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Pauly Howard Does Gambling Content Right

“I think people are sick and tired of when they turn on these ESPN shows, it’s the same thing. It’s fluff pieces. Every pregame show is unwatchable. It’s terrible. They’re still afraid to get into gambling.”

Brian Noe

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The phrase “only in Vegas” gets thrown around too often. It shouldn’t be used to describe common occurrences like a $50 win at the craps table or a kiss from a stranger at a club. “Only in Vegas” should be saved for huge events like a future fiancée winning 12 million bucks or a Vegas sports betting show picking up major steam while adding popular TV affiliates around the country. Mammoth occurrences like this are part of the reason why Pauly Howard says he’s living the dream.

Pauly teams up with Mitch Moss to broadcast the sports betting show Follow the Money on VSiN. The show airs weekdays from 7am-10am ET (replayed 9am-noon PT) on SiriusXM channel 204. VSiN has established itself as the sports betting authority — the first network ever dedicated to sports gambling — and Pauly Howard is a big part of that success. He’s a great storyteller and very relatable. Well, except for the $12 million part.

Image result for vsin pauly howard

Pauly touches on several interesting stories and stances in the interview below. He isn’t shy about voicing his displeasure with several major networks that are falling short with their sports betting coverage. Pauly also talks about the sports radio host that has helped him the most. His views on the sports talk industry are strong, his career path is interesting, and Pauly’s stories are outstanding.

Enjoy.

Brian Noe: Can you start off by telling the epic story of being late to work and winning thousands of dollars on a machine?

Pauly Howard: We work crazy hours. We get up at 1:30. We were saying it’s amazing that no one has been late or overslept. Then the next day for whatever reason the alarm didn’t go off and I woke up at like 3:30 and we’re on the air at 4. Mitch locked me out of the studio for the first segment. It goes 15 minutes so I figure well, okay I’ve got 15 minutes to kill.

There was a machine that had been pretty lucky in the past. I went and got a Mountain Dew at the gift shop and like on the third hand I got a royal flush for $4,000. Then I hit a straight flush after that. In less than five minutes I had won $5,000. So then I go in after the commercial break is over. Mitch thought I was joking. We had the pictures all ready to go and the graphics. I flashed the money in front of him and he was so pissed. He wanted a percentage too for kicking me out or at least buy him dinner.

Noe: How many times have you thrown that in his face since it happened?

Pauly: He brings it up more than I do. (laughs) I think he wanted a couple of dinners out of it. I don’t blame him, but it worked out for everybody. That’s one that he brings up more than I do.

Noe: Who’s the person that taught you the most about being a sports radio host?

Pauly: I would say JT The Brick. Other than that I really didn’t get a whole lot of advice. I think I was in a bad situation at ESPN Las Vegas where I got my start. I didn’t think I had much of a chance to succeed early on with who I was working with. There wasn’t really anyone in the building who could tell you what you’re doing wrong and what you should do. It was baptism by fire, which was strange. I came in contact with JT The Brick later when he moved to Vegas. I think he really helped.

Noe: What were some of the valuable things that JT taught you?

Pauly: Interviewing techniques, how the business works, how to market yourself, people to know, things to avoid, pointing out bad habits, ways to get better, and don’t be lazy.

Noe: How did you feel as a broadcaster before JT told you all of those things?

Pauly: I think I was above average, but I was getting into bad habits. I was frustrated because I didn’t think I was utilized properly. I find the whole thing ironic that once I quit where I was at and went on my own and got in touch with JT, I was then doing national fill-ins on FOX. It was fill-ins, but still I was by myself for four hours on the overnight, which is tough to do so at least somebody thought I was good.

Noe: What do you enjoy most about being a radio host?

Pauly: I’ve never worked a day in my life. I think this is the toy department especially now that we’re at VSiN. I think 95% of the country would change places with us. We work three hours a day and even though we have crazy hours your job is basically to watch games and research games, game previews, and betting trends. I guess it’s a cliché but it’s living the dream.

Noe: Do you think you’ve learned more over the years about sports broadcasting or sports betting?

Pauly: I would say broadcasting. I interned at KFAN when I was a senior in college. I had no idea what I was doing. They threw me on the air; I was 24, 25. I had no idea what I was really doing. There was a lot of room to grow and improve. Basic stuff I didn’t really know. I would say it’d be broadcasting.

Some of the stuff with sports betting is pretty straightforward. You know the spread. You know what the over/under is. You know what a moneyline is. You know what a teaser is. I think most people can understand that the minuses and the pluses and all that.

Noe: What are some of the most valuable things you’ve learned over the years about being a good sports bettor?

Pauly: I’m only good at college football and college basketball. I think this other stuff is very difficult. I’ve been a coin flip in the NFL my whole life. I don’t think that will ever change. The numbers are too good. We had the historic run in hockey with first period overs. It was great for the show and got national attention. That was a dream scenario and hopefully it’ll continue. It hit like 82% for a season. It was crazy with these teams we were highlighting.

I would just say you have to learn from your mistakes. You can’t chase. I also would say formulate your own opinion. Don’t ask people what they think because you’re going to get 10 different answers. If you like a game don’t talk yourself off of it. The more people you talk to I think the worse off you’ll be.

Noe: There are a couple of Twitter accounts — Pauly Howard’s Thoughts and Pauly Howard Paulyism’s — have you ever checked out either of those accounts?

Pauly: Yeah, I met the one guy that runs Pauly Howard’s Thoughts. He’s a nice guy.

Noe: Do you take those accounts as a compliment?

