THEY GET IT
LZ Granderson, Los Angeles Times — The most credible and important social commentators aren’t the ones who scream loudest, or the ones who remain intractably on a side and ignore factual details. Granderson, a Black columnist, didn’t hesitate to scold LeBron James, the foremost Black activist in sports, for a dangerous (and quickly deleted) tweet that was blasted by conservatives as a call for violence. “YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY,’’ James wrote in a post that included a photo of the White police officer who shot and killed a 16-year-old Black girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, in Columbus, Ohio. The tweet, Granderson wrote, “was inarguably premature. Body cam video appears to show Bryant attacking another teen with a knife seconds before the shots were fired; many consider the officer’s actions justified.’’ He went on to doubt whether White America ever will “let a Black man be Captain America,’’ but in the aftermath of the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict, Granderson’s take was measured and responsible in a country craving media restraint. The same can’t be said for James, who fired back at a Cincinnati bar owner for refusing to show NBA games at his establishment until James is “expelled’’ from the league. Tweeted LeBron: “Aww Damn! I was headed there to watch our game tonight and have a drink! Welp.’’ That’s just immature. Working in the same market, maybe Granderson can sit down with James and remind him of his accountability burden. Even better, Los Angeles Police Department officer Deon Joseph, who is Black, says he wants to meet with James to help him “understand the reality of the profession.’’
HBO — You’ve seen me decry a schmaltzy media world where Jim Nantz, Scott Van Pelt and other gush-and-mushers operate under a simple corporate mandate: Sell sports as religion and romance … remind the masses why they love sports and can’t exist without it … make athletes and coaches appear bigger than life … denounce legitimate media as bitter and negative when they’re sorely needed as watchdogs of an industry run amok. So I’m pleased — no, thrilled — that HBO is countering the creampuffery by reintroducing the antithesis of this vapid hypnosis, Sir Robert Costas, to the mainstream stage. On his new show, “Back On the Record With Bob Costas,’’ the leading sports voice of his time won’t be glorifying the business as much as, oh, covering it and scrutinizing it and saying what the hell he wants, which NBC didn’t appreciate in furtively replacing him with safe, harmless Mike Tirico. HBO promises marquee-name newsmaker interviews and roundtable discussions, along with spinoffs into entertainment, but the takeaway will be “signature commentaries from Costas that capture his distinctive voice and point of view.’’ Too bad the series includes only four episodes a year. Costas is needed weekly. Daily, even.
Ariel Helwani, badass — As the reigning bully of sports, Dana White usually rules his own personal Octagon. He stuffed 15,269 fans into an indoor arena in Jacksonville last weekend, openly defying an ongoing pandemic. When asked about Chris Weidman, whose leg snapped in a horrific kicking sequence, White changed the subject because it underlined the hideous violence in his freak sport, saying, “I don’t even want to talk about it tonight. I don’t want to say anything f—-ing …’’ Yet the UFC president can’t control a media member he loathes, Helwani, a fiercely independent reporter who is wisely shopping his services as ESPN dawdles on a new contract. We’re about to find out plenty in this negotiation about Bristol’s integrity — will ESPN, like Fox Sports a few years ago, weasel out and dump Helwani because White says so? He’s the kind of creep who leverages broadcast deals — in this case, a $1.5 billion pact with ESPN — to control media voices. He can do so because his thug league is owned by Endeavor, the Hollywood company run by Ari Emanuel, who is more bombastic in real life than the “Entourage’’ character inspired by him, agent Ari Gold. Of the media, White told Colin Cowherd: “Most of these people are full of shit and have no place writing or talking about anything.’’ This comes after a video in which White said, “Why should anybody listen to the media? Who are these people? What makes them experts? What have they ever accomplished?’’ He has referred to Helwani as a “girl’’ and a “douche,’’ but the multimedia veteran has maintained his professionalism and production. Does he have the support of ESPN? Will president Jimmy Pitaro reward a valuable UFC voice — and invite the possibility of Helwani reporting a White-related scandal — or cave to the bully? Either way, Ariel has my respect.
