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Is XFL Talk Moving The Needle On Sports Radio?

“There was a thirst for football here and the XFL was smart to recognize that.”

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XFL suits and investors couldn’t have been happier with their product Sunday evening.  Behind Jordan Ta’amu’s 4 total touchdowns, the BattleHawks came just shy of defeating the Houston Roughnecks in Texas in what was the most compelling game of the young season.  In the end, it was PJ Walker and the home team who secured the 28-24 victory improving to 2-0 and sending the battle-tested Hawks back to Missouri with a 1-1 resume.

Image result for roughnecks battlehawks

“They lost, sure, but locally their TV numbers were better than the Blues,” explains Anthony Stalter, co-host of Stalter and Rivers on 101 ESPN in St Louis.  Stalter’s enthusiasm is infectious, even through the phone.

“This is St. Louis! The Blues just won the Cup and are battling for a 1 seed right now. They had lower numbers than game two of the BattleHawks!”

Anthony is quick to reset and remind me that the station’s bread and butter is still Blues and Cards content – but he refuses to deny his excitement for the new kids in town.

“XFL interest in this market is real.”

Back in Houston – there’s no shortage of optimism concerning the latest iteration of Vince McMahon’s football league.

“I want this league – more than anything – to work,” declares Sean Salisbury.

With one of the best resumes in sports talk radio – Salisbury’s opinion carries with it a certain weight.  On this particular Wednesday afternoon, his thoughts on the XFL come through with an undeniable sincerity.

“I’m happy to see so many guys I know – players and coaches – getting these opportunities.  Here in Houston with June Jones we have a really fun brand of football,” he pauses.

“It just doesn’t move the needle for us at the moment.”

Two hosts in two markets with two different assessments of what their listeners want when it comes to the XFL – and both are probably right.

In St. Louis, Stalter estimates roughly once an hour in his four hour show a topic concerning the Battlehawks or the startup league in general pops up.  Back in January, the talking points were names on the roster or scheduling trends.  Now, it’s trending towards real Xs and Os.

“I found myself Monday talking about specific plays Ta’amu made.  If the ball bounces this way or that, how different the game could’ve been,” recalls Stalter, resisting his urge to merge into full blown breakdown mode on the phone.  

Back in Space City – XFL content is scarce on Salisbury’s rundowns.

“Outside of an interview we had with Oliver Luck – I would guess we’ve talked XFL for a total of ten minutes on my show since January – to be completely honest with you.”

Take a step back and it’s hard to argue with Salisbury’s content choices.  He’s on the radio every day in the backyard of one of baseball’s biggest controversies.  His station is the flagship of the Rockets, a team consistently flirting with a Western Conference title.  As if that wasn’t enough – Houston is an NFL market in a state consumed with college and high school football.  Where, exactly, is he supposed to fit in compelling XFL talk?

“This might sound crazy, but even if there wasn’t all this Astros drama – people down here would still be more interested in Spring Training.  This has become a baseball town and our main responsibility is to the listeners.”

When you think “baseball towns” in America, one of the first that pops into your head is St. Louis.

It’s also a town still sifting through the wreckage of a rough divorce.

“We’re like a scorned lover right now,” admits Stalter, with very little humor in his tone.

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Anthony doesn’t back down from his thoughts on the unceremonious exit of Stan Kroenke and the NFL just four years ago.  You get the feeling he could fill a book on the subject, but he’s quick to pivot to a positive note.

“There was a thirst for football here and the XFL was smart to recognize that.”

One thing both hosts agree on concerning the health of the new league is star power – in every market.  

“There are good players in this league at all positions and a lot of guys will probably get NFL opportunities – but this league needs stars at the quarterback position if it’s going to have any staying power,” predicts Stalter.

“Stars are not only going to be the reason people buy tickets to the games, they’re going to be the reason people watch on TV,” exclaims Salisbury.

At the moment, both the BattleHawks and the Roughnecks have distinguished themselves as two of the better teams in the league.  It begs the question what an XFL championship would do to the coverage of either team.

Image result for roughnecks battlehawks

Stalter:

“We love a winner in St. Louis!  A parade would not be out of the question – it would be interesting.”

Salisbury:

“It would be cool!  We certainly would discuss it and congratulate the club – but (the Roughnecks) would still be a long way from being close to an every day topic.”

BSM Writers

Mike Raffensperger Examines The Business of Sports Betting

“McAfee asked some outstanding questions, as he often does, while Raffensperger pulled back the curtain on a lot of things listeners and customers of the book were wanting to know.”

