA to shrug his shoulders and say “well shucks” as he passively accepted a falling out between a radio company and the owners of a transmitter site. Kaplan went into fix-it mode and hasn’t looked back since.
The story of Scott Kaplan has many different layers. His view of the 1090 soap opera is fascinating as Kaplan details just how close the station was to being revived — we’re talking Seahawks on the goal line in the Super Bowl against the Patriots here. Yep, that close. Kaplan is an extraordinary example of how hosts should look at traditional radio in non-traditional ways. Using multiple platforms to distribute content to the public instead of solely relying on a terrestrial radio station makes a lot of sense. Kaplan believes that shows need to go to the people, not expect the people to come to you.
His ambition is admirable. His determination is unwavering. And his viewpoints are incredibly useful. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What have the past few months been like since the Mighty 1090 went off the air?
Scott Kaplan: You know what, it’s been an amazing learning experience. It really has been. Listening to how this radio station crumbled. Understanding why it was. When you look at things like excessive executive salaries, a massive amount of office space that was wasted and hyper expensive, and a really bad deal that this radio company was in with the owners of the transmitter in Mexico. It was just not a financially sustainable model in any way.
Unless you had a billionaire investor who just liked throwing money at it — which at one point this company had and it no longer did — there really was no oversight of management. It got to a point where they just couldn’t pay for the transmitter any longer and the transmitter owners took them off the air. Man, what a hard thing to learn when you’re an on-air talent and your ratings say that you’re the top in the business. Then you find out well we’re doing our job, but the other side of the building didn’t do its job. It’s been an amazing learning experience. It really has.
Noe: Has this been an angering process for you?
Scott: I’ve never been angry about all of this because really I look at myself and I think, I knew that I did not want my career to be in the hands of the management of 1090. I knew that for many years. I never really wanted to sit around and wait for these guys because I never believed in their leadership. I wasn’t angry. I just immediately went into fix-it mode.
For me, trying to fix the problem was let’s work a deal directly between me and the guys who owned the transmitter. I’ve got all of my winning teammates around me. I’ve got our morning show. I’ve got our midday show. The morning show took a job quickly across town and then in the last hours as I was trying to finish this deal off my colleague, Darren Smith, took a job with another radio station in San Diego.
Even though the lineup wasn’t going to be the same I still thought we could rebuild a winning brand. But ultimately the numbers don’t lie. Some guys in sports radio really love the statistical side of sports. I’m not really a fan of numbers unless I’m handicapping horse races.
I had to do a lot of learning about spreadsheets and real dollars and cents. Things that as a talk show host you don’t really learn about, you don’t really talk about all that often. But now we’re talking about big money and I needed to decide could we really make money? When the numbers got to the very end, the people who own the transmitter, they make a really nice amount of money. The people who work at the station, they all get paid. The company loses massive amounts of money and the investors don’t make back their money or profit. It’s just not a winning proposition.
This is stuff that I did not know and had to learn and then had to be unemotional about. As much as I wanted to employ all the people that worked at our station, as much as I wanted to rebuild this brand, and as much as I want to get back on the air not just in San Diego but all of Southern California, I couldn’t let the black and white numbers take over my emotions and do a deal that was going to be bad for everybody involved. Like I said, this has been a phenomenal business learning experience.
Noe: You mention Darren Smith and some of your other former co-workers. What was your reaction when your teammates joined other teams?
Scott: The first group of guys who went to the Padres home radio station, I wish they would have given us a little bit of time, but I understood their position. It was fine. They were a one-year show at our station. We were helping to cultivate them. So I kind of understood. They had the energy of a fresh, brand new show.
With Darren Smith, Darren gave me a lot of time. He told me his goals were to get on the air by August 1st. He told me his goals and I knew what they were, but I wasn’t working for Darren. I wasn’t trying to meet his goals. I was trying to get us all back on the air as quickly as possible. Doing a good deal takes time is what I learned. This unfortunately took more time and didn’t turn into a good deal.
I wasn’t disappointed. I was happy for everybody. I’m happy for Darren Smith. He has what he wanted; he likes security. I’m happy for our morning guys because they have what they wanted, which is to be around the baseball team. You can never be upset and unhappy for other people’s success. I’m very happy for all of those guys.
Noe: As far as not trusting management at 1090, when things crumbled did you reflect back upon the situation relating to yourself? Were you like, man, I knew better than to be in business together?
Scott: I knew that 1090 was in financial trouble. I also knew who the leadership was and I didn’t have any faith in them. I also knew that everybody else in the place had no faith in them either. But people are scared and people don’t want to have a revolt if you will. If the parent company would have had any oversight over this management team, they would have attempted to fix this a long time ago. But they didn’t. The parent company took their hands off of it and said forget it, survive on your own is essentially what happened. The management of this company couldn’t survive on its own.
