The sports radio medium isn’t crawling with hosts that have 15 years of college football coaching experience under their belt. Nigel Burton is one of the few who does. It’s part of a noteworthy background that Nigel brings to the airwaves in Portland, Oregon.
Coaches obviously have to be knowledgeable, but they also need to possess the ability to explain what they know in ways that other people can easily understand. It sounds like the foundation of a good sports radio host, doesn’t it?
Nigel hosts morning drive with Dan Sheldon on 620 Rip City Radio. Making the transition from the sideline to the studio is a topic of conversation below. Nigel also hits on many other interesting subjects like football being played during a pandemic, the most rewarding aspect of coaching, and how Colin Kaepernick surprised him following their days together at Nevada. Nigel is a compelling dude. He’s got an assortment of life experiences that help shape his wise perspective. His words and examples can help open eyes and minds. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What does your coaching resume look like?
Nigel Burton: I coached for about 15 years, all Division I, FBS or FCS. I did a grad assistant at South Florida. I coached the secondary at Portland State. Then I coached the secondary at Oregon State. I was the defensive coordinator at Nevada and then I was the head coach at Portland State.
BN: What did you learn most from coaching?
NB: I think the one thing I learned was if you keep your standards high, like 99 percent of people will try to rise to whatever standard you keep. The other 1 percent will probably just go to jail. [Laughs] So don’t worry about it.
In terms of X’s and O’s, man, that’s a never-ending deal. You may think you have it down but that’s why all these coaches that have been doing it for 50 years are still doing clinics. You can always learn something new or a different way to do it. There are guys who can win championships running triple option or the Air Raid. There are guys who have won championships doing spread and guys will do it doing Two-Back Pro West Coast. It’s a never-ending process.
BN: What does your sports radio resume look like?
NB: That’s a little shorter. Sports radio has just been Rip City Radio since 2016. Obviously I had done interviews and things like that before. Pac-12 Network and NBC Sports Northwest — actually it started with NBC Sports Northwest, that’s how I kind of even got in. After I got fired from Portland State is when the Ducks made their run in the CFP and beat Florida State in Mariota’s last year there. That’s how I got into doing TV. Then I got Pac-12 Network that fall and then Rip City Radio the following fall.
BN: What did you learn early on about sports radio that you hadn’t known before you did it?
NB: Well I had to learn other sports as well as I knew football. The amount of study and prep, I guess I didn’t know getting into it. I’ve got a great co-host that I get along with even though sometimes it seems like we don’t. But I trust him. He just does a good job of bringing the best out of me in terms of knowing when to tell personal stories, when to get on the soapbox, and when to crack jokes. We just have good timing and good rapport.
BN: Is there anything you learned from Dan [Sheldon] just by doing a show alongside him for so long?
NB: A ton. I’ve learned a lot about basketball because that’s his forte. I learned a lot of just how to analyze it. I’ve learned a lot in terms of how things are seen from a media perspective. A lot of things I still see as a student-athlete or as a coach and he sees them from a media perspective. It’s just interesting how we can see the same thing, and yet from different angles.
BN: What’s something about football that media members who never coached tend to get wrong?
NB: I think a lot of media and people in general are just really jaded about the motivating factors of coaches. They see the Pete Carroll’s, the Nick Saban’s, and Jim Harbaugh making 9 million dollars. What they don’t realize is the amount of work and $10,000 jobs that are out there. The reason that these guys are coaching for the most part is because they love kids and they love the game.
There are clearly business aspects to it, but I’ve yet to meet somebody who got into it thinking “I’m doing this so I can make money.” Anybody who’s gotten into it for that doesn’t last very long.
I think they see a coach do something, a certain type of behavior, or make a decision and they automatically go to, oh it was because he made a business decision. A lot of times you have to make tough decisions that are actually in the best interest of either the team or the kids. I think people just think that it’s cut and dry, like “what’s best for me?” and things like that. I haven’t met a whole lot of guys who got into coaching and that’s the way they think.
BN: What’s the toughest decision you ever had to make as a coach?
NB: When to dismiss a kid or suspend him. Those are hard deals. I had to fire a guy that I was really close to on my staff. That might have actually been the worst because we were damn near best friends. Those are the hardest because — at least I did — I felt like I wanted to save everybody. When you finally get to the point where you’re like this is not salvageable, it’s just hard to come to that realization and then have to pull the trigger.
