From a home studio that features books, photos and the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon’’ album, ESPN analyst Jeff Passan could not have been more definitive. There WILL be baseball in 2020, he declared, referring to live game action in the major leagues and not to the grainy footage of World Series reruns.
“Yes, will,’’ Passan wrote in his accompanying piece on the network site. “As states have begun to plan reopenings, nearly everyone along the decision-making continuum — league officials, players, union leaders, owners, doctors, politicians, TV power brokers, team executives — has grown increasingly optimistic that there will be baseball this year.’’
A giddy fan would come away from the report thinking, “Great, I’m going to have baseball before long! Oh boy oh boy oh boy!’’
Which meant the same fan was deeply confused only hours later. That’s when the grim realities of resuming sports in a still-raging pandemic — — a daunting absence of testing access in the U.S., a demand that athletes assume health risks and possible salary reductions amid fear and uncertainty, a death toll approaching 250,000 — were hammered home by an infectious disease expert with a wee bit more coronavirus cred than Passan. Dr. Anthony Fauci, popular enough among the masses to have his own bobblehead doll, told the New York Times that team sports such as baseball, football and basketball will not resume in 2020 without a sudden breakthrough in widespread testing and the ability to process rapid results.
“Safety, for the players and for the fans, trumps everything,’’ warned Fauci, his usage of “trump’’ perhaps intended. “If you can’t guarantee safety, then unfortunately you’re going to have to bite the bullet and say, `We may have to go without this sport for this season.’ ‘’ His addendum was more jarring with May upon us and summer nearing: A second wave of Covid-19 is “inevitable’’ without substantial progress in fighting the virus, Fauci said, likely leading to “a bad fall and a bad winter.’’
So, why such a wild disconnect in the reporting of content so vital to the American people? Why are some news sources routinely optimistic about the resumption of sports while others are far more — shall we say — realistic and blunt? As always, follow the fire alarms of lost revenues, the existential crises of league and network empires that continue to burn with each passing day in a U.S. sports industry that typically generates $74 billion per year. The best news shops are committed to airtight, responsible journalism in a global disaster. Others, with direct business attachments dependent on sports, prefer sophomoric wishful-thinking that borders on consumer brainwashing.
From a behemoth such as ESPN to an ambitious writing site such as The Athletic to a talk station in the heartland, media companies have a critical financial interest in the rush to resume sports as soon as possible. Thus, their coverage tends to almost force-feed events back into existence, accentuating “when’’ and not “if’’ and embracing any positive information from the leagues, even if it’s little more than hollow propaganda. If you’d like to call it a self-serving agenda, please do. Nor will I disagree if you call it fake news.
This skewed approach is in antithetical contrast to media companies not in direct business with the sports industry, such as the Times and HBO. The cable network’s long-running journalism bastion, “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,’’ did itself proud this week, devoting a powerful segment to the life-threatening audacity of leagues — NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS — which defiantly staged March events with thousands of paying customers while ignoring directives from local government officials to shut down mass gatherings. Using science and data not evident in Passan’s report, HBO detailed how MLB contributed to a national spread of the virus by continuing its spring-training schedule — profits over precaution and prevention. Among the takeaways was a shaken Eireann Dolan, wife of Washington Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle, who sat in fear of her life as Grapefruit League games continued. Vulnerable to the virus because of a chronic lung condition, Dolan finally let loose on MLB in a March 12 tweet, begging fans to avoid games a day after Rudy Gobert’s positive coronavirus test prompted the NBA to suspend play.
“Every day I’m holding my breath and wondering, `Who is (Doolittle) going near — what fans, what staff, what players?’ ‘’ Dolan said. “And I thought, `If one person gets it, God forbid, we will have it within a week. All of us.’ ‘’
This is the same league, Major League Baseball, that recklessly wink-winks a “scoop’’ to Passan that games will happen in 2020, blurry reasoning and all. How selfish of ESPN, which could be using investigative reporters such as Don Van Natta and Jeremy Schaap, to duck away from journalism anywhere near as intense and essential as that of HBO correspondent David Scott, who pointed out how none of the leagues has expressed remorse for ignoring the pandemic. It’s the most important sports-related story of this hellish period in U.S. history. But ESPN prefers to protect business relationships rather than deep-dive into the greed and arrogance of those leagues. Among the teams that ignored local health edicts in March: the Golden State Warriors. Generating more than $3.5 million per game in the new Chase Center, owner Joe Lacob proceeded with a Saturday night game while posting signs that the team wouldn’t be liable for Covid-19 risks. And which network benefited from the national telecast?