Pauly: Yeah. They have that and they have a drinking game. I know during NBA if I said Luka a certain amount of times it was take a drink, or if I said lunacy or buffoon. They have all the stuff — drinking games and Paulyisms and other stuff. I can’t believe there are parody accounts for both of us. People show up wearing our t-shirts and merchandise.

I was just some dumb kid from Minnesota. When people tell you they stopped listening to Howard Stern and they listen to you every day, I can’t believe it.

Noe: Is what you said about Howard Stern the best compliment you’ve gotten?

Image result for howard stern

Pauly: That or people come in from all over the country. They say they listen every day. It gets them through their commute. They’ll be staying on the strip, but they’ll still get in the cab or Uber and go 20 minutes just to come down at 6 in the morning to get a picture and say hello. That’s the stuff I can’t believe.

Noe: What was the biggest bet you won and what was the worst beat of your betting career?

Pauly: Well I wanted to bet $100,000 on Mayweather against Canelo Álvarez, but the guy from Morgan Stanley wouldn’t wire the money because he said I like the other side. He liked Alvarez. I couldn’t believe it.

My ex had a lot of money. We were going to put $100,000 on the bet. He wouldn’t wire the money and he talked her out of it. It was two against one. She goes okay you’re on your own, so I put $30,000 on it.

Dan Rafael had it 12-0, a shutout for Mayweather and the female judge had it a draw. They’re reading the scores; I’m like what the hell’s going on? He won but the female judge had it a draw. I couldn’t believe it. I just felt that you were never going to see him at that price again. I think I laid 220 or something on that fight. The worst beat is the live-in girlfriend of five years asking to get married and three months later she won 12 million dollars.

Noe: What happened from that point on?

Pauly: Well we gave it the college try. No one was going to tell me what to do. I don’t blame her for resenting me and saying, “I asked you to get married. You said no and now I have all this money.” Then she was the boss. Then she was doing her own thing. She was making all of the decisions and wouldn’t even run stuff by me.

I still proposed. I was in a tough spot after that too. I’m like well I can’t propose right away. I’ll look like a total idiot. It’s like so I have to wait. To my surprise she actually got mad that I took so long about proposing and everything. She said yes, but we never got there. I think once that happens I was drawing dead.

Noe: I didn’t know that story. So she won all that money after asking you to marry her?

Pauly: She asked me to get married and I said no. Then three months later she went to the casino. She went to go gamble. There’s a machine she liked there. I like the chicken fingers that they have. So she was going to get me lunch. She had some free food and some free comps. I fell asleep on the couch. It was a Friday. I woke up and had like a hundred missed calls. It was her saying she had just won 12 million dollars. I told her, I go, “Quit f***in’ around. You’re wasting my time.”

I made a couple of calls and the guy says it checks out. It actually bothered me because she was calm, cool, and collected over the phone. She’s like, “Hey, I just won $12 million. They might interview me on the news. Bring my makeup. We have the biggest suite they have. Go to valet. The host will meet you.” So I show up and it was all true.

Noe: Only in Vegas, right? That’s amazing.

Pauly: Yeah, she put like $20 in. I think it happened in like five minutes — the third hand or something. Ridiculous. I can’t believe it.

Noe: With that in mind — only in Vegas — how would you describe the Vegas market? Is it much different than anywhere else?

Pauly: Well it was, yeah. Doing local stuff we could talk about whatever we wanted because we didn’t have a pro team. We would do more of a national show, but we could joke around. There was always something weird happening with celebrities. Someone was at the club and there were always things going on.

Image result for las vegas strip

Now I would say it’s becoming just like every other place. We’re going to get the Raiders. We have the Knights. We have pro sports. Now we’re becoming a big-time sports city. The game changer is the new $2 billion stadium.

We’re going to get the Super Bowl. We’re going to get Pac-12 football. You’re going to get all these big events that are going to come to town now. I can’t believe that. I moved here in 2000. They always said wait another five years, we’ll get a team. Then we thought our big break was when we got All-Star Weekend for the NBA. That turned out to be a disaster. Pacman Jones — they had the shooting and a bunch of shady characters came to town. There was bad behavior. People weren’t coming out to gamble. They were causing trouble. People that work there all over the strip had horrible experiences.

I just can’t believe the NFL has decided to build a $2 billion stadium and it’s the Raiders. If you’d asked somebody for the small chance it would happen, you’d say Jacksonville or somebody like that would move. You wouldn’t say it’d be the Raiders and that brand.

Noe: Is Vegas a good sports town?

Pauly: I would say yeah. I think it’s unbelievable. They always used to say on the air that UNLV basketball didn’t draw unless they won. People would always call in and say you give us major leagues, we’ll go. I would laugh at that because you don’t even go to UNLV. But they were right.

It certainly helped they went to the Stanley Cup. The Golden Knights are selling out preseason hockey games. Tickets are expensive. I can’t believe how much the tickets are and people go every night and it’s the hottest thing. That surprised me. I didn’t think it was going to work because I thought the team would struggle for a while. Then it would go away and maybe hurt our chances of getting an NBA team. For an expansion team to almost win the whole thing is nuts.

Noe: Do you think the Raiders will work in Vegas?

Pauly: Yeah. That’s where you’re going to get people coming in from all over the country. People might be concerned about the population here and then people already have their team. I guess that’s different because the Golden Knights, it’s your team and it’s an expansion team. You already have, “I’m from Pittsburgh,” or someone’s from Chicago and they like the Bears. They’re not going to support the Raiders. But it’s only eight games. Plus with Raider Nation traveling — I’m sure everyone will just fly Southwest coming in all the time.

Then you just have to look at who the opponents are going to be too. I just think this will be like it is now with hockey. When the Red Wings are in town, when the Edmonton Oilers are in town, when the Blackhawks come here — that’s a lot of opposing fans. So I don’t think they’ll have any problems selling out.