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Pat McAfee has built quite a following since the end of his playing days. Last December, the former Indianapolis Colts punter signed a four-year, $120 million deal with FanDuel to make it the exclusive sportsbook of The Pat McAfee Show, where he seamlessly blends gambling talk with football talk every weekday. 

Last Thursday, McAfee welcomed Mike Raffensperger to the show for a very insightful and informative segment. The Chief Marketing Officer for FanDuel touched on numerous topics during the interview, ranging from how likely it is that each state will eventually have online gambling, to which show member was having the worst gambling run per their account history.

While some questioned the decision to give McAfee such a high amount of money in the deal, it appears to have paid off handsomely for FanDuel. In a report put out last week by their parent company, Flutter Entertainment, the book signed up 1.3 million active new customers in the first quarter of 2022. In addition, their 1.5 million active customers on Super Bowl Sunday was the highest single-day total ever, and the 19 million bets they processed during the NCAA Tournament signaled the most popular betting period in the book’s history. 

Raffensperger discussed some of the challenges that have been overcome with getting the FanDuel online service up and running in states as they slowly begin to legalize it. He stated that 15 states currently offer online services, but that getting all 50 will never happen.

He cited Utah as an example, as their state constitution clearly outlaws gambling, but stated that many states have legalized it because it is “pretty common sense legalization.” He does believe we will see many more states, including California, legalize sports wagering in the coming years, however. “You will see a continued, steady pace for the next few years, and then you will get close to a critical mass, but you will never get to 50.” 

McAfee asked how much of a role COVID-19 played in the legalization of sports gambling, and Raffensperger said many states were forced to explore new ways to recoup tax revenues lost during shutdowns. “From a state, municipal budgets, they needed tax revenue,” he said, while also discussing how it went from being something done in the shadows to commonplace. “It is taking a black market that is unregulated and unsafe, into a safe and regulated environment, and creates tax revenue for the state. It’s very common sense.”

One of the more informative discussions came when McAfee asked what Raffensperger would say to listeners that complained they were unable to take advantage of odds boosts or promos that FanDuel offered through his show, yet were not available to listeners in every state. This is a common issue for radio stations throughout the country that have gambling ads in multi-state markets.

“It tends to be a little more restrictive,” Raffensperger said regarding how states tend to regulate what can be offered in the months following legalization. “Then over time, as states get comfortable, we build a good relationship with our regulating partners.” He added, “it does tend to open up a bit more over time” as they build that rapport within a state, but fully understands the frustration for customers and listeners. “At the end of the day, we gotta own what the customer experience is, and it’s FanDuel’s job to work through those regulatory challenges to make it as easy on customers as possible.”

When McAfee asked him about whether more brick-and-mortar book sites might be coming in the future at professional stadiums, Raffensperger was quick to point out it was also impacted by state regulations. Stating that 90% of all their bets were made online, he also questioned to what end a physical site would be a prudent investment.

“Beyond a physical teller and placing a bet, what is a super premium or luxury experience that would make being at a sportsbook different than what you have in your mind of a Vegas sportsbook,” he asked theoretically, “but being at a retail stadium?”

He also said that physical sites, like online apps, are tied to regulation on a state-by-state basis. “You’re either allowed to take a physical bet in a sports facility or not. Most of the time, and in most of the laws, you have to have already been a gambling establishment, either a race track or a casino, to have a physical book.” 

They also touched on the McAfee same game parlay for Super Bowl LVI, which Raffensperger confirmed was tailed by more than 200,000 of his listeners. Paying out nearly eight-to-one, the wager was for Cooper Kupp to score a touchdown and to have more than 60 yards receiving, in addition to Odell Beckham Jr scoring a touchdown, and Joe Burrow rushing for 12 or more yards. Raffensperger said the parlay, which needed just nine rushing yards from Burrow to hit, may have been “the biggest parlay liability in the history of gambling,” and would have cost the book nearly $50 million had it come through. 

One final interesting fact was the rise of women in the sports gambling space. A report over the weekend from Global Wireless Solutions stated that the growth rate of women signing up with sportsbooks is 63% higher than the rate of men during the same time frame. They also reported that in 2021 FanDuel added almost 1.7 million new female customers, with DraftKings adding close to 900,000 in the same span. As sportsbooks look to bring in higher market share and look to find new ways to advertise their services, women are likely the next major demographic the books fight over. 