Turner Sports — With the addition of an NHL package dropped by NBC, Turner quietly has built a live sports portfolio that includes the NBA, Major League Baseball and March Madness. Hockey coverage needs dazzle, though, and it is hoped TNT and potential streaming partner HBO Max will lean toward fun analysts — where have you gone, Jeremy Roenick? — instead of NBC’s conservative studio voices of late. Also, who is the next Doc Emrick and does such a creature exist? ESPN and Turner, which will share the Stanley Cup Finals, are urged to look at Alex Faust, voice of the Los Angeles Kings. One hockey fan on the company payroll, Charles Barkley, is best avoided (see below). No one needs an international incident involving Canada.
Rich Eisen, NFL Network — The image of a 51-year-old man running a 40-yard dash — designer suitcoat flying, slight gut protruding, hands flexed like a sprinter, cleats digging in, clipped-on tie straight — is a tribute to a charitable endeavor known as “Run Rich Run.’’ Since 2015, Eisen has raised millions for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and though cancellation of the NFL Combine prompted a scheduling revision, he’s back with football legends and business entrepreneurs who sprinted — or limped — through the challenge at SoFi Stadium. The segment airs Saturday during the network’s NFL Draft coverage. In related news, Eisen is keeping his promise to eat the soiled sweatshirt of a talk-show caller if the 49ers don’t select a quarterback with the No. 3 pick. If he’s wrong, is he at least allowed condiments?
Tony Reali, ESPN — His multi-year extension is a testament to hard work, sturdy professionalism and knowing when to stand back when a friend and mentor such as Dan Le Batard self-sabotages his ESPN career. I recall the revolving door of auditioning hosts after Max Kellerman left “Around The Horn’’ for Fox, and Reali stepped in as the ideal adhesive, like a Jonas Brother with sports acumen. The current problem with ATH is not his fault — the producers have made him the only “face’’ of the show, as ESPN boss Norby Williamson describes him, when hosts of more prominent network shows are in supportive roles. For instance, Molly Qerim Rose is the host of “First Take,’’ but she is the traffic controller for the show’s outspoken superstars, Stephen A. Smith and Kellerman, an arrangement that allows for maximum impact and viewership. Back in ATH’s peak years — I don’t really care how selfish this might sound, because it’s true — our ratings were off the charts thanks to sparring panelists who drove the banter (me vs. Woody Paige, with me as Godzilla) while Reali played the Rose role. Now, Reali is the lone constant as an endless procession of “contributors’’ come and go — and the ratings have severely suffered. Hey, it’s their network and afternoon programming block. But if Williamson and showrunners Erik Rydholm and Aaron Solomon combined Reali’s magnetic presence with more heat from a consistent stable of combative panelists, ATH might rock again. And, no, I’m not stumping to return. I like my life without TMZ following me and sleaze websites lying about me, and I like being able to routinely add a sixth entry to Five Who Get It.
THEY DON’T GET IT
Dan Le Batard, sellout — So let’s see if I have this straight: He painted his ESPN superiors as undesirable partners because they didn’t want him causing political wars on the radio … yet he’s ethically willing to jump headfirst into the gambling cesspool. In the end, he’s the grimiest of all. In the latest example of desperation leading to hypocrisy, LeBatard’s lengthy search for a company to distribute his podcast led to DraftKings, the tout louts who will control ad sales and licensing arrangements. This will sink Le Batard’s show into the betting crapper and complete the demise of a once-great journalist. He claims DraftKings is “truly sponsoring our freedom … (and won’t) corrupt us in any way,’’ but just wait until he’s required to read non-stop wagering spots. Maybe he should familiarize himself with the DraftKings statement: “Additionally, the network of shows will prominently feature DraftKings’ odds, betting trends and general sportsbook and daily fantasy information.’’ I have an idea: Papi’s Power Parlays! Another day, another betrayal of a media industry gone putrid.