Noe: If you look at your show with Mitch over these last two years what has been the biggest area that you guys have gotten better in?

Pauly: I think showing more personality and joking around and having a good time. People can get trends and stats anywhere. I also think it’s how you present it and if you also keep it loose. I would say we’ve done a good job of keeping it loose and being very entertaining. We’re entertaining and informative, but we’ve always had success there. We were highly recommended. We tried out. We got on. We were doing weekends. In no time we were doing afternoons. In two months they put us on morning drive after that. It was rapid fire. Everything happened so fast.

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Noe: Did you know Mitch before you guys teamed up?

Pauly: Yeah, I worked with him at ESPN Vegas. The funny thing is they never would put us together. They made us try out and it goes back to what kind of operation they were running over there. Whether it was you guys sound alike, you’re the same person, we can’t do it — they wouldn’t do it. They refused to do it. They wouldn’t put us on the same show just the two of us. Now we’re on TV in New York and Boston and hopefully adding some other markets here soon. I know the VSiN management laughs at that. You can tell right away how good the chemistry is. How couldn’t they see that? They would never put you two together? Several people in management have commented on that.

Noe: How does being on TV change your approach to doing a sports talk show?

Pauly: The only thing that changes is I can’t swear. We used to swear a lot and that’s the only thing. We’re on live television so that’s one of the stipulations.

I guess I have to look at the camera once in a while. I don’t think that’s a big deal anyway. I’m not doing the nightly news here. We’re doing a sports show. Once in a while I’ll put a sportcoat on.

The biggest thing is just watch the language. Other than that nothing’s changed. They always considered it that too. They’re on all over now, fubo, Sling, and there are a lot of radio stations that carry it. But from day one it was VSiN.com and watch online and all that. There are three or four cameras in the studio so nothing has changed for me.

Noe: How do you guys measure success at VSiN?

Pauly: For the show I think it’s just adding affiliates and getting on in other places. Getting on all over the country, which I can’t believe. We’re grateful for what NESN did as they reach I think five million homes. It’s great that Rick Jaffe believed in the show so strongly and put us on TV there and MSG followed. I think that was the first sign of this becoming big. Other than that you’d have to ask management. I don’t know what they would say.

I just think it’s people want something else. I think people are sick and tired of when they turn on these ESPN shows, it’s the same thing. It’s fluff pieces. Every pregame show is unwatchable. It’s terrible. They’re still afraid to get into gambling. You’ve got six guys that are laughing at their own stupid jokes. They do a quick thing where they make picks. They always take favorites. They’ll go with the dog of the week and they’ll always take somebody that’s catching two or three. It’s the same stuff. I just think people want something new.

Now that you see 13, 14 states, whatever it is, where it’s legal and continues to grow and who knows how many that will be, it’s just people want good information and they want to make money. They don’t care about Erin Andrews sitting down with somebody and asking mindless chitchat. The one thing they actually did that was good was they had Jillian Barberie on doing the weather. They even got rid of that. Stuff like that. I don’t know what they’re trying.

Image result for jillian barberie weather nfl

Noe: Do you think that it’s just outdated thinking with these national outlets where they still treat gambling like it’s taboo?

Pauly: Yeah, that’s stupid. The one pregame show that’s good and it’s been that way for a long time is College GameDay. They have fun. They do picks. The Bear is on there giving picks. They discuss the point spread. It’s a good atmosphere and good energy. They like to have a good time with it.

The others, I don’t know what they’re doing, if they’re afraid of Goodell or what. The person who came up with this idea where we need six guys on there all ex jocks who speak in clichés and it’s all coach speak is laughable. I don’t know who came up with that. They all continue to do it. It’s a joke.

I think that’s why these fantasy shows are doing so well and why there’s potential for that. I don’t want to give them any ideas, but I just think if you would come on to talk point spreads and give good information right before kickoff on that type of platform — I think they’re wasting the platform. I don’t know anybody who watches that shit. It’s terrible. I don’t understand these guys who come in and like give me Bradshaw, Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson, Tony Gonzalez, or who’s on CBS? Nate Burleson, Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason — I mean you’ve got five guys in there and they can say something for 10 seconds and they’ve got to move on. It’s all clichés and it’s all the same stuff. I don’t understand it.

That’s where you just got to give Goodell the middle finger and say you can’t say you’re opposed to gambling when you gave Las Vegas a pro team. Where would you really be without fantasy football which is gambling, fantasy sports, or sports betting? Where would you be? Would you be the NBA? I mean how popular really would you be if you eliminated that? That’s the reason you’re so successful, because of bettors! People love this.

Noe: Do the Johnny-come-latelies who are now all of a sudden embracing sports gambling annoy you, or is it the people that are still reluctant to embrace it?

Pauly: I would say the latter. There’s nothing wrong with trying. It’s a huge demographic. This is very important. More people bet sports than play the stock market. You have what — four networks whatever it is — devoted to the stock market. Think about that; that more people bet sports than play the stock market. The numbers are just staggering about how many Americans placed a bet last year.

My mom couldn’t tell you who the coach was at Duke, but every March she you would come home with a bracket to fill out for 20 bucks. That’s why it’s the biggest thing in Las Vegas every March. It’s standing room only in ballrooms and you can’t get a room. It’s bedlam. It’s because everyone likes to bet and everyone does an office pool.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying. But the problem with that is you’re going to get found out and exposed right away. If you don’t know the terminology or the jargon, you’ll be found out quick. This is something you have to be around and know it. If you get the terminology wrong they’ll shut you off. I would say it’s the latter. I don’t know what ESPN is doing. That’s strange too because Van Pelt has been talking about it and doing the Bad Beats segment for years. I think they’re missing a huge audience. But that’s good for us because they can watch us then.

