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BetQL’s Nick Kostos Wants to Reach More Than Sports Bettors

“I’ve always wanted to feel like Cheers, a place where everyone can go to talk about sports where no one feels left out or like they don’t have a seat at the table.”

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To say that sports gambling has become a huge part of the entire sports radio industry would be the understatement of the year. Not to say that sports betting wasn’t discussed on talk shows before it became legal in many states, but the explosion in the last few years has been significant and, in the opinion of Nick Kostos, one of the major players in sports betting content, a long time coming.

“I’m surprised it didn’t become bigger even sooner,” said Kostos, the co-host of You Better You Bet on Audacy’s BetQL Network. “I always felt like it was going to take off. I’m not surprised by how big it’s gotten. My surprise is that it took as long as it did for things to kind of get rolling the way that it has.”

You Better You Bet can be heard on BetQL Monday through Friday from 3 to 7 PM ET. Two hours of the show is now simulcast on the Stadium app while the entire show also airs on Sirius XM. Kostos also does a weekend version of the show on Sundays from 11 AM to 1 PM ET while also hosting a Sunday show on WFAN in New York from 8:30 AM to 9 AM. Additionally, Kostos does a weekly appearance on both Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football with Westwood One.

Nick Kostos owes a huge debt of gratitude to former Audacy Sports President Mike Dee for initially giving a sports betting show and network a chance back in 2019. What started as just a weekend show and network and survived through the COVID-19 pandemic has now grown incredibly into an operation that has garnered credibility throughout the industry.

Last year, You Better You Bet made Barrett Sports Media’s Top 20 list for national sports radio shows.

“Just to have the respect of our peers in that way is really great,” said Kostos. “My vision when the show started — and I think my co-host Ken Barkley and have done a pretty good job of pulling this off — is the concept of ‘Wagertainment’ which the company has kind of branded the entire network around. Wagertainment, to me, is the combination of smart betting content but we’re also going to make it entertaining and fun.”

“I think that was a defining moment being recognized by their peers and by people in management jobs in sports media that they were a sports betting show recognized in the top 20,” said Mitch Rosen, Vice-President of the BetQL Network and Operations Director/Brand Manager for 670 The Score in Chicago. 

Kostos and Barkley design each show so that it’s entertainment for ardent sports gamblers, novice sports gamblers who are looking for good information, and sports fans who will hear previews of the games they want to watch.

The brass tacks are that listeners will hear content that gets them ready for the game.

Who is going to win? How many points will they win by? Who is going to play and who is not going to play? How is my fantasy team going to do?

“I think that concept has helped us win a little bit in this space,” said Kostos. “We have made a real emphasis this football season on the guests that we have on the show to try and reach a broader demographic by having studio analysts and play-by-play voices.”

The guest list for You Better You Bet includes names like Rece Davis, Adam Lefkoe, Liam McGugh, Brad Nessler, and Tim Brando.

“We’re really trying to reach basically every single segment of people who would be interested in sports betting content,” said Kostos. 

The show, the anchor of the BetQL network, has become the gold standard when it comes to sports betting content and Kostos, an alum of Fordham University’s famous WFUV radio station as well as a former producer at Sirius XM, is a big reason why.

To steal a line from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, he likes to “just bring it” every single day and every single show.

“Nick, arguably, is one of the most energetic, knowledgeable, charismatic on-air personalities in the sports wagering betting entertainment business,” said Rosen. “I’ve been in the business a long time and there are not many people who have that kind of passion and energy and knowledge that Nick has. When a show with a great partnership with BetMGM has 23 million downloads plus in a year, it shows you the interest that the fan base has around the world.”

It takes a village for something to be successful and Nick Kostos is surrounded by some extremely talented people on You Better You Bet. Just like Kostos, co-host Ken Barkley comes from a producer background having worked for Scott Van Pelt at ESPN. Kostos views Barkley as a “godsend” and their partnership on the show has grown and nurtured to the point where the program has become the success that it is today.

“Those backgrounds that both of us have in producing have allowed us with our crew and our current producer Alex Fasano to really be able to craft a show that makes sense,” said Kostos.  “There are a lot of good betting content creators and there are a lot of good betting analysts out there. I think that Ken Barkley is as good if not better than anybody else when it comes to breaking down sports betting. Without him, I don’t think You Better You Bet and me are able to get to the point that we’re at right now.”

A big reason for the success of the show is that there is a community feel to it. Many sports radio shows have that office “water cooler” type of feel where two or more people can just enjoy a good sports conversation. You Better You Bet takes it a step further by bringing the discussion to a bigger venue…

Like the one where everybody knows your name.

