If it felt like we were waiting forever for the next big game changer in sports radio, that wait ended earlier this year. When the Supreme Court ruled that the legality of sports gambling should be left up to individual states, broadcasters everywhere were finally able to stop merely alluding to point spreads and backdoor covers. Whether hosts were based in New Jersey, where sports gambling was immediately legalized, or Alabama, where more money is bet illegally on sports than in any other state, they had license to talk openly about what plays could make or lose money for their listeners.
Earlier this year, my colleague Tyler McComas spoke with three different sports talk hosts about how the format stays relevant to younger listeners. SB Nation Radio’s Matt Perrault told him that embracing bettors is something he thinks smart hosts will do instantly.
You have to be willing to have a conversation and even though there’s going to be people that think sports gambling is gross, dirty or wrong, or whatnot, there’s going to be a whole generation of kids that are going to grow up, like they did with cell phones, they’re going to be used to sports gambling and they’re going to be looking for sports gambling content.
I think Matt is right, but I also think there is a key element to talking about gambling that Matt missed. I’m not going to try to give advice to outlets like VSiN and the Action Network. I will instead focus on local broadcasters trying to figure out how to incorporate gambling talk into their shows.
The advice is simple: Give you listeners a reason to care about gambling content, even if they are never going to place a bet themselves.
If all you are going to do is give me your picks, I’m gone. I don’t care that you’re taking the under for the 49ers’ visit to Green Bay. If your only plan is to give me your pick of the day or week, you are wasting my time as a listener.
I’ve heard two strategies for approaching sports betting talk on air that I really love. Anthony Stalter at 101 ESPN in St. Louis goes out of his way to find an obscure stat or set of stats that point in a certain direction. It’s fascinating for a few reasons.
First, you want to hear the stat he gives. Next, you want to know where the stat came from. And finally, you want to hear how he is going to frame it in a way that can make you richer.
Earlier in the baseball season, I heard him give out a stat that pointed to the number of times Yankees’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton had struck out looking this season when he faced left handed pitchers on the road versus the number of times he struck out swinging in the same situation. This was in an effort to convince his listeners that the smart play for the Yankees that night was to bet the under, because this particular stat was meant to show that Stanton might be inclined to “play it safe” in the first game of that upcoming weekend’s series.
This approach works for every listener. Stalter’s stats are beyond next level. They are in depth enough for serious gamblers to pay attention. He might give a nugget they haven’t considered before they lay their money down. For the guy that thinks of sports gambling as a fool’s endeavor, Stalter has found an entertaining way to both play into that stereotype (“You’ve gotta be THAT specific to find an edge?!”) and maybe change some of those minds (“Clearly there’s a trend. Maybe betting a few bucks won’t hurt.”).
Adam Gold and Joe Ovies at 99.9 the Fan in Raleigh go completely the other way with a bit called “The Hat of Nonsense.” Now, let me start with some transparency. I came up with The Hat of Nonsense when I was working for the Fan’s sister station Buzz Sports Radio. So, am I bias? Hell yes I am!
The Hat of Nonsense isn’t a gambling bit per se. It is meant to make fun of the idea that your pick is gospel because you sit behind a microphone. Each week Joe picks multiple games and forces Adam, their producer Alec Campbell, and show contributor Lauren Brownlow to choose the winner based on nonsensical criteria such as “coach most likely to call his wife ‘mother'” or “fanbase most likely to purchase a product endorsed by Alex Jones.” The bit may genuinely be one of the dumbest ideas I have ever had in my life.
If Adam and Joe start keeping track of who has more wins, the hat or Vegas, it instantly becomes a gambling bit for listeners that laugh at tip line ads and hosts that deliver their stone cold lock of the week without a hint of irony.
I don’t think it matters from what angle you decide to approach gambling talk. Whether you want to inform or mock, your primary goal must first be to entertain. Your listeners don’t care about who on the show got the most picks right over the weekend without some immediate pay off. They don’t care that you like the Celtics in the season opener against the 76ers just because -5 seems like too low of a number at home. There’s nothing in that for them.
Your listeners are coming to you because you make their day better somehow. If you’re going to talk about sports gambling, approach that content with your listener in mind. Whether you ultimate goal is to make them laugh or make them a little bit richer, your first goal should be to give them a reason not to tune out.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.