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Sorting The NCAA Tournament Broadcast Teams

“Instead of “ranking” them for a field of 10 so to speak, I’m going to categorize them in terms tournament fans will understand.”

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Ready or not, here we go. The field is set and the NCAA Tournament officially begins today. Obviously, this is not your normal “Big Dance”, the games are all being played in and around Indianapolis. There are strict COVID protocols and the biggest fear for some coaches is not their opponent, but the virus. 

As it’s called “The Road to the Final Four” will come our way on the same platforms we’ve finally gotten used to. Catch games on CBS and the Turner Networks, which include TBS, TNT and TruTV. 

Of course, then there are the broadcasters. In a change from previous tournaments, there will be a total of ten crews, rather than the normal eight. Only four of the crews will work past the first two rounds. I’ve decided to look into each of the broadcast teams. Instead of “ranking” them for a field of 10 so to speak, I’m going to categorize them in terms tournament fans will understand. There are some familiar faces and voices and some that are appearing in roles for the first time, including a groundbreaking debut. 

#1 Seeds 

These are the teams that will be moving on past the first round. Tried and true most have become very familiar to tournament watchers and are fan favorites. 

TEAM: Jim Nantz, play-by-play; Bill Raftery, Grant Hill analysts; Tracy Wolfson, sidelines. 

Nantz is the NCAA Tournament for many viewers. This is his 30th year as the lead announcer for the tournament. Nantz has been at the microphone for many of the tournament’s magic moments the past three decades. He is also the ultimate traffic cop, steering a broadcast back onto the road when conversations erupt between Hill and Raftery. This will be the sixth season of this trio working together alongside Wolfson. Raftery is always energetic. Sometimes that level rises to interesting heights. Personally, I love it when Raftery takes the broadcast to break, talking over a highlight package, using phrases and that high pitched “little kiss” voice. Classic. 

Jim Nantz, a class act and on-air minimalist, leads CBS into tonight's  telecast of the NCAA title game - Sports Broadcast Journal

Hill provides some soft-spoken credibility. There’s no way he can or should try to match Raftery’s level, so Hill is himself, in that kind of shy way he delivers his analysis. It works. Wolfson is locked in as a sideline reporter. She covers multiple sports and seems to get excellent information that is truly relevant to the game and broadcast. There’s a reason that this is the lead team, they work well together and it’s a smooth fun broadcast to watch. 

TEAM: Brian Anderson, play-by-play; Jim Jackson, analyst; Allie LaForce, sidelines.

Anderson is already quite the accomplished baseball announcer, serving as the TV voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 2007. It’s starting to feel like “if it’s a big game” Anderson is on the call. His profile has increased quite a bit with the Turner Networks, especially when it comes to the NBA. Anderson is a likeable, knowledgeable broadcaster that has wide appeal thanks to his style. He’ll work with Jackson during the tournament, someone who Anderson is very familiar with. They worked together for the first-time doing games for the Big Ten Network in 2009.  

There is definitely chemistry here. Jackson isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. At the same time, the man has a great sense of humor and it comes through during a telecast. Especially with someone he’s comfortable with sitting next to him. LaForce is climbing the charts at Turner. She was recently the sideline reporter for the NBA All-Star game and did the on-court interview with the MVP. LaForce is a pro. Her questions are right to the point, not filled with fluff like some others. This team is on the rise.

TEAM: Ian Eagle, play-by-play; Jim Spanarkel, analyst; Jamie Erdahl, sidelines.

Eagle has been a mainstay at CBS since joining the network in 1998. He’s been calling both the NCAA Tournament and NFL for the same amount of time. Eagle has been the network’s “B” game announcer for the NFL and seemingly if Nantz were to move on, he would be in line for the call up. Eagle has worked with a number of analysts in the NBA and CBS pairs him with one of them for the tournament, Spanarkel. Up until this year they were partners on the YES Network’s coverage of the Nets. Spanarkel played at Duke and was the 16th overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft by the 76’ers. Unlike a lot of analysts these days, Spanarkel has no catch phrases, doesn’t shout or try to make himself the star. He is known for just talking basketball and teaching fans about the game. I love the understated way he works with his play-by-play announcers to make the game the main focus.

