The fine print at the bottom of a casino house ad? The rambling voice at the end of a public service announcement? Craig Carton was too far gone to heed the warnings, or the concerns of family members and close friends wondering why he was helicoptering directly from Atlantic City to his morning radio shift at WFAN, a sideways commute of the worst kind.
A disease had swallowed him. And before he could come up for air, a man in his early 50s who had everything in life but hair — a wife and kids, big-city success, riches, a Tribeca palace — was headed to a prison cell in central Pennsylvania.
Gambling made him do bad things.
But that doesn’t mean Craig Carton is a bad human being for life.
I am comfortable in expressing that because, unlike knee-jerk media executives who can’t blacklist an “unhireable rogue’’ quickly enough, I contacted him days before he left for Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. Hooked on documentaries and involved in creating them, I saw Carton as a compelling subject and wanted to know why prosperity and fame weren’t enough for him, why he needed to gamble like a fiend and pay off debts by duping victims in a $7 million ticket-brokering scam. Having been in sports radio myself, I knew how gambling could ravage certain colleagues, once lecturing a car full of young producers — two have become leaders in the industry — about the personal wreckage awaiting them if they kept calling bookies every day. I waited years for my one-time program director to pay back a $3,000 loan.
When we spoke by phone, Carton was resigned to his fate — a 3 1/2-year sentence — but also inferred he was a media victim of sorts. This was understandable, given his treatment in a Manhattan courtroom by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon, who mocked how a caller might greet him on the air: “Good afternoon, Mr. Carton, Colleen from New York. First time, long time.’’ Really? Did he even have a chance after that stunt? Once a high-profile public figure is caught in the hooks of a sensational tabloid story, all innocent-until-proven-guilty expectations are gone, regardless of the facts. I would know, having been through a lower-level media circus myself, and it was important for me to hear Carton’s side, knowing how news sites never completed a story that ended favorably for me, with my triumph in a civil case and a complete expungement of all charges.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting in the slightest that Carton didn’t deserve his sentence. But when he was released from prison this week after serving barely a year of his term, I did not yelp in protest. He has paid $5 million in restitution to his victims and will keep paying. He lost his family, his livelihood, and he’ll be branded a Ponzi scheme embezzler for life. With good behavior, he completed all requirements and programs demanded of him inside the prison walls. And he isn’t finished yet, with his next step a halfway house or home confinement, according to the New York Post. A year in prison — and three years of hell since his arrest — does constitute a firm measure of punishment for a non-violent crime.
“He paid his debt to society,’’ said Boomer Esiason, his former co-host, who received a call from Carton within hours of his release. “What I heard was a happy and relieved Craig Carton. He did everything he possibly could in jail to mitigate his sentence and try to get out as early as he possibly could.’’
So lash out if you must. Call Carton a privileged white male getting a break in a summer of racial unrest, sprung early — surely by his pal, Chris Christie — so he can resume radio stardom. Accuse me of conveniently forgetting his victims and his mountain of gambling losses. Sorry, I will not join close-minded, holier-than-thou wall builders who think Carton should be banished to a homeless encampment and never work again in a media industry that, candidly, has character issues on every level.
Yes, we must determine if he has still has a gambling sickness, which must be purged from his life for a corporation such as Entercom to grant him a second chance. But if he’s clean, Carton deserves the same shot that other media people receive upon overcoming illness — such as John Skipper, who was summoned to run the DAZN streaming service after a cocaine-extortion case (or so he said) ended his ESPN reign. Why not give Carton an afternoon slot and a new slate? He’s talented. He has generated monster ratings. He is raw, unabashed New York. And WFAN needs him, as Mike Francesa fades away and ESPN’s Michael Kay commands the afternoon-drive sports lead in the nation’s top radio market.
“I do believe he deserves a second chance, whether it be here at our station or another station,’’ said Esiason, who has settled in comfortably with Carton’s morning-drive successor, Gregg Giannotti. “He’s too talented not to be on the air somewhere.’’
If anything, I cast aspersions on media executives who have no equilibrium in handling such cases and have shown no such mercy toward equally talented media people. Networks are cowardly in not caring when athletes who carry substantial legal baggage — Ray Lewis, for one — are routinely hired as analysts. Yet they are quick to make examples of those who haven’t played professional sports, the very definition of a corporate double standard that strains the legal definition of tortious interference. As for Carton, let’s be honest: He and others in his situation need a sugar daddy to push them through the politics.
In which alternative universe would someone grant redemption to a host convicted in a Ponzi scheme? Don’t be shocked if it’s the universe of Carton’s former producer, Chris Oliviero, who runs the show at WFAN and has made no secret of reunion possibilities. I think we already know how this will go. Oliviero will place Carton in afternoons opposite Kay. HBO will move forward with the Carton documentary, timed with his return to radio, and it likely will involve his good friend, “Entourage’’ star Kevin Connolly. He will apologize, resume his extensive charity work and record his own PSAs about gambling’s evils. Christie will give him a bro hug — I doubt Chris Christie socially distances — and New York will embrace Carton’s second act as only New York can.
I cringe when thinking about young people getting into the business. Imagine being 21 and an independent thinker and dreaming of covering sports for a living, only to realize quickly how internal politics overwhelm idealism. Stuff happens. People screw up. Short of a heinous crime, you should not lose your career over it.
So I’m down with Carton returning to the air.
