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Masks Up, Ratings Down

“The NFL’s first COVID-19 crisis raises doubt about the efficacy of protocols and whether the pro and college seasons can be completed, while Jimmy Butler smack-talks LeBron in an NBA Finals that needs viewers.”

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Call it Coronakarma. In the same week COVID-19 hospitalized President Trump — just hours after he mocked the size of Joe Biden’s mask, said “the end of the pandemic is in sight’’ and continued a year-long delusional dance challenged in U.S. presidential history only by Frank Underwood in “House Of Cards’’ (and he wasn’t real) — how fitting to see the NFL slammed by its own virus crisis.     

A coincidence, it is not. In the league’s hellbent quest to snag as much of a $17 billion pot as possible this season, commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners embraced Trump’s urging that major sports play on through the pandemic, even if some of those owners loathe the president. As COVID continues to rage for a ninth month in America, what did all of these men gain from an abundance of hubris, ignorance and hypocrisy?

Grim answer: A place in medical limbo and potential American infamy, with the most powerful person in the free world and the most prominent sports enterprise in the Western Hemisphere weakened because neither treated the pandemic with appropriate concern. Trump has been tethered to his room in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, at the mercy of antibody cocktails, experimental treatments, steroids and whatever else they pump into his 74-year-old, somewhat obese body.

The NFL? Goodell has the freedom to apply common epidemiological sense and call an immediate timeout on the season, which would allow the league and its franchises to reassess protocols and make sure they know what they’re doing while risking the health of thousands. But that’s not how football people roll, even as players and coaches eschew masks, violate policies and make a daily mockery of a virus that has killed almost 210,000 Americans. The league marches on, despite evidence that sports playing inside restrictive environments — NBA, NHL — can avoid COVID-disruptions and complete seasons, while football on the professional and college levels is encountering the same perils outside a Bubble that pummeled Major League Baseball. The college game recklessly marches on, too, as fans foolishly allowed into stadiums on COVID-ravaged campuses are clustering without masks and social distancing, forcing SMU police to clear the entire student section Saturday and the SEC to ponder an autumn of outbreaks in the stands, which conceivably could spread to players.

People still don’t get it.

Until, you know, they GET it.

The sports model on how to survive in a pandemic has been authored, for the most part, by none other than LeBron James. Assuming Game 3 was a momentary and embarrassing snooze and not a sign of more lethargy ahead, the Lakers remain comfortably positioned to win the NBA Finals, though they’ve allowed a hungry badass named Jimmy Butler a crack in the concrete door. Disgusted as he left the court before the buzzer — the loss to the undermanned Heat means two more days in the Bubble — James can’t allow himself to commit eight turnovers and let various teammates, including Anthony Davis, be no-shows again in Game 4. Otherwise, the “LeBron legacy’’ questions become loud and persistent; the Heat, after all, are without Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic, leaving Butler to carry the night and mouth “trouble’’ to his Miami teammates in the closing seconds. As in, the Lakers are in trouble. They aren’t in trouble yet, but it makes for a more watchable series.

Butler, for instance, admitted to telling James, “You’re in trouble,’’ not long before James exited the court with 10 seconds left — not a good look, and one we’ve seen before in failure. Butler said he simply was responding to what LeBron told him earlier in the game. Observe how far Butler has come from humble beginnings, in life and basketball: He’s mouthing off to the King. “First of all, we’re not going to act like I’m just out there talking trash, because I’m not,’’ Butler said. “LeBron said it to me at the end of the first. That’s what happened. I just said it to him in the fourth quarter.’’

James took the high road, describing Butler as one of the game’s great competitors and someone he’ll miss when he retires from the sport. “I don’t feel like we’re concerned,’’ James said about a Lakers performance he deemed as “poor’’ Sunday night. “We know we can play a lot better. We have an opportunity to take a commanding lead Tuesday night.’’

And if they do, he’ll be one victory from an achievement more sweeping and impressive than finally claiming a title for Cleveland in 2016. For more than three months, James has stayed true to Bubble life, followed all the protocols, vigilantly fought racial injustice and police brutality, urged people to vote and vowed to win in Kobe Bryant’s memory while aiming for his fourth title. Shouldn’t everyone be taking notes in America, in sports?