If you looked at why that was, I can show you a million reasons — literally in dollars a million reasons — why that was. I was not mad at management. I knew in my own heart that this was not a team on the management side that had great leadership. We believed on the programming side we had tremendous leadership. We were insanely successful for a really long time. We felt like we were doing a very good job on our side of the building, not necessarily complimented from the other side of the building. And by the way if you know the characters involved you’re not really surprised.
Noe: What was that like for you on a day-to-day basis?
Scott: It was not a fun work environment. Not fun. Darren Smith and I would do this crossover every day where we’d spend 20 minutes on the air together. We’d probably spend 30 seconds before we even got on the air together, and we’d talk very openly and raw. It was not a place that people were having fun being there. It just filtered all the way down.
Management got rid of people whose jobs were important to the success of the radio station. Those folks were sacrificed so management could keep their jobs and their salaries. These are crazy realities that we don’t necessarily all encounter. Look, everybody’s got stories in the media business, but this was just one where I didn’t know a lot of what was going on and felt frankly a bit naive, but again I learned a ton along the way. It was not a great work environment. I can tell you that certainly at the very end.
I mean can you imagine? You have a guy who’s the president of the company who tells everybody we’re being pulled off the airwaves. Then for the next 20 days we’re broadcasting on our app — still by the way dominating in the ratings without even being on the air frankly — and at no time is there communication between the person steering the ship and the people who are out of control in the back of the ship who have no idea what’s going on. Zero communication. Zero leadership.
Noe: That’s wild, man. You have a great resume, but not being a featured part of a radio station has to be a weird feeling, right? Do your past accomplishments make your current situation tougher?
Scott: The thing is you could sit on the sidelines or you can do something. What I did is I immediately sprung into action. Rather than sit around and not be heard, I was able to immediately work a deal with Callaway Golf to use their studios. I’ve been broadcasting on YouTube, on Twitter, on Facebook Live, on the TuneIn app, and I’ve been in communication with my audience through all social platforms. I have sponsors that have wanted to stay with me because I’ve spoken for them for many, many years. I have an incredibly loyal group of producers and teammates who want to keep the show alive.
I’ve said this all along; desperation has spurred innovation. We’re actually in the process right now of building a studio in my house where I can do all of these different things that I want to do. All of the things that I was planning on doing with the 1090 transmitter I still think I can do, only now rather than using a transmitter I can use an app as more of my central location.
As of right now, you say well you’re not a part of a radio station. That’s true. But my fulfillment comes from broadcasting and entertaining. I get that fulfillment every day I go on using these other platforms. By the way if you look at my YouTube show, I get calls from people all over the radio industry saying you’re show looks as good as what Dan Patrick has. It looks as good as Colin Cowherd. It looks better than Jim Rome.
The studio at Callaway is awesome and when they turn on the lights and the cameras, you’re broadcasting on all these platforms. For people that are savvy enough to Bluetooth an app from their phone into their car, for those folks who are already listening on an app, not even using the AM transmitter, there has been virtually no interruption for those people. In fact if anything the show is probably better because we don’t do any commercials.
Noe: Has it been more rewarding doing it the way you have than simply having a typical radio shift on a typical station?
Scott: No, it has not been more rewarding because I haven’t been paid in four months. It’s been less rewarding because I’m making a whole lot less money. However, and now I’m being serious, it has brought my team closer together than ever before. We travel together — in other words we all get in a car together — we have a much longer commute than we used to have. So we are literally in the car together for about 60 to 80 minutes a day. We talk to each other differently now. We hang out with each other quite a bit differently now.
Everybody who has decided they want to be all in, they are coming up with their concepts and their ideas. By the way most of these guys are significantly younger than I am, and they all think I’m crazy for even wanting to get back on radio. Me, I love the medium of radio. I loved it when I was a little kid when it used to talk me to sleep. I loved it when I was a caller growing up. I loved it when I was able to work at a radio station and splice tape and feed it down a line. I loved it when I was producing at the Super Bowl as the Super Bowl was turning into what the Super Bowl is. I’ve loved broadcasting on radio for all these years.
Dude, I mean listen I’m an available free agent. If somebody calls me and says hey we want you to come and take this shift on a radio station in a market that I find very desirable with the teams I’d like to cover and a desirable place to live, I am all ears. I have a great team and we have a very successful product. But on the other hand I can’t wait around and wait for a radio station or a radio company to come grab me because I think hey I’ve had this amazing run in Southern California. Rather than wait around, I can continue to broadcast. I can continue to sell and who knows what the future brings?