The third member of the team, Erdahl is the versatile sideline reporter. She’s so prepared for games that even a curveball thrown at her during an SEC Football game couldn’t trip her up. Erdahl had to cover for a couple of minutes while the booth’s audio was inoperable. Covering a football game from that angle is tough, it’s tougher to call play-by-play from for sure. 

Jamie Erdahl is a reporter for CBS Sports | Jamie erdahl, Cheer skirts,  Muscle women

TEAM: Kevin Harlan, play-by-play; Dan Bonner, analyst; Dana Jacobson, sidelines.

There’s really nothing Harlan can’t call. His unbridled enthusiasm, his humor and passion for play-by-play always come through. Harlan is just a likeable guy behind the mic, he’ll crack a joke here and there, but never at the expense of the action. He always seems to be having a great time bringing you the game. He is accurate and descriptive with that authoritative voice. That combination makes Harlan an easy listen. Harlan will be paired with Bonner, the former Virginia player, who will be working his 35th NCAA Tournament. Bonner has worked with Harlan and Gus Johnson the most in his tournament career, meaning two high energy, live for the moment and make it count guys. Bonner rises to the occasion every time. He’s had some famous calls along the way and doesn’t ever seem intimidated by the guys that are working along side him. Bonner matches the passion with his play-by-play guy and you can tell how much he enjoys the tournament and the game of basketball. The guys at the table will be joined by Jacobson on the sidelines. She’s a familiar face on the broadcasts and one that never shies away from asking a tough question, to anyone. Jacobson is a pro, always composed even when a coach may shoot a glare at her for asking something he didn’t want to answer. She spent about a decade at ESPN before she joined CBS, so she is certainly seasoned. 

Conference Tournament Champions 

These crews gained the “automatic” bid to the tournament. Some of the old guard is represented as is some of the “newer” talent that’s on the cusp of breaking through to a top seed in the tournament.

TEAM: Andrew Catalon, play-by-play; Steve Lappas, analyst; AJ Ross, sidelines. 

Catalon has been around CBS for just over a decade, popping up on NFL coverage, Golf and of course the NCAA Tournament. Catalon has become a fixture during the tournament calling games with Lappas. He has a very excitable delivery; the engine always seems revved and ready to go. It’s an intense style, but it doesn’t go over the top and matches the intensity of a lot of the college basketball games he’s calling.

The former Villanova coach Lappas is a great compliment to Catalon. Lappas is always high energy, bringing that “coach” perspective to the broadcast. If you watch coaches on the sideline you’ll know that perspective as “always into the game”. That’s Lappas and what makes him a good partner for Catalon. This team is becoming more popular with the fans as the tournaments go on. They’ll be joined on the sideline by Ross. She is a relative newcomer having joined CBS and CBS Sports Network in 2018. Ross has risen quickly, working the sidelines for NFL and NCAA Football/Basketball for the network. She has a confidence about her, along with a smooth delivery a great combination to have. Ross looks very comfortable on camera and seems like a perfect person to join this broadcast team. 

TEAM: Spero Dedes, play-by-play; Brendan Haywood, analyst; Lauren Shehadi, sidelines.

Dedes has had a ton of success at a relatively young age. He’s already been the radio voice of the Lakers and the New York Knicks. Dedes joined CBS in time for the 2010 NCAA Tournament and has been on the call ever since. Dedes also handles NFL games for the network. His voice is unique, but still cuts through and resonates with the viewer. It’s more of a relaxed style than some of the others mentioned in this column, but that is not a bad thing. You want a variety of voices when viewing a long tournament like this. Dedes is knowledgeable and works well with whomever he’s paired with.

Speaking of which, it’s Haywood that will be working alongside. Haywood, the 7-footer, is full of personality. What you see is what you get from him as a broadcaster as well. He has great information, mixed with some sarcasm and laughter. Haywood brings it home like a fan. The third member of this team is Shehadi. The veteran of MLB Network was scheduled to make her first appearance on an NCAA Tournament broadcast last year, but of course it was cancelled. Shehadi has energy and a personality to go along with it. She’s covered the dugouts during the baseball playoffs, so this should be old hat for her. Shehadi is always smiling, seems like she really enjoys what she’s doing. 