“I’ve always wanted to feel like Cheers, a place where everyone can go to talk about sports where no one feels left out or like they don’t have a seat at the table,” said Kostos. “You don’t have to show up to listen to You Better You Bet and have a PHD in sports betting. You don’t have to have that knowledge in order to sit down at the bar and talk sports with us.”

Sports betting has just added another layer to the enjoyment of being a sports fan. Some people bet on sports and some people don’t but both groups share the same interests as the game is about to kick off, the puck is about to drop, the opening tip-off is about to take place and the first pitch is about to be thrown.

You root for your team to win, whether it’s your favorite team or it’s the team that you bet on.

“It becomes something that people can consume whether they bet or not because it’s all talking about the games,” said Nick Kostos. “Yes, we’re trying to make money and win our bets but at the heart of it, it’s a sports conversation. Who is going to win the game, by how many points, and what players are going to play well or poorly in the game? That’s something that all sports fans think about on a daily basis.”

Here’s a safe bet: If you tune in to You Better You Bet on BetQL, you’re going to be entertained and educated by Nick Kostos and company. Whether you took the favorite, the underdog, the over or the under or you’re just a huge sports fan, it’s a fun sports community that welcomes everyone who enjoys watching the games.

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WWE’s Paul Heyman Joins the 2024 BSM Summit

“I am thrilled to share that on Wednesday March 13th in New York City, we will welcome a man who has experienced every part of the wrestling and entertainment business both on-air and behind the scenes.”

Jason Barrett

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The final few weeks leading up to the BSM Summit are my least favorite time of the entire process. Between last-minute preparations, unexpected changes, laying out a schedule that fits everyone’s schedule, giving speakers direction, and handling the creative for the banners, programs and what appears on the screen, it can be overwhelming. This event isn’t created and produced by a large organization. It’s done by BSM’s small team and a few volunteers. There is no production team. That’s me. There is no sales team. That’s Stephanie. The creative squad that brainstorms ahead of the show? That’s me peppering Dave Greene, Demetri Ravanos and Stephanie Eads with every single thing that pops into my head.

I share this because on Monday I’ll be releasing our full schedule for the 2024 BSM Summit. You’ll find it on BarrettSportsMedia.com/Summit. If you type in BSMSummit.com it will take you to that page. I’m also hoping to announce our final collection of speakers. You guys will like some of the folks coming to speak who we’ve yet to announce.

Booking this event month’s in advance could be easily done. I could execute a radio conference in my sleep. But I’m not interested in easy. I’m focused on delivering a two-day event that unites professionals across the entire media universe, many who you may never share space with again. I believe in this concept because it helps you learn, stay sharp, discover what others do to create success that you may not have thought about, and in the process, you build new connections.

Creating an event that dives into radio, podcasting, social media, newsletters, television, video execution, sales and promotions, the economic climate, and programming strategy, requires thinking outside the box and swinging for the fences. Think about it. Where else are you going to hear the CEO of a radio company one minute, two local sports talk show hosts the next, four digital executives after that, four social media superstars once they’re done, and cap it all off with discussions about business, entertainment, and the future? It may not be perfect or rolled out the way a few would prefer but it works for us. By the time we hit the stage on March 13-14, that’s when the six months of hard work pay off and the fun begins.

Speaking of fun, if you’ve been to a Summit before, you’ve heard me connect the world of sports media to professional wrestling. The battle for audience attention, understanding how to leverage social media, incorporate advertising, create interest in on-air talent, and design programming to capture ratings are something the two world’s have in common. We’ve been fortunate to have Shawn Michaels and Eric Bischoff speak at prior shows but never have we had a speaker involved who’d be part of the upcoming main event for WrestleMania.

I am thrilled to share that on Wednesday March 13th in New York City, we will welcome a man who has experienced every part of the wrestling and entertainment business both on-air and behind the scenes. It is an honor to have the great Paul Heyman joining us at this year’s Summit.

If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Heyman, here’s the cliff notes version of what you need to know. Currently, Paul serves as the special counsel for WWE Universal Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns. Reigns has been world champion for 1269 days, and the storyline he’s involved in (The Bloodline) has been a massive hit on television and digital for the WWE. Roman will be competing in the main event at the WWE’s largest show of the year, WrestleMania with Heyman in his corner. The event has become so big that The Rock has returned to become part of the story.

As an on-air character, Heyman is gifted in his ability to command the audience’s attention. His promos are always well thought out, well executed, and interesting. Learning about his process as a talent and what goes into creating a compelling monologue is going to be a real treat for on-air folks in the room.

In addition, Paul is an accomplished writer, executive, promoter and booker. He’s served as the lead writer for both WWE RAW and Smackdown, leading both to the top of the ratings charts. He’s also been on the other side as the leader of an underdog promotion (ECW) tasked with building a brand and competing against the top dog, WWE. Paul is also well versed in advertising having co-founded the Looking4Larry Agency, which is known for its wildly imaginative campaigns for 2K Sports, NASCAR, Smart Cups, Monster Trucks, EA Sports and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Las Vegas.