I have nothing but great things to say about radio, but my younger producer guys, they all think the future is now with all of these digital platforms. Going out to the people not just in your local market but literally all over the world and communicating to these people with all the social platforms we have at our disposal right now, there’s a whole new world out there for broadcasters.
We’re all sort of making it up as we go along in many instances. That goes for even big networks and big radio companies who are trying to figure out the podcasting side of the business and are trying to figure out where does video play into any of this. It’s a very exciting time. That’s for sure. And by the way probably a very nerve-racking time really in traditional radio.
Noe: Since you’ve operated your show as a digital play on YouTube, TuneIn, and Twitter among others, what has surprised you the most?
Scott: The amount of people that are watching and listening. The willingness of the listener to say you’re the guy who I like listening to on the radio. I can’t get in my car anymore and turn on the radio, but I still have access to your content. I’m blown away by the things that we’re doing now. Why weren’t we doing these things before?
YouTube has an ongoing comment section and I’m following the comments while we’re on the air. I’m interacting with these folks while we’re on the air. Why weren’t we YouTubing when we were broadcasting? Why weren’t we doing simple things like being on Facebook Live? We have thousands of viewers on Facebook Live. Why weren’t we doing that before? Really it fascinates me that people will say to me, listen if I know where you are, then I’ll come listen. I will come watch. I’m blown away by how people watch this stuff on their own time.
I’ve been really spending a lot of my own time plugging my phone into my car and listening to our daily show in podcast form because I really want to understand what is the listener experiencing? What am I asking the listener to do? What I found out is guess what? If I can do it, so can anybody else. It’s really just so simple. You go to the podcast app on your phone and you click in what you want. You turn it on and you’re going. In your dashboard — assuming you have a relatively new car — you see the name and date of the show and I’m listening to it on my own time. I find it absolutely fascinating.
Then on the other hand, I’m following what people are doing on YouTube. I’m watching YouTube videos at other times of the day to understand how other people are ingesting this content because we may only have 500 to 1,000 viewers live, but by the next day there are 3,000 or 5,000 viewers. The content lives on so people go back and watch it at their own leisure. This is all new stuff for me because I had been an AM radio broadcaster.
Noe: For the people on traditional terrestrial radio, how much would you stress to them the importance of putting their content in other places beyond the radio station?
Scott: If it were me and I were going back on to terrestrial radio, which I expect that someday I likely will, but when I go back on terrestrial radio, terrestrial radio will be an additive platform to all these other things that I’m currently doing. We live in a world now — and I hate to be such a philosopher — but I think we live in a place now where you have to go to the people, not expect them to come to you.
Honestly I got into an Uber here in Houston this evening and I asked the gentleman if you could turn the radio from the FM dial where he was playing smooth jazz, to the AM dial so I could hear sports talk. Well guess what? This guy had no idea and he had a brand new car. He had no idea how to go from FM to AM. I walked him through it. He got there — couldn’t figure out how to tune the radio up or down.
Look this guy is a professional driver. As a professional driver you should probably know how to use the radio. Millions and millions of people are listening to radio. There’s no doubt about it. But the phone is in your hand all day long. The radio is in your car. The phone is in your hand all day long. This is where I believe ultimately we have to communicate with people.
Noe: What’s been the hardest part of running the show the way you have these past few months?
Scott: Probably me having to be really chill about all the people who work for the show, or who have a role within the show, and their individual level of commitment. People had to put their other stuff in front of the show when the show is not paying them per se. For me that’s kind of a hard thing that we’re not all together every day 100 percent. We can’t all do it. I’m the person who has to do it. My producer, Alex Padilla, he’s kind of the second guy that has to do it to keep the show alive. Everybody else has their things that are going on in their lives that need to take a priority. That’s been kind of hard. We are not all 100 percent as in as we would have normally been. That’s kind of a tough thing.
The other part of it is when you want to put on a good broadcast, you prep. You work hard. You know what you want to talk about. You have ideas formulated and so on. I’ve been spending so much time on the business side and so little time on the content side. What’s fascinating about that is my producer, Alex Padilla, has done such a phenomenal job of handling the content knowing that my mind was elsewhere and that I wasn’t studying the way I should be. He made it super easy for me to just sit down and have enough content that you would not know that I hadn’t watched a game in a month. That’s really one of the most amazing things is the ability for the team to come together and still put on a quality broadcast even with all the mayhem and chaos swirling around.
Noe: You’ve spoken to Entercom recently about a position in Houston. How serious did those conversations get?