Brendan Haywood on UNC's Coaching, NCAA Chances

TEAM: Brad Nessler, play-by-play; Steve Lavin, analyst; Evan Washburn, sidelines. 

Nessler is the ultimate pro when it comes to play-by-play. Not flashy, not over the top, just solid. Whether he’s doing CBS’ coverage of the SEC in football or here on a big stage with the NCAA Tournament. Smooth and always under control is Nessler. You always know you’re getting a good broadcast when he is on the call. Lavin has plenty of experience as an analyst, with time at ESPN, Fox, The Pac-12 Network and during the tournament for CBS. Lavin always seems prepared and has a good way of conveying complicated things in an easy-to-understand manner. He dips into his coaching experience to make points that he either had success with as a coach or failed at. He’s a plus on a telecast.

Washburn completes this broadcast. The rising sideline star at CBS has worked with the number one football broadcast on NFL Sundays. He also got a chance to work the Super Bowl. Washburn is a former Lacrosse player at Delaware and he really understands the athlete and his/her mindset. The information he gives out is well prepared and interesting. You can tell he does his homework. 

Primed for the upset 

You know what they say when you fill out a bracket. There are certain 12’s that deserve a better seed and play like it. Especially in those 12/5 matchups where in this list, there are three locks to move on in the tourney and get by a #5.

TEAM: Carter Blackburn, play-by-play; Debbie Antonelli, analyst.

Blackburn got his first taste of the NCAA Tournament in 2008, calling action in the West Region at the age of 31. He’s gotten a lot of work through the CBS Sports Network as well. He provides a little youthful exuberance on the mic. Blackburn has some catchy calls, but without getting too far into the weeds where he loses some in the audience. Definitely a guy the network thinks highly of and could be rising as these tournaments roll on.

Antonelli teams up with Blackburn again this season. The two have done some solid work together. Antonelli is well seasoned, having been with CBS Sports Network since its inception in 2003. In 2017 she was named a game analyst for the Men’s NCAA Tournament, making her the first female analyst to call men’s tournament games in 21 years. Antonelli has a ton of experience in the game, she’s worked as a TV analyst for the ACC, Big 12 and SEC. She also was a three-year starter for NC State’s basketball team.  

TEAM: Lisa Byington, play-by-play; Steve Smith, analyst.

Byington is making history. She becomes the first woman to call a men’s NCAA Tournament. Forget about all of that for a moment and understand just how talented Byington is. She has worked for the Big Ten Network, Fox Sports, FS1, Pac-12 Network, ESPN and the SEC Network. Experience for sure. She also filled in last season on Chicago Bulls broadcasts on NBC Sports Chicago. Byington also handles play-by-play for the Chicago Sky of the WNBA. She’s already broken barriers by becoming the first woman to call a football game on BTN. She has the credentials, the talent and she deserves this shot and I have every reason to believe she’ll be great. Not just this year, but for many more years to come. Byington will be working with a familiar face. She and Smith have known each other since she was a reporter in Lansing, Michigan. Byington also was part of the broadcast team, as the sideline reporter, when Smith was the analyst for Dedes from 2017-2019. 

TEAM: Tom McCarthy, play-by-play; Avery Johnson, analyst.

McCarthy is one of the new voices this season on the NCAA Tournament broadcasts, but he’s no newcomer. McCarthy’s resume is impressive on both radio and television. He’s broadcast Mets baseball and now Phillies baseball on television. McCarthy is part of the CBS Network rotation for NFL games, handling those since 2014. He also works for Westwood One Sports providing radio coverage of national NFL games. McCarthy is a talented broadcaster, there’s no phony flash or crazy over the top calls. He is solid, as solid as they come. It’s great to see that he’s getting this chance to show what he can do for a couple of big games in this year’s tournament. Johnson is also a newcomer to the scene as far as the tournament goes. He gets a bit of a head start, doing yesterday’s First Four games with the Nessler/Lavin/Washburn team. Johnson has previous television experience, working as an analyst on ESPN’s coverage of the NBA from 2008-10 and again from 2013-15. He’s coached two NBA teams, the Mavericks and Nets and most recently was the coach at Alabama. I’m interested to see how these two will work together. Johnson is full of personality and also provides great information. 

