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CEO Kevin Jones Sees Blue Wire’s Future In Tik Tok Stars

“The younger generation isn’t growing up wanting to become a TV anchor or a radio host.”

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Chances are, if you’re reading this column, you’re entrenched in the world of sports and the sports media. That’s good.

But if you think that Tik Tok is only the sound that a clock makes, that’s bad. Wake up and smell this new(ish) social media phenomenon called Tik Tok that has 100 million users in the U.S., 730 million across the world. Wake up and smell this new platform that people are using on average for 89 minutes per day and is opened, according to Tik Tok research, 19 times per day on average.

Barrett Sports Media has learned that Kevin Jones, CEO of Blue Wire, a 3-year-old platform that is home to 160 podcasts and is expanding into other lanes such as video content, has signed official partnerships with 12 Tik Tok “influencers,” people that have substantial followings on their Tik Tok accounts. These influencers entertain their fans with sports-based content, such as Matt Sponhour (who breaks down the latest happenings in the NBA and NFL) and Grace Curatolo (a former collegiate lacrosse player who captures attention with her comedy and experiences as an athlete). But Blue Wire’s deals also involve plenty of Tik Tok influencers who don’t talk sports. That includes people like Michael Lacey, a person who spent nearly 21 years in prison who now uses his platform to make content related to social justice and the prison system. And people like Syd Erin, who has been referred to as Tik Tok’s “sweetheart,” a Penn State college student who makes relatable content based on her life and the typical scenarios that Gen Z’ers commonly find themselves in.

“I built Blue Wire on Twitter,” Jones told BSM in an exclusive interview. Jones would direct message Twitter influencers and inquire about their desire to partner with Blue Wire. “To me, Tik Tok is becoming the new Twitter for young, aspirational creators who throw themselves out there.”

Jones added: “We want to bring our same playbook of DMing creators (on Tik Tok), working with them on their content…working with people who are not just talking sports…huge animal lovers, chefs, comedians… The future of Blue Wire will be sports, but we want to have culture and comedy, and we’re really for the ‘creator economy.'”

Jones said the term “creator economy” is quite a buzz in the venture capital world. “Smart people, entrepreneurial people have brought their content to us, we’re making those people more money than they were before they came to Blue Wire and we’re helping them with marketing, social media assets, etc.,” Jones said.

Other Tik Tok influencers who are now part of the Blue Wire brand include: Adam Faris, who comments on various sports videos and memes that were posted on other platforms; Theo Ash, who provides analysis of pretty much every sector of the NFL; Blaiden Kirk, who also has a wealth of knowledge on the NFL (and NBA); David Brubaker, who makes satire videos about deleted movie scenes; Dean Sarama, who creates exciting trick basketball shots for others to attempt; Mamadou Ndiaye, who posts informational videos about animals and has a humorous way of describing each species and their characteristics; Veljko Mileusnic, who adds a comedic twist to videos based around the latest trends; and “Project Better,” an outlet hosted by Jade Richgruber that interviews young adults about various topics, while still being dedicated to its original mission of deterring teens away from vaping and smoking.

Tori Bookwalter, social media coordinator for Blue Wire, told BSM that the deals made with Tik Tok influencers include a 50/50 split on advertising revenue originated by Blue Wire; minimum two Tik Tok posts per week to be eligible for ads; and the influencers can keep all of the revenue they already make from their own sponsorships and continue to add new deals separate from Blue Wire.

Blue Wire, which has made its name through its wide array of podcast offerings and overall knowledge of the podcasting landscape, created a sports podcast specifically for three of its Tik Tok influencers. “Stay Hot” is the name of the podcast, hosted by Sponhour, Kirk and Ash. It’s just another way the partnership between Blue Wire and Tik Tok influencers benefits both parties.