I suspended a kid one time who had just — it was like a thousand small cuts and after a while it had gotten to the other players and it had gotten to other guys on the staff. I suspended him for his last game as a senior. Looking back on it I actually regret it. I listened to some other people and as opposed to saying you know what, it’s the last game, he’s going to be gone, and maybe he grows up. I feel like now that’s something that will never be repairable. That’s unfortunate because my favorite part about coaching is seeing who they become after they leave and having that great relationship. That one will be soiled forever.
BN: Many players who retire try to fill that void with something else. How does it break down for you as a former coach? Does sports radio fill some of that void?
NB: It will never fill what coaching did because it’s like raising a kid versus babysitting. You raise a child, you can see all the hard work and all the crap you went through and all the good times. They’re your responsibility, and then you put them out in the world and you see them succeed, or even when they fail and they have to come back and they need help. It’s not the same as doing it from afar or stepping in every now and again. But I still get a fix. I still get to watch sports for a living and talk about it and have fun. It’s kind of all the good stuff. It’s the fun stuff. But the stuff that’s rewarding is the hard stuff and that’s the stuff that you miss.
BN: What’s your opinion about college football and the NFL playing during the pandemic?
NB: I totally understand the NFL because it’s a business. I think the NFL was going to play no matter what. As long as they can keep their players relatively safe; they’re getting paid for a risky job anyway.
College is a different animal because you have a responsibility to those kids’ parents and they’re still quasi kids. You have a different level of responsibility there. I feel like for the most part the way that the Pac-12 and the Big Ten handled things was the right way to do it.
I think there was a level of irresponsibility by just saying well we’re just going to play through it. All the quotes we heard about “we’ve got to run money through the state of Oklahoma” and “more concerned with guys playing than their long-term health.” There were too many questions to just forge ahead the way that a lot of conferences did.
You’ve got teams that now have a hundred kids who had COVID. That’s insane. Especially when you don’t know. You don’t really know what the long-term consequences are going to be. I think with what the Pac-12 and the Big Ten are doing now with daily tests and all these other built-in protocols to help with some of the long-term issues that we at least know about at this point. I think it was a much more responsible way to approach it.
BN: Are you good with college football moving ahead now that technology has changed?
NB: If everybody could have done what the NFL did and tested every single day back in July, then we would have been good. You could have isolated somebody quickly enough where that you didn’t get these issues that we’re seeing at – name the school – Kansas State, Syracuse, Florida State, Colorado State, LSU, Oklahoma, Missouri, Houston. It’s crazy.
When you’re only testing a portion of the student-athletes, not all of them, and you’re only doing it every couple of days or whatever; there was just too much time where someone could be put in harm’s way.
With that changing, I feel better about it. I don’t feel good with, “oh we’ll just all get in and it’ll be fine.” I think that’s asinine. That’s why to me I’ve always been against high school playing until this gets under control because high schools can’t test at all. The only reason that you haven’t seen bad results is because they’re not testing those kids at all. You just don’t even know. Unfortunately there are a lot of kids that I recruited who live with their grandparents, live with all kinds of people who are susceptible to this virus or dying. I scratch my head at that one, man. For what? Just play five months later. Who cares?
BN: What are you thoughts on player protests in the NFL and NBA, and the reaction to it?
NB: As long as they’re in America, they can do whatever the hell they want to do. This idea that you’re here to entertain me and I don’t want anything else – I don’t care about your family, I don’t care about what you go through, I just think it’s rooted in this idea that some people are only here for other people’s entertainment and I don’t care about your humanity. I think that’s rooted in — I’m sorry, I’m going to go ahead and say it — I think it’s rooted in white supremacy, that I don’t identify with you. I see you as different and you’re only here for this reason. So I don’t want to know anything else about you.
They don’t mind when they hear about these feel good parts of their story. What they don’t want to hear about are the things that a lot of these student-athletes and professional athletes have to go through when the lights turn off. That then changes their narrative of what a lot of people have been told their whole lives about America. “I would rather stay deaf, dumb, and blind to it” is what I think a lot of people’s rationale is, because it makes me sleep better at night or it makes me feel good about what my grandparents achieved or whatever.
I don’t know what their deal is. I could really give a crap about the reaction. If someone wants to talk about the things that are affecting their life and it’s rooted in truth, even if it’s their personal truth, then I’m all for it.
BN: Have you noticed a change in tone with how the sports media talks about social issues following George Floyd’s death?