All in all, it was a terrific interview from all sides. Entertaining and enlightening, McAfee asked some outstanding questions, as he often does, while Raffensperger pulled back the curtain on a lot of things listeners and customers of the book were wanting to know. The partnership appears to be greatly beneficial for all parties involved, and hopefully the positive reception to the McAfee interview will lead to more transparency and open dialogue from sports book executives to their consumers.

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BSM Writers

Adam The Bull Is Giving Cleveland Something It’s Never Had Before

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?”

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After spending 22 years on the radio, Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber was ready for a new adventure.  In fact, the former co-host of Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland did not have a new job lined up when he signed off from his 11-year radio home last month.

“I was already leaving without having a new project,” admitted Gerstenhaber during a recent phone interview with BSM.  “I left before I knew for sure I had a ‘next project’.”

Gerstenhaber was preparing for his final show with co-host Dustin Fox on April 1st when he was contacted by an executive producer for TEGNA, a company that was developing a Cleveland sports television show on YouTube.  The executive producer, who had just found out that Bull was a free agent, made it clear that he wanted Bull to be a part of the new project.

It all came together very quickly. 

“Let’s talk on Monday,” Gerstenhaber told the executive producer. “And within a week they signed me up.”

The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on YouTube featuring Gerstenhaber, former ESPN personality Jay Crawford, 92.3 The Fan’s Garrett Bush, and rotating hosts to make up a four-person round-table show, made its debut last Monday.  The show, which airs weekdays from 11am to 1pm, features passionate Cleveland sports talk, live guests, either in-studio or via Zoom, as well as interaction from the audience through social media.

“I’m very excited,” said Gerstenhaber.  “It’s a definite adjustment for me after 22 years on radio doing television.  For the last 11 years, I’ve been doing a radio show with just one other host and I was the lead guy doing most of the talking and now I’m on a show with three other people and it’s such an adjustment.  So far, I’m having a ball.”  

And so far, the reaction to the show has been very positive.

A big reason why is that it’s something that Cleveland didn’t have and really never had, unlike a city like New York, where there are local radio shows that are simulcast on regional sports channels. 

“There’s nothing like that in Cleveland,” said Gerstenhaber.  “And there was certainly nothing like this with a panel.  Cleveland is such a massive sports town and now people that don’t live in Cleveland that are maybe retired in Florida or Arizona, now they actually have a TV show that they can watch that’s Cleveland-centric.”

The new venture certainly represents a big change in what Bull has been used to in his radio career.  He’s enjoying the freedom of not having to follow a hard clock for this show. In fact, there have already been some occasions where the show has been able to go a little longer than scheduled because they have the flexibility to do that on YouTube.

Doing a show on YouTube gives the panel a great opportunity to go deep into topics and spend some quality time with guests.  And while there is no cursing on the show at the moment, there could be the potential for that down the road.

Don’t expect the show is going to become X-rated or anything like that, but the objective is to be able to capture the spirit and emotion of being a sports fan and host.

“It’s something we may do in the future,” said Gerstenhaber.  “Not curse just to curse but it gives us the option if we get fired up.  It is allowed because there’s no restrictions there.  The company doesn’t want us to do it at the moment.”  

There’s also been the shift for Gerstenhaber from being the “point guard” on his old radio show, driving the conversation and doing most of the talking, to now taking a step back and having Crawford distributing the ball on the television show.

For a guy called “The Bull”, that will take some getting used to. 

“Jay is a pro’s pro,” said Gerstenhaber.  “He’s the point guard for this but he’s also part of the conversation.  I’m not used to not being the point guard so I have to adjust to that.  I think it’s gone pretty well and the chemistry is pretty good and with time we’ll get used to the flow of it.”  

Gerstenhaber’s move from sports radio to an internet television show is a perfect example of how the industry is changing.  A good portion of the listening and viewing audience these days, especially those in the younger demographic, are not necessarily watching traditional television or listening to terrestrial radio.  For a lot of sports fans, watching and listening on a mobile device or a computer has become a very important way of life.

The desire to adapt, along with a shorter workday, was very enticing to him.

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?” wondered Gerstenhaber.  “There were things about my job that I was unhappy about.  I was doing a five-hour radio show.  It’s too long. That’s crazy.  Nobody should be doing a five-hour radio show at this point.” 

Broadcasting on the internet has arrived and it’s not just a couple of sports fans doing a show from their garage anymore.  The business has evolved to the point where the technology has provided more opportunities for those who have already enjoyed success in the industry and are looking for new challenges.

Kind of like Adam The Bull!

“I think years ago, probably like many people in the radio business, we looked at internet and podcasts as like whatever…those guys aren’t professionals…they’re amateurs,” said Gerstenhaber.  “But the game has changed.”