Charles Barkley, lost cause — The only recourse, I’ve concluded, is to start publicizing the names of Barkley’s bosses at TNT — Casey Bloys, Brett Weitz, Sam Linsky, Adrienne O’Riain. The network is operated by WarnerMedia, which is owned by AT&T, so let’s go higher — Jason Kilar, Ann Sarnoff, Jeff Zucker. Or even higher — John Stankey. People tiring of Barkley’s gross potshots at the appearances of women should use their AT&T-contracted phones to bombard the aforementioned with protests. Barkley thinks he’s bulletproof because, in the past, his bosses haven’t publicly reprimanded him for comments such as: “Some big ol’ women down there (in San Antonio) … that’s a gold mine for Weight Watchers. They can’t wear no Victoria’s Secret down there. They wear bloomers down there … ain’t nothing skimpy down there.’’ So Barkley used his “Inside The NBA’’ perch last week to insult women in another state: “Georgia … the only school in the world they named their mascot after the women down there.’’ As in, bulldogs. Know those serious commentaries Barkley delivers about race and life? He renders them useless with these mindless, needless insults. And the longer his superiors — male and female — let him ramble unfiltered without a long suspension or firing, they will be complicit in the denigration. Meanwhile, the nation’s talk-show hosts, from Dan Patrick to locals, will fawn and keep inviting him on their airwaves. Barkley is a fat, unattractive dope. How does he feel that I wrote that?
Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times — On the eve of the baseball season, the esteemed columnist wrote a piece titled, “Why the 2021 Los Angeles Dodgers will be the greatest team in baseball history,’’ beside an illustration of Mookie Betts holding a 2021 championship banner while his teammates celebrate. I cringed, wondering how Plaschke could make such a wild proclamation when so much could go wrong the next several months. “Clip this claim. Print it out. Tape it up. You read it here first,’’ he typed. “The Dodgers aren’t just good, they’re surreal good.’’ Well, those surreal good Dodgers were booed the other night while blowing a six-run lead to their feisty new rivals, Fernando Tatis Jr. and the Padres, who won three of four at Dodger Stadium and lead the season series 4-3 with a dozen games to go. I’m not saying the Dodgers won’t repeat as World Series champions, but at present, the “greatest team in baseball history’’ is only the third-best team in California in 2021. Also guilty of hype tripe was The Athletic’s Jim Bowden, the former big-league general manager who wrote last week: “The Dodgers might be the best baseball team I’ve seen in my lifetime.’’ And don’t forget Paul Newberry of the Associated Press, who wrote: “It’s always mesmerizing to watch greatness in real time. A young Mike Tyson. An ageless Tom Brady. The Boston Celtics of the 1960s. The New York Yankees of, well, several different eras. Which brings us to the 2021 Los Angeles Dodgers. This group could become the most exceptional team in baseball history.’’ At one point, I too wondered if the Dodgers could challenge the 125 wins of the 1998 Yankees, but I didn’t do so excessively. Surreal good?
ESPN — Evidently, I can’t say this enough in a desperate media climate: A sports event is a sacred competition featuring athletes guided by the common tenet that nothing — nothing — shall infiltrate The Game. ESPN is among those mucking up that virtue with demographic-shilling crap. I never thought Bristol would stoop as low as an all-gambling alternate broadcast of an NBA game, but here comes a 3D alternate farce. Yes, Hubie Brown, next week’s Warriors-Pelicans game will include an accompanying collaboration with a fellow Disney Company property — called “Marvel’s Arena of Heroes’’ — featuring Steph Curry, Zion Williamson and other players teaming up with Iron Man, Black Panther and Captains Marvel and America to battle an alien army. Said the ESPN release, written by an actual human being: “Recognizing the superior physical abilities, agility, and tenacity of Earth’s greatest athletes, the Avengers will hold a series of contests where the winners earn the right to train and fight alongside them as Marvel’s Champions. The Avengers will begin their recruitment with the NBA elite and observe the battle between the Warriors and the Pelicans, focusing on three star players from each team.” Worse, two men paid to report professionally on the NBA — play-by-play caller Ryan Ruocco and analyst Richard Jefferson — must work the ESPN2/ESPN+ superhero-cast. This obviously is a ripoff of a CBS/Nickelodeon experiment involving an NFL postseason game, also a debacle. Look, there are ways of engaging a youthful audience without bastardizing existing cachet. What’s frightening: The people who make such decisions believe they’re bigger than The Game.
