Whether it be baseball, basketball, football, or hockey, one voice is a consistent presence behind the microphone, bringing fans all the action locally in the New York-Metropolitan area, domestically across the United States, and internationally all around the world.
Versatility is a coveted asset across many lines of work in today’s media job marketplace and in the realm of play-by-play announcing, Kenny Albert seems to have set the standard.
Calling all four major sports on a near-regular basis for both regional and national sports television networks — including NBC Sports, Turner Sports, MSG Networks, and Fox Sports — Albert has seen firsthand the shift in the industry from the perspective of a broadcaster. But that’s not all. He calls games on the radio as well, working in various capacities for the New York Rangers, the team with which he got his start in professional broadcasting alongside his father.
Albert was exposed to sports broadcasting from a young age by virtue of growing up in a family of sportscasters, with his father Marv and uncles Steve and Al building careers in the profession. Upon being gifted a toy tape recorder for his fifth or sixth birthday, Albert began to prepare for what quickly became his primary career aspiration; that is, to be a professional play-by-play announcer.
He remembers bringing his toy tape recorder to sports venues including Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium once of age, and prepared for each game by looking over the rosters and keeping up-to-date with the latest statistics. His big break as a broadcaster later came as a sophomore at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, New York by means of volunteering to fill an unaddressed vacancy.
“Cox Cable of Great Neck came to my school to film a girls basketball game,” said Albert. “They had two cameras [and] a small production van, but no announcers. I volunteered and they clipped a microphone onto my shirt [and] I did the game.”
By the end of high school, Albert had turned his volunteering into a job, working 75 to 100 games all over Long Island in sports such as lacrosse, hockey, basketball, baseball, football, and soccer, with his friends serving as color analysts. In college, Albert was a member of WNYU Radio at New York University and continued to call games on the radio. Yet he believes the experience he had in high school positioned him to be ahead of the pack in a profession with substantial levels of competition.
“I felt like I really had a three-year head start on anybody else at that time who wanted to do play-by-play,” said Albert. “There weren’t really any opportunities until college back then in the ‘80s. The three years at Cox Cable were just such an unbelievable experience to get three years of practice and reps under my belt.”
After graduating college with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, Albert became the radio voice of the Baltimore Skipjacks in the American Hockey League and quickly made his jump to the pros beginning in 1992 as the television play-by-play broadcaster for the National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals.
From there, Albert continued to find and add new opportunities to call professional games in football, baseball, and basketball, both on the radio and on television – and he continues to call games in both mediums today. Being conscious of the audience and how it is consuming the game is central to understanding the differences in calling a sporting event for one medium as opposed to the other.
“On radio, obviously you have to be more descriptive [because] the listener can’t see what’s going on. The description is the key. Location on the ice, on the court, on the field, etc.,” Albert explained. “You have to give the time and the score a lot more often on radio. On TV, it’s up on the upper lefthand corner of the screen, which wasn’t the case before I started working professionally. [Also,] you definitely don’t have to talk as much [on TV]; you can leave more time for the color analyst to come in.”
In broadcasting events across many professional sports, Albert has worked with over 225 color analysts, a figure he surmises might just be the record for a play-by-play announcer.
Whether it be Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Eddie Olczyk, Tim McCarver, or Jonathan Vilma, getting their perspectives on the game at hand is essential in creating and maintaining a seamless broadcast. Since the play-by-play announcer does not need to describe as much of the action occurring on visual broadcast mediums, he is able to afford his partner in the booth, whoever it may be, more time to talk in those instances.
Albert, in his opinion, says hockey is the least difficult sport for him to call, partly because he has been doing it for 32 years, but also due to its rhythmic style of play – especially on the radio.
“You’re just into the flow really for the entire 60 minutes,” he said. “People always ask me about the names and the pronunciations and the fact that the players change on the fly, but to me, it’s almost like riding a bike because I’ve been doing it for so long.”
Conversely, Albert believes baseball is the most difficult sport for him to call since the style of the broadcast is more conversational in nature and because he does not call baseball games on a regular basis. “If it’s a game every week, or 10 [to] 15 games over the course of the season – which is what I’ve usually done – because there is so much downtime, [hopefully] you have a great color analyst that can fill in a lot of that time,” he explained.