ESPN, via ABC.
It explains why Passan often joins his ESPN senior insider brethren — NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski and NFL reporter Adam Schefter — on nighttime “SportsCenter’’ appearances as host Scott Van Pelt tries to extract the most most upbeat slant possible. “I’m not trying to be that negative guy,’’ said Van Pelt, as if dismissing objective news reporting as some sort of personality deficiency. Closer to the truth, Van Pelt is trying to breathe oxygen into the faltering stock of the company that pays him handsomely, Disney, which has been devastated by the closing of theme parks and inevitable mass layoffs, an inability to produce high-revenue movies, continued cable cord-cutting and the disappearance of live sports inventory from ESPN, which has seen advertising dry up beyond the virtual NFL Draft and the ongoing 10-part docu-series, “The Last Dance.’’ The three senior insiders no longer are journalists in this setting as much as company-men messengers for the leagues they cover, carrying on dutifully as Van Pelt cheers them on.
Do fans suffering from no-sports withdrawal actually want hopechests from media, regardless if the news is real or fantasy? Or do they want the cold truth from medical authorities not connected to leagues and networks?
Dr. Feelgood or Dr. Fauci?
I’m thinking most sensible people prefer Dr. Fauci.
What’s fascinating is that ESPN, once so aligned against President Trump that the White House called for the firing of host Jemele Hill, now is firmly in lockstep with his wish to resume sports. The flip is more about the network’s recent stick-to-sports edict than any embrace of all things Trump, but the in-house philosophical shakedown can’t be denied: the politically driven voices elevated during the network presidency of since-deposed John Skipper — Hill, Michael Smith, Will Cain, Bomani Jones, Pablo Torre, Dan Le Batard — either have been forced/weeded out of the company, removed from daily shows or, in Le Batard’s case, reportedly doomed to career limbo. The most prominent stars will be Van Pelt, Mike Greenberg and Stephen A. Smith, none of whom will go near politics, not that they could discuss them anyway. In that sense, ESPN has become much like Michael Jordan, the network’s would-be savior, who never met an important social cause he couldn’t downplay or ignore.
I was among those cringing at Skipper’s radical attempt to shake up the planet via activism, as if Bristol was Berkeley. But I wish his successors in power, Jimmy Pitaro and Norby Williamson, would have found a middle ground in approaching Covid-19. ESPN doesn’t really cover the pandemic. It just hopes the virus goes away, and that sports magically returns to normal tomorrow when, of course, all normalcy is gone. “We Miss It, Too,’’ goes the concluding line in the heavy-rotation “There’s No Place Like Sports’’ commercial, which fills in some of the empty ad blanks.
No one was surprised when the cheery CBS play-by-play man, Jim Nantz, launched a sermon about the resumption of sports. He voiced the importance of “faith’’ during the HBO show, saying, “I do know this: If things do get back on track starting in September, you’re going to have a stretch of Grand Slam tennis, golf major championships, baseball, basketball, football, all converging. I mean, as far as programming real estate, it’s going to be a gold rush. It will be like the Wild, Wild West trying to find a place to put your major event on a calendar and fit it around any one of our network’s already full schedules.”
It all sounded interesting. Until he mentioned the V-word: Viacom.
And then I realized, Nantz is just like Jeff Passan, another corporate pawn with a different logo on his paycheck. See you on the dark side of the moon.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ is the host of “Unmuted,’’ a frequent podcast about sports and life (Apple, Podbean, etc.). He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio host. As a Los Angeles resident, he gravitated by osmosis to movie projects. He appears Wednesday nights on The Dino Costa Show, a segment billed as “The Rawest Hour in Sports Broadcasting.’’
