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Damon Bruce Talks Sports Radio in the Warriors Era

Tyler McComas

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Think of three cities where the NBA has historically been the most relevant. The first places that pop in your head are likely Los Angeles, Boston and even New York City. There’s a rich history of the NBA in all three of those towns, even if you have to be an older Knicks fan to remember the last time they were relevant. 

However, in case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of an NBA dynasty that doesn’t seem like it’s slowing down anytime soon. Winners of three of the last four championships, the Golden State Warriors are already on the road to one of the most dominant stretches in the history of the NBA. Though the free agency period isn’t even over, it’s almost a foregone conclusion the Warriors will repeat once again as NBA champions. Today, they dominate every single headline and continue to be one the hottest stories in all of sports.

 

Now, ask yourself again. What three cities in America have historically been the most relevant?

Once again, the Bay Area doesn’t come to mind. And to be fair, it shouldn’t. Whether it’s the Oakland A’s or the Raiders, the San Francisco Giants or the 49ers, the Warriors have, historically, always been overshadowed by the MLB and NFL teams in the area. In turn, sports radio talk in the Bay Area focused way more heavily on football and baseball, instead of the small interest the Warriors and the NBA brought along. 

But just a few years ago, the game started to change. That’s probably to be expected when you’re talking about arguably the hottest professional franchise in all of American sports. The Warriors’ rocket ship to the top of the NBA, complete with four-straight Finals appearances, three championships and the title of most regular season wins in NBA history, has brought an appetite for the Warriors in the Bay Area that’s never been seen or even thought possible. That’s left show hosts such as Damon Bruce of 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, an opportunity they never previously thought would exist. 

Whereas the Giants’ three World Series titles in five years was captivating, as well as the 49ers’ success with Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh, Bay Area sports radio has never seen a transformation like the one it’s seen with the Warriors. Heck, if you think about it; it may be unlike anything we’ve ever seen in sports radio across the country. To see a team rise from routine mediocrity and low interest to the lead story in an MLB and NFL heavy town is a pretty rare sight. But that’s the case with Warriors talk on stations such as 95.7 The Game. Not only has winning fueled the need to spend the most critical segments of the day on Warriors talk, but Golden State’s ability to stay relevant after the end of the season, such as signing Kevin Durant and Boogie Cousins in free agency, has kept their relevance across the entire sports calendar. 

Truly, though it’s never been thought of one, the Bay Area has been turned into a hotbed for the NBA. For stations in the area, a huge blessing comes with it, as well as other challenges. What’s to be gained from covering a team that’s found local, national and world-wide fame? Damon Bruce, host of the Damon Bruce Show, helped portray just how healthy sports radio in The Bay really is in today’s setting. 

TM: Historically, where do the Warriors fall alongside the Raiders, A’s, Giants and 49ers?

DB: They always had a great fan base. Warriors fans always showed up and were almost never really held accountable to the horrifying standards they were held under for so many years. The fans were great, but they were never a significant enough entity to really be recognized by anything other than, hey, for people who have routinely been kicked in the nuts, they’re relatively fanatical.

Obviously now so much has changed. We’re watching something that is unique to any moment to time in sports history. We’re at a dynasty with a group of owners, players and coaching that I don’t think you trade to any other franchise. I think the Warriors are beating every single NBA team from the ownership suite, the coaching box, GM’s office, player for player, it’s really amazing. They’re even building a new arena that’s going to be the Taj Mahal of arenas in the NBA. To have the Warriors and to have them on our station has just been an unbelievable development in Bay Area Sports. 

TM: When you started doing radio in the area (2005) did you expect at that time to be talking a lot about the Warriors? 

DB: I was always a big basketball fan, so I was going to talk a little bit more about it than maybe the next host would have, but I don’t think anyone could have expected this. It’s like nobody predicting they’d be talking about hockey in Las Vegas. Nobody could have predicted this on this level for the completely absent minded, historically bumbling Golden State Warriors. They’re now one of the most glamorous franchises in the NBA and that was a dream that no Warrior fan even bothered dreaming. We stumbled onto an NBA unicorn, it’s amazing. 

TM: Do you think it was tough for some hosts in the area to transition from talking little about the Warriors, to, bam, they’re relevant and the big story most days?  

DB: I can’t imagine it really would be, because as a host, this is a sending from heaven. Don’t you host radio shows to finally get a team like this to talk about? I’ve always said, give me greatness or give me a team that sucks, because a .500 ball club inspires no passion. We are so tipped to the side that we could never believe this level of greatness with this franchise, and they just keep chugging along. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s staggering to see that it’s happened, to see it up close, to see the steps that have kept it together, it’s been amazing.