While Albert calls baseball the least out of the four major U.S. sports, one of his most memorable moments as a broadcaster was being behind the mic for José Bautista’s iconic bat flip in Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division Series at Rogers Centre in Toronto with the background noise of 49,742 impassioned fans.
He also recently called the 2022 NHL Winter Classic from Target Field in Minneapolis – home of Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins – at a game-time temperature of -5.7 degrees Celsius. Despite the frigid temperature, Albert’s experience calling the game was “magical,” especially since it was played at night with natural, aesthetic touches in a setting seemingly made for television, including eight frozen ponds formed in the outfield.
“We had [the window] open at the start because we wanted to feel the elements and experience what it was like for the fans and for the players,” said Albert. “We did keep the window closed in the broadcast booth for a good portion of the game… We were still able to see the ice and see all the monitors in the booth the same as if the window were open. It was a fantastic experience.”
Albert has called other big events as well, including the Stanley Cup Finals, the Winter Olympics, and NFL divisional playoff games. From the days practicing with his toy tape recorder and growing up around family members in the profession, he understood the importance of preparation and professionalism in trying to establish a career for himself in the booth.
“That’s the goal for any play-by-play broadcaster is to continue to work big events, playoff games, [and] championships,” said Albert. “There is a lot of travel and a lot of preparation involved, but it’s just so much fun.”
As the landscape of sports media continues to shift, in spite of its apparent acceleration due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the introduction of emerging technologies, new platforms for content dissemination, and modification of best practices to maximize cost-efficiency have resulted in a paradigmatic deviation from the norms that had been associated with travel and preparation.
Pertaining to travel, Albert and nearly every other play-by-play announcer in the country has experienced the process of calling games remotely to ensure the health and safety of themselves and network crew members. While the decision, which had been in consideration among sports networks prior to the pandemic to cut travel expenses, impacts the range of vision and subsequent understanding of action away from gameplay, Albert sees its implementation as a “new normal” towards which the industry will have to lessen its intransigence.
“To me, I feel like no matter the sport, I [can] probably see about 85 percent on the monitor of what I would [see] if I were at the arena,” said Albert. “You don’t get the emotions or the feel of being there, but it’s probably not as bad as I expected when we started… It does save the wear and tear on the body a little bit for those of us who have been traveling for a long time. That’s probably one positive that’s come out of it.”
Information overload is an offshoot of the development and expansion of the internet, directly affecting the preparation process for play-by-play broadcasters. When Albert started working for the NFL on Fox in 1994, he would receive a shipment of VHS tapes every Wednesday with the games of the teams they would be covering that week, and any news clippings or supplementary materials were received through fax. Following the advent of the internet, Albert received articles through email, began to tape games on television, and see action from all across the country with DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket.
“It really wasn’t that long ago, but thanks to technology, it’s made the preparation on one hand a lot easier, [but] on the other hand there’s so much information available [that] you could basically 24/7 try to find various nuggets and read that extra article in order to get ready for that week’s or that night’s game,” said Albert.
The role of the traditional play-by-play announcer is also changing with the introduction of concurrent presentations during national games, such as the Monday Night Football “ManningCast,” Statcast Edition of the MLB Home Run Derby, and the forthcoming Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod. Though he hopes the role in which he has been employed for over three decades staves off extinction, Albert is cognizant of the ongoing evolution of the industry geared to satisfy consumer demand while minimizing the opportunity cost associated with such evolution in the process.
“I think with a telecast such as the ManningCast, it’s a unique perspective hearing from two guys who were among the top quarterbacks of all time,” said Albert. “Hopefully, the role of a play-by-play announcer on the traditional broadcast doesn’t go away and is around for a long, long time. But I think with so many channels out there with people watching things on their phones and on computers and on [tablets], and all of the technology available now that wasn’t [around] 10, 20, 30 years ago [that] there’s definitely a place for the alternate broadcasts, for sure.”
Whether they want to be a play-by-play announcer, analyst, sideline reporter, or talk show host, Albert’s advice is the same for prospective broadcasters: Come prepared, be versatile in whatever you do, and find opportunities in places where they may seem sparse.