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Noe: Can you think of any unknown oddsmakers in Vegas that might become bigger personalities with sports betting becoming more of a national thing?

Pauly: I think Matt Lindeman could have a future. He’s at Circa. That’s going to be a billion dollar casino when it opens next year. I think it’s going to be the Bellagio on steroids. I think it’s going to be a game changer. He might be one because he’s an oddsmaker. He’s young, opinionated, has very good numbers — I think he could come on the scene.

The other one I think is a slam dunk is Mike Palm. Mike Palm is the VP at The D and with Circa Sports. He’s Derek Stevens’s right hand man. Number one he’s the Head of Active Content Management. Derek calls it a travesty in America — you go to a Buffalo Wild Wings, just go to a sports bar on a Saturday, and the bartenders can’t find a game. FOX News is on, the Weather Channel is on, and they’ve got a replay on ESPNU from 1987. When you ask them to put the soccer match on — Liverpool or whatever — they look at you like you have two heads. I can’t believe that the bosses aren’t training them. It totally could be a business.

In any event, he always knows what game is coming down to the wire and what game deserve sound. I know he’s a vice president, but he’s sharp, he’s got a good opinion, he does his homework on all the sports. He’s educated; he gave out the Blues early to win the Stanley Cup. He’s good at hockey, he’s good at baseball, and I think he could become a star. He’s already front and center with his position. If he bets big, he knows what he’s talking about on all these sports and he’s entertaining. I think those two go hand in hand. They’re building a huge broadcasting studio inside the new casino. I just think that thing is going to be a monster that opens late next year.

Noe: What would you say is your proudest achievement thus far as a broadcaster?

Pauly: I don’t think it’s happened yet. Well, I thought the FOX Sports Radio thing was a big deal. You know him; I was filling in for Ben Maller so however many markets he’s on. I also didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know if I could do four hours by myself in the middle of the night where you can’t have a guest on and sometimes the callers are drunk. I thought it was hard to do. I guess that was a big deal. I just think there are bigger things ahead.

Noe: What’s a major goal of yours or something you want to do before your career is over?

Pauly: I think just keep getting on as many networks and as many TV stations as possible. I think the sky’s the limit because so many other states are now getting sports betting and that just leads to all these people who want to bet, like to bet, and can add you all over the country. Look at all the networks. Look at all these places that carry 24/7 sports. There are some things I don’t want [to divulge] — I’m just throwing names out there like a MASN, whatever the networks are who carry these teams.

Image result for vsin pauly howard

Noe: What do you remember most about the first time you filled in for Ben Maller on a national platform? Did anything unexpected or funny happen?

Pauly: I felt comfortable. It was strange, but I was comfortable because I was doing it from the same studio that I worked at in Las Vegas. It was just me in a room. I was always confident that I could talk college basketball and March Madness was going on. I think Kentucky was going for an undefeated season.

On air they joked that my producer that night was in Liar Liar with Jim Carrey. I’m like are they serious? It was like a 10-minute discussion. That kind of loosened me up and I said okay we can talk about different things and joke around as well. I just couldn’t believe that the guy was one of the main stars as a child actor with Jim Carrey in a big time movie and here he was. I’m talking to him about “Jim’s on in Des Moines; he wants to talk about football.”

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Would TNT Prefer NBA All-Star Weekend Without the All-Star Game?

Credit the TNT crew with playing things about level — nobody tried to pretend this was anything other than a freestyle show — but there is just such a limited audience for the kind of tripe that was on the court in Indianapolis.

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NBA All Star Game graphic
Courtesy: NBA.com

I could tell you why you almost certainly didn’t watch the NBA All-Star Game, or why you watched it for only a few minutes and then bounced. Really, though, you already know.

The game has gotten fat. Bloated. Sloppy.

Unwatchable, even with a galactic collection of talent.

And over the past couple of years, the All-Stars themselves have finally given up pretending that either the action or the outcome matters at all. (I mean, they’re right.)

You are not legally required to care about any of that, of course, since it’s not your job. You’re just supposed to create and influence the marketplace by either watching or not watching.

But what happens if holding the broadcast rights to All-Star weekend eventually begins to feel like something a network gets saddled with, rather than something it’s eager to pay good money for?

That question may help explain why NBA commissioner Adam Silver looked like he’d just eaten paste on Sunday night as he presented the winning trophy to the Eastern Conference team after a no-defense-allowed 211-186 shootaround that involved popular players wearing uniforms.

“And to the Eastern Conference All-Stars, you scored the most points,” the Silver Robotron intoned before adding, “Well … congratulations.”

The commish genuinely looked disgusted, but what did he expect? Not only have things been trending in this direction for years (no competition, all open shots, absolutely no fouling or body contract of any note), but the league’s own structure practically screams at the teams — and thus their players — to tank the All-Star Game in the name of stretch-run health.

Which is to say: It’s all about the playoffs.

That’s where the rub lies. The NBA wants its post-season lengthy and lucrative. The league leaves no doubt that the playoffs are where the real money lies, and its more recent bracket renovation involves 10 teams out of a possible 15 in each conference.

Twenty teams — out of 30 — hit the post-season, beginning with the play-ins.

It’s all about bank.

You don’t even have to question that — it simply is. It’s a fact of the business of the NBA. And so Adam Silver can hardly be surprised when the message that goes booming forth through the league’s 30 franchises to their stars is, For God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t go and get yourself hurt in the All-Star Game.