NB: Yeah, night and day, because the bosses are listening. When Kap took a knee, I was coaching at Nevada when Kap played there. We’ve got all kinds of Kap stories.
There were like two offensive players that would come to my house all the time, Kap and this kid Marko Mitchell. Everybody else was all defensive guys. When Kap took a knee, it was personal for me because I know him. I heard all of these discouraging things — I had little white kids in Lake Oswego telling me how they hated Colin Kaepernick. I was like “What? You don’t even know who he is! Man, sit down, little boy; let me tell you who this kid is.”
There was this adamant, heels dug in, I don’t care what I’ve seen, and I think what changed with George Floyd and what changed with America was we didn’t have any distractions. We’re all in our homes and we had to deal with it. I couldn’t turn the channel and just watch sports because there were no sports to watch. I couldn’t turn the TV off and go to the movie theater and just watch a movie or watch a play because all of that was gone. We had to deal with it and that was different. Once the bosses couldn’t turn it off either, people started halfway paying attention and halfway listening. Now sports media was allowed to talk about it more because where else could people go?
BN: What would be the ideal reaction from white America to the things that have gone on in this country and player protests — what would you want it to be in a perfect world?
NB: I think everything that’s wrong with our country begins with a lack of acknowledgement. There are certain people in this country who want minorities, or people who deal with racial issues, or the Me Too movement or whatever, to just move on. It’s whataboutisms and all these other things. It’s like asking a sexual assault victim to just move on with their life without acknowledging what happened to them. That would never work.
The part that’s crazy is you use that analogy and people understand that. But somehow when it comes to race because we’re in such denial in this country about race and racism and our history that somehow it applies to sexual assault, it applies to domestic violence because those are issues that white people also deal with, but racism? No no no! That’s got to be something different. It’s like “No dude, not only is it the same, it might be worse.”
If you just ask me what would the perfect world be, it starts with acknowledgement. If America would ever acknowledge that and if white people would ever acknowledge it, then once you acknowledge it and you accept it, now we can start to talk about real remedies. But if you continue to lie to yourself that that’s not really what it is, you’re kind of spinning your wheels. You’ll never get to the real crux of the issue or how to fix things.
BN: When you go back to Colin Kaepernick and knowing him, was it the least bit surprising seeing what he did in 2016 by kneeling for the anthem?
NB: I was surprised actually. It’s different because I was a coach so I didn’t hang out with him. It’s like our kids. You know your kids, but do you know who they are when you’re not around? I don’t know ‘em. He wasn’t like a super boisterous guy. He was kind of a quiet, thoughtful dude. So that part wasn’t surprising, but I don’t recall hearing about a whole lot of conversations involving race. I don’t remember him being a political thought leader or anything like that. But when you look at his background, being biracial, being adopted by a white family, and if you know anything about [his hometown] Turlock [California], you can definitely see how his experiences will start to mold this person who would recognize that there are a lot of wrongs in the world.
He was always highly intelligent, one of the smartest dudes on our team. Everybody respected him. It was just surprising to see him put himself out there like that because that just wasn’t who he was. He wasn’t a guy who would try to stick out at an event. That wasn’t him. But then there are all of these other things that make you go “okay I get why he came to this conclusion.” A lot of us have. But that fortitude to put himself out there like that was wild.
BN: Looking forward in your career, is there anything that you would specifically like to do in sports media or beyond?
NB: I think I’d like to call games eventually. I’ve done it a few times, like the spring games and things. Mainly because I get tired of hearing guys who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. [Laughs] It’s funny because I’ve sat in so many different production meetings and when you get players who do analysis, they know their position. They might know something else, but they definitely don’t know all of it. It’s clear.
The beauty of being a coach is I’ve coached linebackers. I’ve coached secondary. I’ve had to school myself up on d-line play. I’ve had to study o-line play so I knew how to attack it. I had to understand how quarterbacks go through different progressions in different systems. I coached wide receivers for a short period of time. I coached every special team that there was.
You have this intricate knowledge of everything and so when I’ll listen to a d-lineman talk about how to catch a football, I’m like “Oh my God dude! What are you talking about?” That’s why I love quarterbacks because for the most part a quarterback has to have some understanding of what everybody is doing, getting guys lined up and how to read defenses, but even half the time they screw up. That’s why coaches to me are always really fun to listen to in the box because if you’ve got somebody who can communicate well, they can really tell you what’s happening. So I’d like to call games.