“When I was growing up, we had seven channels; there was no cable [and] no satellite,” said Albert. “There are just so many opportunities out there these days. [While] I was at college at NYU, we had to fight for air time to broadcast the men’s and women’s basketball games because the radio station was the only outlet. These days if you’re at school, you can go broadcast a lacrosse game or a soccer game and put it out there on the internet. It’s just another way to get reps and get practice even if it’s not through the traditional means of a campus radio station.”
Albert has never genuinely “worked” a day in his life and he certainly hopes to keep it that way. Whether it has been on the radio or on television, rinkside or perched behind home plate, at the venue or in a studio, his ability to broadcast different types of sporting events professionally on multiple broadcast platforms both locally and nationally has afforded him various opportunities in sports media. He hopes he can continue to be the voice behind more memorable moments as his career progresses within a dynamic, growing industry.
“I never feel like I’m going to work,” said Albert. “I hope I never lose that feeling.”
Meet The Market Managers: Ryan Hatch, Bonneville International Phoenix
“Our pitch is that these brands have a connection to the market. That works for us, and that works because it’s emotional. It works because it’s local. It works because of the creative messaging behind it.”
For as long as I have known Ryan Hatch, he has been a good friend, encouraging me to take advantage of each opportunity put in front of me. When someone treats you that way, you cannot be anything but thrilled when you see them do the same thing.
Late last year, Ryan was elevated from a programming executive role with Bonneville to become Market Manager of the company’s Phoenix cluster. He is now overseeing every aspect of a building that he has worked in for a long time.
I thought it would be fun to visit with him to see what has changed. The last time I profiled him, he was serving as PD of Arizona Sports 98.7. The last time we profiled Bonneville Phoenix for this series, it was Scott Sutherland in the Market Manager’s chair. So, what has changed?
In this conversation, presented by Point to Point Marketing, Ryan and I discuss the changing nature of our business, retaining great talent, and supporting the person who’s tasked with filling your former position and leading the programming team forward. When a company is ahead of the curve with its digital strategy and generating strong ratings and revenue, what’s next?
Demetri Ravanos: So how has the transition gone moving from programming into the market manager’s seat? We’re a little over six months into the change. How steep has the learning curve been?
Ryan Hatch: You know what? It’s been fantastic. And I have to give so much credit to Scott Sutherland, who was in the chair before me, and others within the company for really preparing me for this moment. But it’s not just a transition from programming. I would think even if I came up through the sales, marketing or finance side there would be a curve.
I’m learning new things every single day and loving it. So whether it’s six months or six years in this chair or more, I hope that I can always say that.
I love the job. I love the market. Obviously, you know, I’ve been here for such a long time and it’s the best chair to be in. I’m thrilled.
DR: You mentioned Scott and I started thinking about this after you and I set a time to talk. There’s this advantageous environment of education there, right? Because Scott is still in the area. He held your job before. You’re obviously in the building and that’s got to be advantageous for Sean Thompson. How much do those conversations take place day-to-day? There seems to be an opportunity for everybody to learn and build on the person that came before them because they can just walk down the hall and ask.
RH: Absolutely it can be advantageous because you’ve got institutional knowledge. Every person that’s been in your chair before can certainly provide important information to help expedite the onboarding process.
The other side of it is making sure that there are clear boundaries. I can speak with Sean Thompson coming in on the programming side. My goal is to empower him and embolden Sean to take this brand to a different level with new ideas and thoughts.
I’d been in that chair for so long, we were certainly ready for somebody new to come in with a new perspective and new experiences, and Sean’s done a wonderful job doing that. I think if you talk to Scott, he would probably say something similar. So when you ask the question, “is it advantageous?”, the answer is unquestionable. Yes, it is. At the same time, you have to really be clear on where those boundaries are, how much you want to give and share, and how much you want to let that person learn and experience it on their own as they’re creating their new environment, if that makes sense.
DR: So with those boundaries, are there things you see Sean putting into place that make you think, “Oh man, that’s really cool. I kind of miss programing at this moment”?
RH: Well, the irony is in asking that question, I think today is actually his 90th day on the job. So we’re still in the basic stages of him taking that chair.
