Andrew Fillipponi has had a solid career in sports radio thus far. He hosts a successful afternoon drive show on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh. He also does some national radio for CBS Sports. One of the many things that stand out about Andrew is that he has a who’s who of close contacts in the business. His college buddies from Syracuse include FS1’s Nick Wright and Danny Parkins from 670 The Score in Chicago. Plus, he sprinkles in a unique dynamic between his close friend, Gregg Giannotti, as well as Craig Carton for good measure.
Here’s the thing; I love comparisons, but sometimes they lead to poor conclusions. If you compare Fresno to Los Angeles, of course Central California doesn’t stack up to SoCal. However, if you then compare Fresno to Topeka, Kansas, all of a sudden Fresno looks like an exotic vacation spot. The point is that although Andrew hasn’t reached the same level of success as some of his friends — yet — that isn’t where the comparisons end. Andrew isn’t just looking up at the success his friends have achieved; many sports radio hosts are chasing the success Andrew has enjoyed.
There are plenty of interesting subjects that Andrew covers in this interview — from Pittsburgh’s personality and his Mets fandom, to big bets and Ringo Starr. Let’s get to it already. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What’s this I hear about you being college roommates with both Nick Wright and Danny Parkins? Is that even true?
Andrew Fillipponi: I like the urban legend. That sounds better. If you want to say that, I’ll continue to push that narrative. Nick is a year older than me. Nick graduated a year before me and Danny graduated a year after me.
I think we were roommates in the sense that your kid might say that one of his parents’ friends is an uncle, but is not a blood relative. I would say we were quote-unquote roommates because of the amount of time we spent together. It was probably a two-year period where the three of us hung out every day. I would say as far as the sports radio guys went at Syracuse — me, Nick, Danny and then a guy who did mornings in Houston for a long time, Mike Meltzer, was in that group a lot too.
BN: Did you have any idea that you guys would reach the level of success that you have?
AF: Yeah. That sounds like I’m bragging, but to me there are three important things in this business; it’s work ethic, talent, and networking. I could tell with Danny and Nick that they were incredible at all three. I, at least, thought back then that they were better at those three things than I was. It was motivating actually. It made me — even at that immature, green age — it did make me want to strive to get better at this. In between hanging out with those guys and probably drinking and gambling too much, there was some constructive work that was getting done there.
BN: My ears perked up when you said gambling. What’s your worst beat ever?
AF: Oh, I love questions like this. My worst loss; I convinced my old man to give me my college graduation present in the form of a $10,000 check to put on a baseball future. My argument to him was I know more about baseball than I do stocks or any kind of investment strategy so why wouldn’t you just let me — it’s not just one game, it’s a full season — why wouldn’t you trust me to take that money and bet it on a baseball team for an entire year? He went along with it. I bet the Mariners to win more than 87.5 games. I think this was 2008. They lost 100 games and the bet was dead on like June 1st.
I had made this very impassioned plea to my father like this is the way that I should be investing money. I’m good at this. I’m telling you I have skill. It’s not just betting with my heart. It’s betting with my brain — yada, yada, yada. It was dead not even halfway through the season. So that one was painful.
BN: [Laughs] Oh, man! What would you say is the biggest strength of yourself and also Nick and Danny just as hosts?
AF: That’s a good one. With Nick, I just think that he is able to process his thoughts and articulate them better than most people I’ve ever met. That doesn’t mean just sports media, that’s across all fields. He comes up with ways of saying things and relating things to people, or persuading people of certain ideas. I know that he obviously does his homework and he’s well researched, but what always impresses me about him is he’ll say something that you can tell was a reactionary point, something that got said and he had to come up with his rebuttal to it in real time. I’m super impressed by how he’s able to do that as effectively as he does. I’m very jealous of his innate ability to do that. To me a lot of that is God-given and I just don’t have quite that way of doing things and making them sound as good as he does in such a reactionary, on-the-fly sense.
Danny, he to me is such a radio nerd. As much as he appreciates and enjoys sports, I think that watching sports and talking sports for him you can’t separate the two. I don’t think he can exist in a world where he just could watch sports and then didn’t have the platform to talk about them. I think he’s always been even more of a radio buff than a sports buff. I think what’s made him great is that he has listened a lot and paid attention a lot. He’s heard things or seen things from other hosts. He’s borrowed some ideas and made them better, which is not to say he’s a copycat of anybody or he’s trying to do somebody else’s shtick, but I just think he’s very well aware of what works and what doesn’t work in this business, what gets a reaction and what doesn’t. I think that he’s really good at that.