I got to cover three World Series with the San Francisco Giants which was absolutely amazing. To be in Kansas City, to be at Kauffman Stadium the night Madison Bumgarner became Paul Bunyan…it was unbelievable! This, with the Warriors, has dwarfed that in terms of true domination with a dynasty and changing the way the game is played. The Warriors changed the game of basketball forever. This isn’t just a good team, it’s an evolutionary step for the entire sport and we got to watch it happen. It didn’t matter if you weren’t a Warrior fan in the past, you were now. It didn’t matter as a host if you didn’t really like to talk about the Warriors, you have to now because of your audience. 

TM:  When did that shift of Warriors craze in the Bay Area actually happen? 

DB: I think it was when they started 24-0 the season after they won their first title, the year they won 73 games. It’s amazing to watch a team win a championship, but it’s also amazing to watch a team win a championship and then come even hungrier and angrier than ever. We all know what happened, they didn’t win the NBA Finals that year, Kyrie Irving hits the shot and the rest is history. But then they get Kevin Durant? That was the moment where it just felt absurd and people were like, it’s a drug and I’m addicted to it. 

TM: It seems like there’s already a strong belief that the Warriors are going to win another title next season. How did you keep listeners engaged during the regular season when everyone seems to always be looking toward the playoffs? 

DB: You just have to sort of change what you’re selling. You have to evolve with your product as a host. You used to be able to sell the premise of competition. Now you need to turn around and sell the premise of dominance.

In this regular season, a lot of the stories became how apathetic they were playing on a night by night basis. But how much out of that could you get, because No.1, they kept winning a lot, and No.2, we all knew what really matters: the playoffs. 

TM: NBA Free Agency has really grown into its own entity, but how big has it been for sports radio in the Bay Area when guys like Kevin Durant and Boogie Cousins are signing on? 

DB: I think it’s been gargantuan for us. When a championship had been won in the past, the Warriors had already been long out of the playoffs, they had probably just blown their lottery pick and the free agents were never interested in signing with them. You see how big NBA Free Agency is just in the national conversation. We’re talking more about the NBA now than at any other time in my life. That’s nationally. When you’re local and have the Warriors are in your backyard, it’s intensified. 

TM: With that being said, will your show pay any attention to the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas? 

DB: Sure, we’ve been talking about it. There’s always things to monitor and to take a look at. There’s always plays being made and if you like basketball you’re paying more attention now than ever before. You bring up a Summer League topic, it’s not just automatically dismissed by internship because we’re all now a little more interested in the NBA. 

TM: Present day, in terms of sports radio, has the Warriors popularity eclipsed both the Raiders and 49ers?

DB: I don’t think anything will truly eclipse the 49ers in a season where they’re going to a Super Bowl. That’s stops the presses like nothing else in any town that has an NFL team. The Raiders have broken a local trust here that has damaged their value in terms of how much we care and how much we care about selling their bright future. Their bright future is no longer ours, so how are we going to get worked up about it, one way or the other?

Warriors have changed the paradigm in a way that I don’t think any NFL, MLB, or any program director or any person who has ever gone out to sell advertising could have ever imagined. The Warriors went from being something that was thrown into a sales meeting, like, we really want to sell you this, but we’ll thrown them in, to the main thing that you’re selling. I don’t think anyone anticipated how much business around the Warriors would change. 

TM: What about you personally? Now that we’ve seen the rise of the franchise, how much has that boosted your profile with media opportunities and other availabilities? 

DB: There’s absolutely no doubt about it. It’s unquestionable. I think it’s tangible, I think it’s measurable. If you were interested enough, I think you could go back and look at the number of Twitter followers during the playoffs compared to other times of the year. Interview requests, station requests, that sort of thing, it’s all gone up dramatically.  

BSM Writers

Jake Paul, Betr Pair Micro-Betting With Media

There are plenty of hurdles, though, that still need to be overcome before this takes over the betting landscape.

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I’ll be completely honest: I can’t get into TikTok. I’m closing in on 40 years spent on this planet, and it’s simply not my thing. It’s not meant to be, though. The current generation is one with shorter attention spans, the kind that wants a quick highlight of a sporting event so they can shift their focus to something else. When I tell folks a decade younger than me stories about how I–and others of my age group–would sit around and watch an entire SportsCenter, they look at me like I’m crazy. Not sure how they’d look at me if I told them we used to often watch the rerun an hour later, but that’s another discussion.