Scott: We were very serious. Entercom and I were very serious about 610 here in Houston. It was just a timing issue for me. I was still trying to put together the 1090 deal and they needed an answer. I couldn’t commit. It was that simple really. Their program director at 610 is a guy named Armen Williams. He is probably the sharpest, young program director that I know in the radio business. He’s a disciple of Bruce Gilbert, who is one of the most respected program directors in the industry.
I was really, really interested in this radio station. They’ve got a great general manager. They’ve got amazing facilities. The talent that they have is really, really impressive. I loved the opportunity that was presented to me at 610. It was just a timing issue.
My being in Houston right now, I happen to be in town meeting with Gow Media. Gow owns a couple of radio properties, but I’m not really here talking as a broadcaster. I’m here talking as a CEO of my startup, which is called Sided. Sided.co is a platform that we built specific for radio, as a parallel ad platform for radio. So I happen to be down here in Houston meeting with Gow Media because I’m a huge fan of what they’ve done with their company and how they utilize radio to move listeners into content online. I’m just so impressed with what they’ve done so we’ve come down here to talk to them about partnering with what we do.
Noe: The other San Diego radio stations [97.3 The Fan and XTRA 1360] — do you view them as potential landing spots?
Scott: Oh, I definitely think that 97.3 and 1360 are both potential landing spots for this reason; if you’re one of those two stations and you’ve thought all along well we’re not going to spend the money and maybe it’s better that he’s off the air and neither of us are using him. When one of those two radio stations decides that they want to be the overwhelming dominant force in sports radio in San Diego, then one of those two radio stations will come and want to hire someone like myself with my 18 years of market equity, all of the advertisers that follow me, and the massive number of listeners that I’ve cultivated relationships with over the years. I definitely would not rule out those two radio stations.
The only issue is that San Diego is not the kind of sports market that big companies want to spend a ton of money on in sports talk radio. It’s not San Francisco. It’s not Chicago. It’s not Boston. It’s not Philly. Obviously it’s not New York.
When you’re in a somewhat smaller sports market with a limited number of pro teams, sometimes big companies are cautious about spending that kind of money on these types of radio stations. But I would argue this, you don’t have to have many pro sports teams. What you need are engaged sports fans. I’ll tell you right now San Diego for all the heat that it takes, San Diego has great sports fans. I know that because for 18 years I covered the teams. I’ve been in the stands with these people. I’ve been at the tailgate parties with these folks. I know that people who live in San Diego are great sports fans regardless of the fact that the Chargers left.
Noe: If you were in Vegas placing a bet on if 1090 is going to come back, what do you think the odds would be of that happening?
Scott:I’d say today 40-1.
Noe: So you probably wouldn’t put a significant amount of money on that would you?
Scott: No, it’s a long shot. And it’s a long shot because we have two separate sets of economic understanding. My understanding is I see what a radio station sold for in New York City. I see what the folks in Mexico think their radio station or their tower is worth. A radio transmitter in New York City versus a radio transmitter in Baja, California are worlds and universes apart. What they thought their asset was worth versus what I think their asset is worth are two totally different things. Therefore we can’t do business together as of today.
If something were to happen where my colleagues in Mexico decided to change the numbers to where we both would be in a little bit of pain, but maybe we’re both enjoying some pleasure as well, then I would never count 1090 out. I wouldn’t count 1090 out because right now it’s broadcasting a tiny little FM radio station Ultra 104.9 FM from Brownsville, Texas on a powerhouse transmitter in Southern California. As long as they’re not making money with the asset, I wouldn’t count it out. But 40-1, on occasion 40-1 wins. I’ve seen 50-1 win the Kentucky Derby.
Noe: Were the odds of an agreement being reached ever better than 40-1 at any stage?
Scott: Yes, the odds were 2-1 as of two weeks ago. We thought we had a deal in place. Unfortunately I slept on it for like three nights. After sleeping on it for three nights, I realized I’m about to go ask a bunch of investors to put money into something that I’m going to show them is going to lose money for a long time. If I were them why would I want to do this? Why? Because they’re nostalgic about the 1090 brand? Or because they’re my friends and they want to support me?
I didn’t want to become the Alliance of American Football. I didn’t want to hire a bunch of people and think that hey everything is great and then five months later be out of business.
I would say two weeks ago we were on the goal line and going in. Then I slept on it and slept on it and slept on it, and again back to learning, studied these spreadsheets and understood what the numbers really were telling me. It really wasn’t that hard of a decision to pull back and say this is a bad deal and I don’t want to do it. For me, for the employees, for the investors, I don’t want to do this deal. I respectfully bowed out. I will tell you right now we were going in. We were on the goal line and going in. We were that close.