Much of the country still refuses to grasp what’s happening, whether it’s a president who will return from the hospital and claim COVID really is the common flu or a league boss determined to navigate a season out of greed when Vegas odds don’t favor him. “We’re continuing to be vigilant, flexible and adaptable,’’ said Goodell, trotting out words he used in July when October demands much more urgency. In the space of days, the Tennessee Titans were shut down by a COVID outbreak of 20 cases while Cam Newton — one of the NFL’s biggest stories so far and a self-described “Superman’’ —  also tested positive for the virus. That quickly, the league was blindsided by an inescapable 2020 truth: Its expectation of completing the season, through the Super Bowl in February, can shrink to utter folly at any moment.

If there’s one certainty about this mindbleep of an infectious disease, it’s that anyone who thinks it’s a bunch of hooey soon will have his head or ass pressed against a toilet for days. The virus likely is determining the future leadership of this country. On a much lesser scale, it already has shot holes in the almighty NFL shield. Or, more to the point, COVID has popped at least four of Goodell’s “32 separate bubbles’’ before the regular season is a month old. When Newton’s positive test coincided with another positive test at the Chiefs facility, the league shifted Sunday’s hyped Chiefs-Patriots matchup to Monday night in Kansas City — assuming more tests don’t turn up positive. Cold reality is, the NFL schedule no longer can be written in anything but pencil. The two games postponed Sunday could be four games next week. Or seven next month.

Wrote Newton in a somber-faced Instagram selfie, which shows a mask worn improperly on his neck: “I will never question God’s reasoning; just will always respond with `Yes Lord!!’’’ I appreciate all the love, support, and WELL WISHES!! I will take this time to get healthy and self reflect on the other AMAZING THINGS THAT I SHOULD BE GRATEFUL FOR!!!’’

Brady, after throwing five touchdown passes Sunday to outduel Chargers rookie Justin Herbert, didn’t comment about the health status of his New England successor. It’s best he said nothing; Brady was the one flouting protocols by practicing without a mask at a Tampa public park. “We were told during training camp that this could happen, if you’re not diligent, you’re not careful,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “I’m home-schooling my kids, we’re not having guests over at the house. You have to do those things if you want to play the games on Sundays.”

Sounding much like commissioner Rob Manfred when MLB was reeling from outbreaks, the NFL is pointing fingers. The problem, the league says, isn’t with the protocols; the failure lies in the protocols not being followed, which the league expects to find as representatives scour the Nashville landscape for clues. This as the league conducted a conference call with all teams concerning COVID “accountability, learnings and requirements.’’ What Goodell won’t admit, like Manfred, is that the NFL didn’t communicate COVID evils strongly enough from the season’s outset. Seven head coaches have failed to wear face masks on the sidelines, including two (Jon Gruden and Sean Payton) who contracted the virus, setting a poor example for the league and the U.S. population. Ravens coach John Harbaugh lowered his mask to argue with an official, spraying saliva droplets in the poor guy’s face. Last week, several Raiders players weren’t wearing masks or socially distancing during a charity event in Nevada. No amount of fines or threats of suspensions and docked draft picks seems to faze the men in uniform when in the heat of battle.

Leave us alone, they say. We’re busy.

“I understand that we’re all chasing perfection,” Harbaugh said. “We try to be as perfect as we can. It’s a pretty hard standard to hold other people to. But you try the best you can. That’s all I really have to say about it.”

Perfection? We’ll accept mask mediocrity at this stage.

All of which throws America into a deeper daze as it searches, in vain, for any semblance of normalcy in sports. Distracted by Trump’s illness and the many news channels smothering it, sports fans have tuned out the NBA Finals; Game 1 was the lowest-rated Finals game since 1994, when millions were busy watching O.J. Simpson in a white Bronco. At least baseball is playing its postseason in its customary month, but if viewership has taken a beating in previous autumns, how many will watch now? Ratings are undeniably down throughout the industry. And it’s not hard to explain.