‘I REALLY THOUGHT MY CAREER WAS OVER” — HOW IT ALL STARTED

Kevin Jones loves sports media. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been knee-deep in the ongoings of the Cleveland Browns, where he was a staff writer for the team’s website. Later, he crossed over to the West Coast, as a digital content manager and on-air host for the legendary KNBR in San Francisco. He also had a 49ers-based podcast while at KNBR, called, not surprisingly, the “Kevin Jones Podcast.” But after he and KNBR parted ways, he still kept podcasting and tweeting about the 49ers. “And I realized, ‘hey, there’s something here. This is the new way to talk to fans. You can just tweet and podcast, you don’t need to be a writer at an outlet and then be a radio host. We can set all this up ourselves now,'” Jones told BSM exclusively.

“The younger generation isn’t growing up wanting to become a TV anchor or a radio host,” Jones added. “I think there needs to be more platforms like “The Ringer,” like “Barstool,” and so Blue Wire was born to catch all these new creators in the ‘creator economy’ — whether that be a Twitter influencer, someone leaving TV or a Tik Tok-er or a sports writer or former athlete. At Blue Wire, we work with all different kinds of people in sports and now entertainment, culture and society. And now it’s pushing to Tik Tok because we really believe the platform is going to be around for a long time.”

Jones said for a 3-year-old startup, they’re able to pay the light bill comfortably, even if they keep the lights on all night. Maggie Lanter heads the sales team, “and we’ve done deals with Mountain Dew, Coors Light, Chevrolet, Doordash,” among others, Jones said. “Fans don’t watch TV at night anymore; they watch Netflix…Tv commercials are falling on deaf ears (besides live sports). We tell the advertisers, “this is good, rich content. People are listening to a podcast for 45 minutes at a time, once a week. That advertising spot is actually pretty valuable when you consider the cost…so a lot of brands are seeing the light of day.”

And the folks at WynnBET have invested in Blue Wire to the point that WynnBET has built a studio space for the company in Las Vegas, inside the famous Wynn Las Vegas casino and Encore at Wynn Las Vegas all-suite luxury hotel. WynnBET is the company’s foray into the online sports betting arena. Jones said Blue Wire signed a “seven-figure partnership” with WynnBET. “They get the hype about what we’re building and are really trying to amplify us.”

Jones is adamant that as the older get older and the young get into their prime, companies like his will dominate the media landscape. But he told BSM he never thought he would start a company in the first place. 

“I really thought my career was over. I was ready to hang up the cleats,” he told BSM, after his ending with KNBR didn’t end so well. He originally planned on Blue Wire as being “small, but it just starting rolling downhill and catching fire.”

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BSM Writers

ESPN Can’t Be ESPN Without Football

“You know the saying “scared money don’t make money?” Well, ESPN knows that smart money can eliminate the need for scared money entirely.”

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I saw a Tweet on Monday, just after Texas and Oklahoma made their impending exit from the Big 12 official, that interested me. Athlon’s Bryan Fischer asked how the recent investment in college football ESPN has made would affect its ability to lure more properties to the network.

Much has been made of the American television rights to the Premier League hitting the open market. ESPN, Amazon and DAZN have all expressed interest, while NBC has made it clear that it does not intend to let Britain’s top soccer league go anywhere else. All of that points to a major bidding war on the horizon.

ESPN has invested a lot in soccer recently, particularly at ESPN+. The company has the American media rights to top leagues in 9 different countries, including Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga, which are both full of international stars. It also has MLS games and major national and club tournaments from Europe. Whenever that day gets here where soccer overtakes hockey and then baseball as America’s third most popular sport, ESPN is in good position.

That is kind of the point here. ESPN does a lot of betting on the future. The major investment in college football is about cashing in right now. Younger American generations really like soccer and follow it in a variety of ways. The generation with money to spend right now loves football and they are going to consume it wherever they need to.

ESPN will pony up the money to expand the College Football Playoff. It will get behind Texas & Oklahoma moving to the SEC, where it is already heavily invested. It will open up the checkbook and tell the NFL “just name the amount” in order to get a Super Bowl.

You know the saying “scared money don’t make money?” Well, ESPN knows that smart money can eliminate the need for scared money entirely.