5 Sports TV Minds Explain Why We Love The Manningcast
“Yes, it’s an in-motion experiment but it’s working because the production team at ESPN is being allowed to create a live studio show, something ESPN does very very well.”
Here at Barrett Sports Media, we clearly have Manningcast fever. And look, we aren’t the only news outlet covering the media industry that has mined Peyton and Eli Manning for all the content we can. We have looked at the show from a broadcaster’s perspective. We have looked at it from a fan’s perspective. We have gawked at the ratings growth. We have asked how fair this whole endeavor is to Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Louis Riddick.
One thing we have not done yet is ask accomplished television professionals for their thoughts. Why has this broadcast, which can be hard to follow at times, captured the imagination of football fans? How has it gone from something we were unsure about to truly must-see TV for the sports audience?
I asked five TV pro’s what it is that they see when they watch Peyton, Eli and their cavalcade of guests. Is the Manningcast connecting with hardcore football fans that crave the Xs and Os or is it connecting with more casual fans that enjoy the comedy of Peyton wearing a helmet three sizes too small and Eli shooting the camera the double bird? This is wildly different from a traditional TV booth.
Allan Flowers is a coordinating producer for NFL Network. He’s spent three decades in the industry, and works for a network that lives and breathes football 24/7. Perhaps even more importantly, Allan has the benefit of working on one of the most well received shows in recent memory, one that football fans can’t get enough of, NFL Redzone.
I wanted to pick his brain on traditional TV booths. When the Manningcast first premiered, so many people wanted to tie it to a traditional broadcast and figure out what it means for the future. It raised questions about ESPN’s longterm plans for Peyton Manning, Monday Night Football, and the pros and cons connected to offering two versions of the same game on different channels.
“I can definitely see Peyton in a traditional booth. He is the one constantly talking football on the ‘Manningcast’. Eli mixes football with jabs at his older brother,” Flowers told me when I asked if what he has seen through the first three weeks makes him think that the brothers could be a future fit in a more traditional broadcast booth. “I think the traditional broadcast needs to change anyway. It’s the same formulaic booth that we have seen for decades. That’s why there is an appetite for something like this. As opportunities continue to open for more diverse people (e.g. younger analysts, female analysts, female and black play by play announcers), I think you will see tone of the traditional broadcast booth change regardless. ABC tried comedian Dennis Miller in the booth decades ago. I would not be surprised to see something like that happen again in the future, only if that person is relatable and appears to know football. As for what Eli & Peyton are doing, I think it’s great. They have a connection which is paramount to a great booth. There is a rawness to it that appears fresh (for now). I think their broadcast is still evolving. I’ve noticed some small changes each week. The guests have been great. Nothing but A list people. Why they are taking a break until Week 7 seems odd, but it’s an interesting watch.”
I spoke with a TV executive with experience at multiple networks that wished to remain anonymous. He told me that the Manningcast is the “perfect combination of personality and authority.”
He also said that there is no sense in thinking about Peyton and Eli’s futures as broadcasters. The deal between ESPN and Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions, which produces the broadcast, isn’t about securing Peyton Manning to be the future analyst on the traditional Monday Night Football broadcast.
Disney isn’t looking at Peyton Manning as part of ESPN. They are looking at him as Mickey Mouse or Iron Man or Baby Yoda. He is another of Disney’s mega-brands that is talked about on investor calls and upfront presentations. To that end, ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro is smart enough to stay out of the way. He invested in Omaha Productions and is going to let the content it provides grow the way Peyton Manning wants it to.
Patrick Crakes is a former Vice President at FOX Sports and InVivo Media Group. He now runs Crakes Media Consulting. He isn’t sure that ESPN is entirely hands off. Peyton and Eli Manning are important enough that the network wants to keep them happy, but they are also smart enough to know the goal is to put on the best show possible.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that both Peyton and Eli are allowing ESPN to produce them at a very high level. This show clearly has a run-down, producers and directors are speaking live to both of them and the show evolves on-air every week in real time. Yes, it’s an in-motion experiment but it’s working because the production team at ESPN is being allowed to create a live studio show, something ESPN does very very well.”
Flowers agrees. He can’t see ESPN letting the Mannings fly blind. In fact, he had some thoughts on what kind of coaching he would give the brothers to improve on what we have already seen.