The scope and grandeur of sports simply isn’t the same. It’s difficult to wrap oneself into a game when your team, even the Lakers or Stanley Cup champion Lightning, is in a Bubble with no fans or pomp. Or when you have no idea if a game will be postponed or how many missing players will dilute the experience. Or when the NFL’s biggest stories are Josh Allen and the 4-0 Bills, the Kevin Stefanski-revived Browns and the dismal Cowboys, who are worse under Mike McCarthy than they were under Jason Garrett. Or when college football actually is moving forward with a four-team playoff when ACC teams are playing 11 games, the SEC and Big 12 are playing 10 games, the Big Ten is playing nine and the Pac-12 is playing seven. At some point, the joy of having sports is interrupted by the jolt that sports is still very messed up and disjointed without fans in the arena and disposable energy across America. Even when Russell Wilson throws 16 TD passes in four games and leaves the stage to Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, a delectable treat is shrouded in the 2020 haze.     

Though only a few realists wanted to hear it, football is the sport most vulnerable to the coronavirus. As I’ve said and written, ad nauseam, dozens of players and personnel on each team are perpetually in close contact — on lines of scrimmage during games and practices, at facilities, in locker rooms, on road trips in planes and hotels and dining rooms. The NFL has been administering daily COVID tests — and an outbreak happened anyway, with the Titans reporting positive tests for 10 players and 10 personnel members. That should sound alarms that the worst could be ahead. Exposed to the outside world every day, NFL and college teams are required to be extra-diligent when they return to their living quarters or, perhaps, wander into public restaurants and bars. For weeks, the NFL’s plan seemed to work. After the Titans’ outbreak, the most accomplished coach of his time, Bill Belichick, voiced pride in how the Patriots were eluding COVID issues. “We monitor everything every day. We don’t just do it when there’s a problem or something comes up somewhere else,’’ he said. “We do it on a daily basis and make everyone aware — because this is everybody. It’s not just players; it’s players and coaches and staff and everybody else. If we can do something better, then we talk to them about how we can do it better. So we try to monitor it the best we can, and we, I think, are pretty vigilant with all of us.”     

Until Newton was placed on the dreaded reserve/COVID-19 list. This forced the Patriots to take a game-day flight — two planes, 3 1/2 hours in the air — and turn to backups Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham in a rushed reset Monday night. See how this already has altered competitive balance at the most important position in team sports and further discombobulated a schedule complicated by a Titans-Steelers postponement? It doesn’t require much imagination to see how the season could become a logistical entanglement; at least MLB, when it was bombarded by summer outbreaks, had time to shut down a team or two for weeks. The NFL doesn’t have such a luxury. As for the idea of sequestering everyone in hotels in home cities, the Players Association shut it down.     

Of course, there still is no exact science about how COVID is contracted and spreads. In the Titans’ case, multiple positive tests over several weeks seemed to take an eventual toll. In other cases, a player can catch it from a family member or child or simply by happenstance. On the college level, Notre Dame’s outbreak was linked to players and coaches sitting together for a team meal — dumb, dumb, dumb — and a player vomiting on the sideline. Such irresponsibility is a poor reflection on school leadership — namely the president, Red. John I. Jenkins, who was maskless when he attended the ceremony for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Apologizing to students, Jenkins wrote in a letter: “I know many of you have read about the White House ceremony I recently attended. I write to express my regret for certain choices I made that day and for failing to lead as I should have.’’ Days later, after Trump saluted Notre Dame during a debacle of a presidential debate, Jenkins tested positive for the virus.     

If it can happen in Tennessee, if it can happen in South Bend, it can happen anywhere.     

The NFL insults us all by treating the virus like an ankle sprain and simply playing the game a night or two later. College football, with a power base in the Southeast, can be even more careless. The coach who slayed LSU last month, Mississippi State’s Mike Leach, hasn’t been wearing his facial covering as mandated by the SEC. “I tried to remember the best I could. Then I found myself talking all the time,’’ said Leach, who calls the team’s offensive plays. “So between me taking it down to talk, me lifting it up and it falling down on its own and me remembering to put it back up, I think there were a number of challenges there.”     

Greg Sankey, the SEC commissioner, responded with a two-page memo to coaches and warned of consequences. Leach responded with trademark sarcasm in a back-and-forth with the New York Times. “Do you ever find that pretty soon those things will start to smell bad, and all of a sudden, you’re going: `What’s that smell? What’s going on out there?’ No, there’s nothing going on out there. That’s your breath,’’ he said. “I find myself too preoccupied to do it, and then all of a sudden I notice it’s around my neck down there.’’     