History is on ESPN’s side when you talk about taking risks. The network has bet big and seen it payoff. It rode college basketball to national relevance in a time when that sport was a blip on most people’s radars. More recently, it got in on the World Series of Poker at the right time and pulled back when it needed to.

If ESPN views the Premier League as a necessity for its future, it isn’t hard to imagine it will have any trouble finding the necessary money. But the network knows that football, both college and the NFL, are not leaving the top of the American sports hierarchy any time soon. The goal isn’t just to have football. It is to have the very best football.

So, it does what it needs to in order to become a part of the Super Bowl rotation. It commits the resources to expanding the College Football Playoff. And right now, as the SEC is busy not just winning the college football arms race, but obliterating anyone in its path, ESPN is committing what it needs to to make its top college sports property a juggernaut.

Conservative pundits love to make a big deal of ESPN subscription numbers, pretending not to know that no one subscribes individually to cable channels. But look at the money being thrown around. Clearly Disney thinks the network is doing just fine and is worth investing in. For better or worse, it shapes most of the national sports conversation.

If Norby Williamson and Jimmy Pitaro think that conversation will include more Premier League talk in the future, they will find the money to spend. And when they find it, they will thank the SEC and the NFL for taking the network’s money and turning it into more money.

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BSM Writers

Are Media Days Good For Content Or Just Good For Networking?

“There is an ego boost for hosts attending these events and holding court with colleagues from across the country, but how does that help the people that are coming to you to be entertained before having to clock into a job they hate?”

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AL.com

Last week, most major college football conferences put on an event. They gathered the coaches from every team and invited media members from across the country to attend. Media Days used to really matter in college football. In 2021, I found myself skimming a lot of stations broadcasting live from Birmingham or Charlotte or Indianapolis and wondering “who even cares about this awful content?”.

Media Days are only slightly better than radio row at the Super Bowl. No one is trying to get you to put a long-retired kicker on the air for five minutes to talk about boner pills, but I am not sure a stream of coaches and players, who have spent the better part of the previous month practicing saying nothing, is that much better.

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

I get that there is value in these gatherings. This is usually the first chance to ask coaches the questions the media has been making content out of for the entire summer. It is a chance to reconnect with colleagues in other markets and compare some notes. They can be a lot of fun sometimes for the people in attendance. I am just not sure if the payoff is there for the listeners and so I am not sure that every station really can justify going.

There are plenty of stations to do these events right. 1010XL in Jacksonville sent two hosts to Birmingham for SEC Media Days. They were at their table all day. The hosts back in the studio in Florida would throw to them live whenever a coach worth putting on air was in the vicinity. There were no all day broadcasts and that meant no filler content. All that went on the air was the content that you had to be in Birmingham to get. 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC did something very similar, with Heath Cline being the only host there and creating smaller, more impactful content for the whole station.

For some markets, these events matter a lot. Birmingham is the single most college football obsessed market in America. JOX 94.5 probably made the right decision by being in the Wynfrey Hotel hallways all day for all four days of the event. Of course, it helps that the station has a new morning show hosted by two ESPN employees with relationships with most if not all of the conference’s coaches. Raleigh, where I live now, is the home radio market for three ACC teams. It makes sense 99.9 The Fan sent two shows to be in Charlotte for both days of the conference’s media event.

Still though, there are plenty of questions hosts at those stations and at stations in similar markets have to ask themselves. Is there anything we can get by going there that we cannot get year round? Does our audience like the sport? Does it like the conference? Or is it maybe just passionate about the home team(s)? If the answer is the latter – and I genuinely think that is the case in Raleigh, why waste the money getting the same interviews you can get for free during the season? You know, that time when there is actually something happening worth talking about.

Look, I’ve been a host and a producer. I get the appeal of these events and I understand that being live and sitting down with names like Dabo and Saban make the station sound bigger. There is some value in attending these media days.

Image
Courtesy: Dan Matthew

But value to us as broadcasters and value to the audience are different things. We talk about “outside the box thinking” and “thinking like a listener” constantly. This is one of those issues where the value to the audience is the only value that matters really.