Talent have praised his creative ideas and ability to design and structure compelling television. Audiences have emotionally connected to his on-air commentaries, and on Wednesday March 13th, BSM Summit attendees will learn what it takes to create, cut through, and command the room’s attention when I sit down with Paul Heyman for an in-depth conversation.

A reminder, tickets for the 2024 BSM Summit are on-sale through BSMSummit.com and the BSM Store. Prices will increase on March 4th so act now and save money before it’s too late. I hope to see you in NYC in three weeks.

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Sports Broadcasts Should Remain Political-Free Zones

There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.

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A cartoon depicting political candidates talking sports
Credit: Maia Lathrop / Clarion

Political thoughts and ads are everywhere. It seems like everything these days is politicized. Sports hasn’t escaped either. Athletes take stands, some commentators have made their political positions well known too.

In this case, politics is more of a catch-all term. It doesn’t just mean Democrat or Republican, it can mean making a comment on any hot button issue in America or anywhere else. Controversies that create a public stir. We’ve had a few over the course of the last few weeks that drummed up lots of emotion and certainly could have been avoided.

The most recent example took place last weekend at the NBA All-Star Saturday on TNT. As I’m sure you know by now, Kenny Smith had some things to say about the Steph Curry/Sabrina Ionescu 3-point shootout. Such choice things as, “She should have shot it from the women’s line, that would have been a fair contest.” Ionescu more than held her own, with 26 points which would have qualified her for the men’s finals in the event. Smith’s partner Reggie Miller didn’t make things much better, when he chimed in, “According to you, you want her to be playing with dolls.” Smith’s response: “Playing with dolls is good, too.” The fallout was swift thanks to social media.

Smith went on to Stephen A. Smith’s ESPN show earlier in the week to defend his commentary. “I think it’s much ado about nothing, honestly,” Smith said, when asked about the controversy. “Most people who know basketball understood what I was talking about. Actually, I was advocating for her, more than anything else, because basketball is muscle memory. So, he practices from one range, she practices from another.” Smith further explained, “Most people just don’t check the tape, they want to just check the bait. My history and track record speaks for itself,” Smith said. “I was clueless why people thought I didn’t want equality.”

Can. Worms. Opened. I get it, social media can make things appear one way when they are intended in another. My question to Smith and Miller, why make the commentary at all in that moment? Ionescu is a terrific basketball player and shooter. Everybody knew the rules going into the exhibition, so why make a stink about it? Or, if the need outweighs the caution, how about putting some notes down on paper so that you aren’t taken out of context? There are ways to make the commentary smoother. It’s not like the event was a surprise.

Talk shows fall into a different light. That’s all about opinion and it is likely up to each individual to understand how far to push it. Hosts should know their markets and from there can figure out what may or may not work. Topics like these generally lead to more fan engagement, because everyone has an opinion. It’s up to the host or hosts to keep the topic ‘on the rails’ or it becomes a free for all.

When it comes to announcers, hosts and reporters in the industry, mistakes can happen. I get that. It’s live and sometimes thoughts can go awry. We’ve seen it countless times. My question is this, why even go there? What is the benefit? Some like to try and make a name for themselves, to be controversial just for the sake of “look at me” or “listen to me” and trying to make headlines. That’s kind of sad to me. There is more to lose than to gain in these cases.

We’ve seen cases of misspeaking and/or controversial ‘hot button’ statements made on air that have proven costly to livelihoods. One of the more recent moments took place in May 2023. Glen Kuiper and the A’s were in Kansas City and had visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum earlier in the day. He was discussing the visit on air when he dropped the n-word. His claim was that his pronunciation of “negro” was misheard. After an investigation, he was fired. Kuiper was one of the best local television announcers.

Before that Reds announcer Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic, making a homophobic remark. Brennaman was pulled from the broadcast mid-game and suspended. The Reds later told Brennaman that he would not be returning, which prompted his resignation. To his credit Brennaman owned it and is trying to improve himself as a person. He’s been forgiven by the LGBTQ+ community in Cincinnati, after he attended several meetings with leaders. They weren’t easy as he told me a couple of years ago, but he made the extreme effort.

If there’s one entity in sports broadcasting that needs to stay out of the fray, and be ‘politic proof’ it’s the sports broadcast and telecast. The booth needs to remain pure. It needs to be a sanctuary for fans and broadcasters alike. There aren’t many fans that are tuning into a baseball, basketball, football or hockey broadcast to learn about your opinions about anything else but the game. Fans look to escape that when listening to or watching a game. Sports is the place we go to forget about the real world for 3-4 hours at a time.