Eventually, Leach centered on the political heart of the matter. “I try to do my best with it,’’ he said, “but once you’re six feet apart, I can’t help but wonder if some of this isn’t a homage to politicians.’’     

Saturday, Leach and Mississippi State were muffled in a shocking loss to Arkansas. The Razorbacks’ first-year coach, Sam Pittman, dutifully wears a mask, saying, “I couldn’t live with myself if I thought I had transferred the virus to somebody.’’     

Coronakarma, to paraphrase John Lennon, is gonna get you.

BSM Writers

Kevin Burkhardt Is Broadcasting’s Most Unlikely Success Story

“To go from a car lot to the main NFL on FOX booth in less than 20 years is about as likely as one quarterback leading his team to seven Super Bowl wins.”

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There is always something appealing about the 50-75% off rack in a clothing store. It is the hope against hope I can find a shirt in my size that doesn’t look like a 1980’s Bill Cosby sweater and a velour tracksuit had a baby. That is not where FOX went shopping for Tom Brady.

Nope, FOX paid top dollar for their newest NFL analyst. Though the actual number first reported by Andrew Marchand of the New York Post (ten years, $375 million) hasn’t been confirmed by FOX, it is safe to say Brady will be the highest paid sports analyst in television history. “Will be” because he has that pesky little roadblock of finishing the greatest NFL career we’ve ever seen first.

I’m glad Brady could finally catch a break, looks like things are turning around for the poor guy.

The reason Brady is even being hired is that FOX is in the relatively unique position of having an entire booth opening for their top NFL game telecast with the departure of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to ABC/ESPN. The closest thing we’ve seen to this situation was the 2006 move from ABC to NBC of Al Michaels and John Madden. Of course, ABC was moving Monday Night Football to ESPN at that time and the break felt a little more natural.

As another side note, that was the Al Michaels/Oswald the Lucky Rabbit trade. Yes, one of the greatest play-by-play voices in television history was traded from ABC to NBC for some Ryder Cup rights, an Olympic highlights agreement and the rights to a cartoon rabbit. Oswald, of course, was the forerunner to Mickey Mouse. That must be the cartoon equivalent of what it was like being the opener for The Rolling Stones. The house lights are up, the single guys are hitting on the single ladies and everyone is coming back from the concession stands ready for Oswald to shut up so Mickey can take the stage.

What this has created for FOX is the search for the play-by-play partner for Brady, the role 46-year-old Kevin Burkhardt has earned. You’ll notice I said “earned” instead of “was given”. No, Burkhardt has absolutely worked his way to the top of the FOX ladder, starting by covering local high school football in New Jersey. In fact, my favorite part of this story is Burkhardt, not Brady. 

Burkhardt is as good an example of perseverance paying off as you will find in sports broadcasting. As Richard Deitsch once profiled for Sports Illustrated, just 15 years ago, seemingly having given up on hitting it big, Burkhardt was selling cars for Pine Belt Chevrolet in New Jersey. His silky smooth voice has been one of the reasons Burkhardt has climbed the FOX ladder but can you imagine him describing what is under the hood of a 2005 Chevy Suburban? Or him saying, “We have cars for every price range starting as low as $10,000. From ten to 15 to 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50…”

To go from a car lot to the main NFL on FOX booth in less than 20 years is about as likely as one quarterback leading his team to seven Super Bowl wins. Maybe that is why this pair will work. Brady, himself, was fairly close to using that business degree from Michigan. If not for a fortuitous draft pick and a Drew Bledsoe injury, the car salesman-sixth round pick broadcast team may have never happened.

Burkhardt’s climb is a lesson for young people looking to break into the sports broadcasting field. I’d be writing this from my summer home in Santorini, Greece if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how to get on the air in sports radio or TV. My answer is the same every time: go to your local radio or TV station that carries high school sports and tell them you’ll volunteer to be part of the production. Trust me on this, local stations make good revenue on high school sports and are looking to produce it as cheaply as possible.