Programmers need to approach events like these with a plan. The same can really be said for any radio row. Do you send staff to do three or four hour long live shows for multiple days? Do you send your morning show to broadcast live but stick around to record interviews later in the day so that you can decide what is relevant before airing it?

One part of the programmer’s job description that isn’t often named is “listener advocate.” He or she has think outside the box while living inside of it. There is an ego boost for hosts attending these events and holding court with colleagues from across the country, but how does that help the people that are coming to you to be entertained before having to clock into a job they hate?

I can hear the pushback right now. “Demetri, do you know how much money we make from companies that want to sponsor our broadcasts from media days?”

I am sure the amount is high, but I am also positive that one broadcast or one week long events not the only reason they spend money with you. Also, I am not telling you that there is absolutely zero reason to attend these events. I am just asking you to evaluate how good the content that comes from them actually is.

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

There was actually an interesting story that broke in the middle of SEC Media Days, with news that Texas and Oklahoma are aggressively pursuing membership in the conference. But did that lead to any real news from the coaches in Birmingham? Not really. They all answered with platitudes and deferrals whenever they were asked about what a 16-team SEC would mean for the rest of college sports. I think most stations would have been just as well served to pull that audio off of ESPN.com.

College football is my favorite sport in the world. I love when we all get together, both at actual conventions and various radio rows that serve as pseudo-conventions. I understand and actually like media days. I just think it is important to consider whether or not there are enough people in your market that cannot live without hearing your hosts talk to Shane Beamer. If you are anywhere but Columbia, South Carolina, I am virtually positive the answer is no.

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The Wins And Losses Of Gambling Twitter

“The great part of Gambling Twitter is that it’s open to everyone and anybody can prove themselves.”

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Let’s face it. Twitter has changed the way we do a lot of things. For some, it’s replaced the daily newspapers. For others, it’s a means of communicating with an audience. Regardless of the way you utilize Twitter, no one can deny its impact.

In the sports world in particular, Twitter can be an interesting space. It’s a place where you can collectively live through an experience like watching a big game or reacting to news. It’s also a place where opinions can be shared and “liked” and of course, disliked. So, what happens when an open social media platform collides with the booming business of legalized sports betting? Gambling Twitter. 

Gambling Twitter is an interesting term. It can describe many things. You could be talking about #GamblingTwitter, where someone likely uses the Hashtag to promote their picks or attract an audience, or you could simply be referring to the community of people on Twitter, who talk about Gambling. I prefer the latter. And Gambling Twitter can be a great place. 

James Alberino, who runs @SpreadInvestor says the communal aspect, as well as the opportunity it provides, is what makes Gambling Twitter special.

“The great part of Gambling Twitter is that it’s open to everyone and anybody can prove themselves. If you’re good and know how to market yourself (or work for a company that’s good at marketing) you’ll grow a following and network with some great people along the way. There’s also nowhere better to be online during a game when you have a bet than on Twitter. The reactions and humor are some of the best live entertainment that you can get. There are a lot of smart people on here and when they work together, they help each other’s careers/businesses. It’s like one big virtual office where a lot of people in the industry can talk to one another whenever they want and collaborate on work.”

James Alberino (@jamesalberino) | Twitter

Using Gambling Twitter to help promote your career is something Pamela Maldonado (@pamelam35), Yahoo SportsBook Betting Analyst, feels strongly about from personal experience. 

“Twitter being beneficial is an understatement,” she told me. “I started posting picks/analysis back in 2016 as a hobby when I was waist deep in the poker world. Looking back now, that was my resume and I was working on getting to where I am now unknowingly. I also have a background in social media marketing so I am very aware of the need to engage with users. I take the time to talk to everyone and respond to every DM. I love Twitter. It connects the world. It’s given me a space to talk about the things that are important to me. 2020, that was the political climate, in 2021, it’s Novak Djokovic and tennis.”

But not every experience is positive. 

