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The Irony Of MLB Wanting To Be In The Gambling Business

“We are coming up on the 32nd anniversary of Rose accepting his permanent ban from the game he loved.”

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“Make. It. Rain.” So says the Draft Kings spokesmodel ad nauseum every time I watch a baseball game.

Seems like these days all MLB telecasts have some gambling app advertising their wares.  What was once ‘taboo’ in the game of baseball, seems more like the norm now. Gambling is legal, so I get it. Gambling brings in money, so again I get it. What I have a hard time understanding is the complete change of philosophy by baseball. The sport has been littered with scandals related to gambling, including Pete Rose being banned for life from baseball. 

Pete Rose gambling exposed: Inside the Sports Illustrated investigation -  Sports Illustrated
Courtesy: Sports Illustrated

So now that some teams, most notably, the Chicago Cubs, are lobbying to have sports books built inside of their stadium. The oldest ballpark in the National League would build a two-story facility just outside the stadium at the busy corner of Sheffield and Addison Streets in Chicago. In a statement the Cubs said, “While the game of baseball has largely been the same for the last 150 years, the fans have changed. The way they consume baseball is different through emerging technology and content platforms,” the Cubs said in their statement. “Sports wagering is becoming a big part of that change and this sportsbook will allow us to connect fans to the game in new ways.”

Wow times have changed. So, tell me, when is the press conference to reinstate Rose? When is the press conference to reinstate the members of the 1919 “Black” Sox? I know, before you blow a gasket, these are different times and one doesn’t necessarily beget the other. The transgressions I speak of, were committed during a period where gambling wasn’t legal in most places. That makes it more of a “sin” I guess. 

We are coming up on the 32nd anniversary of Rose accepting his permanent ban from the game he loved. By Rose voluntarily joining the list, MLB agreed to not release the findings of its gambling investigation. Baseball rules state that Rose could apply for reinstatement to the sport, but then commissioner Bart Giamatti said, “There is absolutely no deal for reinstatement. That is exactly what we did not agree to in terms of a fixed number of years.” 

The Black Sox scandal was a completely different animal all together. Those that participated did so because that was really their only way of getting paid. Salaries quite obviously were paltry compared to the game even 40 years after the event. The yearly salaries of the 1919 players were probably less than the highest paid guys of today, pay in taxes every year. There were no player bonuses for making, or winning the World Series. So, there was a monetary carrot dangled in front of the 1919 Black Sox. 

That won’t be an issue this time around. But there are still some folks worried about the Cubs and other teams letting gambling take place in the buildings they play. 

In May of 2018, when the Supreme Court legalized sports betting in many states the prevailing thought was concern. Umpire Joe West said to USA Today 3 years ago, “It scares me to death. I’m not worried about any of my guys doing anything (illegal), but I am worried about their security. People won’t have just a rooting interest in games, but now they’re gambling on them. So, if they lose their money, and they’re mad enough, anything’s liable to happen.”

Gambling hadn’t been a part of the game for a very long time, so why now?

You guessed it, money.

“Sports betting happens,’’ Commissioner Rob Manfred told Yahoo Finance in 2018. “Whether it’s legalized here or not, it’s happening out there. So, I think the question for sports is really, ‘Are we better off in a world where we have a nice, strong, uniform, federal regulation of gambling that protects the integrity of sports, provides sports with the tools to ensure that there is integrity in the competition…or are we better off closing our eyes to that and letting it go on as illegal gambling?’ “And that’s a debatable point.’’ Said Manfred. 

It’s quite a far cry from Manfred’s predecessor Bud Selig, who back in 2013 testified under oath that gambling was an “evil, which creates doubt and destroys your sport.” Selig stated back then that Las Vegas would never have a baseball team, and responded to New Jersey’s ongoing fight to legalize sports betting by saying, “This is corruption, in my opinion.”

Bud Selig leaves a complex legacy - The Washington Post
Courtesy: Morry Gash/Associated Press

This is 2021 and there is money to be made. Audiences are viewing games differently and some sports are trending older, including baseball, which makes the powers that be, well, nervous.