Noe: I’m sure it got easier once the decision was made, but for those three days where you’re twisting with it — you put in a lot of work and the deal is right there — to not go through with it, what was that like for you?
Scott: Listen I put in a lot of time. I put in a lot of money. I gave up a phenomenal opportunity to go work for a company like Entercom in Houston. My children are asking me questions. Everywhere I go I’m being questioned. I didn’t realize everybody knew who I was. All of a sudden I’m off the air and everybody wants to ask me about it. A lot of time spent. A lot of money spent. All to ultimately find out that this was not a good deal and not a deal I could do.
Instead of looking at it as a failed deal I choose to look at it as the smart move. Sometimes the best deals are the ones that don’t get done. In this case this was one where it wasn’t going to make dollars therefore it did not make sense. It just didn’t. Yes, it was excruciating because I knew that there were people who had put their lives and their careers on hold under the expectation we were getting back on. I fully expected us to be getting back on. One side can’t get rich while the other side goes broke. That’s what was happening.
Noe: Hey man, I get it. That’s understandable. For the longtime fans of 1090, what message would you like to send to them who are left longing for 1090 to come back?
Scott: What’s been amazing about the 1090 listeners is that they didn’t just split in half and some went to one radio station and some went to another radio station. There were three sports radio stations in San Diego. 1090 had like 60 percent of the audience. So you would think the other two radio stations would then all of a sudden pick up 30 percent each. Well it didn’t happen. The 1090 listener has gone to podcasts. They’ve gone to their phone. They’ve gone to music. They’ve gone to whatever it is that’s occupying their time in their car. They are not going to those other two radio stations in droves. They may eventually, but they aren’t yet.
I think that it’s really amazing the brand loyalty that people have. 1090 was part of people’s lives. When the Chargers were terrible, 1090 told everybody they were terrible. When the Chargers became great, they were there to host the parties and drive the bandwagon. When the Padres had playoff teams, 1090 was there to be in the middle of all of that. A generation of people grew up with 1090. And then passed on yet another generation, which is why I’ve got tons of listeners who are 25 years old and guess what those 25-year-old guys have no problem listening on their phone via podcast or YouTube. That’s what they’ve come to know. It was when they were driving to school with their dad or their mom in the car that they were listening to the AM radio.
I just appreciate how loyal everyone was to that brand and when 1090 went away rather than the listener just going over to the big box, big company sports radio station, they just decided I’ll do other things with my time in my car. That’s pretty fascinating to me.
Noe: You’ve also had a steady presence on Westwood One’s NFL games. What’s your current status with them?
Scott: I’ll be back on Monday Night Football this year. What we do with Westwood One is we book a schedule earlier in the year and then we kind of wait for things to move around and change. I’ll be on the opening night of Monday Night Football. I’ll be in Oakland for the Broncos and the Raiders. I was there last year when the Raiders and the Broncos played what we thought was going to be the final game in the Coliseum and it wasn’t. So here we are for the final season and this is the kickoff to the year. I’ve got the West Coast Monday Night Football game. It’ll be on September 9th and then I’ll travel as the year goes on. I’ll be in Dallas in Thanksgiving. I’ll be on the sidelines of playoff games. I will continue my work with Westwood One and hopefully expand my role with Westwood One as well.
Noe: That, by the way, was the Marshawn Lynch blunt game, was it not?
Scott:It was. That’s right. (Laughs)
Noe: (Laughs) Only Beast Mode, man. What’s one thing that you’d like program directors and radio executives to know about you that they might not be aware of?
Scott: Just because I was on the radio in one place for 18 years and had a lot of autonomy, and just because I have an entrepreneurial spirit, don’t be scared off by that. I will tell you when somebody is the head coach, you follow their lead because they have to do things their way. The one thing about me is I’ve always been a team player. I’ve always been a team guy. When I had to tell the folks at Entercom that I couldn’t take the gig in May, I explained to them that it was because I’m a team guy. I have a team of people around me and they all were looking at me as a leader. I didn’t want to let down my team.
Ultimately we didn’t get 1090 back on the air, and as much as I thought people were going to be let down by that, instead the feedback from my team has been we appreciate how hard you tried and the risk that you were willing to take.
My point would be hey I’m a team guy. I get it; a lot of people might look at me and go well he’s been in the business a long time and he worked at an independent station for a long time, can he come into a corporate environment and be what we need him to be? If someone has a plan and it’s a plan that they believe is going to work and they say can you execute this plan? My answer is I can do that.