Alberino says “It can be very cutthroat especially among guys who have been in the space for a long time. There is a lot of money in this industry and everyone in it is trying to get a piece of the pie in the form of either money or media attention. There are a lot of scammers who do not care about their followers other than the dollar signs and a ton of people have bad tastes in their mouths from it. They take that baggage with them a lot of times when they do business with other cappers. Then there are the casual gamblers in the audience who think they know more than they do about betting. The scamming and ignorance has been going on forever though, it’s not just a Twitter thing. But Twitter gives these guys no barrier to entry and an open platform. A portion of broadcasters and pro bettors have figured out ways to work together but for the most part there’s a divide between “touts” and people on the media side of the industry, for understandable reasons. Some handicappers act like complete jackasses. And some media people are very good with a mic but not as much at betting. So you have two worlds colliding and some people stepping out of bounds to either gain followers or make more money.”

James is right. Everyone is trying to grab a piece of the pie. Each Sportsbook utilizes Twitter to promote itself. But are they doing it from a genuine place? How many times have you seen a Sportsbook account tweet out a winning long shot parlay? Countless times a day right? The reality of the matter is that these winning bets are extremely rare, however by tweeting and retweeting them, they hope to make the casual better feel as if they could be next. When, in reality, they just want customers to place these losing wagers so they can make money. That’s their business model. 

Another negative aspect is the feedback. Some would say, “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen”, and they’re probably right. If you publicly make a bet, you’re opening yourself to negative reaction when that bet loses. Does that always happen? 

“I’ve been fortunate to not experience any type of negativity, but I think it’s because of the way I present myself,” Maldonado says. “I never just give picks. I give a thorough reason. I post my record, I answer questions, and I try my best to differentiate what is ‘content’ and what is an actual bet. How I do that: by posting, “I am playing.” It’s fair to say that I’ve been more right, than I have been wrong, so I believe that I’ve created a loyal following of those who trust me and stand by me, even during a downswing. Has there been a change over the years? I can’t say for sure. I think I can count on one hand the number of people I have blocked and that’s because I’ve been on Twitter for a very long time. It’s a very short list of negative experiences, so far, and I think that mostly comes from me knowing my audience, knowing how to communicate, and knowing how to handle the bad days of betting – and that’s by acknowledging them, not ignoring them.”

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

But what about being a woman in this space? Is the experience different because its largely a male dominated audience? Ariel Epstein of SportsGrid (@ArielEpstein) shared her experience. 

“Overall, it’s positive. I love interacting with everyone through the wins and losses. It’s a lot of fun to enjoy the wins and I have to say most of my followers are very understanding of the losses. I’ve always prided myself on giving out so many reasons to take my bet, that if it does lose, someone says ‘wow I can’t believe that lost.’

“There are always a few trolls who will say things like ‘I remember when you always won,’ or ‘at least you’re pretty.’ I’ve been asked on dates via direct message many times before. I usually just don’t answer. My motto is always to engage with the good people and ignore the bad. It gets less traction for the trolls on Twitter if I just don’t respond. 

“I’ve always known I’d have to have thick skin as a female to make it in this business. The gambling side of things adds a whole new element because now you’re messing with people’s money. On the lighter side, I have been asked by many men if they could buy me a drink or send me money via Venmo because I won them bets. I find those types of things hilarious because I don’t know these people. I know it’s coming from a good place though. I do decline by the way.”

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

I think there’s an interesting case study to be done on Gambling Twitter because there are so many different aspects of it. You can talk about the handicappers, the analysts, the Sportsbooks and the audience. Each play their own role in the community.

I for one, love being a part of Gambling Twitter. Yes, I’ve had to mute a few trolls, but there’s nothing better than getting a tweet thanking you for the work you’ve done. I don’t post plays on Twitter to brag or claim victory over anyone. I post to help provide education to a larger audience craving information. If I can help people win a few bucks, that’s great. If it loses, then I take the heat. I understand the role I play. I walk a fine line because I am a member of the media, hosting several radio/tv shows, and a handicapper, because I pride myself on providing picks and analysis to the audience. Am I a social media guru? No. But I think there’s a place for me on Gambling Twitter, and I think there’s a place for you too. 

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