Whereas I’m just down on Bill Simmons, another sports media star in the news this week. I’ve always enjoyed Boston, from long river walks to pastry aromas in the North End, but one contradiction always has baffled me. How can a bastion of higher education also produce people who’ve trashed, if not completely ruined, the once-distinguished craft of sports media? The city produced Dave Portnoy, a piece of work who parlayed a proud moment in his life — publishing a naked penis shot of Tom Brady’s son, then age 2 — into a drunken-frat-boy empire called Barstool Sports. And it produced Simmons, a former bartender who decided to disrupt a town of estimable sportswriters by becoming the original Voice Of The Obnoxious Local Fan, which launched a reckless, overreaching career that finds him in a national firestorm over the scarcity of black employees at his digital site, The Ringer.
Simmons has talent and sports passion. And he helped create ESPN’s seminal documentary series, “30 For 30.’’ His problem: He shouldn’t be in charge of anything but turning on the coffee machine. When success as the “Boston Sports Guy’’ character landed him a column at then-fledgling ESPN.com, his bosses should have thanked the heavens for his large readership and let him flourish in that role. Instead, they created a multi-platform monster — and allowed that monster to devour Bristol. If his pieces were unique, his TV appearances passable and his literary work (“The Book Of Basketball’’) a masterpiece, it was Simmons’ lack of professional savvy that repeatedly sabotaged him.
He referred to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as “a liar,’’ a red flag in any law shop. As founder of ESPN’s Grantland site, he published a story that outed a transgender woman who committed suicide as the piece was bring prepared, requiring him to write a lengthy, awkward apology. Now, five years since his ouster at ESPN, Simmons is being attacked for his hiring practices amid a powerful racial reckoning in America. And again, it’s a controversy he could have avoided — and kept out of the New York Times, which detailed staff turmoil at The Ringer — by thinking with his brain and not his ass. But then, he used to write for Jimmy Kimmel, who is embroiled in his own racial issues — a blackface controversy and his past imitations of black voices, including a Snoop Dogg bit in which he used the N-word several times.
It’s unfathomable that two white Ringer podcasters, Simmons and Ryen Russillo, would broadcast a June 1 episode on racism and police violence without inviting a few black voices as fellow hosts. They called it, “A Truly Sad Week in America,’’ and they only made it sadder with ignorant commentary. Russillo’s mistake was to applaud Simmons, saying, “Look at you, Bill, look at the people you’ve hired, look at the company that you’ve started, look at the jobs and opportunities that you’ve given a diverse group, which I know you’re always looking to do. I’m not bulls—ting, I’m not kissing up to you here. These are facts.’’
Actually, to use the L-word, these are lies. The podcast angered Ringer staffers, with writer John Gonzalez tweeting, “If you’ve heard someone say The Ringer is a super diverse place, sadly that person does not know what he’s talking about. We have a long way to go, and I hope we get there.” Then the union representing Ringer workers weighed in with numbers: “In 2019, 86 percent of speakers on The Ringer Podcast Network were white. We have zero black editors. We have zero black writers assigned full time to the NBA or NFL beats.’’
Which makes the Man of The People, Bill Simmons, just another Malibu media mogul who doesn’t pay appropriate attention to racial inequality. At Grantland, he cultivated an us-against-the-world mentality among his staff and usually had the support of the bosses who enabled him, Skipper and John Walsh. But all three exited ESPN in a curious span, and suddenly, Simmons has no one to bail him out. He sold The Ringer site and podcast network to Spotify for almost $200 million, and now, he’s pretty lonely by the beach, dragging down the investors who showered him with riches.
I don’t doubt Simmons when he says he has sought diversity, as he did successfully at Grantland. But the union says The Ringer, which employs about 90 people, has only six black editorial staff members. Evidently, he isn’t trying hard enough to outbid competing sites — including ESPN’s “The Undefeated’’ — for the best talent. Wrote the union: “Diversity in the newsroom is essential to covering police brutality and systemic racism, including in the worlds of sports and pop culture. The Ringer has a lot of work to do.’’
By this point in their careers, Simmons and Russillo should know how to approach sensitive subjects with care. Same goes for their former ESPN colleague, Scott Van Pelt, who might want to eliminate this from his self-description at the top of his Twitter feed: “Mr. Whitefolks.’’ It’s a takeoff from a documentary on the lives of pimps and prostitutes, and if Van Pelt isn’t aware, “Mr. Whitefolks’’ is the only white pimp in the show. At one point, the character discusses a “Million Mack March’’ on Washington.
I’m guessing it will be removed from Van Pelt’s feed before you read this. Because, like so much else in our country, it’s just thoughtless and wrong. The least sports media can do, now more than ever, is think and make things right. Admit your mistakes and move on, as Carton has.
“I made mistakes,’’ he said. “Mistakes in my judgments, decisions and how I was living my life. I was wrong. I have, will and should continue to pay a dear price for those mistakes.’’
He deserves no applause when he returns to the air. But he deserves our ears — specifically, 12 million sets of them, or the number of problem gamblers in America.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.
This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.
Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.
This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.
The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.
Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.
NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.
Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.
Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.
Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.
A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.
It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay.
MLB Network is another option
If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.
- One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
- CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
- The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.
The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.
First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.
Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.
Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.
It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do.
Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.
Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?
I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?
That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.
After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else.
There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.
Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.
Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.
Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.
I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.