I like to do a lot of things at once. I love being on the radio because those are the three or four hours where the outside world can’t get to me. During the day I just have one of these brains that likes to go in a million different directions and can’t sit still. Being entrepreneurial particularly in the field of media and specifically in the world of radio should never scare anybody off.
In fact I think people should say we need more innovator type people around us. That’s what I would say to people who get a little bit freaked out that this disease that I have called ambition can get in the way of doing great radio. I disagree. I think it’s all part of doing great radio.
ESPN Can’t Be ESPN Without Football
“You know the saying “scared money don’t make money?” Well, ESPN knows that smart money can eliminate the need for scared money entirely.”
I saw a Tweet on Monday, just after Texas and Oklahoma made their impending exit from the Big 12 official, that interested me. Athlon’s Bryan Fischer asked how the recent investment in college football ESPN has made would affect its ability to lure more properties to the network.
Much has been made of the American television rights to the Premier League hitting the open market. ESPN, Amazon and DAZN have all expressed interest, while NBC has made it clear that it does not intend to let Britain’s top soccer league go anywhere else. All of that points to a major bidding war on the horizon.
ESPN has invested a lot in soccer recently, particularly at ESPN+. The company has the American media rights to top leagues in 9 different countries, including Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga, which are both full of international stars. It also has MLS games and major national and club tournaments from Europe. Whenever that day gets here where soccer overtakes hockey and then baseball as America’s third most popular sport, ESPN is in good position.
That is kind of the point here. ESPN does a lot of betting on the future. The major investment in college football is about cashing in right now. Younger American generations really like soccer and follow it in a variety of ways. The generation with money to spend right now loves football and they are going to consume it wherever they need to.
ESPN will pony up the money to expand the College Football Playoff. It will get behind Texas & Oklahoma moving to the SEC, where it is already heavily invested. It will open up the checkbook and tell the NFL “just name the amount” in order to get a Super Bowl.
You know the saying “scared money don’t make money?” Well, ESPN knows that smart money can eliminate the need for scared money entirely.
History is on ESPN’s side when you talk about taking risks. The network has bet big and seen it payoff. It rode college basketball to national relevance in a time when that sport was a blip on most people’s radars. More recently, it got in on the World Series of Poker at the right time and pulled back when it needed to.
If ESPN views the Premier League as a necessity for its future, it isn’t hard to imagine it will have any trouble finding the necessary money. But the network knows that football, both college and the NFL, are not leaving the top of the American sports hierarchy any time soon. The goal isn’t just to have football. It is to have the very best football.
So, it does what it needs to in order to become a part of the Super Bowl rotation. It commits the resources to expanding the College Football Playoff. And right now, as the SEC is busy not just winning the college football arms race, but obliterating anyone in its path, ESPN is committing what it needs to to make its top college sports property a juggernaut.
Conservative pundits love to make a big deal of ESPN subscription numbers, pretending not to know that no one subscribes individually to cable channels. But look at the money being thrown around. Clearly Disney thinks the network is doing just fine and is worth investing in. For better or worse, it shapes most of the national sports conversation.
If Norby Williamson and Jimmy Pitaro think that conversation will include more Premier League talk in the future, they will find the money to spend. And when they find it, they will thank the SEC and the NFL for taking the network’s money and turning it into more money.
Are Media Days Good For Content Or Just Good For Networking?
“There is an ego boost for hosts attending these events and holding court with colleagues from across the country, but how does that help the people that are coming to you to be entertained before having to clock into a job they hate?”
Last week, most major college football conferences put on an event. They gathered the coaches from every team and invited media members from across the country to attend. Media Days used to really matter in college football. In 2021, I found myself skimming a lot of stations broadcasting live from Birmingham or Charlotte or Indianapolis and wondering “who even cares about this awful content?”.
Media Days are only slightly better than radio row at the Super Bowl. No one is trying to get you to put a long-retired kicker on the air for five minutes to talk about boner pills, but I am not sure a stream of coaches and players, who have spent the better part of the previous month practicing saying nothing, is that much better.
I get that there is value in these gatherings. This is usually the first chance to ask coaches the questions the media has been making content out of for the entire summer. It is a chance to reconnect with colleagues in other markets and compare some notes. They can be a lot of fun sometimes for the people in attendance. I am just not sure if the payoff is there for the listeners and so I am not sure that every station really can justify going.
There are plenty of stations to do these events right. 1010XL in Jacksonville sent two hosts to Birmingham for SEC Media Days. They were at their table all day. The hosts back in the studio in Florida would throw to them live whenever a coach worth putting on air was in the vicinity. There were no all day broadcasts and that meant no filler content. All that went on the air was the content that you had to be in Birmingham to get. 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC did something very similar, with Heath Cline being the only host there and creating smaller, more impactful content for the whole station.