“Neither of them know when a commercial timeout is coming, which seems odd since they played the game for so long. It’s very awkward when they have a guest and they ask them to tell a story right before a punt. Then they have to cut the guest off and get to the break. I would also engage the guests in more of their football talk. If it’s a player, see if they all see the same thing. What defense would you call here. If it’s not a player, teach the guest what Peyton/Eli is seeing. There are times when the guest doesn’t know what to do, which seems uncomfortable. It was great when they had LeBron James guess the next play and he was right. More of that will make the booth connectivity better. I think they have the ability to telestrate their own plays. If not, they should. I’m also curious if the button-down collared shirt are the only shirts they own.”
Logan Swaim is the Head of Content for Colin Cowherd’s The Volume podcast network. Prior to diving into the world of audio and social video, Swaim spent decades in TV including serving as an Executive Producer for Good Morning Football on the NFL Network, and also with DAZN, and NBC Sports. Swaim told me that at it’s core, the Manningcast isn’t an original idea. It’s the next evolution in megacasts and second screens. It just happens to be considerably better than anything that has come before it in that realm.
“They have the cheat code with Peyton and Eli – two likable, entertaining, and authentic personalities. But they’ve smartly created a show where all the bells and whistles are made only to accentuate what makes the talent interesting. The pre-planned segments are all intended to make fun of the hosts, like Peyton reading a list of all the stuff they messed up last week. It feels partly like watching a game at a bar and partly like Inside the NBA.”
Eric Weinberger is a former sports media executive and executive producer at the NFL Network now running his own company. He described the Manningcast to me as “part Ted Lasso, part Beavis & Butthead“. I love a good Beavis and Butthead reference, so I asked him to explain a little more. He said “the broadcast comes with some rough edges that make it more charming,” although he did have additional suggestions of what he might add.
“You want it to feel ‘clunky,’ seem less polished. That is what is appealing about this production.” Weinberger told me. “Maybe I would try a little local radio game play-by-play every once in a while to break up the Mannings ever present voices and give them a breather.”
We have to wait three weeks for another Manningcast. The brothers will not return until Week 7, when the Saints play in Seattle. That has to be a bummer for ESPN executives, who have watched the audience for Peyton and Eli grow each of the three weeks it has been on air, even when games seem irrelevant. I asked that TV executive that didn’t want to be identified what he would do to keep the momentum going both on TV and on social media.
He said nothing was off the table. You have Peyton and Eli film vignettes that can be used to lead into the traditional ESPN broadcast, you have them breakdown a series or play for SportsCenter, and anything else you can think of. Right now, you put as much of the Manning’s as you can on TV.
“Pay them more money and have them do more games,” he said was the lesson for the next contract.
Any good idea will have its imitators. Like every major pro sport, television is a copycat league. Allan Flowers had a series of suggestions for what he could see this spawning in terms of alternate broadcasts. He suggested the tight end Zach Ertz and his wife Julie, a member of the US Women’s National Soccer Team, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, even Charles Barkley and Phil Mickelson.
Weinberger also expects to see copycats. He just doesn’t expect them to be as good as the Manningcast.
“Secondary screen viewing can work for all sports. Football really lends itself to multiple opportunities, as there are so many complexities with specialty positions and moving parts. The dynamic the two brothers have though is unique and special, always has been.”
Swaim says at the end of the day, what makes the Manningcast special is the broad appeal. There is no right answer to “who is the target audience?” and that means everyone can find something to like about it.
“It seems like it’s found a way to appeal to two different audiences – hardcore football fans and the social media audience. There is plenty of ‘ball’ talk where they nerd out and talk about Football Film Room terms. And then there are hilarious conversations where Gronk is talking about his dog and McAfee is telling amazing stories about roulette. They have pulled off the delicate balance of serving two distinct audiences.”
Remember the 2000 Presidential Election? There were polls leading up to November that said asked people that planned to vote for George W. Bush how they arrived at their decision. A significant number of those that responded said that Al Gore seemed more qualified to be President of the United States, but Bush was more relatable – the kind of guy you want to have a beer with.