Breaking: Avery Johnson agreed to $5.5 million buyout with Alabama

This will certainly be a unique tournament. One like we’ve never seen before. All the games are being played in one geographical location and with safety protocols in place, the job of the announce team gets ultimately more difficult. I have no doubt that these fine pros will make it sound like they always do. Best of voice to you all and I can’t wait for the ball to be tipped.

BSM Writers

Jimmy Pitaro Deserves Some Credit For Monday Night

“Pitaro and ESPN’s executive team had to sign off on a broadcast in which Peyton and Eli were in separate remote locations, without a host to play traffic cop and guide continuity between plays. This all could have blown up in ESPN’s face.”

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Over the last several months, Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN got raked over the coals after the New York Times story on Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor and the subsequent fallout that was effectively a mushroom cloud and the talk of the industry. Ultimately, the buck stops with the leader, but fairness should dictate that leaders also receive accolades for great accomplishments. After just one episode, we can confidently say that landing Peyton and Eli Manning for Monday Night Football qualifies in that regard.

Monday Night Football With Peyton and Eli Manning on ESPN 2, reviewed.
Courtesy: ESPN2

Every TV network executive would have walked from Alaska to Omaha to land Peyton Manning. Andrew Marchand has accurately referred to him as the “white whale of sports TV”; he was so sought after that CBS, who has arguably the best color commentator in all of sports in Tony Romo, tried to lure Manning to the booth before ultimately reaching a new deal with Romo. Any way you slice it, getting the Manning brothers for 10 episodes of Monday Night Football on ESPN2 was a major coup for Pitaro, ESPN, and Disney. 

Nonetheless, it was not without risk. Pitaro and ESPN’s executive team had to sign off on a broadcast in which Peyton and Eli were in separate remote locations, without a host to play traffic cop and guide continuity between plays. This all could have blown up in ESPN’s face. Imagine the chatter if the Manning broadcast was a dud, which it easily could have been given their format is unlike anything that has ever been tried before.

Instead, Peyton and Eli were a revelation. Peyton, with his combination of star-power, personality, and brain processing, is remarkably unique. During the fourth quarter of a close game between the Raiders and Ravens, he was somehow able to simultaneously interview Russell Wilson while immediately breaking down the film of all 22 players from key plays of a game he wasn’t even there for. Eli didn’t get as many words in, but when he did speak he had funny deadpan humor.

Full disclosure: I was traveling during the first half, which by many accounts was not as well executed as the second half, after they settled in.

There will undoubtedly be a number of attempts to replicate this announcing format, but it’s unlikely that any of them will work as well as this one, because none of them will have Peyton Manning. Remember how excruciating it was when TNT tried to do Players Only broadcasts for the NBA? Kevin Clark, speaking on The Ringer’s Press Box podcast with Bryan Curtis, called this a “Black Swan” event — it’ll never happen again because Peyton is one of one. 

Anyways, back to Pitaro and ESPN: They’ve certainly taken their lumps and that’s life when you lead an organization that is the bellwether of the industry, facing myriad challenges, some of which are structural (cord-cutting eating into hefty subscriber fees) and some of which are self-inflicted (if you’ve read this far you already know what many of those are and there’s no need to re-hash). 

Ryan Shirts

However, it bears mentioning that in addition to making the content compromises — and opening up the checkbook for millions of dollars — to land Peyton Manning, Pitaro and ESPN have had a lot of big wins over the last several years. They locked up a monopoly on SEC football rights (in a deal so substantial the conference lured Oklahoma and Texas to join), expanded their NFL deal to get into the Super Bowl rotation, bought up all the UFC rights (which, more than anything else, has propelled the growth of ESPN+ to 15 million subscribers), and brought back the NHL. Sure, all of these wins probably came as a result of bidding the most money, but I’m old enough to remember when ESPN was supposed to be on a death spiral. Reports of ESPN’s demise — at least in live rights; talk programming and journalism have not remained the priorities they once were — were premature. 

ESPN has been described as an ocean tanker, which turns very slowly. Jimmy Pitaro deserves some credit for his steering, in the macro, through some turbulent waters.

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BSM Writers

Did The Manningcast Work?