For some markets, these events matter a lot. Birmingham is the single most college football obsessed market in America. JOX 94.5 probably made the right decision by being in the Wynfrey Hotel hallways all day for all four days of the event. Of course, it helps that the station has a new morning show hosted by two ESPN employees with relationships with most if not all of the conference’s coaches. Raleigh, where I live now, is the home radio market for three ACC teams. It makes sense 99.9 The Fan sent two shows to be in Charlotte for both days of the conference’s media event.
Still though, there are plenty of questions hosts at those stations and at stations in similar markets have to ask themselves. Is there anything we can get by going there that we cannot get year round? Does our audience like the sport? Does it like the conference? Or is it maybe just passionate about the home team(s)? If the answer is the latter – and I genuinely think that is the case in Raleigh, why waste the money getting the same interviews you can get for free during the season? You know, that time when there is actually something happening worth talking about.
Look, I’ve been a host and a producer. I get the appeal of these events and I understand that being live and sitting down with names like Dabo and Saban make the station sound bigger. There is some value in attending these media days.
But value to us as broadcasters and value to the audience are different things. We talk about “outside the box thinking” and “thinking like a listener” constantly. This is one of those issues where the value to the audience is the only value that matters really.
Programmers need to approach events like these with a plan. The same can really be said for any radio row. Do you send staff to do three or four hour long live shows for multiple days? Do you send your morning show to broadcast live but stick around to record interviews later in the day so that you can decide what is relevant before airing it?
One part of the programmer’s job description that isn’t often named is “listener advocate.” He or she has think outside the box while living inside of it. There is an ego boost for hosts attending these events and holding court with colleagues from across the country, but how does that help the people that are coming to you to be entertained before having to clock into a job they hate?
I can hear the pushback right now. “Demetri, do you know how much money we make from companies that want to sponsor our broadcasts from media days?”
I am sure the amount is high, but I am also positive that one broadcast or one week long events not the only reason they spend money with you. Also, I am not telling you that there is absolutely zero reason to attend these events. I am just asking you to evaluate how good the content that comes from them actually is.
There was actually an interesting story that broke in the middle of SEC Media Days, with news that Texas and Oklahoma are aggressively pursuing membership in the conference. But did that lead to any real news from the coaches in Birmingham? Not really. They all answered with platitudes and deferrals whenever they were asked about what a 16-team SEC would mean for the rest of college sports. I think most stations would have been just as well served to pull that audio off of ESPN.com.
College football is my favorite sport in the world. I love when we all get together, both at actual conventions and various radio rows that serve as pseudo-conventions. I understand and actually like media days. I just think it is important to consider whether or not there are enough people in your market that cannot live without hearing your hosts talk to Shane Beamer. If you are anywhere but Columbia, South Carolina, I am virtually positive the answer is no.
The Wins And Losses Of Gambling Twitter
“The great part of Gambling Twitter is that it’s open to everyone and anybody can prove themselves.”
Let’s face it. Twitter has changed the way we do a lot of things. For some, it’s replaced the daily newspapers. For others, it’s a means of communicating with an audience. Regardless of the way you utilize Twitter, no one can deny its impact.
In the sports world in particular, Twitter can be an interesting space. It’s a place where you can collectively live through an experience like watching a big game or reacting to news. It’s also a place where opinions can be shared and “liked” and of course, disliked. So, what happens when an open social media platform collides with the booming business of legalized sports betting? Gambling Twitter.
Gambling Twitter is an interesting term. It can describe many things. You could be talking about #GamblingTwitter, where someone likely uses the Hashtag to promote their picks or attract an audience, or you could simply be referring to the community of people on Twitter, who talk about Gambling. I prefer the latter. And Gambling Twitter can be a great place.
James Alberino, who runs @SpreadInvestor says the communal aspect, as well as the opportunity it provides, is what makes Gambling Twitter special.
“The great part of Gambling Twitter is that it’s open to everyone and anybody can prove themselves. If you’re good and know how to market yourself (or work for a company that’s good at marketing) you’ll grow a following and network with some great people along the way. There’s also nowhere better to be online during a game when you have a bet than on Twitter. The reactions and humor are some of the best live entertainment that you can get. There are a lot of smart people on here and when they work together, they help each other’s careers/businesses. It’s like one big virtual office where a lot of people in the industry can talk to one another whenever they want and collaborate on work.”
Using Gambling Twitter to help promote your career is something Pamela Maldonado (@pamelam35), Yahoo SportsBook Betting Analyst, feels strongly about from personal experience.