Stephen A. Smith, ESPN — As he swirls from one studio to the next, thinking about his next flight more than where his feet are grounded, Smith tends to make mistakes. Most are factual, but his latest is professional and hurtful. In a tweet applauding the network’s UFC coverage, he dropped the names of Joe Rogan, Jon Anik, Chael Sonnen and other men — but forgot to mention Megan Olivi, highly visible as a co-host and interviewer. This is akin to Al Michaels forgetting to mention Michele Tafoya, or Joe Buck omitting Erin Andrews. Said Olivi: “It’s, unfortunately, something the women in this room have dealt with before and will have to continue to deal with. I don’t think he did it on purpose. I don’t think there was any intent. I don’t think he was trying to be rude by any means. I just think it didn’t really matter to him. … I don’t know how much he actually watches. I know he’s supposed to be an MMA insider and he does his best, but he has a lot on his plate, as well. I don’t know how much he actually sees.’’ It’s a polite way of stating what his bosses never will admit: Stephen A. is overworked, sometimes to the point of superficiality.
Mike Thomas, ESPN 1000 Chicago — Would Bill Belichick leave the Patriots to coach in the XFL? The sports radio equivalent of such a head-scratcher is Thomas, who quit one of America’s top-rated talk stations, 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, to run a dead-end shop in his home state. To say WMVP has hit rock bottom is an insult to all rock formations. Ratings for its local shows are now worse than numbers for ESPN’s national programs, shocking in a parochial market, and Thomas’ presence has made no impact. Neither has the addition of the White Sox as a flagship partner, proving Chicago’s baseball metrics haven’t changed — the Cubs have at least four or five times more fans than the Sox, even when the South Siders are pennant contenders and the Cubs might be headed to a fire sale. I hope Thomas is compensated very well. Otherwise, WTF? Some might question why I’d include such an irrelevant story as a sixth entry in bonus coverage. I did because Chicago deserves better sports talk.
Jimmy Pitaro Deserves Some Credit For Monday Night
“Pitaro and ESPN’s executive team had to sign off on a broadcast in which Peyton and Eli were in separate remote locations, without a host to play traffic cop and guide continuity between plays. This all could have blown up in ESPN’s face.”
Over the last several months, Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN got raked over the coals after the New York Times story on Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor and the subsequent fallout that was effectively a mushroom cloud and the talk of the industry. Ultimately, the buck stops with the leader, but fairness should dictate that leaders also receive accolades for great accomplishments. After just one episode, we can confidently say that landing Peyton and Eli Manning for Monday Night Football qualifies in that regard.
Every TV network executive would have walked from Alaska to Omaha to land Peyton Manning. Andrew Marchand has accurately referred to him as the “white whale of sports TV”; he was so sought after that CBS, who has arguably the best color commentator in all of sports in Tony Romo, tried to lure Manning to the booth before ultimately reaching a new deal with Romo. Any way you slice it, getting the Manning brothers for 10 episodes of Monday Night Football on ESPN2 was a major coup for Pitaro, ESPN, and Disney.
Nonetheless, it was not without risk. Pitaro and ESPN’s executive team had to sign off on a broadcast in which Peyton and Eli were in separate remote locations, without a host to play traffic cop and guide continuity between plays. This all could have blown up in ESPN’s face. Imagine the chatter if the Manning broadcast was a dud, which it easily could have been given their format is unlike anything that has ever been tried before.
Instead, Peyton and Eli were a revelation. Peyton, with his combination of star-power, personality, and brain processing, is remarkably unique. During the fourth quarter of a close game between the Raiders and Ravens, he was somehow able to simultaneously interview Russell Wilson while immediately breaking down the film of all 22 players from key plays of a game he wasn’t even there for. Eli didn’t get as many words in, but when he did speak he had funny deadpan humor.