Did you hear LeBron James after Sunday’s debacle? No one is ever going to jump on LeBron when the subject of competitive fire comes up, but in this case, James made it very clear what the big motivation was on All-Star Sunday.

“I think the good thing that came out of tonight was none of the players were injured, and everybody came out unscathed or how they were before the game started,” James said. “So it (a competitive game) is a deeper conversation.”

James noted that while the stars don’t mind the up-and-down style of a defense-free game, it’s not normally in their competitive nature to just avoid guarding an opponent. But the bigger picture — no injuries — won out handily on Sunday.

It’s hard to know where a network is supposed to go with that. Credit the TNT crew with playing things about level — nobody tried to pretend this was anything other than a freestyle show — but there is just such a limited audience for the kind of tripe that was on the court in Indianapolis.

The last two All-Star Games, 2023 and Sunday, are the two lowest-rated in the history of the event. This year’s numbers actually represented a 20% jump over last year, which tells you how low the bar has been set lately. Even the hastily assembled, post-pandemic game of 2021 drew more eyeballs than the last two faux competitions.

Is there a way out of this? The short answer is, not with the game itself, which feels broken beyond repair. But the ratings for All-Star Saturday Night, which included the heavily hyped Steph Curry-Sabrina Ionescu three-point shootout, were up 31% from the year before and equaled the total viewership of the 2023 game itself, which at least signals viewers’ willingness to watch something that is, you know…interesting.

There is still value in having an All-Star weekend. Any time a league can get its brightest stars together under one roof, a massive amount of attention will be paid. It’s actually remarkable, considering the individual popularity of these guys, that they could be the featured players in such a widely trashed game.

Every All-Star game in every sport was originally designed with one goal: Increase positive publicity for the league that sponsors it. In recent decades, the game is also supposed to be a gold mine for the network that broadcasts it, or at the very least not a loss leader.

Now, Adam Silver and his cohorts have to come to grips with the reality that their players, and the people who cut those players’ checks, have no interest in seeing any sort of effort on All-Star weekend that would open the door to an injury, not even a crack. What results, as a broadcast, is a tough watch — and maybe, someday, a tough sell.

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Social Studies: Amanda Anderson, ESPN Sr. Director of Social Media

“Because ESPN and our team is so focused on many different sports properties and leagues and sport verticals, how we celebrate that and what engagement looks like varies. What’s considered success varies.”

Alex Reynolds

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This week’s edition of Social Studies features Amanda Anderson, ESPN’s Senior Director of Social Media. Anderson started with the network right out of college in 2011. When she started with the social team they primarily focused on Facebook and Twitter with Instagram being the “new platform.” Now she oversees an expansive team that works directly with tech companies, teams and athletes to stay on the cutting edge.

In this interview Anderson discusses ESPN’s social media KPIs, partnerships with athletes and how a ubiquitous sports brand like ESPN approaches audience expansion. We also dive into the Creator Network which comes to Bristol February 28th and the value of influencer marketing in sports media.

Note that this interview was conducted on February 16th and has been edited for brevity and clarity. Visit the Barrett Media YouTube Page for the full conversation.

AR: What does the sort of typical day at ESPN in your role look like?

AA: I’m so multifocal focused. I’ll use today as an example. Today we were celebrating a huge part of our efforts that we’ve been planning for more than a month, which was Caitlin Clark, and her moment last night. We started to see the likelihood that she would be breaking this record and we had a full team-wide brainstorm the first week of January to start the build up for it.

So today, I started by doing a clean sweep of all of our content and looking at the numbers. We have a Slack channel. We’re big slack users on the social team that we call ‘Crush Bucket.’ That’s where we celebrate all of our wins and highlight and shout people out for leading an event or discovering an amazing piece of content.

One of the highlights last night was how many different athletes rallied around ESPN content about Caitlin. That was my morning – let’s celebrate this, let’s make sure my leader sees that. Let’s celebrate that we owned a moment that wasn’t on ESPN, it wasn’t ‘ours’ necessarily. But we really brought all the creative energy and creative juices to be a gathering place for athletes and sports fans alike around that moment.

Another big part of my job from an ops standpoint, is engaging all of our partners so right before this, I was on a call with Meta talking about new events that they have coming up some potential collaborations, engaging them around our Creator network, so they can help elevate the creators that we’ve selected in this class using their platform.

Then it’s on to hiring development and one-on-ones. Managing people is such a huge part of any leader on the social team’s job. That’s really important because so many employees on our team, it’s their first job. They’re very young and very hungry, so molding and investing in the energy that they bring and showing them the ropes of how to succeed in a corporate company like ESPN (Disney) is a big passion of mine. It’s really a point of emphasis for our entire team.

AR: So let’s dive in a little more specifically. What do those wins actually look like? Which numbers do you look at and then take to your higher ups?

AA: The obvious KPI and we say it constantly is engagement. So there’s more nuance to it than that. Because ESPN and our team is so focused on so many different sports properties and leagues and sport verticals, how we celebrate that and what engagement looks like varies, and what’s considered success varies.

We know that a women’s volleyball post on ESPN isn’t going to engage at the same rate that a Steph Curry post will and that’s fine. So I would just say engagement is our North Star but we get a lot more nuanced and sophisticated. It’s not just a simple, “our average on ESPN or SportsCenter on Instagram is this, anything above that is a success, and anything below that is not.”

Audience expansion which is such a big part of all of our roles, and mine in particular, especially with regard to women’s sports, or underrepresented sports, which is what we’re trying to account for in the Creator network. We have so many more layers of numbers to say, ‘Hey, did this post about Caitlin Clark, get more people to follow [ESPN] W?’ That’s an added layer besides over indexing. We’re often getting a lot more granular than that. But engagement is a good starting point to say how many fans took action on this? How did it move them in such a way that they had to do something with it? Like, comment, share, etc.

