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We’re Casting The Avengers With Sports Radio Hosts

“It doesn’t matter how many times I ask him, JB will not finance a film studio, so we’re going to have to do this on the cheap”

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You know what has really hammered home just how strange 2020 is compared to typical summers? Covid-19’s resurgence halted all blockbuster movie releases.

The first true summer blockbuster was 1975’s Jaws. Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece hit theaters on June 20 of that year, and raked in cash. That kicked the door down for Tim Burton’s Batman to dominate the summer of 1989, Steven Spielberg to do it all again in 1993 with Jurassic Park, and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace to become an absolute phenomenon in the summer of 1999.

This summer we were supposed to get new Wonder Woman, a new Fast & Furious, and the movie adaptation of Disneyland’s The Jungle Cruise. That ain’t happening though. So, it is up to me to help.

It doesn’t matter how many times I ask him, JB will not finance a film studio, so we’re going to have to do this on the cheap using some of sports radio’s biggest names.

Over the last decade, if you hear the word “blockbuster,” there is only one film franchise you are thinking of. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has absolutely blotted out the sun in Hollywood. It used to be that you won an Oscar and used that to secure the role that would win you your next Oscar. Now, when an actor wins an Oscar, his agent is on the phone with Disney pitching him as the next savior of mankind.

What if the same was true in sports radio? What if you topped a ratings book or a BSM Top 20 list and the next logical step was getting fitted for a spandex suit and interviewing potential stunt doubles?

Look, if I said that I was going to find someone in sports radio to represent every single Avenger, we would be here all day. Instead, let’s focus on the six from the original movie. If we’re looking for the models of the characters at the center of some of the biggest movies of the 2010s (or any decade really), here are their sports radio counterparts.

SCOTT KAPLAN IS CAPTAIN AMERICA

Steve Rogers is the epitome of what America is supposed to mean. When he sees injustice, he doesn’t sit idly by. Even if it means opposing the wishes of the government and flag he serves, Captain America is going to do what he knows is right.

When The Mighty 1090 shut down, Scott Kaplan didn’t sit back and wait for someone to save him and his co-workers. Sure, others moved on and did what was best for them, but Kaplan knew he was the one to save the station, hell maybe the whole damn format!

Scott Kaplan took the bull by the horns, worked the phones, and is now a big part of the reason the station is set to be resurrected in San Diego next month as The Mightier 1090. He saw the chance to do what he thought was right and got it done without compromising his vision.

CARL DUKES IS IRON MAN

Tony Stark is really smart and he knows it. Tony Stark is really good at saving the world and he knows it. Every time the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. make a plan that needs changing, Tony is the one they turn to for some guidance. In short, Tony knows his value and he isn’t afraid to tell you.

Carl Dukes is a smart dude that knows how to balance knowledge with laughter. He is the guy that CBS (and then Entercom) knew it had to hold on to even as everything else about 92.9 the Game in Atlanta was built, scrapped, thrown out, and rebuilt over and over again. The one thing Carl isn’t that Tony is is cocky. However, when I wrote a piece last month about the five local hosts that ESPN should give a national platform to, only one guy shot me a text asking why he wasn’t on the list, and then emailed me audio to show me he deserved a spot.

Look, I don’t take that as cockiness. Carl Dukes has the kind of confidence you need to survive uncertainty, whether in Atlanta radio or in a fight with Thanos. Plus, he has his face on a beer can and aluminum is the closest a radio personality can get to iron.

JIM TRABER IS THE HULK

Look, there is only one thing the Hulk knows how to do. You wouldn’t like Hulk when he is angry. Why? Because when Hulk is angry, Hulk smash!

Jim Traber is a bulldog. Anyone that listens to The Sports Animal in Oklahoma City knows the guy communicates in absolutes. And he sure as hell isn’t going to back down from a fight. All you have to do is ask Nick Collison or Steven Parker’s dad or Mike Stoops.

They all made Jim Traber angry. None of them liked Jim Traber when he was angry.

FRED TOUCHER IS THOR

We have seen Thor be so much in the MCU. He is a force from another world. He is a judge of who is and isn’t worthy to wield his weapon. He’s also uproariously funny. How do you find that guy in sports radio?

It’s simple. You look to Fred Toucher at the Sports Hub in Boston. He and his partner Rich Shertenlieb were a breath of fresh air on Boston sports radio. Rock radio was their Asgaard to most hosts’ typical background of the Boston Globe or the Boston Herald. The talent was apparent right away and right away Toucher & Rich gave every New England sports fan a new way of looking at sports radio.

Fred Toucher isn’t afraid to tell you who is and isn’t worthy to wield his weapon. His feuds include John Dennis, Kirk Minihane, Chip Alexander, Kyle Bailey, and more.

MICHELLE SMALLMON IS HAWKEYE

Hawkeye isn’t the first name you think of when you think of the Avengers. He doesn’t have any out of this world powers. He is just a guy that is really good at what he does, so good in fact that super humans feel safer with him around.

Michelle Smallmon just got a show with her name on it last month, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been a force in this industry for a long time. She made 101 ESPN’s the Fast Lane better as the show’s producer. She was a part of the Bernie Miklasz Show during the three straight years it spent atop the BSM list of Top 20 Mid Market Morning Shows. During her time at ESPN, she made both Jorge Sedano and Ryan Russillo better as their producer.

Maybe Michelle Smallmon doesn’t have super powers, but she has been really good at what she does for a while and she has a history of people that are better than 99% of everyone else in this business feeling better when she is around. It’s no wonder 101 ESPN turned to her when launching St. Louis’s newest morning show Karraker & Smallmon.

MAGGIE GRAY IS BLACK WIDOW

Natasha Romanoff didn’t begin her ass-kicking career with plans to be a super hero. In addition to being tough as nails, her training as a gymnast and an assassin gave her the ability to go places and get people other Avengers couldn’t.

Maggie Gray didn’t come to New York with her eyes on WFAN. First it was Sports Illustrated’s digital operation, then it was CBS Sports Radio. She has covered so many sports, she can pretty much go wherever she wants in conversation.

Even her time at WFAN has been a bit of a roller coaster ride, but she continues to step up and get whatever job that is asked of her done. And in terms of going where others can’t, just think back to her legendary rant about JD & the Straight Shot frontman and alleged New York Knicks fan James Dolan’s song about Harvey Weinstein. The disgust and anger was so personal and had clearly been percolating in a way that made it clear that only Gray could pull that off.

Let’s wrap this up like I’m a sales rep and you’re my biggest client. I am gonna do a bonus one for you as a thank you for sticking with me!

MIKE FRANCESA IS NICK FURY

Mike Francesa deserves so much credit for keeping sports radio going and turning it into the industry it is today. Also, I bet he’d look bad ass with an eyepatch.

BSM Writers

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.”

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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.

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BSM Writers

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?”

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AL.com

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.

2021 SEC Media Days takeaways: Nick Saban takes center stage, coaches  advocate for CFP expansion - CBSSports.com
Courtesy: Icon Sportswire

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.

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Courtesy: Dan Matthew

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.

Big Ten Media Days: Warren talks conference realignment; has 'no regrets'  about how Big Ten handled '20 season | Football | journalstar.com
Courtesy: Doug Mcschooler/The Associated Press

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.

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BSM Writers

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.”

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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.”

James Alberino (@jamesalberino) | Twitter

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.”

Pamela Maldonado on Twitter: "Life is too short to bet the Under. So I'm  taking the OVER on Boise/Ok St… "

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.”

Ariel Epstein on Twitter: "Sportsbook Sunday stare down 👀… "

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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