“The first show was great, but as is the case most of the time, there is room to grow.”

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Is it a variety show? Is it a podcast?  The first of 10 scheduled Manning MegaCasts, hosted by Peyton and Eli Manning, on ESPN2 proved it was a little bit all of the above. It was almost like Beavis and Butthead meets Statler and Waldorf. It was fun to watch the Manning brothers poke fun at each other and at the same time, criticize some of the action they saw on the field. 

The show debuted as an alternative to the regular Monday Night Football broadcast and was met with rave reviews. To me, there was some great, some not so great, and definitely some room to grow. 

Raiders – Ravens: Peyton, Eli Manning on 'MNF' best moments
Courtesy: ESPN2

I love the concept, providing an alternative for those that would rather be entertained than tune into a traditional broadcast. Now, as a play-by-play broadcaster, it makes me pause to think about what the future may hold. There will always be a spot for a traditional broadcast, especially with viewers that have a rooting interest in the game. I’m not sure that hardcore fans of the Ravens and Raiders were tuned in for more than a passing glance. Those folks want to see the game, not the fluff or interviews and the like, offered on the alternative broadcast. That fluff though is what will earn ESPN those fringe viewers that are curious and intrigued by what a “ManningCast” might have to offer them. 

Sitting down to watch the game, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I know that Peyton has a personality that in some cases is larger than life. I was pleasantly surprised to see what Eli brought to the table as well.  The guys played off each other well, each taking a turn to take a shot at the other. I’ll get into some of the best of those barbs a little later. 

Peyton is comfortable in front of the camera and has no trouble talking. That was the issue I had early in the game. The elder Manning really dominated the conversation. There were no times in the first few minutes of the first quarter that I felt I could take a breath because so much was coming at me. They really didn’t allow the game to breathe at all. The constant conversation while entertaining at times just kept on coming. Peyton was talking fast and once in a while he was talking over Eli. 

It didn’t help that the Manning’s were in different studios. I wondered if there was a “delay” in their feeds and if that was the reason for talking over one another at times. The delay was quite evident when Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson joined the brothers for the later stages of the game. Wilson seemingly couldn’t get a word in, because Peyton and Eli were talking over him. 

Peyton has that quality to be able to teach the game in a way that it’s understandable. Some of his commentary was a look behind the curtain at how he played and viewed the game. Knowing what to expect when coming to the line of scrimmage, understanding the coverages and realizing what teams are trying to do to disguise things. It was fascinating to hear the brothers go through play calls and how it is relayed from the coordinator to the quarterback and finally to the team. You aren’t going to get that on a traditional game broadcast. 

It was also impressive to hear the guys interview both former players, current players and Charles Barkley. It so often is the case that the current athletes are very guarded in what they say to a regular ole member of the media. That was not the case in the Manning Cast. From Travis Kelce not knowing who the Chiefs were playing next, to Russell Wilson calling out the NFL overtime rule.  Ray Lewis was a fascinating guest, providing some great stories and terrific insight into the game he once played at such a high level. Charles Barkley, well, he’s Charles Barkley. In other words, he was as fantastic as you’d expect. 

The guests added to the broadcast and made me realize that if this Manningcast actually had a host, it wouldn’t have worked as well. A broadcaster would have gotten in the way to me. Yeah, they could have used a professional at times. Maybe someone to get them into and out of the commercial breaks, because that was a little rough early in the game. But that’s the only a host could have fit in. 

The first show was great, but as is the case most of the time, there is room to grow. I really think the Manning Cast would be so much better if the guys were actually in the same room. The dynamic between them, which was already great, would be that much better. Imagine them demonstrating plays on each other. Both putting on helmets and doing what they probably did as kids in their basement, roughing each other up.

Ok, so they’re a little older now, but I seriously think having them in the same place would make things much smoother. With all the technology out there, eliminating that dreaded delay between the Manning’s and their guests would improve the telecast as well. 

Monday Night Football With Peyton and Eli Manning on ESPN 2, reviewed.
Courtesy: ESPN2

This alternative broadcast would be a great place to teach some casual fans all about the great game of football. Not sure why this came to my mind, but like the old days of the NHL, when “Peter Puck” an animated hockey puck would teach you the game. “Peter” was part of the NBC game of the week broadcast. An animated Peyton and Eli teaching those that need to know the finer points of the game, would be spectacular. 