I did that when I was in college at Jacksonville State University and worked my first football season, 14 weeks, for a free game of bowling and a free meal for two at a local bar-b-que joint. I can’t calculate now how much that bowling and bar-b-que has been worth to me since. I was able to get on the air, learn the craft and make all my early mistakes in a very forgiving environment.

The local high school broadcast teaches you how to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. You will, at some point, call a game from a booth shared with a member of the home team’s quarterback club, a man who lives for the free pizza and cookies in the Friday night press box. He’s certain the game officials are either blind or on the opposing team’s payroll and doesn’t care if your crowd mic hears him yelling it.

That’s if you are fortunate enough to have a spot in the actual press box. When I was in college, doing high school play-by-play on WHMA-FM in Anniston, Alabama, we once were told there was no room in the home team’s press box for a state playoffs semifinal game. We convinced the station’s sales team to go to the local equipment rental store and negotiate for us to use a scissor lift at the stadium. They delivered it for us and it became our perilous mobile broadcast booth for one Friday night. 

The lessons learned in those years shaped my career. Those same types of lessons were also the building blocks for the man who is now slated to call the biggest games on FOX, including the Super Bowl, for the foreseeable future.

It is crazy to think a man drafted 199th is now paired in one of the biggest jobs in sports TV with a man who once tried to convince people to add on things like the Platinum Level Pine Belt Chevy Service Agreement. Those are the stories we love in sports. Now, those two will tell us those types of stories for years to come.

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BSM Writers

Patrick Beverley Announced Himself As the Next Sports Broadcasting Star

ESPN shouldn’t have let Beverley leave its studios without signing him to a contract that put him in an analyst role as soon as his playing career is over.

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@ESPN on Twitter

Last week, Fox Sports announced the signing of what the network hopes is the next sports broadcasting star in Tom Brady. More dazzling headlines came from Brady’s mega-deal with Fox, though the network disputes the 10-year, $375 million figure reported by the New York Post‘s Andrew Marchand.

This week, however, viewers may have seen the emergence of another future sports broadcasting star. And unlike Fox, ESPN didn’t tell us NBA player Patrick Beverley would be an impactful commentator based on name recognition and contract size. The network showed us Beverley’s talents and capabilities with sharp, biting opinions on its Monday daytime studio shows.

Beverley, who played this season for the Minnesota Timberwolves, has long been known as one of the NBA’s most provocative and irritating defenders. Coaches regularly task him with checking the opposing team’s best player.

He obstructs opponents physically with quick footwork and hands that result in steals, blocks, and rebounds of missed shots. But he also throws players off their game verbally and mentally, getting in their heads and forcing them to think about matters other than the game at hand.

That talent for highlighting weaknesses and insecurities in opponents serves him well as an analyst, which Beverley demonstrated by skewering Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul during appearances on Get Up and First Take. On the Monday morning after the Suns’ shocking 123-90 Game 7 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Playoffs, the NBA guard went beyond stating that Paul had played badly.

Appearing with JJ Redick, Beverley could’ve said something obvious and safe like the Suns needed their leader to score more than 10 points with their season on the line. Paul needed to elevate the rest of the team and make them better. But given a national platform, Beverley pushed harder than that.

“They benched the wrong person,” Beverley said, referring to center Deandre Ayton playing only 17 minutes (and less than four minutes during the second half) in what Suns coach Monty Williams called an “internal” matter.

“They should’ve benched Chris… Once you see they started attacking Chris early and that might become a problem later on, you need to see how my team works without Chris in the game.”

On First Take, Beverley continued his criticism of Paul, especially his defense.

“There ain’t nobody worried about Chris Paul when you play the Phoenix Suns, nobody in the NBA,” Beverley said to Stephen A. Smith. “He’s finessed the game to a point where he gets all the petty calls, all the swipe-throughs at the end.

“We wanna be really honest? He should’ve fouled out. The last game, too. You see the replay against [Jalen] Brunson, hit him on the shoulder, hit him on the mouth, ref don’t call anything. If that’s me, ‘Oh, review it! Flagrant 1!’ If that’s him, they don’t call it.”

Beverley went on to say Paul can’t guard anyone and called him “a cone” that stays still while opponents run around him. That is scathing commentary coming from a current NBA player, criticism not typically heard on a studio show.

