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Bet on Sports Gambling Content At The BSM Summit

“Joe Fortenbaugh, Brian Musburger, and Chad Millman will have plenty to say and teach at the BSM Summit next week, so plan to be at the sports gambling panel.”

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When the BSM Summit convenes in Los Angeles at the end of next week, you can be sure plenty of programmers, hosts, and executives will show up looking for ideas and pointers on how they can give their audience more of what it wants.

There will be panels on evaluating talent, social media and digital content, and research and audience analysis amongst an array of other topics. Certainly there will be a lot to learn. One of the most anticipated panels will be the one we are putting together on sports betting and how broadcasters can make the most of that content.

Joe Fortenbaugh of 95.7 the Game’s Joe, Lo, and Dibs will be the moderator. He’s the perfect choice. Fortenbaugh was immersing himself in point spreads, over/unders, and numbers that could swing the money in Vegas long before the US Supreme Court even considered cases involving the federal ban on sports gambling.

He was living at his parents’ home in Pennsylvania, working his ass off and still barely able to save a dime when he decided on a whim to pack up and move to Las Vegas.

In the summer of 2011 Fortenbaugh was part of the National Football Post and was visiting Vegas to try and work out an arrangement with two casinos to do business with his site. During that visit he spent an evening with some professional gamblers. He said it was one of the best nights of his life.

“I remember flying back saying ‘You know what? I gotta get back out West. I’m gonna spend the fall writing about and covering the sports betting industry.'”

Not only was Joe successful in his writing efforts, he also made connections that got him regular guest spots on radio shows. One of those appearances was heard by Jason Barrett, who was programming The Game at the time. That lead to a job offer and an unplanned career in sports radio.

Now in addition to bringing gambling content to his San Francisco audience, he also hosts The Sharp 600. It’s a short podcast where Fortenbaugh gives listeners his best tips and information about upcoming games.

What does he hope attendees can take away from the panel? Fortenbaugh says he wants hosts and PDs to understand that gambling is like anything else in sports radio. It pays to do your research and know what you’re talking about.

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“There are a lot of media guys, give them credit, that are talking about (sports gambling) now whether they know it or not. It’s important that they are in the space.

“There aren’t a whole lot of people that have robust backgrounds, that understand how the industry works, that get how both sides of the counter work, that know the terminology, but you see this in everything. You see this in fantasy sports. You’ll see it when guys talk basketball and maybe they don’t know basketball.”

Fortenbaugh says what he wants to hear are less picks and more thoughtful gambling-themed content.

“The key for executives is to find the individuals who know this stuff and who can go on air…and give you credible information. Yes, picks are a big part of it, people love picks. But how can you educate them on this stuff? How can you take them through the process? How can you show them a new way of looking at a game?”

Guys that know their stuff and have credible information. That is a theme when it comes to what the people on this panel at the BSM Summit want from talent that talk about sports gambling. The lack of credible information helped drive the formation of the Vegas Stats and Information Network.

“For years I was frustrated by the absence of a credible news source for sports bettors,” VSiN Founder and Chairman Brian Musburger told me in an email. “Billions of dollars are wagered every year on sports, yet I could not find a source that I could trust. I didn’t want people selling picks or pushing action to unregulated books where I found the content served an agenda.”    

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Musburger will be on the sports gambling panel at the BSM Summit and knows that his network changed the way a lot of people got the information they wanted before placing a bet. “Most of the shows that existed prior to our launch were time buys where touts marketed shady pick selling services.”

Chad Millman will be on the panel too. He is the Head of Media for The Action Network, a company that has grown by leaps and bounds since the US Supreme Court repealed the federal ban on sports gambling. I asked him if he thought that kind of growth would have been possible even without the Supreme Court ruling.

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“We announced the formation of the company in October of 2017 and launched in January, long before the Supreme Court ruling in May. So we were doing this regardless and always felt like there was going to be an audience for this kind of content,” Millman told me. “So our plan from that POV didn’t really change: produce the highest quality pieces, highlight our proprietary data and information, explain what’s happening in the market and entertain, so the broadest possible audience engages with what we are doing.”

The Action Network’s audience is definitely broadening thanks to its talent acquisition. In August of last year the company announced that Rob Perez, better known as World Wide Wob to NBA Twitter, was joining the company. Then in November it was ESPN’s Darren Rovell that came aboard.

“They are hugely important,” Millman said of Perez and Rovell. “They bring credibility, an audience, and recognition. A good portion of the people who follow them and love their content become users of Action by way of their introduction.”

Fortenbaugh says he will never advocate for how air talent and other sports bettors make their picks. All he says is that if you are making picks on air and giving tips to listeners, make sure you’re entertaining and that your analysis is relevant.

It is a position Millman echoes. “I think our user is coming to us to get smarter, go deeper into the game, and get access to our tools and data and research.”

The “entertaining” part comes second at VSiN according to Musberger. “From the beginning, we were looking to put together a team of credible and knowledgeable sports bettors.  Most are not professional broadcasters,” he says of VSiN’s on-air lineup.

“Our audience wants people that give them information that provides an edge, and they’re willing to forgive a little lack of polish on delivery if the content is strong.  I love that we have put folks on the air that would never be found on traditional broadcasts.”  

Both the Action Network and VSiN offer a product that is accessible and also credible. Musburger may argue that his network’s primary concern is accurate, relevant information, but take a listen to VSiN. Hosts like Jonathan Von Tobble, Matt Youmans, and Pauly Howard are very entertaining!

The same can be said of The Action Network. For the sharps there is proprietary information and analytics that make checking out TAN content worth your time, but if you’re just an average sports fan, there is plenty to be entertained by on the podcast network the brand launched in August.

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Joe Fortenbaugh, Brian Musburger, and Chad Millman (along with Kip Levin of FanDuel) will have plenty to say and teach at the BSM Summit next week, so plan to be at the sports gambling panel. Millman offered a little free advice for broadcasters trying to wrap their heads around sports gambling for the first time.

There is a bare minimum about your local team every personality should know from a gambling perspective. Millman says it’s “Are they favorites (or) underdogs? What is the spread? What are the majority of bettors thinking about this team?”

Again, that’s the bare minimum. If you want more insight than that, you need to make plans to join us at the BSM Summit next week in LA.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

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

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

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

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

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

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

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

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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