BN: What’s the percentage chance that you’d ever be a coach again?
NB: I don’t know, man. I’m still helping. I coach my kid’s youth teams. I’m going to coach at my kid’s high school and help to coach my daughter in basketball. I still get some of those little fixes. I don’t need to go back to working 100-hour weeks.
I coached a 6th grade football team and there was this one kid who drove everybody insane. I just kept talking to him. He would drive me nuts but I just kept talking to him. At the end of the year he ended up being a pretty good little player and he wrote me a card. I swear to God, I damn near started crying when I read this card. I still have that card. It was four years ago. The reason you do it is to affect young people’s lives and to get that fix of competitiveness. But it’s mainly about helping other kids achieve more than they could have on their own and being a positive influence on their lives. I can still get that. I don’t need to be making six figures or out recruiting to get that. So I don’t know, man. If I can still get it this way, then maybe not ever. We’ll see.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide each weekend on FOX Sports Radio. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at email@example.com.
Jason Barrett Podcast – Dave LaGreca
How did Dave LaGreca convince the bosses at SiriusXM to let him talk about wrestling as a full-time job? He didn’t. He tells Jason why wrestling fans are the kind of loyal audience every show and network want.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Evan Roberts, Self-Professed Sports Maniac, Thrives at WFAN
From an early age, Roberts knew that radio was the medium through which he wanted to express his fandom, especially WFAN.
Evan Roberts made his first appearance on WFAN at just 10 years old, filling in for NBA play-by-play announcer Mike Breen delivering sports updates on Imus in the Morning. The opportunity came after he sent a letter on a whim to the station asking for a job since he enjoyed listening to the station with his father. Desiring to become a radio host was the result of dynamic career aspirations that transitioned from wanting to work as an architect to trying to become the play-by-play announcer for his favorite baseball team, the New York Mets.
“Listening to Mike and Chris, and Benigno in the overnights and Somers – I was like ‘That’s what I want to do’,” Roberts recalled. “….It couldn’t be any more specific when I’m listening to the Fan saying ‘I want to be on the Fan.’ About a decade and a half later, I was able to get it done and I’ve been there ever since.”
From an early age, Roberts knew that radio was the medium through which he wanted to express his fandom, especially WFAN. As a native New Yorker, Roberts connected with the teams in the area and sought the chance to talk about them for a living on a sports radio station with a storied history in the area.
Since 1989, WFAN has been one of the pillars of New York sports coverage and a place that helped pioneer the sports talk radio format. Getting there, though, required that Roberts had deft knowledge of sports, an ability to connect with fans, and experience that ensured he was ready for an opportunity in the number one media market in the world.
While attending school, Roberts was hosting a radio show called Kidsports on WGBB, a radio station based in Freeport, N.Y. serving Nassau County on Long Island. He then moved to Radio AAHS to host What’s Up With Evan Roberts and Nets Slammin’ Planet, the latter with famed high school basketball player Albert King and NBA insider Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson. Aside from being able to refine his hosting skills, Roberts made valuable connections in these roles including one that would help him land his first job out of high school: Danny Turner.
Before he was named the senior vice president of programming operations at XM Satellite Radio in Washington, D.C., Turner served as the engineer for Roberts’ shows on Radio AAHS. He helped to coordinate the technology associated with broadcasting since the shows were done remotely rather than from out of a studio.
“[He] ended up working at XM Radio and heard one of my tapes as it went on and said ‘I remember him. I like him,’ and then sent it to the right person and they ultimately hired me,” said Roberts. “It was my first real, real job working out of high school, and that was about meeting someone earlier on and remembering who that person was and sending as many tapes as I could.”
As a graduate of Lawrence High School, Roberts quickly made the move from Cedarhurst, N.Y. to Washington, D.C. to begin working at XM Satellite Radio, a place he would stay for the next two years. Then, he made the move down I-295 from D.C. to Baltimore, Md. where he worked at 105.7 The Fan WJFK-AM and had to adjust his sports consumption to align with the interests of those listeners. It taught him the importance of research and preparation, important aspects of working in sports media that he still utilizes to this day.
“When I was in Baltimore, I had to be Baltimore,” said Roberts. “I had to understand what makes the Orioles fan tick; what makes the Ravens fan tick. I didn’t grow up as an Orioles fan or a Ravens fan. The Ravens had won the Super Bowl years earlier. I know nothing about winning Super Bowls; I’m a Jets fan.”