Crakes says the same logic can be used to explain the mass appeal of the Manningcast. Sure Peyton and Eli are smart, but it is their appeal as people, as characters, that draw audiences looking for different things out of an NFL broadcast.
“They don’t take themselves seriously and their genuine competitive love for the sport of football comes through via the dynamic of two brothers who respect and like each other. It’s for pretty much the entire audience. Everyone would like to have a beer and watch the game with them. That’s the key ingredinent.”
Chris Carlin Doesn’t Want Any Caller To Be That Guy
” There are some calls that you get that don’t enrich the show and sometimes, it’s more fun to kind of make fun of it a little bit and try to entertain that way. It’s not a knock on the people personally.”
We all know those sports radio callers – someone with a hot take that makes you want to flip the dial even for a split second. However, they do have the tendency to make us laugh every once-in-a-while. In his new series on Tik Tok called Sports Radio Callers: Don’t Be That Guy, ESPN Radio New York host and Rutgers football play-by-play broadcaster, Chris Carlin, tends to make light of some of the calls he receives on a daily basis.
He wants you to know that he isn’t making fun of anyone in particular. He has been in the business long enough to have plenty of inspiration to draw from.
It is very clear that Carlin values his listeners and while he may have a little fun with some calls, he is never afraid to make fun of himself and that is what makes any show he does an entertaining listen. Of course, we could also all probably relate to maybe being one of those callers when we started out calling into shows too, which he wasn’t shy about reliving when we spoke last week.
Ricky Keeler: Where did you come up with the idea to do these Tik Tok videos? Was there a particular call on your show that led to this?
Chris Carlin: I wouldn’t say there was a particular call. There have been plenty over the years. There is a genre of calls. It’s not just about the host, but it’s about the listener as well. There are some calls that you get that don’t enrich the show and sometimes, it’s more fun to kind of make fun of it a little bit and try to entertain that way. It’s not a knock on the people personally.
The way I look at it is nobody makes more fun of themselves than me. It’s just some types of calls are ones that I just think are entertaining in a not so informative way.
I got the idea from watching a guy on Tik Tok named Scott Seiss, who is a stand-up comedian. He apparently used to work at IKEA and he talked about all the complaints of people at IKEA in that same way. He’d say what the complaint of the person is and then say his response in a very straightforward funny way and using that same kind of music. It just kind of struck me when I heard that, yeah, I can do that for sports radio callers, there’s no doubt.
RK: Is there a particular call or caller that the minute you hear them, you just know that’s a perfect Tik Tok video?
CC: I wouldn’t say that. For instance, I did one where the caller is going to call up and say, it’s the same old Jets. You know, it’s lazy and it’s kind of like really? Where it came to I get it, you’ve been through all the pain in the world. We all understand. But, it is silly to come out and say something like that, but you know it’s going to come.
I started jotting down ideas a few weeks ago, putting them on Tik Tok about a month ago. I just completely made up names, so there’s not a direct one. So, it’d be like “Is it the same old Jets or is it the same old Tony from Freehold? It feels like you called and said the same thing before because you did last week. Here’s an idea for your next phone call. Have a point.”
Callers know, listeners know when they hear a call or make a point like that, we’re all rolling our eyes and it’s okay, listen, it’s part of the gig. It’s what you sign up for when you dial the phone that if you don’t bring a good, informed take or you don’t want to go after something I said, you could be fodder for the show. This was just something that I did separately to have some fun.
I actually had a caller bring it up to me like should you really be doing that? It is not a knock on our listeners at all. What it is is just kind of a parody and at the same time, nobody makes more fun of themselves than me.
RK: How would you describe to someone not from New York, what New York sports radio callers are like?
CC: I think New York sports radio callers are very similar to callers all over the country. In every town, sports radio callers kind of have a knock against them and I think it’s unfair. As much as we are seen, not just callers, but hosts, like you just take the laziest take and you just do all that stuff. I think the majority of callers and the majority of hosts that are really bringing up good points and trying to illuminate in addition to bringing some heat to it. I think every market has their funny callers, their guys that you know what you’re going to get when they call.
RK: What has the reaction to this series been like from other people in the business? Are people able to enjoy it or do you hear feedback that you’re being too mean?