I can’t wait to see how they improve from last week to this week and who the guests will be this time around. Hopefully, they iron out some of the small issues that plagued them in the first telecast and continue to improve. I realize that this show is unscripted and it’s supposed to be a little looser than a normal show might be, but there are some slight fixes as I’ve pointed out that will make it even better.

With all the success the Manningcast had, I can’t help but wonder how all of these accolades are being taken by the regular MNF booth. ESPN in effect has promoted and created competition for its own product. Perhaps the novelty will wear off? Maybe, but it almost seems like the Manning’s are being groomed for a possible move to the main booth. I’m not sure what the feeling is amongst all the parties, but it’s certainly a dynamic worth watching. 

Here are some of my favorite moments from Manningcast show number one, in no particular order:

  • Derek Carr with an overthrow on the Raiders first play from scrimmage, leading Peyton to say about the Raiders season, “Lookin’ at ah 6-11, 6-11 right now.”
  • Raiders’ fans were loud during an offensive series leading to a bad snap and a few false start penalties, leading to this exchange: 

“They aren’t used to it”, said Eli Manning. Then Peyton responded, “Drink your beer, quiet down and let [Derek] Carr play quarterback.” 

  • Peyton putting on a football helmet to demonstrate the calls at the line for the Ravens. The helmet was way too small. “Helmet doesn’t fit”, Peyton said. “Shocking that a helmet doesn’t fit you”, Eli commented. “They didn’t have a XXL helmet for that forehead.”  
  • With Charles Barkley as a guest, Peyton asked him what position Michael Jordan would play if he were in the NFL, “Tight End”. Then Barkley was asked about Larry Bird playing a position, “there’s no place for no slow 6’10” guys in the NFL”, said Barkley.  

Eli: “Punter”

Charles: “that’s about it…”

  • Also, with Barkley on the show…

Peyton: “Hey Charles, you ever get booed at home? Never happened to you, right?” 

Barkley: “I played in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That was a regularity.” “You were lucky, Peyton. Everybody liked you. Eli knows what it’s like to get booed at home.”

Eli: “He had that stadium trained. The fans would get fined if they talked when the Colts were on offense. If a guy was trying to order a beer, everyone would tell him to quiet down until the defense was on the field.”

Eli’s fire alarm goes off in the middle of the show. 

Peyton: “Eli what’d you do?”

  • With Ray Lewis on the show, the trio recalled a game where the Giants played the Ravens in Eli’s rookie season as the starting QB. The younger Manning leading the team to the line of scrimmage, calling out the defense…

Eli: “Hey #52 (Lewis) is the Mike (linebacker)”

Lewis: “No, I’m not the mike. He’s the Mike!”

Eli: “Yeah Ray’s right, the other guy’s the Mike”

It was also revealed in that game in 2004, Eli had a quarterback rating of 0.0 and of course Peyton pointed out, “the same GPA Belushi had in ‘Animal House.’”

  • Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce on the Manningcast

Kelce: “[Watching this game] I’m not trying to get too technical because I think we’re playing the Chargers this week. Oh wait, maybe we’re playing Baltimore. I don’t even know — I’m getting lost in the season already.” 

  • Peyton about 5 minutes later: “Hey, Travis, just so you know, you do play the Ravens next week, so make sure you don’t fly to Los Angeles to play the Chargers.”

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BSM Writers

What Is The Next Advertising Money Cannon?

“In states where betting is legal, stations are having to squeeze live reads and segment sponsorships in wherever they can. Everyone is trying to make sure they aren’t leaving money on the table.”

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If I could tell you that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I know there is another advertising revenue stream out there that can repeat what sportsbooks did for sports radio AND that I know exactly what it is, I could handpick my next employer and name my price.

A Supreme Court decision to make sports gambling a state issue and not a federal one completely changed the advertising landscape. In states where betting is legal, stations are having to squeeze live reads and segment sponsorships in wherever they can. Everyone is trying to make sure they aren’t leaving money on the table.