At 21 years old, Roberts made the move back to “The Big Apple” when he was hired by WFAN as an overnight host, a role he stayed in for the next two-and-a-half years. Simultaneously, Roberts was working on Maxim Radio doing a night show on the Sirius Satellite Radio channel. Balancing those two roles, while it may have seemed daunting, gave Roberts the chance to broadcast in his home market and talk about the teams he grew up rooting for; the aforementioned Mets and Jets, along with the then-New Jersey Nets and New York Islanders.
Then in 2007, Roberts got his big break when he was named the midday co-host with Joe Benigno on the program Benigno & Roberts in the Midday. Benigno, who got his start on WFAN as a regular caller, had grown a rapport with listeners since joining the station in 1995, making the task for Roberts, a 23-year-old at the time, more difficult in terms of fitting in. Roberts is grateful that Benigno, a host he grew up listening to on WFAN, was accommodating and amicable towards him – plus it helped that they aligned in their rooting interests as Mets and Jets fans.
“He was very welcoming, and he didn’t have to be because I was a lot younger; he had no idea who the hell I was,” said Roberts. “….Right out of the gate, I think he saw my passion [and] my knowledge; he saw a little bit of himself in me, and we were able to bond right away.”
To make a name for himself in the new midday time slot, Roberts stuck to the principles that had been given to him from his early days of radio; that is, to be himself. From the start of his foray into sports media, Roberts and most people around him knew that he was, in his own words, “a sports maniac”, and he needed to maintain that genuine identity on the air. His relatability and passion for the teams as a fan made him an ideal fit for the station synonymous with New York City bearing those iconic call letters and an unbeatable afternoon duo.
“I think as time [went] on and Joe and I developed even more and more chemistry, the audience knew who we were,” said Roberts. “They certainly knew who he was, but they learned ‘Evan’s a die-hard Mets fan. He doesn’t miss a game.’”
While it was important for Roberts to emulate his fandom for the teams he roots for, he quickly developed a cognizance for trying to talk about other teams impartially while on the air. It is a challenge, to a degree, to maintain objectivity daily with intrinsic fandom for certain teams, but being able to understand how other fan bases feel after monumental victories or crushing defeats renders the art of appealing to the listening audience easier. It also upholds WFAN’s commitment to serve as an outlet for all New York sports fans rather than just certain cohorts of them.
“We’re trying to appeal to everybody,” said Roberts. “We want everybody listening. Not just Yankees fans; not just Mets fans; not just die-hard sports fans; not just casual fans. How do you keep every single person wanting to listen to the radio?”
When Roberts first joined the station in 2004, most New York sports teams were rebuilding aside from the Yankees. Today, the preponderance of professional teams in the New York Metropolitan area are contending or at least have the chance to appear in their league’s playoffs, something that is exciting for fans like Roberts but presents a challenge in doing effective sports radio that accurately depicts the emotions of listeners.
“I think what’s going to be a real challenge… is [when] the Mets are in the playoffs, the Yankees are in the playoffs, the Jets look competent, and the Giants look competent, and it’s a Monday,” Roberts expressed. “You’ve got four monstrous fan bases that care about their team. How the hell do you find a way to keep them all entertained?”
To express the true extent of his fandom for niche sectors of the audience, Roberts turns to another form of aural consumption: podcasts. There has been much discussion over the ability of traditional radio and podcasts to coexist in this digital age of media; however, Roberts believes that the two mediums provide a unique combination that was previously nonexistent.
In his opinion, podcasts are a method to delve deeper into topics or teams that do not garner as much time on the radio, specifically those that do not generate as large of a market share or which are not as representative of the interests of the majority of listeners.
“I do a Mets podcast specifically – I called it Rico Brogna because I loved Rico Brogna as a kid and I figured ‘Why the hell not?’”, Roberts said. “…I do an hour breaking down the Mets in a hard-core way that I’m not going to do on WFAN for an hour. I may do it for a couple of minutes. I think those two things work perfectly side-by-side.”
Still, most listeners, according to Roberts, will likely turn to terrestrial radio to get their sports fix, especially if they do not express allegiance to solely one team.
“The majority of people are still going to turn on WFAN and say ‘Okay, entertain me. I don’t know what I want to hear. You just entertain me’,” said Roberts. “I think those two forms of entertainment can work side-by-side. That’s why we do it.”