It’s a big reason why micro-betting is considered the “next big thing” in sports betting. Similar to in-game betting, micro betting goes a step further and focuses on individual events within a sporting event, such as the outcome of a drive, whether a baseball player will get a hit in his upcoming at-bat, or even something such as a coin toss at the Super Bowl. A perfect example of micro-betting is the rise in popularity of betting on whether or not a run will be scored in the first inning of a baseball game. For a generation that wants a quick resolution to their bets, it makes total sense. You place a bet, you find out how it did, and then you move on–whether that’s to another bit of action or something else entirely.

Something else I can’t get into is the whole hoopla surrounding the Paul brothers. Logan and Jake Paul have built an empire for themselves on the back of YouTube, with Jake Paul having more than 70 million followers on social media. For various reasons, I’m not a fan of either individual. Again, though, they aren’t coming after my demographic. Like them or hate them, you have to respect their grind –and you have to admire their business acumen — as they parlay their notoriety and success into sports entertainment by way of boxing and the WWE, as well as a new sports drink company that has already partnered with Premier League side Arsenal. 

Monday’s announcement by Jake Paul of a new micro-betting site simply furthers the narrative and does so in a manner that can’t be ignored by those in the sports betting space. Betr, a joint venture between Paul, sports betting entrepreneur Joey Levy, and the sports betting company Simplebet, was announced yesterday morning. Backed by a $50 million investment from multiple venture capital firms, the new company is backed by ownership groups of franchises such as the Boston Celtics and San Francisco 49ers, and also has financial backing from current and former NFL players including Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, and Richard Sherman. Musician Travis Scott has also put his financial backing behind the product.

The other very interesting tidbit from the press release was the announcement of a media company that would feature, among other shows, “BS w/ Jake Paul”. Their new YouTube channel, which already has over two million subscribers despite not a single video being posted as of Monday afternoon, will feature sports-betting content from Paul and other content creators and will focus on micro betting. In an interview with Axios, Levy said that consumers can “expect 10+ videos a day from emerging content creators we’ve brought into the company,” but that things would begin with a focus on “premium content natives, starting with Jake’s show.”

Sports radio and television have long been focused on making their products more appealing to younger generations. Just take a look at ESPN, where they’ve long been doing “SportsCenter” episodes on Snapchat. This could be a game-changer, provided they can help drive micro-betting into a wider market. 

There is plenty of potential in the space, a big reason Paul was able to acquire such high amounts of funding. Just last year, JP Morgan estimated that more than $7 billion per year would be wagered on micro bets by the year 2025. And earlier this year, the CEO of Oddisum stated in an interview that micro-betting would account for the majority of wagers placed on sporting events within the next three years. Even DraftKings CEO Jason Robins has talked about plans on how his company expects to embrace the trend.

There are plenty of hurdles, though, that still need to be overcome before this takes over the betting landscape. The biggest one is the delivery of data. As we move more towards a society that streams sporting events and other digital content, the delay between real life and what shows up on your mobile phone can be the difference between placing a wager or not. For some services (I’m looking at you, Peacock) there’s often a delay of more than 90 seconds, which means the play I want to bet on is still two or three plays away from being seen with my own eyes. That makes it difficult to place a bet with any sort of confidence.

The other major obstacle will be getting their gambling service legalized. In their press release, Betr stated they will start as a “free-to-play” app in all 50 states, and eventually they will add real money gambling services as they become licensed to operate within individual states. That’s not going to be so simple, though, as gambling addiction concerns continue to rise and multiple state legislatures are already having discussions regarding the matter. 

As addictive as betting on sporting events can be, micro-betting is often exponentially more. A study last year from CQ University in Sydney, Australia indicated that micro bettors are more likely to be younger players and that they usually “have high trait impulsivity”. An author of the report also stated, “there’s a very strong link between micro betting and gambling problems”, and pointed out that the short amount of time between placing a bet and having it resolved leaves little time to evaluate performance or track one’s bankroll. 

Whether or not those things are overcome in every state possible is a discussion for another day. The fact is, micro-betting is more likely than not to become a huge growth market for sports betting companies over the next two to three years, and Paul and Levy have become the first big players to jump into the media space. It’s not a question of if, but when, others will follow them into the realm of micro betting sports content, but their announcement on Monday raises the stakes. It also reminds those of us in business, especially sports media, that while we may not fully understand the allure of what the younger generation enjoys, we ignore it at our peril. 