He’s full of ideas, full of energy. I can’t wait to see so much of it come to fruition. But again, when you’re only three months in, you’re doing a lot of listening and a lot of learning before you dig in to start making change. I expect that to come, but he walked into a position with a great on-air staff, fantastic talent, an unbelievable digital team, with a great marketing and promotional support team behind him as well.
I’ll tell you what I’m most excited about is what’s going to happen this fall. After the listening and the learning is done, we’ll be starting to really build some exciting plans into the NFL season around the Cardinals and the NFL. We’re also hosting the Super Bowl in February of ’23 as well. So we’ve got a great big build coming here in Arizona.
DR: So let’s talk a little bit about the future and where things can go, not just for Phoenix, but for Bonneville overall. I told you this a million times. What has always impressed me about the company, even before you and I got to know each other, was that you guys were so ahead of the curve on recognizing the value of digital content. Arizona Sports is not a radio station, it is a brand.
I wonder now that you are in the market manager’s chair, how you look at all of the money from these different companies being put into podcasts. I mean, the deals being made to turn podcasts into TV shows or movies, do you ever think about what is possible or maybe what the next evolution for the digital side of Bonneville could or should be?
RH: Well, I think as a company, and not to speak for Tanya Vea, who’s in a new EVP position helping oversee a lot of our content initiatives, we’re opening up a mechanism for local ideas to be funneled up to a team led by our VP of Podcasting, Sheryl Worsley. The idea is to be able to support a local that might scale on a national level and help it achieve that potential. I think that we’re very aggressive. I think that we’re also very strategic in the podcasting world.
There’s a blessing and a curse there. The blessing is that that audience is expanding rapidly and the revenue’s been following, you know, slowly, but still following in that direction. The downside is how much time and energy and creativity a lot of our best talent have.
Do we want to put our talk show hosts, who are spending 4 hours a day creating live broadcast content, at the forefront of that effort? How many more hours a day of creative juice do they have left for a podcast or a passion project? It could be something that might not be entirely complimentary to the brand.
I think you have to be smart and strategic and understand how big of a bed it is you want to make. I think we’re being strategic about it and making the best decision for each individual circumstance.
DR: So what about from a broadcast angle? As podcasting continues to grow and becomes the kind of thing that sellers see as easier to get clients involved with, what are the things that terrestrial radio is going to have to do to secure its own future?
RH: Well, speaking on behalf of our properties here, where we’re all local news and all local sports. Really, that’s our business. I don’t think that there’s anything that can replicate the power of live, in the moment, information-based content. And that is the value proposition that broadcast has.
Now, will that traditional radio audience continue to decline and find other venues? Potentially. I mean, that’s just natural, and I think that we’ve seen that accelerate through the pandemic. That doesn’t take away from the importance though.
If you look at Bonneville Phoenix, whether it’s Arizona Sports or KTAR, our streaming numbers are way, way up. Our monthly app users are way, way up. Our smart speaker usage is way, way up. And I think too many times we categorize one as digital and one as radio. I look at it more through the lens of what is a live broadcast and what is driven by more destination-based, story-based, topic-based choices. That’s a different experience and you can serve both.
DR: What is your view of having that live content accessed by both radios and streaming devices? When you’re a programmer, I think it is it is easier to say, “Look, people are coming to this content. This is good content. That is what matters.” But now that you’re the market manager, I know you are a real advocate for total line reporting, but now the ratings take on this whole different meaning to you than they did before. What is your view of the right path forward to paint that picture easily and accurately for advertisers about just how powerful these brands are, whether it’s Arizona Sports or KTAR?
RH: Thank goodness we have fantastic sales management and account executives on the streets telling that story and big brands to back them up with that unique content that our stations are delivering. And as I’ve told you in different settings over the years Demetri, Nielsen is one of many tools that tell that story. When we’re on the streets talking to a potential advertiser, and understand that our game is not as national or our market is not as regional, we are hyper-locally focused. In Phoenix, Arizona, that’s a lot of small to medium-sized businesses. So when we can walk in and share a total audience report that gives a glimpse of Nielsen, which we know is antiquated and really, really needs to be reformed and updated. You’ve got to bring your Google Analytics and your Triton numbers. You have so many other tools to use to evaluate how our content is being delivered and consumed. You’ve got to paint that entire total audience story, and I will tell you that it’s a story that is very well received in Phoenix with our products.