When Mike Francesa signed off WFAN in December 2017, the station had to make changes in the afternoon drive-time slot which it did with the debut of Carlin, Maggie & Bart. The show was eventually disbanded though when Francesa ended his retirement just over four months later, returning to afternoons. His return to WFAN did not last long though, departing the station again in December 2019. Again, WFAN had to make a change in afternoons, this time moving Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts to do a 2 to 6:30 p.m. show renamed Joe & Evan.
For Roberts, the opportunity to host in the afternoon slot that he had grown up listening to Mike Francesa and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo make famous with their program Mike and the Mad Dog was an opportunity he did not hesitate to accept. Yet the change in time also required a change in approach regarding topic selection; after all, since the show would be starting later in the day, it was more important to preview the forthcoming action than recap that of the previous day.
“Even though you’re doing the same thing because you’re the same person, you’ve got to realize the audience is thinking about things a little bit differently; they’re not always analyzing what happened last night,” said Roberts. “I always find that interesting [trying to] balance the two [and] it’s almost like a game.”
When Benigno retired from the station in November 2020, Craig Carton made his return to the New York City airwaves pairing with Roberts to form the new afternoon duo Carton & Roberts. Carton had previously been with the station hosting mornings with Boomer Esiason on Boomer and Carton from 2007 until his arrest in 2017. He served time in prison for fraud-related charges, and ultimately sought and received help for addiction related to gambling.
Since his return to WFAN, Carton has been vocal about his struggle to overcome addiction and the lessons learned from his time serving in prison, hosting a special weekend program titled Hello, My Name Is Craig to discuss these issues in-depth. On Carton and Roberts, the duo has experienced immense success, recently topping ESPN New York 98.7 FM’s The Michael Kay Show in the spring ratings book. From the onset of Carton and Roberts working together though, there was some trepidation as to whether their personalities would blend well together on sports talk radio.
“I remember the first time I was told ‘Hey, there’s a possibility of you and Craig together.’ I was like ‘What?,’” Roberts said. “My first reaction was ‘Really?’”
Now nearly two years in, Roberts enjoys working alongside Carton and learning more about his perspectives and thoughts on the radio industry. Following advice he was given from both Russo and Esiason on working with Carton, Roberts has let him take the lead and discover how the show can effectively inform and entertain its vast listening audience.
“Let’s take a step back; don’t have an ego,” Roberts recalls thinking when he started the new show. “Watch this magician figure out how this show is going to work and then lean into it. I think that’s what I did and it has worked, and I feel very comfortable, I know he feels very comfortable and we’ve got a successful thing going on now.”
Roberts views Carton as an informed talent in the radio industry, aware of the changing nature of the medium and the potential it has to serve its audience. Roberts indeed experienced success in his previous roles, most notably when working in middays with Benigno; however, he is always willing to try new things and form new approaches towards jaded industry practices and show formats.
“I know that I have a guy who I’m working with who knows the medium as well as anybody,” said Roberts. “If he has a vision on how this could work with his personality and my personality, I’m going to listen; I’m going to follow along.”
WFAN and SportsNet New York (SNY), the flagship network for the New York Mets and New York Jets, agreed last year to simulcast Carton and Roberts from 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays. While the move, which has been made with various other WFAN programs over the years including Mike and the Mad Dog and Boomer and Gio puts the radio program on a visual medium, Roberts’ approach to the show did not change.
The thought always was that he would be doing a radio show with the curtain pulled back, giving longtime listeners the chance to see the two co-hosts during their discussions and on-air interactions.
“They’re listening to the radio, and it’s cool sometimes when you get to peek in and say, ‘Oh, look at Craig’s expressions. Look at Evan’s expressions. Look at the way they’re looking at each other. Boy, they hate each other right now,’” Roberts said. “I think it’s people looking in on a radio show, and that’s what I always try to remind myself. It’s on TV – that’s great – but we’re a radio show first, and I think a lot of people kind of like to eavesdrop on that.”
One of the challenges of doing a radio show whether or not it is simulcast is in taking calls, and various hosts and producers have differing opinions when it comes to their value on the air. Still, while the hosts, producers, and caller themselves may enjoy their interactions, it is fundamental awareness is placed on the audience that does not call in and their enjoyment of listening to a caller.