It’s a little bit harder for me to talk about myself and what I’m good at. I’m just really passionate about the whole thing. I have a harder time differentiating what I love more. If I had a 9-to-5 job, I still think I would spend an inordinate amount of time watching and following sports. I think it would probably be a detriment to whatever professional life I had if the sports radio thing didn’t work out. I just care about it and it’s all-consuming for me.
I also love the spoken word. You’re the conduit or the moderator or you’re the authority voice on things. I’ve always admired and critically thought about the people who have done that well. Since I was in my early teens and I discovered this was a medium, these types of people that have had either national or really important local sports talk radio shows; I’ve always had a curiosity with those people. Studying them and listening to how they did it and what made them as popular or as controversial as they were. For me it’s just really an unconditional love that I have for sports talk radio and sports debate that really fuels me and allows me to put 100 percent into this at really all times.
BN: What is your 60-second bullet point resume?
AF: I went to Syracuse. I worked at WAER while I was there, which a lot of people that come up in this business do. My senior year I was the director of the sports talk staff, which is the position that Nick held before me and the position that Danny held after me. Then I went to another radio station, which is kind of like the competing student radio station at Syracuse. I went to one of their dinners. They did an alumni dinner every year and I met Craig Carton there. We went out for drinks and out of nowhere he decided that he liked me.
He contacted on my behalf the program director at WGR in Buffalo who had been his producer at WIP in Philly, Andy Roth. It was completely serendipitous. I’m eternally grateful to Craig that after a two-hour encounter he took that chance on me and paid it forward. That got me an interview in Buffalo. I worked at WGR and did afternoons, reporting, updates, and weekends for almost two years. Then when The Fan launched here in Pittsburgh in 2010, I came down here and I did nights. Then I did middays, and now I do afternoons.
BN: Your first real gig was GR in Buffalo, huh? That’s a big station to start at.
AF: It was perfect. That being my foray into this business, I couldn’t have asked for a better start. I think the PD there, Andy, was tremendous as far as coaching younger talent, wanting to develop younger talent, taking chances on younger talent, but also he could be critical and he would not just be your friend as a coach. He would tell you things that you screwed up and things you needed to get better at. That was obviously important for me when I was breaking into the business.
I predominantly worked with the afternoon guys there, Schopp & Bulldog, who I think for a mid-market sports talk show are as good as anything I’ve heard. I listen all the time. I listen to sports talk stations all over the country. I don’t think there are many afternoon drive shows that are better than theirs just in terms of being able to do everything, sports and non-sports. Having that as my introduction into the business was hugely important in my career path. Without that I don’t know if I’m here right now.
BN: You’re a diehard Mets fan. How does it play in Pittsburgh being a fan of an outside team?
AF: Here’s the thing about that. We had a guy here when we first launched who liked another team in the AFC North that wasn’t the Steelers and another team in the NL Central that wasn’t the Pirates. He never said it on the air. He was afraid to do it. One time we were in a debate with each other and I slipped up and said it on the air just as a witty comeback. I forget the exact argument we were having. We got done with the segment and he lost it on me. He went nuts.
I don’t like when the transparency or the honesty about sports isn’t there. I don’t really do this because I’m pretty much an open book with my personal life. I like my listeners to feel like they know me and I know them. If I hold things back from them, I think it’s harder to establish the trust level that you want with your listeners on a day-to-day basis. You want your listeners to spend four hours a day with you, 20 hours a week, which is a ton. It’s hard to get that kind of P1 listenership, but that’s what you strive for. If I kept secrets or hid things from them about which sports teams I like, I just think that’s so stupid.
People know I’m a Mets fan and people know I went to Syracuse and they’re kind of a Pitt rival, but whatever. It’s sports. I hope that fans or listeners here appreciate me because I have the teams that I grew up with and I still love. I think any Pittsburgher who would leave here and go somewhere else wouldn’t abandon their teams, so I think they appreciate that about me, at least I hope they do. I’m also passionate about the teams that we have here too. It’s not like I’m a complete robot or I’m completely emotionally detached from the teams in Pittsburgh because when they lose I’m as upset as anyone.
BN: How would you describe the personality of Pittsburgh listeners? What works for them in that market?
AF: That’s a great question. I don’t think shtick works. I think these topics that are kind of silly and fun and redundant, maybe kind of cookie cutter or something you may hear on a national show, I don’t really think that plays well here. I think authenticity does. I feel like as long as you have expressed to the people here that you care about the teams — I don’t think being anti-Steelers works here. I think if you zigged when everybody else zagged and said I think I’m going to be the one guy in town that hates the football team here. I have a feeling that would not work. I have not seen it done before, but I just have a feeling that that would probably backfire greatly.