CC: It’s been pretty positive because everybody knows who I am. People kind of know my personality and my personality is yeah, I’m going to deliver you some good takes and stuff like that, but I’m also not going to act like we’re splitting the atom here. It’s not a personal attack in any way. It’s just kind of a generic piece of advice. That’s why I titled it Don’t Be That Guy.
There are better ways to spend your time waiting on hold. When I would produce for Mike [Francesa] and Chris [“Mad Dog” Russo], I’d get callers who would call up and say “I want to talk about the Mets.” Okay, what do you want to say? “I think they’re pretty good.” Yeah, let me get you right on. It’s that kind of thing. The reaction I’ve gotten, it hasn’t been executives or anything, it’s mostly been colleagues and it’s all very much, they’re entertained by it. Some sports radio hosts are like thank god, somebody’s doing this, but more than anything, it’s just a tongue in cheek thing.
RK: The Yankees, Mets, Giants, and Jets are all struggling. In these situations, are the more ridiculous calls likely to happen or do these people always exist?
CC: They always exist. There are some weeks like this week if you’re calling up and saying Zach Wilson is not the answer, I’m going to hang up on you pretty quickly. That’s what this week has got the potential for. I’m pretty open-minded to a lot of takes, but it’s the takes that callers call up with that are not well-reasoned. Just too much of an emotional reaction right out of the gate that has actually nothing behind it.
RK: Do you prefer to do these types of shows when all the teams are winning or does it give you more content when all the teams are not playing well?
CC: It’s always better for business in general when teams are good. As far as this kind of content, I could do this year round. I just frankly haven’t had enough time. I’ve been working a lot of late hours recently and I just haven’t had enough time to do more of them. I’m going to try, but I also am very cognizant of I don’t want callers to think that I’m not evaluating their inputs to the show because there couldn’t be anything further from the truth. It’s just more of let’s not take ourselves too seriously here.
RK: If you could go back to a younger version of yourself, were you one of those callers?
CC: I’ve been one of those callers. When I was in college, I called Steve Somers once. I was so nervous and I called up and said Hi, Chris, this is Steve and I made some inane points shortly thereafter. Steve had fun with me and I completely understood it because I was the guy that was on the other end of this. Frankly, if Steve was doing Tik Tok videos in the 90’s, I would have fully expected to make an appearance on one.
RK: Would you rather be a Tik Tok video or a drop on a radio show?
CC: I think I’d rather be a Tik Tok video because there’s more opportunity for viral spreading now. I know I’m doing a lot of New York guys, but it’s callers in total. As I do more national stuff as I have been for the last couple of years really, I’ll start to expand it a little bit. I don’t see this going on and on because you don’t want to beat a bit to death. It’s just been something that has been fun to do and something that’s different and something that’s made me think differently. Everybody’s trying to make their own impressions in every kind of space and I am just trying to do my own version of that, but also not beat a joke to death, so to speak.
RK: We’ve seen Twitter and Instagram used to help people in this industry. How do you feel Tik Tok can be a tool that hosts can use to work out content that maybe wouldn’t make the best sense for live radio?
CC: I think it’s interesting. I think things that you don’t get to, you certainly could. We all want to think that we’re funny. I want to think that I’m funny. I don’t believe I am all that funny. I think it is an area where you can expand a little bit more into. Admittedly, I am not a guy who sits here and studies it and understands exactly what all the machinations of it are that different people are doing. This was just something that I was taking a whack at. Absolutely, it’s a genre or an app that people should be more involved in if they’re not. I think every bit now helps.
RK: For someone who is reading this piece and worrying about being one of those callers and they are a first-time caller, what advice would you give them?
CC: I would think out your point in advance. If you’re nervous, I would even jot a couple of things down. Not read it, but I’d jot a couple of things down. If you’re going to try to tell me that the Jets should give up on Zach Wilson already, you better come with plenty of facts to back it up. That’s probably the quickest way to become one right now.
I would say just make sure that what you want to say is adding to the show. For you, that’s giving me your well-thought out take. I don’t think it’s anything too crazy. Chances are I’m not going to call you out personally because this is never going to be a personal thing or anything that’s mean in any way. At least, I hope it doesn’t come across that way. I don’t think it does.”