“I think when you’re talking [to] somebody, you’re not just thinking about the conversation you’re having with them,” said Roberts. “You’re thinking about the 98% of the audience that doesn’t call in and if this is entertaining or not; if this is informative or not; what are they getting out of this?…. I love callers – it’s a big part of WFAN – but as I interact with them… I think the thought that I always try to have is ‘How is everyone else listening feeling about this discussion?’”
While Carton and Roberts continues to do well in afternoon drive among the demographic of men 25-54 years old, the way the ratings are interpreted by each person and entity in radio differs. Something the Nielsen ratings do not take into account is the number of people listening to the show on-demand as a podcast or watching its simulcast on SNY. During his time with Benigno, Roberts scrutinized the numbers, looking at copious and exiguous details, similar to how he consumes professional sports.
The difference is that while it may be good to have a complete understanding of show performance, getting caught in the minutiae of ratings and trying to improve in weaker areas can sometimes be, according to Roberts, a means without an end.
“I think I realized as time went on that’s going to give you a headache and it’s not going to really help anything,” said Roberts. “I think I learned a little more that you still look at numbers but maybe with a broader view of things; not as specific. I look at [them] a lot, but sometimes it’s tough. I don’t think you want to alter a show too much based on what you think is a pattern but may not necessarily be a pattern.”
This fall, both Carton and Roberts will be starting new roles in media while continuing to host their afternoon show. Carton is going to begin hosting a new national morning show on Fox Sports 1 with a co-host yet to be determined, a move that will place him primarily on television in mornings against WFAN and CBS Sports Radio’s simulcast of Boomer & Gio. Roberts will continue to stay on WFAN, adding a new Saturday program with his former co-host Joe Benigno beginning on September 10.
“It’s like getting back on a bicycle,” Roberts said of working with Benigno. “It’s always comfortable…. It’s going to be [like] our old show – just once a week on a Saturday.”
WFAN was the sound of Evan Roberts’ childhood, and a large reason he became as invested in professional sports as he considers himself to be today. Throughout his time at the station, he has worked with various hosts and recently welcomed new program director Spike Eskin to the station. He says the contrast between Eskin and previous program director Mark Chernoff is stark – yet they are similar in where it matters most: being able to effectively lead WFAN.
“I think they both very much understand radio, and that’s the most important thing,” said Roberts. “You’re the program director of WFAN; I think you have an idea of what good radio is… [They are] both very, very intelligent radio guys that I trust, but everything else about them is probably polar opposite.”
For aspiring professionals looking to pursue a career in sports media, Roberts advises them to take advantage of the innovations in media and communications especially when it comes to podcasts. With widespread evolution and progression in technology coupled with altering consumption habits and means thereof, putting in the time allows novices to hone their skills and position themselves well in sports media. That and always being willing to learn and study to be the most prepared and informed host as possible – especially when talking to listeners, many of whom have seen teams in their ebbs and flows.
“My wife knows that I’m going to watch every pitch of the Yankees and Mets game,” said Roberts. “I may do it on DVR, and I may do it at 2 in the morning because we need to have a life; I don’t want to get divorced, and I want my kids to love me, but she also knows that I want to be as informed as anybody on the radio and that’s not going to stop.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, Derek serves as a production manager, broadcaster, voiceover artist, technical director, audiovisual editor, and media engineer for Hofstra University’s WRHU. He has also worked on New York Islanders radio broadcasts. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @DerekFutterman.
Jake Paul, Betr Pair Micro-Betting With Media
There are plenty of hurdles, though, that still need to be overcome before this takes over the betting landscape.
I’ll be completely honest: I can’t get into TikTok. I’m closing in on 40 years spent on this planet, and it’s simply not my thing. It’s not meant to be, though. The current generation is one with shorter attention spans, the kind that wants a quick highlight of a sporting event so they can shift their focus to something else. When I tell folks a decade younger than me stories about how I–and others of my age group–would sit around and watch an entire SportsCenter, they look at me like I’m crazy. Not sure how they’d look at me if I told them we used to often watch the rerun an hour later, but that’s another discussion.
It’s a big reason why micro-betting is considered the “next big thing” in sports betting. Similar to in-game betting, micro betting goes a step further and focuses on individual events within a sporting event, such as the outcome of a drive, whether a baseball player will get a hit in his upcoming at-bat, or even something such as a coin toss at the Super Bowl. A perfect example of micro-betting is the rise in popularity of betting on whether or not a run will be scored in the first inning of a baseball game. For a generation that wants a quick resolution to their bets, it makes total sense. You place a bet, you find out how it did, and then you move on–whether that’s to another bit of action or something else entirely.