Full disclosure: I was traveling during the first half, which by many accounts was not as well executed as the second half, after they settled in.
There will undoubtedly be a number of attempts to replicate this announcing format, but it’s unlikely that any of them will work as well as this one, because none of them will have Peyton Manning. Remember how excruciating it was when TNT tried to do Players Only broadcasts for the NBA? Kevin Clark, speaking on The Ringer’s Press Box podcast with Bryan Curtis, called this a “Black Swan” event — it’ll never happen again because Peyton is one of one.
Anyways, back to Pitaro and ESPN: They’ve certainly taken their lumps and that’s life when you lead an organization that is the bellwether of the industry, facing myriad challenges, some of which are structural (cord-cutting eating into hefty subscriber fees) and some of which are self-inflicted (if you’ve read this far you already know what many of those are and there’s no need to re-hash).
However, it bears mentioning that in addition to making the content compromises — and opening up the checkbook for millions of dollars — to land Peyton Manning, Pitaro and ESPN have had a lot of big wins over the last several years. They locked up a monopoly on SEC football rights (in a deal so substantial the conference lured Oklahoma and Texas to join), expanded their NFL deal to get into the Super Bowl rotation, bought up all the UFC rights (which, more than anything else, has propelled the growth of ESPN+ to 15 million subscribers), and brought back the NHL. Sure, all of these wins probably came as a result of bidding the most money, but I’m old enough to remember when ESPN was supposed to be on a death spiral. Reports of ESPN’s demise — at least in live rights; talk programming and journalism have not remained the priorities they once were — were premature.
ESPN has been described as an ocean tanker, which turns very slowly. Jimmy Pitaro deserves some credit for his steering, in the macro, through some turbulent waters.
Did The Manningcast Work?
“The first show was great, but as is the case most of the time, there is room to grow.”
Is it a variety show? Is it a podcast? The first of 10 scheduled Manning MegaCasts, hosted by Peyton and Eli Manning, on ESPN2 proved it was a little bit all of the above. It was almost like Beavis and Butthead meets Statler and Waldorf. It was fun to watch the Manning brothers poke fun at each other and at the same time, criticize some of the action they saw on the field.
The show debuted as an alternative to the regular Monday Night Football broadcast and was met with rave reviews. To me, there was some great, some not so great, and definitely some room to grow.
I love the concept, providing an alternative for those that would rather be entertained than tune into a traditional broadcast. Now, as a play-by-play broadcaster, it makes me pause to think about what the future may hold. There will always be a spot for a traditional broadcast, especially with viewers that have a rooting interest in the game. I’m not sure that hardcore fans of the Ravens and Raiders were tuned in for more than a passing glance. Those folks want to see the game, not the fluff or interviews and the like, offered on the alternative broadcast. That fluff though is what will earn ESPN those fringe viewers that are curious and intrigued by what a “ManningCast” might have to offer them.
Sitting down to watch the game, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I know that Peyton has a personality that in some cases is larger than life. I was pleasantly surprised to see what Eli brought to the table as well. The guys played off each other well, each taking a turn to take a shot at the other. I’ll get into some of the best of those barbs a little later.
Peyton is comfortable in front of the camera and has no trouble talking. That was the issue I had early in the game. The elder Manning really dominated the conversation. There were no times in the first few minutes of the first quarter that I felt I could take a breath because so much was coming at me. They really didn’t allow the game to breathe at all. The constant conversation while entertaining at times just kept on coming. Peyton was talking fast and once in a while he was talking over Eli.
It didn’t help that the Manning’s were in different studios. I wondered if there was a “delay” in their feeds and if that was the reason for talking over one another at times. The delay was quite evident when Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson joined the brothers for the later stages of the game. Wilson seemingly couldn’t get a word in, because Peyton and Eli were talking over him.