DR: Maybe this is more of a question for your sales staff, but is it a matter of walking potential advertisers and current advertisers through each individual number, or do you find a way to synthesize it down into a simple illustration of how many people are listening to your content every day?
RH: It’s not a numbers game. It’s not getting into detail about how many tens of thousands of listeners we have on one platform and how many on another and how many views or clicks on websites. Our pitch is that these brands have a connection to the market. That works for us, and that works because it’s emotional. It works because it’s local. It works because of the creative messaging behind it. When you have something that works for your advertisers, they’re not going to be coming in and scrutinizing the numbers left and right.
Now, you have to deliver to the audience, and we have significant audiences. In fact, I’ll tell you right now, combining everything together. And it’s not apples to apples, because these are all different channels. But our audience is here in Phoenix between our websites, our apps, and our radio distribution. Our audiences have never been better. I mean, that’s a wonderful and easy story to tell.
DR: Play-by-play is obviously a big part of what you do on Arizona Sports. You and I have talked before about the landscape of Phoenix sports, and I think you’ve described it as, because Phoenix is a transplant market, you find yourself talking about everyone’s second favorite team.
So how does that play with advertisers? Do they buy into the idea that this is a unifying thing or is there some concern that it is too much of a transplant market for the value returned by play-by-play doesn’t match the cost to advertise in that space?
RH: Our original franchise, the Phoenix Suns, while, they had a disappointing end of the season, it couldn’t have been more galvanizing. That is the one team that has been here for 50-plus years. That orange blood does run deep. The Cardinals have had their moments. The Diamondbacks have the only championship in the major sports here, but that was back in 2001.
I’ll answer that question in a couple of ways. Number one, we are catering to the fans and to the super fans, but we try to create content that is going to be accessible and interesting for those that would claim that any of the franchises are their second favorite team in a given league. When you move into a market and you head to the office or nowadays maybe it’s a Zoom call, you still want to be able to have a conversation about something that’s relevant. You want a shared experience with your coworker or a neighbor, somebody at school when you’re hanging out waiting to up the kids. So often that conversation is sports.
We have a fantastic sports market. Now, where’s the passion level? Is it as high as a Boston or Philadelphia? Of course not and we’re not going to act like it is. But at the end of the day, what does an advertiser look for? They’re looking for an audience and they’re looking for something exclusive to put their message on. That’s what we’re able to offer with our play-by-play. On top of that, what’s become more and more important to us in our model, especially on the digital side over the years, is the access to those decision-makers, to the coaches, the exclusive access to the general managers with weekly calls, and things like player shows.
There’s so much more that you can offer beyond just the game itself that makes these partnerships great for our business and the advertising community.
DR: So coming out of what is being called The Great Resignation, what are you experiencing as a market manager and what are your other hiring managers experiencing? What are the new challenges of recruiting, whether it is sales or programing, any kind of talent in an environment like this?
RH: Well, let’s add to that and talk about inflationary pressures as well. I mean, there are so many factors at play right now, and I think it’s as tough as I can ever remember it.
What we’re doing here at Bonneville Phoenix is really leaning into our culture and making sure that we’re an employer of choice because we have a culture that people want to be a part of. It’s a good team environment full of hungry people that want to succeed not just for themselves. So the more hungry, humble, and smart people we find, the better off we’re going to be.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t lost. There’s been a dramatic shuffle. Right now, I can say that we’re close to a full boat, but that wasn’t the case a month ago. There are so many different forces at play right now. It is a difficult environment. Our news side alone faces unique challenges. News itself has been under attack for multiple years. Don’t you think that burns people out?
Absolutely I have concerns, but what can we control? Well, we can focus on executing the vision that Bonneville has provided. It’s built on passionate people and innovation. It is about creating a culture people want to be a part of.
DR: We’ve heard a lot about burnout when people talk about why they leave a job in any industry. We hear about work-life balance. You’re responsible for the entire building, so what are you telling your managers on the sales and programming side about creating an environment for employees that respects that those are real and valid concerns while still maintaining the level of expectation of quality for Arizona Sports and KTAR.