AR: Tell me a little bit about the Creator network, and how the importance of micro-influencer marketing plays into that strategy.

AA: Everyone who works in social knows the importance of creators in the space. With the fans that are coming up, we’re increasingly seeing these younger cohorts identify less and less as avid fans. At the same time, this younger generation, the majority of them are looking to influencers for guidance on how they spend their time, money, and what shows they’re watching. We want ESPN to be at the forefront of that conversation and top of mind, even for people who maybe aren’t sports superfans – who we at ESPN serve really, really well.

This year’s class is all female, which is new from last year, and what we’re hoping to do with the Creator Network is serve not only the super fans, of which there are many, but we’re also trying to find new ones and use the power of sports and storytelling to help new fans connect with either the athletes, teams or creators themselves that look like them. So it’s multifaceted – our approach of what we’re trying to do with this group.

AR: In terms of leveraging personality to reach people, tell me how the social team works in conjunction with ESPN talent who are commanding really big audiences themselves.

AA: It’s the same approach where, Stephen A. Smith, Adam Schefter or Lachina Robinson are talking about something, a fan is going to connect with them like they would a friend, fellow fan or teammate. It’s done in a way that a brand just doesn’t have that versatility and flexibility. And one doesn’t have to compete with the other, we want to do both.

So with our talent strategy, it’s that same goal of how are we connecting with fans in a person-first approach. That is going to be really effective in a different way than our brand handles. It deepens the connection and allows and affords a lot more unique distinction and flexibility, like what a talent can say as their opinion is not the same as a social brand that’s speaking for a large company.

AR: How do your partnerships with athletes play out on social?

AA: Being able to align, as I mentioned before with the Caitlin Clark example, athletes rallying around our content helps us stay relevant. That helps us keep our brand distinct. One example I would offer is, we worked with Mikayla Schiffer last year when she broke the All-Time World Cup wins record. We got ahead of that well in advance, spoke with her agent, and were able to create a storytelling piece that talked about her whole journey and comeback after the Olympics.

Ultimately, that resulted in a collab from espnW to her own handle. Again, it helps us target and be more precise with who we’re reaching. Everyone who is a fan of Mikayla is going to rally around that story from her brand standpoint. And then on the espnW side, we may be telling people about Mikayla’s story that aren’t alpine skiing superfans. So we look at it as mutually beneficial. When we’re able to collaborate with athletes, we’re able to establish ourselves with the fans of that athlete. And on the flip side, maybe create new fans who are less familiar with them with our brand handles that are trying to serve everyone.

AR: So as you mentioned, you’ve been at ESPN since you graduated college. Can you tell me about your experience and how social media at ESPN has shifted over that time?

AA: Oh my gosh, it’s evolved so much. This is kudos to our leader, SVP Katie Daly, who had the vision for this group. She has always seen it as an extension and a way to reach fans in a unique way. When I started, we were programming, primarily Facebook and Twitter and Instagram was like the new thing. At the time, everyone working on social media was also working on other parts of ESPN digital.

It’s amazing to see how it’s evolved from a handful of people in a scrappy, startup-mentality environment working on just the ESPN account and maybe two or three others to now where we are programming 20 different brand accounts on six different platforms 24/7. The fact that it requires an ops management team that I oversee now is just wild.

I like to think that we’re the best of both worlds. We still maintain the scrappiness, hustle and competitive drive as a startup but now they have established it to be a revenue producing and generating group that’s only rising in the amount of fans we’re able to reach.

AR: Does that start up mentality lead to a need to be on the cutting edge? What does innovation look like?

AA: Something we remind our own internal partners outside of the social group is that the platform’s are changing their algorithms and what’s prioritized. They’re rolling out new capabilities all the time. It can be frustrating sometimes to partners when they say, ‘hey, we’d like to collaborate with you on social and the story. Does this thing that we talked about six months ago, is this still what you want to do?’ And oftentimes the answer is like, ‘nope, actually. TikTok is now testing out horizontal video and eight months ago, we said give us everything vertical.’

So we really pride ourselves on being quick to experiment with and be like scientists to some degree of learning the platforms. No one hands us a playbook. So it’s on us to figure it out. And we know that the playbook is constantly evolving. Instagram Reels is another example where at one point it’s really hot and other times we’ll pivot our strategy to a carousel format, depending on what we’re seeing. And that just changes so quickly.

So what does that do for a team’s mentality? No one is ever complacent. And no one ever wakes up and says, I know exactly what’s going to hit today and what works, because there’s always this standard of evolution.

AR: You touched on some of the innovations and things that you’re working on right now. But outside of those, what are the big goals on social in 2024?

AA: Audience expansion is a big one. Finding new fans is our primary focus especially on youth sports and youth fans. Women through the lens of women’s sports and female sports fans is another huge area of focus for us. We measure ourselves every year on certain areas of engagement. So every account will have its own follower goals. Every account will have its own average engagement rate every year.

The other thing that is a constant goal is responsibility. We measure ourselves in trying to up our approach around women’s history. Black History Always is in our internal corporate branding for February. We have leads established every month and we’re always trying to up the game and increase what we’re doing with storytelling. One thing that we’ve learned since this has become a consistent part of managing social is how to show up in these spaces authentically while increasing our storytelling, experimentation and overall reach.

We rally around events like Black History Always, Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day and AAPI [Heritage Month] and now because we’ve been doing it for several years, we create content that performs above our averages. It’s not just like checking a box. We want our storytelling and the ways we show up in those spaces to be empowering. We want to move a fan with what we’re telling them to be a part of change, or to educate them about a trailblazer or a pioneer in sports that maybe they were less familiar with and be inspired by.