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BSM Writers

Mike Tyson Needs to Remember That There’s No Such Thing As Bad Publicity

Tyson’s natural instinct is to fight, but it might be better for him to go to the corner.

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Someone in Mike Tyson’s inner circle should consider telling him to stop publicly criticizing the upcoming Hulu dramatized limited series about his life.

Maybe those friends and advisors would prefer to tell him that from a distance, perhaps via phone call, email, or text. The boxing icon is clearly upset about this subject and might not respond well to being told to simmer down. Heck, this column with its subsequent suggestions is being written from an undisclosed location.

For more than a year, the former heavyweight champion has denounced the project through his social media channels. According to Tyson, the streaming provider and producers for Mike (scheduled for an Aug. 25 release) stole his life story and created the eight-episode series without his permission. He renewed those attacks this past weekend on Instagram.

Tyson’s allegations of cultural appropriation and comparisons to slavery regarding someone else telling his story are certainly highly charged. But Hulu has made it clear that this is an “unauthorized” depiction of Tyson’s life, a term frequently used to indicate “This is the story they don’t want you to see!”

But recent developments in sports and pop culture have demonstrated the old saying that there’s no such thing as bad publicity when it comes to a documentary or scripted series in need of promotion.

Ask Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Jerry West. All three basketball legends criticized and condemned Winning Time, HBO’s dramatic series on the 1980s, “Showtime” era Los Angeles Lakers.

Johnson dismissed Winning Time by saying that no one from the Lakers organization — players, coaches, or executives — was involved in the making of the series.

“You need somebody who lived through it,” Johnson told Variety. “Not somebody’s opinion. Not somebody’s ‘I think.’ Not somebody’s ‘I saw.'”

Johnson’s opposition to Winning Time is understandable. He’s hardly portrayed in a flattering light, frequently showing him using people to take care of difficult matters he’d prefer to avoid, enjoying his newfound celebrity, and sleeping around with a variety of women despite professing his love for the woman who would be his future wife.

Yet Johnson may also have had an ulterior motive in wanting to promote the multi-part documentary chronicling his life. He was directly involved in the production in They Call Me Magic, recounting events in interviews and choosing director Rick Famuyiwa for the project. It should be noted that the docuseries didn’t draw nearly the same buzz or acclaim as Winning Time, maybe because HBO’s series was released first and fans thought they already got the story.

Perhaps this is one of Tyson’s concerns as well. Hulu’s series will be released long before the rival project that the boxer is executive-producing, starring Jamie Foxx and directed by Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer). According to Variety, production for Tyson’s series has stalled because no TV or streaming network has signed on as a partner. By the time it’s released, viewers may already feel like they saw the story — and told in a more objective or sensationalistic manner.

However, in watching trailers for Mike, it seems likely that Tyson is most concerned that the Hulu series will remind viewers and fans of the scandals in his life that made him one of pop culture’s most infamous figures. Tyson’s life story can’t be accurately told without acknowledging his troubled marriage to Robin Givens and accusations of domestic violence. In 1992, he was convicted of rape, for which he served six years in prison.

Tyson’s behavior was also controversial in the ring. Considered unbeatable and potentially one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time, he inexplicably lost to Buster Douglas in 1990. Perhaps his most disgraceful fight was in 1997, when he bit off a part of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Despite his past, Tyson has rehabilitated his image to become a beloved cultural icon. He had a memorable appearance in the 2009 film The Hangover. He was featured in a Scooby Doo-inspired animated series, Mike Tyson Mysteries. He starred in a one-man show, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, that played in Las Vegas and on Broadway, and eventually toured the country.

Younger generations of fans might not even be aware of Tyson’s past wrongdoings. But the Hulu series will bring them to attention and perhaps prompt many to look up the story of those transgressions. New stories may even be written to document those events for current audiences.

Tyson’s past is a matter of public record too. Though what he did may surprise some who didn’t know already, those stories and dramatized behavior likely won’t be as jolting as Jerry West’s portrayal in Winning Time.

The Lakers star was perceived as a gentleman, not the angry, self-doubting rage monster shown in the series. But colleagues and those who covered West stuck up for him in the press, saying the depiction was unfair. Eventually, West objected himself, demanding that HBO issue a retraction of how he was portrayed and threatening to take a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Tyson almost certainly won’t receive that kind of defense. But like West and Johnson, he’s directing attention at something he wishes people would ignore. Yes, if he feels the portrayal is unfair or that he should’ve been paid for his story, he’s entitled to object. Instead, however, Tyson is creating anticipation for this Hulu series, for which the streamer hasn’t given a big promotional push. Why bother spending money on such an effort when Tyson is already providing so much promotion?