We all have opinions about things in the sport and out of it. Opinions about the game you are broadcasting is what you’re there for, right? For example, I can’t stand the ‘ghost runner’ at 2nd base in extra innings in Major League Baseball. It’s gimmicky and takes away from the way the game was meant to be played. Me expressing that opinion as the game heads to extras is appropriate, as long as you don’t lose track of the game. My thoughts on the Presidential race or a Senate race is inconsequential in the scope of my baseball broadcast. Be engaging to your audience about things they care about in the moment, the game.

I hate when people tell us in the industry to “stick to sports”. Nothing grates on me more. I keep thinking, oh, because I talk about sports, that’s all I know? So, all that doctors know about is medicine then, right? It’s a simple-minded criticism, but I have to say, in these cases, in a booth, we should stick to the sports aspect of things.  There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.

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Jeff Rickard Understands The Benefits of Attending the BSM Summit

“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Jeff Rickard is one of the truly familiar faces of the BSM Summit. He’s not involved in the planning or with the company, but it’s an event he never misses.

“It went from a small group in Chicago the first year to recognition from everyone in our industry, and there’s a lot to be gained when we all get together from different markets and cities,” said Rickard of the event’s growth. “We’re not competing against each other. Instead, we’re there to bring each other ideas, lift each other up, and give each other not just support necessarily, but different ways of looking at and doing things. It allows you to kind of take some energy from another building and bring it back to your own.”

Since the BSM Summit first launched as an invite-only event, Rickard has held jobs in Indianapolis, Boston and Charlotte. In fact, it was at the 2022 Summit in New York where he had his first meeting that would lead to him taking the reins at WFNZ.

Different jobs have come with different situations. Rickard has been able to talk with fellow attendees about translators, transitions to FM, and building digital strategies. He appreciates the networking opportunities that exist at the Summit, but the access to new points of view have helped him grow as a programmer.

“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot,” he says. “In the last, I don’t know, three to four years, I think BSM has helped that along the way.”

The “radio is dying” narrative is a popular one. We can pretend that it only exists outside of our industry, but how many of us know someone very much inside the industry that exclusively speaks the language of doom and gloom when asked about future goals and plans? 

Rickard says that coming to the Summit is a necessity for anyone stuck in or around that mindset. Radio may not be as popular as ubiquitous as it used to be, but there is still enthusiasm for sports radio. That is something to feed off of!

“Local sports radio, if done right, will always attract an audience, because [listeners] can go to Sirius XM and they can go to ESPN and they can get the main stories of the day, and they can talk about the Chiefs winning another Super Bowl, and they can talk about if the Golden State Warriors being past their prime,” he says. “That’s all great, but if you’re in Indianapolis or Charlotte and you want to hear about respectively the Pacers or the Hornets, you know that we’re going to be talking about them. I think we’ve learned about the things that our local audience is going to want.”

Lessons Rickard has learned at past BSM Summits have had a major impact in Charlotte. WFNZ’s cume isn’t just up since he arrived. It has nearly quadrupled. 

According to Rickard, that is the result of valuing all perspectives. He’s a programmer, but that doesn’t mean he is only paying attention to sessions featuring other programmers. He also isn’t focused only on executives that could offer him the next opportunity. Rickard encourages any programmer that attends the BSM Summit to come and take notes when talent from other markets are on stage. 

“You have to realize that they’re not on a level below you. They are in large part you’re partners,” he says. “I always enjoy listening to guys that are highly successful, at those summits, talk about what motivates them, what they’re thinking about, how they go ahead and put a show together. There’s a reason we hire those talented people because they’re really good at what they do. They’re really good at attracting an audience, and they’re better at holding that audience. That’s why they’re speaking at a conference like BSM.”

Day-to-day operations are always on the minds of the people that attend the BSM Summit. When Jeff Rickard comes to New York next month though, he wants to hear conversations about the bigger picture. Whether it is from the stage or at networking events, he wants to be part of the conversations that are fundamental to the future of radio as a medium and broadcasting as a business. The one at the forefront of his mind? Audience measurement.

“We’ve been dealing with Nielsen for a long time,” he says. “There’s good, there’s bad. We all understand the system and how it works. But with so many of our listeners coming to us now through an app or coming to us by downloading what we’re doing online, they’re coming to us straight to the website. We’re starting to be able to kind of pick and choose our own numbers. We can see with certain day parts and certain guests or certain topics that, ‘wow, a lot of people checked into the app at that particular time.’ 

“So I think moving forward, the biggest thing for our industry is how do we continue to more accurately assess who our audience is and what’s really happening there on a moment to moment basis. I think we’re getting better every year, but I’m curious to see what the industry believes is the future for the next ten years, because I don’t think we’re using it now.” 

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