Something else I can’t get into is the whole hoopla surrounding the Paul brothers. Logan and Jake Paul have built an empire for themselves on the back of YouTube, with Jake Paul having more than 70 million followers on social media. For various reasons, I’m not a fan of either individual. Again, though, they aren’t coming after my demographic. Like them or hate them, you have to respect their grind –and you have to admire their business acumen — as they parlay their notoriety and success into sports entertainment by way of boxing and the WWE, as well as a new sports drink company that has already partnered with Premier League side Arsenal.
Monday’s announcement by Jake Paul of a new micro-betting site simply furthers the narrative and does so in a manner that can’t be ignored by those in the sports betting space. Betr, a joint venture between Paul, sports betting entrepreneur Joey Levy, and the sports betting company Simplebet, was announced yesterday morning. Backed by a $50 million investment from multiple venture capital firms, the new company is backed by ownership groups of franchises such as the Boston Celtics and San Francisco 49ers, and also has financial backing from current and former NFL players including Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, and Richard Sherman. Musician Travis Scott has also put his financial backing behind the product.
The other very interesting tidbit from the press release was the announcement of a media company that would feature, among other shows, “BS w/ Jake Paul”. Their new YouTube channel, which already has over two million subscribers despite not a single video being posted as of Monday afternoon, will feature sports-betting content from Paul and other content creators and will focus on micro betting. In an interview with Axios, Levy said that consumers can “expect 10+ videos a day from emerging content creators we’ve brought into the company,” but that things would begin with a focus on “premium content natives, starting with Jake’s show.”
Sports radio and television have long been focused on making their products more appealing to younger generations. Just take a look at ESPN, where they’ve long been doing “SportsCenter” episodes on Snapchat. This could be a game-changer, provided they can help drive micro-betting into a wider market.
There is plenty of potential in the space, a big reason Paul was able to acquire such high amounts of funding. Just last year, JP Morgan estimated that more than $7 billion per year would be wagered on micro bets by the year 2025. And earlier this year, the CEO of Oddisum stated in an interview that micro-betting would account for the majority of wagers placed on sporting events within the next three years. Even DraftKings CEO Jason Robins has talked about plans on how his company expects to embrace the trend.
There are plenty of hurdles, though, that still need to be overcome before this takes over the betting landscape. The biggest one is the delivery of data. As we move more towards a society that streams sporting events and other digital content, the delay between real life and what shows up on your mobile phone can be the difference between placing a wager or not. For some services (I’m looking at you, Peacock) there’s often a delay of more than 90 seconds, which means the play I want to bet on is still two or three plays away from being seen with my own eyes. That makes it difficult to place a bet with any sort of confidence.
The other major obstacle will be getting their gambling service legalized. In their press release, Betr stated they will start as a “free-to-play” app in all 50 states, and eventually they will add real money gambling services as they become licensed to operate within individual states. That’s not going to be so simple, though, as gambling addiction concerns continue to rise and multiple state legislatures are already having discussions regarding the matter.
As addictive as betting on sporting events can be, micro-betting is often exponentially more. A study last year from CQ University in Sydney, Australia indicated that micro bettors are more likely to be younger players and that they usually “have high trait impulsivity”. An author of the report also stated, “there’s a very strong link between micro betting and gambling problems”, and pointed out that the short amount of time between placing a bet and having it resolved leaves little time to evaluate performance or track one’s bankroll.
Whether or not those things are overcome in every state possible is a discussion for another day. The fact is, micro-betting is more likely than not to become a huge growth market for sports betting companies over the next two to three years, and Paul and Levy have become the first big players to jump into the media space. It’s not a question of if, but when, others will follow them into the realm of micro betting sports content, but their announcement on Monday raises the stakes. It also reminds those of us in business, especially sports media, that while we may not fully understand the allure of what the younger generation enjoys, we ignore it at our peril.
Jason Ence resides in Louisville, KY and is fully invested in the sports betting space. Additionally, he covers Premier League and Serie A soccer, college football, and college basketball for ESPN Louisville 680 including serving as the station’s University of Kentucky correspondent, and co-host of the UK football and basketball post-game shows. He can be found on Twitter @JasonUK17 and reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.