I do think that they’re parochial, which is fine. I do think that they’re provincial, but I don’t think it comes from a bad place because I think sports here is kind of like a religious experience. It’s so ingrained in people that I think they want you to match that enthusiasm and that passion. When you fake it, I think that’s the worst thing you can do.
The people here that have been successful have been able to ratchet up the intensity about the teams here, not always agree with the teams here, but have a lot of passion and a lot of emotion about what’s happening. You don’t always have to be right. You don’t always have to sound like you’re the smartest guy in the room. I think you just have to show that you’re into it and that you really care. I think those are the people that work. The ones who don’t, who might have come from other markets, don’t last as long here.
BN: Over the next decade, is there anything in particular that you would like to accomplish?
AF: Oh yeah, definitely. I’ve got goals for myself. I want to continue to build my brand. I want to continue to make bigger impressions nationally. I want to continue to make the most and take advantage of the opportunities that CBS Sports Radio has given me. I want to continue to grow here because I don’t think we’ve maxed out. I don’t think we have hit our ceiling yet. This market, they have habits that die hard.
People pass down a tradition of listening to certain shows and different hosts. I hope to one day be one of those people here that kids will say as they grow up that I listened to you when I was high school. I listened to you when I was in college. I want to be a presence in this city where when there’s a big sports story, I’m the person that listeners turn to. But also when it’s just a lazy Wednesday and there’s not much going on, I’m the host that people turn to just to be entertained because they like the way we do things.
I’m not content with things yet. I’m somebody that continually wants to get better at things. I push myself. I’m competitive about things. There are a lot of my friends that have done amazing things in this business and I’m so proud of them. It’s really cool that I have those people in my life who have really achieved things where if they retired now you would say they had a great career in this industry. I want to keep up with them. I want to continue to run that marathon with them and not have something derail me or keep me from getting to the finish line. That’s what it’s about. It’s not only about money. It’s not all about ratings although both of those things are very, very, very important. It’s also about the camaraderie and the competitiveness that I established with friends when we were in our late teens and early twenties.
BN: Is there anything that I should know about you? It could be radio, your personal life, or anything that’s interesting about your journey.
AF: I think there are a lot of Kevin Bacon comparisons there. There are just a lot of people that I’ve met in my life here. I’ve worked really just in two places. I was in Buffalo for a very short time and I’ve been here for now more than a decade. The amount of people that I’ve had the fortune of meeting and developing great relationships with, I’m incredibly blessed in that way. Not only Danny and Nick but Gregg Giannotti and I started here at the same exact time. He’s one of my best friends. I was in his wedding. He’s somebody that I lean on not just professionally but personally too. We’ve shared so many ups and downs together and now he’s killing it. He’s back in New York where he wants to be with Boomer.
How about that whole dynamic where he replaces Craig Carton and that’s the guy that helped me get my first job. It’s just wild how many people I’ve met in this business that have gone on to have incredible careers and have had an affect on me. That’s to me the part about this that’s been really cool is I’ve been able to watch people that I have really strong friendships with, go on to really bigger and better things. I’m hoping that eventually I get there with them if I’m not already there now, which I kind of hope people think that I am. I told Danny and Nick I hope that people don’t think I’m the Ringo Starr of that crew in college, but I kind of feel like I am, which I’m totally all right with.
BN: Yeah, you need some friends that have just flamed out and done nothing in sports radio.
AF: [Laughs] I’m definitely the Ringo but he was still in the Beatles, you know?
Who Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion Best?
Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.
The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.
In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?
We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?
Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:
Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN
ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.
The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.
Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.
Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.
“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”
Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.
“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?
“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”
Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.
Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.
The NFL Today – CBS
CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.
Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.
The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.
Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.
Fox NFL Sunday
The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.
Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.
Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.
Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.
Football Night in America – NBC
Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.
But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.
Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?
When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.
But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”
“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”
Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers
Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area
Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.
For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.
As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.
I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.
At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.
From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”
But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.
But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.
However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.
One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.
Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.
There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.
Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.
At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.
There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.
Jason Ence resides in Louisville, KY and is fully invested in the sports betting space. Additionally, he covers Premier League and Serie A soccer, college football, and college basketball for ESPN Louisville 680 including serving as the station’s University of Kentucky correspondent, and co-host of the UK football and basketball post-game shows. He can be found on Twitter @JasonUK17 and reached by email at email@example.com.