The Craig Carton/FanDuel Deal Is Undeniably A Good Thing
“Since returning to WFAN, Carton has been very upfront about who he is, what he has done and how he is trying to do better.”
Craig Carton is destined to forever be a polarizing figure in the world of sports media. Long before he was arrested, he had plenty of detractors that considered him less of a talk show host and more of a shock jock. Add to it a conviction for his role in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors in order to pay back gambling debts, and it is clear that the guy’s approval rating will never hit 100.
There are understandable reasons not to like a guy and then there are grudges. Grudges don’t have to be personal. They don’t have to spring from some sort of affront. They can easily be born out of feeling like someone has figured out a way to live a life above the rules and free of consequence for their awful actions.
Grudges can (and often do) blind us to reality. I think that is a big part of what is happening when people point to Craig Carton’s new deal with FanDuel and say that there is something wrong with it.
If you missed the announcement last week, Carton is joining FanDuel as the company’s first “responsible gaming ambassador.” He will create content about gambling responsibly and also work with FanDuel engineers to create AI to spot problem gambling patterns. The deal gives Craig Carton a seat at the table with one of the biggest mobile sportsbooks in shaping their responsible gaming policy. Isn’t that a good thing?
I probably cannot convince you to view the guy in any particular light. When it comes to former inmates being rehabilitated and getting a second chance, we tend to be very dug in with our opinions, whatever may influence them.
Undeniably, Carton did a bad thing. Swindling people out of huge chunks of money is always bad. In America, it somehow seems worse. As costs of living increase and wages remain flat, every dollar is accounted for and allotted to something for most of us. The guy should be ashamed of himself. And here’s the thing: he clearly is.
Since returning to WFAN, Carton has been very upfront about who he is, what he has done and how he is trying to do better. Hell, what other station in America dedicates any time at all, even just a half hour on the weekend, to issues of addiction and recognizing problem habits? This deal with FanDuel seems perfectly in line with his previous attempts to atone.
You don’t have to like Craig Carton, but you do need to acknowledge that everything he has done in terms of highlighting his problem with gambling and offering help to those that he sees a little bit of his own struggles in has been sincere. There is no reason to believe it isn’t.
Under the terms of the deal, not only will Carton advise and create content for FanDuel, but the company will also make sure Hello, My Name is Craig finds a bigger platform. You can be cynical and say that this is just part of a bigger deal between FanDuel and WFAN parent company Audacy, but FanDuel’s Chief Marketing Officer, Mike Raffensperger explained that it is good for the gaming industry to promote betting responsibly.
“I think what we recognize we needed is to add some humanity as to how we get this message across,” he said when explaining why Carton was the perfect face for this campaign.
We see it every time we post a story about sports betting. Someone will comment that it is an evil practice and that the advertising has made sports radio disgusting. The reality is that it is no different from alcohol. For most people, it is harmless. Plenty though, cannot handle it. Still, you tell me the first time you hear an ad break on sports radio or see a commercial break during a game without a beer commercial.
If you really believe sports gambling is evil and want people to stay away from mobile or physical sportsbooks, who do you think the ideal person to be delivering that message is?
You can go with the puritan approach of tisk-tisking strangers and telling them they are flawed people that are going to Hell or you can have a guy that has literally lost it all because of his addiction out front telling you “I know I cannot place a bet and here is why. If that sounds familiar, maybe it is time for you to seek help.” It seems pretty obvious to me that the latter approach is exactly what Raffensperger is talking about – using humanity to reach the people they need to.
Craig Carton committed a crime. A court of law said he had to pay for that both with restitution to his victims and with jail time. He served his time. Deals like this one with FanDuel make it possible for him to stay on schedule with the restitution payments. Even if you think he is unforgivable, that should make you happy, right?
It is admittedly strange to see a mobile sportsbook hire a “responsible gaming ambassador.” I would argue though that it is only strange because it isn’t something we have seen before. Be skeptical if you are the “I’ll believe it when I see it” type, but I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to congratulate and celebrate both Craig Carton and FanDuel.
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