Peyton has that quality to be able to teach the game in a way that it’s understandable. Some of his commentary was a look behind the curtain at how he played and viewed the game. Knowing what to expect when coming to the line of scrimmage, understanding the coverages and realizing what teams are trying to do to disguise things. It was fascinating to hear the brothers go through play calls and how it is relayed from the coordinator to the quarterback and finally to the team. You aren’t going to get that on a traditional game broadcast.
It was also impressive to hear the guys interview both former players, current players and Charles Barkley. It so often is the case that the current athletes are very guarded in what they say to a regular ole member of the media. That was not the case in the Manning Cast. From Travis Kelce not knowing who the Chiefs were playing next, to Russell Wilson calling out the NFL overtime rule. Ray Lewis was a fascinating guest, providing some great stories and terrific insight into the game he once played at such a high level. Charles Barkley, well, he’s Charles Barkley. In other words, he was as fantastic as you’d expect.
The guests added to the broadcast and made me realize that if this Manningcast actually had a host, it wouldn’t have worked as well. A broadcaster would have gotten in the way to me. Yeah, they could have used a professional at times. Maybe someone to get them into and out of the commercial breaks, because that was a little rough early in the game. But that’s the only a host could have fit in.
The first show was great, but as is the case most of the time, there is room to grow. I really think the Manning Cast would be so much better if the guys were actually in the same room. The dynamic between them, which was already great, would be that much better. Imagine them demonstrating plays on each other. Both putting on helmets and doing what they probably did as kids in their basement, roughing each other up.
Ok, so they’re a little older now, but I seriously think having them in the same place would make things much smoother. With all the technology out there, eliminating that dreaded delay between the Manning’s and their guests would improve the telecast as well.
This alternative broadcast would be a great place to teach some casual fans all about the great game of football. Not sure why this came to my mind, but like the old days of the NHL, when “Peter Puck” an animated hockey puck would teach you the game. “Peter” was part of the NBC game of the week broadcast. An animated Peyton and Eli teaching those that need to know the finer points of the game, would be spectacular.
I can’t wait to see how they improve from last week to this week and who the guests will be this time around. Hopefully, they iron out some of the small issues that plagued them in the first telecast and continue to improve. I realize that this show is unscripted and it’s supposed to be a little looser than a normal show might be, but there are some slight fixes as I’ve pointed out that will make it even better.
With all the success the Manningcast had, I can’t help but wonder how all of these accolades are being taken by the regular MNF booth. ESPN in effect has promoted and created competition for its own product. Perhaps the novelty will wear off? Maybe, but it almost seems like the Manning’s are being groomed for a possible move to the main booth. I’m not sure what the feeling is amongst all the parties, but it’s certainly a dynamic worth watching.
Here are some of my favorite moments from Manningcast show number one, in no particular order:
- Derek Carr with an overthrow on the Raiders first play from scrimmage, leading Peyton to say about the Raiders season, “Lookin’ at ah 6-11, 6-11 right now.”
- Raiders’ fans were loud during an offensive series leading to a bad snap and a few false start penalties, leading to this exchange:
“They aren’t used to it”, said Eli Manning. Then Peyton responded, “Drink your beer, quiet down and let [Derek] Carr play quarterback.”
- Peyton putting on a football helmet to demonstrate the calls at the line for the Ravens. The helmet was way too small. “Helmet doesn’t fit”, Peyton said. “Shocking that a helmet doesn’t fit you”, Eli commented. “They didn’t have a XXL helmet for that forehead.”
- With Charles Barkley as a guest, Peyton asked him what position Michael Jordan would play if he were in the NFL, “Tight End”. Then Barkley was asked about Larry Bird playing a position, “there’s no place for no slow 6’10” guys in the NFL”, said Barkley.
Charles: “that’s about it…”
- Also, with Barkley on the show…
Peyton: “Hey Charles, you ever get booed at home? Never happened to you, right?”
Barkley: “I played in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That was a regularity.” “You were lucky, Peyton. Everybody liked you. Eli knows what it’s like to get booed at home.”