“There is no question about the significant impact sports betting has had on revenue, both from the station side as well as for our on-air personalities who have become brand ambassadors,” Dennis Gwiazdon, VP and Market Manager of Cromwell Broadcasting’s Nashville cluster told me.

Stations in states that are yet to legalize gambling can see the boom and know it is coming eventually. What about states where gambling is already legal? What about states like Alabama or Utah, which are routinely viewed as two that could realistically never legalize sports betting? Is there a boom on the horizon for them?

I spoke with managers in three different markets. I wanted to know where they saw reason for optimism. The answers were interesting.

Earlier this month, John Ourand of Sports Business Journal took a look at the deal FOX signed with crypto.com. The site is the title sponsor of the network’s College Football Extra. Ourand theorizes that could open the door for crypto companies eventually spending money on sports television the way sportsbooks do.

What is the outlook for radio? Jeff Tyler, iHeartMedia’s area president in Wisconsin, is intrigued by the idea, but he isn’t telling his sellers to go rushing out to make deals.

“There are a lot of variables around crypto,” he told me via email. “So as a company we have a plan to work within this category but not put the company at risk or do anything that could negatively affect our listeners and partners.”

Jeff Tyler (@JeffTyler) | Twitter

Ken Brady, the sales manager at 1010XL in Jacksonville, knows that cryptocurrency has a buzz around it right now. He is not sure what the appetite for it is in terms of an ad market or what the industry’s appetite is for radio advertising.

“There is little chatter about cryptocurrency in our market or with partners,” he says. “This is something we need to understand and explore better.”

I asked all three men if there was a sector where they saw potential. Tyler had an interesting answer. He sees potential in eSports. He thinks teams and companies could benefit from connecting with stations with a dedicated listener base.

“Our brands could help them grow their fan base and activate them to attend more events in person and online.”

Gwiazdon has his eye on another vice. Just like gambling came out of the shadows and now functions under government regulation, it is only a matter of time he thinks before marijuana does the same.

“What immediately comes to mind is the legalization of marijuana at the state and, eventually, federal level,” he says. “There’s so much money in that industry – as evidenced where it has already become legal – that it could easily equal or surpass what’s happening with sports betting right now.”

What is interesting is that amongst this trio, Gwiazdon is the only one that lives in a state where there is absolutely no legal marijuana. What he sees as a potential boom for Tennessee is already legal in both Wisconsin and Florida, albeit exclusively for medical purposes.

A lot of sellers have big plans for pot and cannabis products where they are legal. Very few of them know all the answers though. That is why the RAB has a marijuana FAQ section on its website and advertising agencies specializing in marijuana have sprung up.

For 1010XL, the boom never really materialized according to Ken Brady.

100+ "Ken Brady" profiles | LinkedIn

“We have had little success with this category, the players who have come in seem to be interested in demos outside our strengths or have been flakey with no real appetite for a solid campaign that will work.”

Businesses built by someone following their passion for marijuana are flaky? Well, color me shocked!

Jeff Tyler told me iHeart is looking at this on a market by market basis. Wisconsin has made medical marijuana legal. Tyler can’t have his sellers approaching businesses the way sellers in neighboring states like Illinois or Michigan, where it has fully been decriminalized can.

“Until it’s fully legalized the advertiser revenue is very limited,” he said. “We have a team that leads this vertical for iHeartMedia and have states like Colorado that already have fully legalized marijuana so we have a solid plan and guidelines to follow with these advertisers. CBD is a small category with some hit spots in some markets.”

There may never be another category like sports betting. The money cannon that industry was ready to fire was unpresedented. You can’t bank on it happening again.

I asked Dennis Gwiazdon if it was possible that the radio industry will have to play a very proactive role in creating the next boom. He told me that may be the best way to think about it. What he is sure of is that no idea can be dismissed as the industry looks to find another stream of revenue that has the potential of the sportsbooks.

“We definitely have to get smarter at how we generate revenue. Relying on the old, tried and true ways won’t hold up forever. The good news is our business model is already undergoing a sea of change in terms of how we scale our radio/digital/entertainment assets for wider distribution and access. But some of us are further down the road than others. The audio industry is still the ultimate personal experience. How we continue to maximize – and monetize – our relationships with fans is the key to our survival.”

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