“Twitter being beneficial is an understatement,” she told me. “I started posting picks/analysis back in 2016 as a hobby when I was waist deep in the poker world. Looking back now, that was my resume and I was working on getting to where I am now unknowingly. I also have a background in social media marketing so I am very aware of the need to engage with users. I take the time to talk to everyone and respond to every DM. I love Twitter. It connects the world. It’s given me a space to talk about the things that are important to me. 2020, that was the political climate, in 2021, it’s Novak Djokovic and tennis.”
But not every experience is positive.
Alberino says “It can be very cutthroat especially among guys who have been in the space for a long time. There is a lot of money in this industry and everyone in it is trying to get a piece of the pie in the form of either money or media attention. There are a lot of scammers who do not care about their followers other than the dollar signs and a ton of people have bad tastes in their mouths from it. They take that baggage with them a lot of times when they do business with other cappers. Then there are the casual gamblers in the audience who think they know more than they do about betting. The scamming and ignorance has been going on forever though, it’s not just a Twitter thing. But Twitter gives these guys no barrier to entry and an open platform. A portion of broadcasters and pro bettors have figured out ways to work together but for the most part there’s a divide between “touts” and people on the media side of the industry, for understandable reasons. Some handicappers act like complete jackasses. And some media people are very good with a mic but not as much at betting. So you have two worlds colliding and some people stepping out of bounds to either gain followers or make more money.”
James is right. Everyone is trying to grab a piece of the pie. Each Sportsbook utilizes Twitter to promote itself. But are they doing it from a genuine place? How many times have you seen a Sportsbook account tweet out a winning long shot parlay? Countless times a day right? The reality of the matter is that these winning bets are extremely rare, however by tweeting and retweeting them, they hope to make the casual better feel as if they could be next. When, in reality, they just want customers to place these losing wagers so they can make money. That’s their business model.
Another negative aspect is the feedback. Some would say, “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen”, and they’re probably right. If you publicly make a bet, you’re opening yourself to negative reaction when that bet loses. Does that always happen?
“I’ve been fortunate to not experience any type of negativity, but I think it’s because of the way I present myself,” Maldonado says. “I never just give picks. I give a thorough reason. I post my record, I answer questions, and I try my best to differentiate what is ‘content’ and what is an actual bet. How I do that: by posting, “I am playing.” It’s fair to say that I’ve been more right, than I have been wrong, so I believe that I’ve created a loyal following of those who trust me and stand by me, even during a downswing. Has there been a change over the years? I can’t say for sure. I think I can count on one hand the number of people I have blocked and that’s because I’ve been on Twitter for a very long time. It’s a very short list of negative experiences, so far, and I think that mostly comes from me knowing my audience, knowing how to communicate, and knowing how to handle the bad days of betting – and that’s by acknowledging them, not ignoring them.”
But what about being a woman in this space? Is the experience different because its largely a male dominated audience? Ariel Epstein of SportsGrid (@ArielEpstein) shared her experience.
“Overall, it’s positive. I love interacting with everyone through the wins and losses. It’s a lot of fun to enjoy the wins and I have to say most of my followers are very understanding of the losses. I’ve always prided myself on giving out so many reasons to take my bet, that if it does lose, someone says ‘wow I can’t believe that lost.’
“There are always a few trolls who will say things like ‘I remember when you always won,’ or ‘at least you’re pretty.’ I’ve been asked on dates via direct message many times before. I usually just don’t answer. My motto is always to engage with the good people and ignore the bad. It gets less traction for the trolls on Twitter if I just don’t respond.
“I’ve always known I’d have to have thick skin as a female to make it in this business. The gambling side of things adds a whole new element because now you’re messing with people’s money. On the lighter side, I have been asked by many men if they could buy me a drink or send me money via Venmo because I won them bets. I find those types of things hilarious because I don’t know these people. I know it’s coming from a good place though. I do decline by the way.”
I think there’s an interesting case study to be done on Gambling Twitter because there are so many different aspects of it. You can talk about the handicappers, the analysts, the Sportsbooks and the audience. Each play their own role in the community.
I for one, love being a part of Gambling Twitter. Yes, I’ve had to mute a few trolls, but there’s nothing better than getting a tweet thanking you for the work you’ve done. I don’t post plays on Twitter to brag or claim victory over anyone. I post to help provide education to a larger audience craving information. If I can help people win a few bucks, that’s great. If it loses, then I take the heat. I understand the role I play. I walk a fine line because I am a member of the media, hosting several radio/tv shows, and a handicapper, because I pride myself on providing picks and analysis to the audience. Am I a social media guru? No. But I think there’s a place for me on Gambling Twitter, and I think there’s a place for you too.
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