RH: We’re still committed to the highest standards, and we always will be. And we found that certain parts of the business can work pretty effectively from home, while other parts of the business really can’t. I will tell you, on the content side working from home, we did it when we had to. We did it, I would say fairly effectively for a few extended periods. But overall, in a local news and local sports environment that really is driven by the breaking news, the need to work together in a space is real. You just can’t do things as quickly or as effectively or as creatively if you’re separated. You just can’t.
Now, on the sales side, we want them on the streets. We want them out of the office, but there is a balance. So what are we asking our great sales managers to do? We’re asking them just to make sure that they are up to speed on where the activity is and that we’re doing all the jobs that need to be done. Do I ever see us going back to five days a week in the office? I don’t. I think that ship has sailed and I think that’s just fine. I think there’s some real benefit to that.
The way to make this all work is to empower our department heads to come up with a plan that’s going to work best for them, for their people, and deliver on what our expectations are for the business. And then as leaders, we have to understand that the plan is going to be evolving. It really is. This is not going to be decided on a new policy set. I think that we’re in a new world, probably for the rest of our lives.
Broadcasting Fills The Baseball Void For Keith Moreland
“When I got through… I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”
Sports color analysts are more often than not former players. This has been a consistent norm across sports broadcasting at all levels. The analyst is there to add “color” to the play-by-play broadcaster’s metaphorical and verbal “drawing” of the game. For former MLB slugger and catcher, Keith Moreland, this was the surprise post-playing retirement career that has boosted him to a key figure in Austin media and national media alike.
Moreland played football and baseball at the University of Texas before making his way to the MLB for 12 years with key contributions to the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs in the 1980s.
Moreland reminisced on his decision to play baseball full time: “I thought I was going to be in the NFL, but Earl Campbell changed that. I had just played summer ball. We had won a championship and I missed the first few days of two-a-days. I hadn’t even had a physical yet and I’m in a scrimmage. I stepped up to this freshman running back and as he ducked his shoulder, one of his feet hit my chest and the other hit my face mask and he kept on truckin’. I got up and I thought ‘I could be a pretty good baseball player.’
So I told Coach Royal after practice I was going to focus on baseball and he asked ‘what took you so long? We were surprised you came back because we think you have a really good shot at playing professional baseball.'”
It was a good choice for Moreland. He was part of the 1973 College World Series winning Texas Longhorns baseball team. While at Texas Moreland hit .388 and became the all-time leader in hits for the College World Series. After being drafted by the Phillies in the 7th round of the 1975 draft, Moreland would go-on to play in the majors from 1978 to 1989.
“You go your whole life trying to get to play professionally. When I got through my opportunity to play in the big leagues, I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”
Broadcasting was not the original retirement plan for Moreland. He first tried his luck at coaching with his first stop being his alma mater as an assistant for the Longhorns. At the time, Bill Schoening (a Philadelphia native and Phillies fan), was the radio play-by-play broadcaster. Schoening made Moreland a go-to for a pre-game interview and convinced him to come on talk shows. Schoening even convinced Moreland to practice live broadcasting skills by taking a recorder to games and listening back to them to learn.
“Bill was the guy who brought me onboard and I still have those tapes and I really learned from them, but I don’t want anyone else to ever hear them!” Moreland adds with a chuckle on how far he has come in over 25 years of broadcasting.
Moreland has been a key part of University of Texas radio broadcasts for baseball since the 1990s and has catapulted that broadcast experience to Texas high school football, Longhorn football radio and television broadcasts, ESPN, the Little League World Series, the Chicago Cubs and more since hanging up his cleats and picking up a microphone.
While his playing days are well behind him, Moreland still takes the spirit of his professional athlete background to his broadcasting:
“If you don’t bring energy to your broadcast, somebody’s gonna turn the game on and wonder ‘what’s wrong? Are they losing the game?’”, Moreland remarks, “So you have to come prepared and with energy for the broadcasts.”
Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting
The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.
As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.
For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.
While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements.
While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized.
Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.
People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.
First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.
The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues.
None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.
As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.