Yet if Beverley sounded bitter and resentful toward Paul, it’s because he is. The 10-year veteran holds an intense grudge against the Suns guard going back to when they faced each other in high school and college, which he explained to Redick earlier this year on his podcast, Old Man and the Three (via Awful Announcing).

“Chris, he does slick s**t,” Beverley told Redick. “People don’t know, that’s a little dirty motherf***er, man. Chris know that too, man. I know you don’t want to say it, but I’ll say it for you, though. I know he was your teammate.”

Paul wasn’t the only Suns player targeted by the guest analyst, however. Besides saying the entire Phoenix team was “scared,” especially of Mavericks star guard Luka Dončić, Beverley had plenty of criticism for Ayton, saying he was “OK” after Redick called him “fantastic” on First Take.

“I’m all about greatness,” Beverley said (via the Arizona Republic‘s Duane Rankin). “What would Wilt Chamberlain do? What would Shaquille O’Neal do? Get it off the rim. Y’all don’t have him in the pick-and-roll, I’m going to get it off the rim. I’m going to go get it. I’m going to go get it.”

Ayton only scored five points in Phoenix’s Game 7 loss. By “get it off the rim,” Beverley meant that there were plenty of opportunities for offensive rebounds and putbacks with all of the shots that Paul and Devin Booker missed. (The two shot a combined 7-for-22.)

ESPN shouldn’t have let Beverley leave its South Street Seaport studios in New York City without signing him to a contract that put him in an analyst role as soon as his playing career is over, as Fox did with Tom Brady. Actually, the network should make sure Beverley appears across its daytime schedule while he’s still an active player, as Turner Sports does with Draymond Green. And why not on NBA Countdown as well?

Fox drew the headlines last week for signing Tom Brady to its top NFL broadcast team without having any idea if he will be good at calling football games. He received a reportedly massive contract to prevent him from going anywhere else after he retires, and Fox is banking that casual fans will tune in out of familiarity and curiosity.

Patrick Beverley doesn’t have that kind of mainstream recognition. The NBA isn’t as nationally popular as the NFL. And studio analysts aren’t typically as well-known as game commentators. But maybe that’s more true of football. Who is the most famous basketball analyst? It’s Charles Barkley, by far.

Barkley is known for his candor and pointed opinions, which stand out in a studio setting far more than they would during a game broadcast as the action keeps moving. His jokes and jabs can be easily captured in video clips that play well on social media and have a shelf life on YouTube. ESPN has never had that kind of personality for its NBA coverage. No matter how hard it’s tried, the network has never produced anything close to Turner’s Inside the NBA.

But ESPN, whether realizing it or not, may have found its guy in Beverley. Put him on NBA Countdown and it instantly becomes a better program. Let PatBev argue with Stephen A., as he did on Monday’s First Take, and the pregame show is something that generates buzz and conversation.

Maybe Beverley, Redick, and Stephen A. would make for a good post-game show, something ESPN has never done while Inside the NBA shines in breaking down what just happened. Yes, there’s SportsCenter and Beverley could appear with Scott Van Pelt afterward. But a strong NBA postgame show could become a key part of the overall package. What if SVP played moderator as Ernie Johnson does with Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal?

Doesn’t that already sound better than what ESPN is doing now? Don’t let PatBev get away! He could be the network’s next big, must-watch star. Especially if he has grudges against more NBA players besides Chris Paul.

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BSM Writers

Mike Raffensperger Examines The Business of Sports Betting

“McAfee asked some outstanding questions, as he often does, while Raffensperger pulled back the curtain on a lot of things listeners and customers of the book were wanting to know.”

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Pat McAfee has built quite a following since the end of his playing days. Last December, the former Indianapolis Colts punter signed a four-year, $120 million deal with FanDuel to make it the exclusive sportsbook of The Pat McAfee Show, where he seamlessly blends gambling talk with football talk every weekday. 

Last Thursday, McAfee welcomed Mike Raffensperger to the show for a very insightful and informative segment. The Chief Marketing Officer for FanDuel touched on numerous topics during the interview, ranging from how likely it is that each state will eventually have online gambling, to which show member was having the worst gambling run per their account history.