That’s a big component outside of the obvious, reach a lot of people and grow and find new fans, but also do it in a way that is reflective of our brand authentically.

AR: Where do you see the social space going forward?

AA: I think that there will be even more platforms. We’ve sort of seen the emergence of TikTok and other platforms emerge, like BeReal and Discord. It’ll be interesting to see where brands decide to be.

One thing we’ve learned as the social space has become more established is that the strategy is not the same for every platform. Therefore, if you’re operating with a small team, or even, let’s say one person, it’s more valuable, for you to be in one space, doing it really well, and connecting with fans in an intentional way, versus what many of us working in this social industry experience, trying to be everywhere, and maybe only doing a 20% effort.

I think more brands and social platforms are going to emerge. That seems like a given. Whether that number doubles or triples, I think brands will have to make harder decisions about where they can feasibly show up in a way that’s having impact from a reach and revenue standpoint.

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Danny Parkins is Playing to Win at 670 The Score

“We’re not going to do any sort of sanitized version of a story, and I think that’s our strength.”

Derek Futterman

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Danny Parkins
Courtesy: Audacy

As Danny Parkins was recovering from spinal fusion surgery that stymied his high school athletic career, a science classmate informed him about the institution’s radio station. Finding the studios required a trek to the fifth floor of the building, a tier that Parkins was wholly unaware existed. Shortly thereafter, he was asking a college counselor the best schools where he could pursue a career in sports media, resulting in him selecting to attend Syracuse University and enroll for membership at WAER-FM. The sports division of the outlet had a path focused on play-by-play announcing and another focused on talk show hosting and commentary for students to consider. Parkins explored both segments before realizing his ultimate focus.

When he was a sophomore, Parkins met colleagues Nick Wright and Andrew Fillipponi as he aimed to materialize his media aspirations in the sports talk radio format. Wright was running the talk show staff at the time, and they quickly became close friends who assisted each other by listening to tapes and offering feedback. Moreover, they all engaged in sports debate and spent time together outside of the radio station, strengthening their bond as lifelong friends and Syracuse alumni. The three hosts will reunite on stage at the 2024 BSM Summit in New York City alongside fellow Syracuse alumnus and SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio host Damon Amendolara.

“It will be fun to just be up there with these guys who we talk about the industry [with] all the time off the air doing it in front of people who kind of helped shape the present and future of the industry because I think that the three of us are pretty damn good at it if I’m being honest,” Parkins said. “That will be a valuable exchange of ideas, and they’re just some of my best friends in the world, so I’m looking forward to that and seeing them.”

Outside of his endeavors with WAER, Parkins hosted his own sports talk program on Z89, another student-run radio station at the university. Additionally, he gained professional experience by producing Brent Axe’s talk show on The Score 1260 after completing an internship. Parkins graduated with qualifications that he hoped would lead to a job, but things became difficult because of a hiring freeze at various media companies because of widespread economic hardship amid a nationwide recession.

Parkins had money for graduation that he used to pay the necessary rent to live with his friends in Wrigleyville and spent time playing poker to attain profits. While unemployed, he also traveled to various destinations around the world, one of which happened to be Syracuse where he met Axe for lunch.

Axe revealed that the station was thinking about adding local midday programming, a revelation Parkins immediately volunteered to enact. While Axe was somewhat incredulous that Parkins would move back to Syracuse for the role, which was compensated hourly, he followed through and started hosting The Danny Parkins Show. Furthermore, he produced Bud and the Manchild and was paid for six hours of work per day while living with two people in a home he found on Craigslist.

“[I] was embarrassed that I hadn’t gotten a job with a salary and health insurance and in a bigger market but was thrilled that I was hosting and doing my thing,” Parkins said. “I was doing what I wanted to do, and it ended up being the best thing for me because then I could apply for other jobs and point to, ‘Hey, you can listen to my show on the website.’”

While beginning his professional career in Syracuse, Parkins developed invaluable versatility that he utilized in his ensuing occupations. Collecting sound at Syracuse practices, operating the board while hosting and booking interviews coerced him to effectively balance multiple tasks. Parkins felt the move back was humbling and fostered a deeper connection with the city by meandering to different social outlets and interacting with listeners. After he found success in Syracuse, Wright helped him land a role with 610 Sports Kansas City where he signed a two-year contract and expected to have a short stay in the city.

Conversely, Parkins remained with the station for approximately six years and covered several marquee events, including the Super Bowl and World Series. He was eventually paired with Carrington Harrison for a four-hour afternoon program and reaffirmed his commitment to the city.

“Some people that were there would still go back to Minneapolis for dentist appointments or whatever, and they didn’t really sink their teeth metaphorically into Kansas City and it never really made any sense to me,” Parkins said. “It was like, ‘No, if you’re here, you’re going to be here. You’re going to meet the people and go cover the practices and go to the games and go to the restaurants and be about town and really be a Kansas Citian for as long as you were there.’”

Anticipating that Chicago sports radio host Terry Boers would retire, he signed a one-year deal with 610 Sports to position himself for a move back to his home market. Sure enough, the situation ended up working out and led to him being partnered with Matt Spiegel in afternoon drive on 670 The Score. Parkins underscored that the outlet usually promoted from within and that his hire from another market was rare.

“I just kind of had to prove myself to everybody, including myself,” Parkins said. “I knew I was good enough to do it, but until you do it, there’s always going to be that shred of doubt. There were certainly challenges, but it was still getting behind a microphone and talking sports for four hours a day, and I knew that if I was given enough time that I was good enough to do the job.”