Hulu will surely do more in the days and weeks leading up to Mike‘s premiere. But for now, all that needs to be mentioned is that the series premieres Aug. 25. Especially if Tyson continues to say more about it on social media. His natural instinct is to fight, but it might be better for him to go to the corner.

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BSM Writers

Stories Are What Made Vin Scully Special

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There will never be another Vin Scully. In school, I was taught to never write or speak in absolutes. I’m willing to risk the F here: There will – NEVER – be another Vin Scully.

The legendary voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers passed away last Tuesday after 94 incredible years on this earth. I could not imagine that, given the opportunity before stepping out of this life, Vin Scully could’ve found many regrets. The only issue would’ve been the fact there has never been another that would be qualified to narrate the story of Vin Scully’s life. That honor should’ve been wholly reserved for, well, Vin Scully.

Scully called his first Dodger’s game in 1950 – in Brooklyn, mind you – and his melodic voice would describe that team until his retirement in 2016. Imagine a man who was so good at his job that, in his first Dodgers game, Jackie Robinson hit clean up and in his final Dodgers game, Yasiel Puig did. Scully literally bridged the gap from the man that broke the color barrier batting fourth to his final line-up including a black player, two Cuban players, a Mexican player and a pitcher from Japan.

I grew up in Anniston, Alabama, part of an exit sign on I-20 between Birmingham and Atlanta. We were fed a steady diet of Braves games on The SuperStation WTBS. The single most popular Braves player was Dale Murphy. We all tried to emulate the every move of Murph. Those Braves teams were awful so you didn’t have to go too far down the list of most popular Braves until you got to the names Ernie Johnson, Skip Caray and Pete van Wieren. They were the Braves TV and radio guys and could find a way to keep a team that was 15 games back entertaining.

There is nobody that would make an argument those announcers, great as they were, are the most important parts of Braves history. But Vin Scully is on that list when you are discussing the L.A. Dodgers. And this is a franchise that has won seven World Championships we are talking about here. In what would be one of the most storied halls of fame in sports, Scully would be a first ballot choice in the Dodgers Hall of Fame. He would also be the only choice for master of ceremonies.

Though I am not an antique, I did grow up in a day in which not every single game was televised. As a Southerner, I can tell you few people were more important in the Deep South than John Ward, Jim Fyffe, John Forney and Larry Munson. Those men caused the world to stop in places like Eastaboga, Alabama and Ellijay, Georgia. They were the voice of record for Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama and Georgia football. They painted the pictures in the minds of millions of people of big wins and gut-punch losses.

But now, all the games are televised and, in many ways, the old school radio play-by-play announcer has become the voice of the highlights of the biggest plays. Three and a half hours of work is often consumed in fifteen second sound bites later on. It is just not the iconic job it once was.

Scully beat that system. He was, simultaneously, the TV and radio voice of the Dodgers, an incredibly difficult thing to pull off. I remember vividly the first time I purchased MLB Extra Innings, giving me access to all 162 Vin Scully games. Many summer nights I’d simply turn on that Dodgers game and listen to a few innings of Scully’s stories. I had zero concerns with the outcome of the game. In fact, for me, the game was simply the canvas that held the art of Scully’s work.

The stories were what set him apart. A base hit was an unwelcome event in an at bat, I wanted every batter to have a full-count so Vin had plenty of runway for his stories. He could time them out in a manner that it seemed Clayton Kershaw was in on the production and would hold his delivery to match a perfect pause in Scully’s stories. As ESPN’s Buster Olney said of Scully on my show, “If he needed a foul ball to finish his story, he always got one.”

I don’t imagine any artist ever walked inside the Sistine Chapel and said out loud, “You know, I could’ve done this a lot better.” I doubt many architects walk past the Hagia Sophia and say, “I would’ve put in more windows.” Likewise, there is no sports announcer worth their salt that would say, “Vin could’ve been so much better.”

Nope, Vin Scully did it perfectly. Then he gently dropped the mic and graciously walked off. Rest well, Mr. Scully, I can’t imagine there are many regrets. Our only one is there is nobody left behind remotely qualified to voice the story of your life.

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