Joe Fortenbaugh grew up obsessed with sports. The Allentown, PA native’s favorite athletes included Allen Iverson and Donovan McNabb. In the fifth grade, Fortenbaugh’s class project was to give a speech about one of his role-models. While his other classmates talked about parents and family members, Joe expressed his appreciation of Barry Sanders.
In 2003, Fortenbaugh graduated from Penn State and was on his way to Thomas Jefferson’s School of Law in San Diego. His reasoning behind getting a law degree was simple: learn contract law and become a sports agent.
Since his mindset coming out of High School was to work in sports, he knew he needed one more thing along with a law degree to really make it, real-world experience. During his 1L year at Thomas Jefferson, Joe wanted to get an internship, so he searched for NFL agents that were based out of the San Diego area. This is how he came across the name Jack Bechta, San Francisco 49er George Kittle’s agent.
Joe put together his resume and a cover letter and mailed it to Bechta. To stick out from the norm, his plan was to send his resume and a different cover letter to Jack every single day for a month. If he didn’t hear from the agent after a month, his plan was to then start calling the agency every single day for another month. And, if he still had not heard back from them after two months, Joe was going to just show up at their door every single day for that third month.
After 23 days and 23 letters, Fortenbaugh received a phone call from Joe Palumbo (an agent that worked for Jack), who said, “enough of the letters, just come in and meet us”.
The meeting went well and Bechta ended up giving him an unpaid internship that lasted his whole tenure at Law School. Post graduation, Joe had a job opportunity with the agency, but he wanted to make money right away so he decided to go another route.
Joe bounced around a little bit, which included stints of playing online poker and working in Minor League Baseball. While in the Minors, Joe received a call from Becha who was launching a website called National Football Post. Bechta wanted to bring Joe on as a jack of all trades to manage the website. Joe jumped at the opportunity, as he was making only $500 bucks a month working in the Minors despite working crazy hours.
The website launched in August of 2008, and things were going great. He was writing, traveling, the whole nine yards. Then in August of 2011, while still working NFP, Joe decided he wanted to get into the gambling space. He foresaw it being the next big thing, so his plan was to move out to Las Vegas for one football season to get to know all the oddsmakers and learn about the industry. His thought process was that if sports betting was ever legalized, he might be of value to one of these bigger networks. From then on, Joe started doing more and more gambling related posts and even a video series with various gambling industry professionals.
Fortenbaugh would put together a solid resume, which included of course the NationalFootballPost.com, hosting “The Sharp 600″ sports betting podcast for Covers.com, being a San Francisco morning show host for 95.7 The Game, appearing as a sports betting analyst on dozens of radio shows around the country and doing freelance columns for USA Today and ESPN.com, among others.
Fast forward to 2018 and Fortenbaugh’s gamble paid off in a big way when the Supreme Court deemed the Professional and Amatuer Sports Protection Act of 1992 unconstitutional, thus allowing legal sports betting to spread. While ESPN had showcased sports betting segments like Chris Berman’s “Swami Sez” and Scott Van Pelt’s “Bad Beats” for years on “SportsCenter”, gambling went to a completely different level after the ruling.
As a result of the Court’s decision, Gambling spread into 22 total jurisdictions (if you count the four states that have passed legislation but haven’t launched wagering yet). Because of the big boom, ESPN dipped more than just their toes into sports gambling. By building a new Las Vegas studio to expand their focus on games and odds, I’d say they’ve gone all-in.
That is where Fortenbaugh comes in. He has relocated to Las Vegas to do TV, radio and digital for ESPN, headlined by working alongside co-host Doug Kezerian on ESPN’s Daily Wager. He will also co-host both a new digital sports betting program (not named yet) and has joined the cast of GameDay, an ESPN Radio show every Saturday with Matt Jones and Myron Medcalf. ESPN began using Fortenbaugh as a guest in March of last year when the network launched The Daily Wager.
But, it wasn’t all roses for Fortenbaugh, who faced many hurdles along the way. So many, that his dad had the “talk” with him about having a backup plan and he himself even looked into potentially going to school to become a blackjack dealer.
“Before I broke in it felt like at every point before the next step happened I was almost at a breaking point where nothing was going to work out … A lot of heartbreak and coming up just short on jobs I wanted … A lot of 15-hour plus workdays.”
I asked him about his thoughts on the future of the gambling industry. Joe, like many others, is optimistic about the boom.
“The sky’s the limit. We’re in 18 states right now and by the next election we could have as many as 24 or 25. And, the projections by 2025 have it at maybe 40 States so it’s similar to what happened with marijuana … On the job front, this is going to open up a lot of opportunities for people. You’re going to need production people, camera people, sound people, makeup people, writers, audio, etc. and you’re going to see opportunity for everyone from a corporate standpoint as well.”
The only word of caution Joe gives is to make sure you vet out who you follow and listen to in the industry.
“It’s a new industry and everyone’s talking about spreads now. There are going to be people that understand the information, and there are going to be people who don’t. Some guys might not and you have to do what you do with a lot of your information. You are going to have to be diligent and sort through it just like news and politics.”
During our conversation, another hot topic, social media, also came up. I asked him about his advice on dealing with internet trolls. While he loves using Twitter as a creative resource, he doesn’t like the negativity and vitriol. In the end, he understands that comes along with the job.
Fortenbaugh recited a family trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming that changed his perspective on things. Seeing his kids running free outside and the beauty of the outdoors made him realize that there was more to life than being connected to his phone and social media in general. But, he gets it.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t pay attention to it. If you are going to use social media, it’s going to be very difficult to avoid the negativity. Trust the process and on the flipside, the trolls will keep you focused and hungry.”
As for advice to anyone trying to make it in the industry itself?
“Just start doing it. Just grind. Just start getting your reps. Do a podcast, do a livestream, do whatever you can. Right now is a wonderful time for young people who are trying to get into the industry because you don’t need to actually be hired to do it. You don’t need to wait for a newspaper to give you a job, you can start a blog, you can just start tweeting, you can do a livestream where you don’t need a great technical production because the best thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to get your reps in.
“I was awful on the radio, tv and in writing when I first started. By no means am I great now, but I’m a lot better than when I first started because I got the reps in and the experience. And, I study people in the industry who are very good.
“Let me tell you something if you’re single and you don’t have children, you have no excuse. Once you have kids, you’re going to want to be a Dad or Mom and you’re going to have to find that balance and the time is not going to be there like it used to be where you could put in 16 hours a day 7 days a week, so get it done now.”
Before we parted ways, I asked Joe a personal question. Being a gambler myself, I had to ask him about his favorite NFL bets for Week 1.
“If the number gets to +3 (currently +2.5), I like the Los Angeles Rams in that Sunday night game against the Dallas Cowboys. I’ll also take the Minnesota Vikings -2.5 at home against the Green Bay Packers. I am not a fan of Green Bay this year. Look at their record in one score games, look at their turnover differential. They are kind of a house of cards. Rogers’ numbers are way down, second worst completion percentage of the last 12 years and his second worst quarterback rating of the last 11 years. They drafted Jordan Love so there’s going to be that pressure on him. And, I love Minnesota’s acquisition of Ngakoue, so they are going to be bolstered on defense.”
In 2003 Fortenbaugh had aspirations of becoming an agent. Fast forward 17 years later and his life has turned out very different than he imagined at that time.
“My ultimate goal was happiness. I wanted to grow up and do something that I loved.”
After speaking with him and from the looks of things, it worked out just fine. I’d even say, it all came up aces.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.