Parkins continues to host in afternoon drive with Spiegel today, forming a duo that has frequently finished among the top programs in the marketplace. There was a stretch, however, where he was hosting with Dan McNeil, a former member of the illustrious Mac, Jurko and Harry program on ESPN 1000 Chicago. Parkins had interned with McNeil and expeditiously formed a connection with the host with a cognizance about his controversial opinions and fickle nature.

Jimmy de Castro, former senior vice president and market manager of then-Entercom Chicago, split Parkins and Spiegel to form the new afternoon pairing in an overall downsizing at the station. Despite the adjustment, no changes were made to Parkins’ contract and he was referred to by de Castro as “kid,” a moniker he felt indicated that he needed to further prove himself.

“It was not a perfect set of circumstances to work with one of your radio heroes, but I’m really glad it happened in the whole,” Parkins said. “Mac and I had and have a great relationship, and I love the man.”

McNeil was fired in 2020 after posting a misogynistic comment towards a sports media host on social media, marking the conclusion of his third stint with 670 The Score. The station utilized Leila Rahimi and the aforementioned Spiegel as temporary co-hosts with Parkins as they deliberated the long-term solution. After some time, Parkins and Spiegel were reunited and have been hosting their show together ever since.

“I think that Spiegs and I work really well together because we complement each other,” Parkins said. “We’re similar in ways that are valuable, and we’re different in ways that are valuable.”

As they prepare for a typical program, Parkins and Spiegel focus on how they can offer a unique perspective for the listeners to prevent the station from sounding repetitive. There exists a lot of content within the media ecosystem, and it is essential that the Parkins & Spiegel Show stands out from others.

“The goal is to make four hours feel like four minutes and help people get through their day and be an escape for people,” Parkins said. “….People are not going to remember the brilliant point I had about the Cubs bullpen or a fourth-down call, but maybe they’ll remember an honest story that I shared about personal hardship or parenting or a story of being an incompetent homeowner and that makes them relate and laugh and smile a little bit while they’re sitting in their cubicle.”

The show does not take many listener calls, but it seldom goes more than two segments without some form of listener interaction. Aside from listening to the program on traditional AM radio, consumers can access the show using the free Audacy app or livestream on Twitch, which includes a live chat functionality. Shane Riordan and Chris Tannehill contribute to the show as well in producer roles, both of whom infuse the show with additional energy.

“It needs to be entertainment-focused,” Parkins said. “I hate when people say on a show, ‘Later on, we’re going to have some fun,’ but the whole thing is supposed to be fun. I think that’s what the great shows do – they put every story they can through the prism of fun.”

As the vice president and brand manager of 670 The Score, Mitch Rosen has a responsibility of overseeing programming and ensuring that the station is achieving its goals. Rosen is responsible for hiring Parkins in the first place and is someone he greatly respects and appreciates for his efforts and reliability.

Although the media marketplace is changing, Rosen and Parkins are continuing to execute their roles to safeguard the consumption of sports media content. Parkins used to intern with ESPN 1000 Chicago, and he believes it is a good thing to have two successful sports talk radio outlets in the city. Yet there is an element of competitive fervor, especially going against another local program, that adds to the fuel Parkins has to be the No. 1 program in the city.

“I think people come to The Score because we’re the heritage radio station with the great signal that’s live and local all day that is going to be raw and authentic and genuine and edgy and unapologetically ourselves,” Parkins said. “We’re not going to do any sort of sanitized version of a story, and I think that’s our strength.”

There is a contrast in Parkins’ desire to be the No. 1 show, however, related to a philanthropic project for which he utilizes his platform. Parkins lost his brother last April after he suffered with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, and is committed to raising money and awareness surrounding research to treat and cure the disease. Over the summer, Parkins will host a 24-hour radio-thon in partnership with the Chicago Cubs to expedite these efforts and has a goal of raising more than $1 million.

“We have a pretty selfish job,” Parkins explained. “I know people don’t like to admit that, but I get to tell my wife, ‘Hey, I have to watch this game for work,’ and then I get to come in and BS with three of my buddies about sports for four hours a day and judge success based on how many laughs we have in the greatest city in the world, get paid handsomely for it and then go home. It’s a pretty awesome way to make a living and live your life, so it would feel selfish to not use that platform for some good.”

Parkins recognizes there to be considerably more supply than demand for content and evinces dedication from aspiring professionals looking to break into the format. He is cautiously optimistic about the future of the audio format if executed correctly but also asserts that the glory days of radio have come to their conclusion.

“The Score will exist in 20 years,” Parkins said. “Will it exist primarily as a radio brand? I don’t know, but The Score will be doing live sports talk content in Chicago in 20 years – there’s no doubt in my mind about that. It’s just got too much brand equity in the market, so I just want to be sure that it’s as relevant as possible in 20 years.”

Although he cherishes the Chicago marketplace and the platform he has built, Parkins values his versatility and continues to take part in other areas related to sports. For example, he co-authored with a close friend titled “Pipeline to the Pros” is set to be released this April. Parkins is also continuing appearances on television programs with Marquee Sports Network, a local regional sports network. Through it all, he remains committed to the Parkins & Spiegel Show trying to do his part in achieving a consensus No. 1 finish.

“I don’t have undisputedly the best show in the country yet; we aren’t No. 1,” Parkins elucidated. “I haven’t done this next radio-thon to hopefully raise seven figures for cancer research, and then after we do that radio-thon in August, I’m going to say, ‘Well, when’s the next one and can we beat it and raise more?’ I’m always looking for the next thing; the next side-hustle; the next project.”

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