My friend covered the Detroit Pistons. He called me in distress one day, asking to borrow money. His gambling habit was so toxic, he said, that he’d broached the topic with Isiah Thomas, the team’s star player and a hard-ass not to be messed with. Aghast, I told him to make an appointment with the editor, beg for mercy and seek help for his problem if he wanted to save his writing career. He took my advice and moved on to a college beat.
This is why the scummy intersection of sports, sports media and gambling companies is a bad idea.
The public relations director of the Chicago Bears, Bryan Harlan, was privy to inside information on a daily basis. He was fired after federal investigators found his phone number in a bookmaker’s records and concluded he had bet on NFL games, including those involving the Bears. His father, Bob, was president and CEO of the Green Bay Packers at the time, and his brother, Kevin, has been broadcasting NFL and NBA games for years. The feds also linked calls made to a bookie from team-assigned portable phones belonging to Ken Valdiserri, the Bears’ vice president of marketing and broadcasting, who claimed never to have called a bookie but that he often allowed — ready? — Bears players and Chicago media people to use his phones.
Said Paul Tagliabue, then the NFL commissioner: “Harlan acknowledged he violated our league policy on gambling. It’s the integrity of the game. When we have the kind of competition we have and competition that features integrity, we have to enforce it strictly.” The setback didn’t stop Harlan from becoming a sports agent — and to this day, according to his agency website, he represents “coaches at all levels of collegiate and professional football, as well as sports broadcasters at major outlets in Chicago and across the country.”
This is why the scummy intersection of sports, sports media and gambling companies is a bad idea.
My colleague covered the Denver Broncos. During one of those Super Bowl losses that got ugly early, he began to pound the table where he was working in the main press box. He wasn’t doing so because he was a fan of the team. Days later, another Denver sportswriter, Teri Thompson, was busted by police in a bookie’s house with cocaine in her purse. Suddenly, it made more sense why her tone had been over-the-top savage in certain game columns.
This is why the scummy intersection of sports, sports media and gambling companies is a bad idea.
My former radio boss, who had moved on to sales at a TV station, asked to borrow $3,000. He didn’t say why, but did I have to ask? Reluctantly, I gave him the money and issued a one-month deadline. Many months later, my attorney confronted him at their country club in Chicago’s northern suburbs, demanding the money be repaid in increments. Later, I discovered he’d made similar loan requests of another radio host and a producer.
This is why the scummy intersection of sports, sports media and gambling companies is a bad idea.
I could go on. Instead, I choose to look ahead in mortified fear, wondering how many other scandals await — uglier, larger and of a more damaging scope — now that the $300 billion U.S. sports industry has opened the devil’s door to a gambling free-for-all. When the Supreme Court authorized states in 2018 to legalize sports wagering, the justices couldn’t have envisioned the immediate, untamed threat to the very integrity of which Tagliabue spoke. In one swoop, the NFL, the NBA and other leagues that long had viewed gambling as sinful and corrupt embraced the new financial possibilities, less concerned about game-fixing and inside-information-sharing amid their greedy, insidious money grabs. In the all-time hypocritical stinkbomb, Major League Baseball is all-in on gambling, too, even as Pete Rose remains banned for life. The NFL, which once routinely suspended players for gambling associations, now has a partnership with FanDuel and a stadium and future Super Bowls in Las Vegas.
The leagues have dirtied down, you see, striking deals with casinos and companies that include the omnipresent DraftKings, which has encountered issues with the law. And with furious, slobbering zeal, powerhouse media enterprises such as ESPN, Fox and Turner followed the money and jumped right into bed with their league partners, also inviting the gambling bigwigs onto the mattress for a mass wagering orgy. Next thing you knew, so-called journalists were leaving crumbling mainstream outlets for betting information sites while John Skipper, dumped as ESPN president after a cocaine scandal, was teaming with another deposed Bristol personality, the once-esteemed columnist Dan Le Batard, to form a media company that signed a lucrative sponsorship agreement with DraftKings.
Suddenly, sports is not sports anymore. It’s a gambling-centric feast that has reduced the actual result of a game — the sacred competition between athletes who are expected to remain honest and above-board — to a sidebar. The fact the Milwaukee Bucks might beat the Boston Celtics, 113-111, doesn’t mean as much anymore as the Celtics covering the point spread, or Jayson Tatum winning the prop bet. The sports industry has allowed this freak-show collaboration to create a tawdry alternate universe that, by and large, reduces a legitimate championship season to background noise.