Gerstenhaber, Crawford and everyone associated with the “Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” should not have much of a problem attracting the younger audience. That demographic is already accustomed to watching shows on YouTube and other streaming platforms.  The challenge now is to get the more mature audience on board. There are certainly some obstacles there.

I know this from experience with trying to explain to my mother in Florida how she can hear me on the radio and watch me on television simply by using her tablet.

Bull can certainly relate to that.

“My mother is still trying to figure out how to watch the show live,” said Gerstenhaber with a chuckle.  “The older fans struggle with that. A lot of my older fans here in Cleveland are like how do I watch it? For people that are under 40 and certainly people that under 30, watching a YouTube show is like okay I watch everything on my phone or device.  It’s such a divide and obviously as the years go by, that group will increase.” 

With the television show off and running, Gerstenhaber still has a passion for his roots and that’s the radio side of the business.  In the next couple of weeks, “The Bull” is set to announce the launch of two podcasts, one daily and one weekly, that will begin next month.  But he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to terrestrial radio at some point.

“I have not closed the door to radio,” said Gerstenhaber.  “I still love radio.  I would still, in the right set of circumstances, consider going back to radio but it would have to really be the perfect situation.  I’m excited about (the television show) and right now I don’t want to do anything else but I’m certainly going to remain open-minded to radio if a really excellent opportunity came up.”

The landscape of the broadcasting industry, particularly when it comes to sports, has certainly changed over the years and continues to evolve.  Adam Gerstenhaber certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on the radio side, both in New York and in Cleveland, but now he has made the transition to something new with the YouTube television show and he’s committed to making it a success.

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BSM Writers

I Heard A Lot of Boring, Uncreative Sports Radio On Friday

“Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released”

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Maybe this one is on me for expecting better. Maybe I need to take my own advice and accept that there are times the sports radio audience just wants a little comfort food. Still, this is my column and I am going to complain because I listened to probably six different stations on Friday and all of them were doing the exact same thing.

The NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, so on Friday, regardless of daypart, every show seemingly felt obligated to have the same three conversations.

  1. How many games will the home team win?
  2. What does the number of primetime games we got mean for how much respect we have nationally?
  3. Why do the Lions still get to play on Thanksgiving?

Football is king. I get that. Concrete NFL news is always going to take priority. That is understandable. But where was even an ounce of creativity? Where was the desire to do better – not just better than the competition, but better than the other shows in your own building?

I listened to shows in markets from across the league. The conversations were the same regardless of size or history of success. Everyone that picked in the top 5 in last month’s draft is going to go 10-7. Every team that got less than 5 primetime games feels disrespected. It was all so boring.

Those of us in the industry don’t consume content the way listeners do. We all know that. Perhaps I am harping on something that is only a problem to me because I listen to sports talk radio for a living. If you don’t ever want to put more than the bare minimum of effort into your show, decide that is the reason for my reaction and go click on another article here.

Consider this though, maybe the fact that I listen to so much sports radio means I know how much quality there is in this industry. Maybe it means that I can spot someone talented that is phoning it in.

I want to be clear in my point. There is value in giving your record prediction for the home team. Listeners look at the people on the radio as experts. I will bet some futures bets in a lot of markets were made on Friday based on what the gambler heard coming through their speakers. All I want to get across is there is a way to have that conversation that isn’t taking two segments to go through each week one by one. I heard no less than three stations do that on Friday.

Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released. It’s a very familiar rhythm: pick the wins, get a guest on to preview the week 1 opponent, take calls, texts and tweets with the listeners’ predictions.

I didn’t hear anyone ask their listeners to sell them on the over for wins. I didn’t hear anyone give me weeks that you could skip Red Zone because one matchup is just too damn good. I didn’t hear anyone go through the Sunday Night Football schedule and pick out the weeks to schedule dates because the matchup isn’t worth it.

Maybe none of those ideas are winners, and that is fine. They are literally three dumb ideas I pulled out of the air. But they are all ways to review the schedule that could potentially leave a smile on your listener’s face.

Show prep is so important, especially in a group setting. It is your chance to tell your partner, producer, or host that you know you can do better than the idea that has just been thrown out. Quit nodding in agreement and challenge each other! It may mean a little more work for you, but it means more reward for the listeners. And if the listeners know they can rely on you for quality, creative content, that leads to more reward for you.

And lay off the Lions. It’s Thanksgiving. You’re stuck at home. The NFL could give you Lions vs Jaguars and you’d watch.

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