For the first time in a very long time, baseball is thinking way outside the box. It’s being reported by a few media outlets, including The New York Post, that Major League Baseball and Barstool Sports have had significant negotiations about airing national games on the site’s platforms. According to the Post, the discussions are what Barstool founder Dave Portnoy referred to a few weeks ago when he mentioned his company has had talks with “major leagues.”

MLB and Barstool potentially could team up to create a new type of broadcast with a focus on in-game gambling. The Post reported that the talks have only recently started and while they’ve picked up some steam, an agreement is not a certainty. 

What does that actually mean? Well, there is a hole to fill in baseball’s midweek broadcast schedule. Under new agreements with television partners, there are no longer exclusive Monday or Wednesday broadcasts. It’s uncertain if baseball would turn to YouTube, which has aired MLB games before, or if Peacock which just did games in July are really contenders. 

This is where Barstool could come in. It would really be a win-win for both the league and Barstool. The site would serve up a younger audience to MLB. The league has been trying to create ways to target millennials for a long time. Barstool has that built in already and would be able to create an “event” every time they air an MLB game. They would likely deliver games on the Barstool website and also its Instagram and Twitter accounts as well. The site’s many correspondents across the country are terrific at promoting their product and this would be no different. 

As the Post, points out, if a deal is reached and it’s “non-exclusive”, the games would likely still be broadcast on RSNs, making Barstool’s stream an alternative broadcast. That would allow for those that want a traditional broadcast to get that and those that want a different approach, will get what they want. 

The “different” approach would likely not feature a play-by-play and color analyst like you are used to seeing. This would be more like a host, and a bunch of other people, sitting around watching a game, talking about it. They’d also be discussing the gambling aspects, like money lines. It would be a little baseball and a lot of gambling. Just the way some people want it. 

As I write, I’m thinking about how I feel about all of this. Not just as a broadcaster but as a lifelong fan of the sport of baseball. I come to the conclusion that as much as the new stats we use in baseball took some getting used to, so will gambling. 

I don’t think we’ll notice much difference in the way a normal game is covered. Yes, I’ve already seen “tickers” at the bottom of the screen give me different information. During a broadcast I can get the latest in money lines and spreads. I’m sure that broadcasters will have to read promos for the various outlets their teams may have a partnership with. That’s not anything unusual these days, with most every element sponsored. As a play-by-play announcer, I think the audience understands YOU, yourself aren’t endorsing a product. I don’t really think any credibility issues will arise.

I mean, Al Michaels has been alluding to gambling during football games for years. Like, “this game is now OVER”, not meaning the game is finished, meaning the total has gone over the number. All good, because Michaels is one of the best to ever turn on a microphone. 

I have to admit, I never thought I’d see the day where baseball welcomed and partnered with gambling establishments, like apps and casinos. At the end of the day as a fan, I’m not a big gambler, but why would I be against what a lot of people really enjoy?

Oh yeah, and it’s legal. The thing that is strange is how quickly and comfortably baseball has been willing to partner with what was once so forbidden.

Here’s a fact. Whether you want to believe it or not, there are fans, sitting in your favorite ballpark today that are wagering on games. Baseball and other sports are just trying to get in on the action and tap into this very lucrative market. Hard to really blame them. 

The only thing I hope is that baseball seriously does its homework. How will it separate the teams from the wagering? If bets are being placed in the actual ballpark they are playing in, the criticism they’ll hear from the fans will be a little different, I’m sure. “Hey you just cost me money with that strikeout!” Can you imagine? 

Why gambling used to scare baseball and why it doesn't anymore -  SBNation.com
Courtesy: SB Nation

The probability of players or umpires or officials to willingly participate in a conspiracy are low, but you have to consider the future. What haven’t they thought of? What are some of the loopholes? How could baseball be opened up to its next gambling scandal? 

I’d be willing to bet there is a lot of scrambling going on at baseball’s headquarters in New York. 

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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