All of which invites the likelihood of rampant manipulation of games — and an inability to investigate the wrongdoing because many elite reporters work for the very media companies that, directly or indirectly, are attached to the leagues and gambling initiatives. The leagues and odds shops say otherwise, claiming sophisticated monitoring apparatus is in place, but they’ve yet to explain any security plans in elaborate detail. It reminds me of Big Tobacco. In this case, the objective is to induce bettors — at least 15 million of whom are problem gamblers in America — to spend their money without any warning of consequences. The betting lines are nicotine, and cancer is diagnosed when people lose jobs and families and end up broke. Have the leagues, media and gambling companies at all considered the lives they’re putting at risk? Do they care that they’re contributing to the demise of society?
Nah. They’re too busy bidding up, cashing out and bastardizing the purity of athletic competition. Never mind that there are many more sports observers in America who don’t gamble — such as me — than those who do. Every sports visual, from a game broadcast to an ESPN “SportsCenter” update to a stadium advertisement, must include references to gambling. Inevitably, this alliance will lead to sweeping in-house scandals. The more prevalent gambling is, the more likely an athlete, coach or referee will be tempted to fix a game or a prop bet. What prevents a talk-show personality with a gambling-house relationship from devising a scheme, via an active athlete, to throw a point spread? What if the personality’s producers get wind and spread the word?
And we might never know it’s happening. That’s because too many former journalists already are on the payroll at gambling sites or eager to work for them. Ask DraftKings and FanDuel. Ask Barstool Sports. Ask Action Network and Vegas Stats & Information Network. They already view themselves as mainstream media companies, with FanDuel executive Mike Raffensperger telling Front Office Sports that he’s seeking to poach content creators from mainstream outlets. “We are looking to evaluate ways to improve our portfolio through pulling people into the fold,” he said. “We’re actively looking into the marketplace now. It is absolutely part of the strategy if we want to continue to grow the No. 1 sports book in the country.”
Meaning, the media people he hires must be gambling experts more than traditional sportswriters, as seen at VSiN and even The Athletic, which ask writers to break down games against spreads while ignoring the basics of who might win or lose a game. Just as Le Batard, while apparently maintaining his editorial freedom on political issues, will relinquish his journalistic values by reading relentless gambling spots during commercial breaks, as required by Skipper’s $50 million DraftKings deal. I’m still flummoxed by a recent remark by VSiN chairman Brian Musburger — whose famous sportscasting uncle, Brent, has sold out as a grinning front-man tout holding $100 bills on the company website — that legitimate journalists can be hired by gambling sites to dish inside info about athletes, teams and games to readers. My God, how poisonous could this Bermuda triangle become?
Uncle Brent and South Beach Dan used to investigate sports stories and break news. Now, they’re taking gambling fortunes and leaving themselves vulnerable to investigations. Clay Travis once had journalism in his blood, then opted to lean conservative even when his Nashville-based site, Outkick, was covering sports. Fox acquired his anti-woke site last week amid a flurry of media-meets-gambling transactions, with Fox executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch sounding thrilled to have found a brand aligned politically with Fox News. Travis has bigger ideas, writing of the gambling craze, “Over the past several months many companies put in bids to buy Outkick. That’s because our business is thriving, particularly our sports gambling business, where we are one of the largest affiliate sites in the country, signing up customers in all ten states where online gambling is legal. Sports gambling is poised to explode in the years ahead and I wanted to make sure whichever partner we picked fit our company’s direction.”
You could say sports is run by The Mob, a new sort of organized crime.
And if you think that’s an overstatement, just wait for the fallout. Congress is busy, but the last time it was asked to clean up a historic moral unraveling in sports — baseball’s steroids scandals — the 2005 hearings were successful in embarrassing the likes of Bud Selig, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, which led to the Mitchell Report and a cleansing of the game. Given the staggering amounts of money in this triad, the responsibility of sports as a public trust and the potential bilking of gamblers, damn right a committee should prepare another spectacle and grill Roger Goodell and other commissioners, ESPN’s Jimmy Pitaro and broadcast executives and whoever represents the gambling companies. Could you imagine Dave Portnoy, the bad-boy face of Barstool, being interrogated on Capitol Hill?
We’ve already seen a naked conflict-of-interest on display at the NFL Draft. When the San Francisco 49ers played a guessing game with the No. 3 pick, I wondered if a week of indecision would spark a flurry of prop-bet activity. Of course, it did. Trey Lance, once a 15-1 underdog to be drafted third, improved to 3-1 on the morning of the draft and to a -180 favorite as the show began. Most of the action at No. 3 was bet on Mac Jones, and when FanDuel and other sportsbooks say the 49ers’ mystery produced the Draft’s highest betting numbers … how do we know the NFL, to appease its gambling partner, doesn’t encourage a team or two to inject doubt throughout the day and keep the casino cash flowing?