While some questioned the decision to give McAfee such a high amount of money in the deal, it appears to have paid off handsomely for FanDuel. In a report put out last week by their parent company, Flutter Entertainment, the book signed up 1.3 million active new customers in the first quarter of 2022. In addition, their 1.5 million active customers on Super Bowl Sunday was the highest single-day total ever, and the 19 million bets they processed during the NCAA Tournament signaled the most popular betting period in the book’s history. 

Raffensperger discussed some of the challenges that have been overcome with getting the FanDuel online service up and running in states as they slowly begin to legalize it. He stated that 15 states currently offer online services, but that getting all 50 will never happen.

He cited Utah as an example, as their state constitution clearly outlaws gambling, but stated that many states have legalized it because it is “pretty common sense legalization.” He does believe we will see many more states, including California, legalize sports wagering in the coming years, however. “You will see a continued, steady pace for the next few years, and then you will get close to a critical mass, but you will never get to 50.” 

McAfee asked how much of a role COVID-19 played in the legalization of sports gambling, and Raffensperger said many states were forced to explore new ways to recoup tax revenues lost during shutdowns. “From a state, municipal budgets, they needed tax revenue,” he said, while also discussing how it went from being something done in the shadows to commonplace. “It is taking a black market that is unregulated and unsafe, into a safe and regulated environment, and creates tax revenue for the state. It’s very common sense.”

One of the more informative discussions came when McAfee asked what Raffensperger would say to listeners that complained they were unable to take advantage of odds boosts or promos that FanDuel offered through his show, yet were not available to listeners in every state. This is a common issue for radio stations throughout the country that have gambling ads in multi-state markets.

“It tends to be a little more restrictive,” Raffensperger said regarding how states tend to regulate what can be offered in the months following legalization. “Then over time, as states get comfortable, we build a good relationship with our regulating partners.” He added, “it does tend to open up a bit more over time” as they build that rapport within a state, but fully understands the frustration for customers and listeners. “At the end of the day, we gotta own what the customer experience is, and it’s FanDuel’s job to work through those regulatory challenges to make it as easy on customers as possible.”

When McAfee asked him about whether more brick-and-mortar book sites might be coming in the future at professional stadiums, Raffensperger was quick to point out it was also impacted by state regulations. Stating that 90% of all their bets were made online, he also questioned to what end a physical site would be a prudent investment.

“Beyond a physical teller and placing a bet, what is a super premium or luxury experience that would make being at a sportsbook different than what you have in your mind of a Vegas sportsbook,” he asked theoretically, “but being at a retail stadium?”

He also said that physical sites, like online apps, are tied to regulation on a state-by-state basis. “You’re either allowed to take a physical bet in a sports facility or not. Most of the time, and in most of the laws, you have to have already been a gambling establishment, either a race track or a casino, to have a physical book.” 

They also touched on the McAfee same game parlay for Super Bowl LVI, which Raffensperger confirmed was tailed by more than 200,000 of his listeners. Paying out nearly eight-to-one, the wager was for Cooper Kupp to score a touchdown and to have more than 60 yards receiving, in addition to Odell Beckham Jr scoring a touchdown, and Joe Burrow rushing for 12 or more yards. Raffensperger said the parlay, which needed just nine rushing yards from Burrow to hit, may have been “the biggest parlay liability in the history of gambling,” and would have cost the book nearly $50 million had it come through. 

One final interesting fact was the rise of women in the sports gambling space. A report over the weekend from Global Wireless Solutions stated that the growth rate of women signing up with sportsbooks is 63% higher than the rate of men during the same time frame. They also reported that in 2021 FanDuel added almost 1.7 million new female customers, with DraftKings adding close to 900,000 in the same span. As sportsbooks look to bring in higher market share and look to find new ways to advertise their services, women are likely the next major demographic the books fight over. 

All in all, it was a terrific interview from all sides. Entertaining and enlightening, McAfee asked some outstanding questions, as he often does, while Raffensperger pulled back the curtain on a lot of things listeners and customers of the book were wanting to know. The partnership appears to be greatly beneficial for all parties involved, and hopefully the positive reception to the McAfee interview will lead to more transparency and open dialogue from sports book executives to their consumers.

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