And what planet has Colin Cowherd relocated to? Among the national talk-show hosts now immersed in gambling, he revealed in March that Lance, a friend of Cowherd’s 20-year-old daughter, had been hanging out at the family home. That wasn’t an issue … until Cowherd contacted 49ers general manager John Lynch and suggested he draft Lance, the details of which were sent by Cowherd’s publicist to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio in an email titled, “Did Colin Cowherd help 49ers draft Trey Lance?”
Spilling the details on his podcast, Cowherd said, “So, long story short, I live in L.A. Trey Lance was working out in L.A. about three weeks ago for the draft. Ran into Trey Lance. Really, really impressed with him as a kid — good size, looks you in the eye, really humble, really thoughtful. And after meeting him, it’s funny. I sent a text to a couple of GMs that I thought may have the chance to get him, one of them John Lynch. So I text John, I said `Hey, I just met Trey Lance … I don’t know what you’re doing with the No. 3 pick, but totally impressed, so humble, what a great kid.’ And John’s like `Thanks, Colin!’
I don’t hear anything. Then after the third pick, I get a couple of fist bumps texted to me by John Lynch. So I know I had no influence, but nonetheless, it made me laugh. John’s a great guy and I actually think it’s the right pick.”
Problem No. 1: Cowherd, now a gambling-influenced host, texted an NFL executive with draft suggestions.
Problem No. 2: The same NFL executive texted fist-bump emojis to a gambling-influenced host after the pick, fully recalling his advice about Lance.
Problem No. 3: Cowherd’s team took credit for the pick, as if it was some valiant deed.
As one of the biggest names in sports media, Cowherd should steer clear of such conflicts. But in this emerging Wild Wild West climate, all semblance of independence is lost. Any reliable, self-governed watchdogs out there? ESPN, NBC, Fox, CBS, Turner — LOL, all bedfellows, forget it. Legacy media? The Boston Globe is owned by John Henry, who owns the Red Sox; the Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, who wants to own an NFL franchise; the Los Angeles Times is owned by Patrick Soon-Shiong, a part-owner of the Lakers; the Wall Street Journal is owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose son acquired Outkick; and the New York Times reportedly is examining whether to invest in The Athletic, a struggling sports site that openly promotes a sports gambling component.
With nine of 10 sports media employees worried for their jobs these days, how many will follow the money and bail to gambling sites? How many league insiders, such as Adam Schefter and Jay Glazer, will bolt for bigger money now that the NFL is directly linked to gambling? Beat writers, columnists, editors — will everyone jump to the dark side and focus on over-unders? We’re just now emerging from the worst of the pandemic. People are desperate. Anticipate musical-chairs madness.
In that vein, how many more Bryan Harlans are out there, ready to exploit information? How many media professionals will use such information to bet themselves, recalling my Detroit, Chicago and Denver stories? You might ask, what’s the big deal about a media person gambling legally? Answer: It will skew his/her coverage of a game and taint objectivity, along with the prospect of becoming addicted. As for executives, Skipper once stood up to Goodell when ESPN broke exposes about concussions and rallied to the side of Colin Kaepernick. Now, they are partners in gambling smut.
More than ever, investigative reporters are needed to keep three mega-industries honest in their new sandbox. Unfortunately, most sleuths work for ESPN or other aforementioned outlets. So when a betting scandal happens, who will dare probe it and risk being railroaded from a job? Jeremy Schaap is too comfortable in his gig to pound on C-suite doors, preferring easier stories on mascots these days.
I am fortunate. I’ve made a great living as a columnist while battling editors who didn’t want me immersed in the Rose scandal in Cincinnati, or didn’t want me explaining to a Chicago audience why Michael Jordan’s gambling problem left him exposed to extortion. I usually found a way to get necessary columns into print and commentary onto radio airwaves.
Today, you’re reading one of the few industry sites that would publish this column. We are covering sports here, not trying to make bushels of money off sports. I used to appear regularly on “Around The Horn,” ESPN’s banter show. There’s a better chance now of ATH debating the color of Pitaro’s underwear than discussing the scummy intersection of sports, sports media and gambling companies.
At least I still have my bullhorn, prepared for the oncoming shitstorms. In gambling parlance, I’m the longest of longshots, but I’m also the rarest of rarities. No one can call me a sellout.
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.”
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.
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).
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.
Did The Manningcast Work?
“The first show was great, but as is the case most of the time, there is room to grow.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
“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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