Eli: “He had that stadium trained. The fans would get fined if they talked when the Colts were on offense. If a guy was trying to order a beer, everyone would tell him to quiet down until the defense was on the field.”
Eli’s fire alarm goes off in the middle of the show.
Peyton: “Eli what’d you do?”
- With Ray Lewis on the show, the trio recalled a game where the Giants played the Ravens in Eli’s rookie season as the starting QB. The younger Manning leading the team to the line of scrimmage, calling out the defense…
Eli: “Hey #52 (Lewis) is the Mike (linebacker)”
Lewis: “No, I’m not the mike. He’s the Mike!”
Eli: “Yeah Ray’s right, the other guy’s the Mike”
It was also revealed in that game in 2004, Eli had a quarterback rating of 0.0 and of course Peyton pointed out, “the same GPA Belushi had in ‘Animal House.’”
- Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce on the Manningcast
Kelce: “[Watching this game] I’m not trying to get too technical because I think we’re playing the Chargers this week. Oh wait, maybe we’re playing Baltimore. I don’t even know — I’m getting lost in the season already.”
- Peyton about 5 minutes later: “Hey, Travis, just so you know, you do play the Ravens next week, so make sure you don’t fly to Los Angeles to play the Chargers.”
What Is The Next Advertising Money Cannon?
“In states where betting is legal, stations are having to squeeze live reads and segment sponsorships in wherever they can. Everyone is trying to make sure they aren’t leaving money on the table.”
If I could tell you that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I know there is another advertising revenue stream out there that can repeat what sportsbooks did for sports radio AND that I know exactly what it is, I could handpick my next employer and name my price.
A Supreme Court decision to make sports gambling a state issue and not a federal one completely changed the advertising landscape. In states where betting is legal, stations are having to squeeze live reads and segment sponsorships in wherever they can. Everyone is trying to make sure they aren’t leaving money on the table.
“There is no question about the significant impact sports betting has had on revenue, both from the station side as well as for our on-air personalities who have become brand ambassadors,” Dennis Gwiazdon, VP and Market Manager of Cromwell Broadcasting’s Nashville cluster told me.
Stations in states that are yet to legalize gambling can see the boom and know it is coming eventually. What about states where gambling is already legal? What about states like Alabama or Utah, which are routinely viewed as two that could realistically never legalize sports betting? Is there a boom on the horizon for them?
I spoke with managers in three different markets. I wanted to know where they saw reason for optimism. The answers were interesting.
Earlier this month, John Ourand of Sports Business Journal took a look at the deal FOX signed with crypto.com. The site is the title sponsor of the network’s College Football Extra. Ourand theorizes that could open the door for crypto companies eventually spending money on sports television the way sportsbooks do.
What is the outlook for radio? Jeff Tyler, iHeartMedia’s area president in Wisconsin, is intrigued by the idea, but he isn’t telling his sellers to go rushing out to make deals.
“There are a lot of variables around crypto,” he told me via email. “So as a company we have a plan to work within this category but not put the company at risk or do anything that could negatively affect our listeners and partners.”
Ken Brady, the sales manager at 1010XL in Jacksonville, knows that cryptocurrency has a buzz around it right now. He is not sure what the appetite for it is in terms of an ad market or what the industry’s appetite is for radio advertising.
“There is little chatter about cryptocurrency in our market or with partners,” he says. “This is something we need to understand and explore better.”
I asked all three men if there was a sector where they saw potential. Tyler had an interesting answer. He sees potential in eSports. He thinks teams and companies could benefit from connecting with stations with a dedicated listener base.
“Our brands could help them grow their fan base and activate them to attend more events in person and online.”
Gwiazdon has his eye on another vice. Just like gambling came out of the shadows and now functions under government regulation, it is only a matter of time he thinks before marijuana does the same.
“What immediately comes to mind is the legalization of marijuana at the state and, eventually, federal level,” he says. “There’s so much money in that industry – as evidenced where it has already become legal – that it could easily equal or surpass what’s happening with sports betting right now.”
What is interesting is that amongst this trio, Gwiazdon is the only one that lives in a state where there is absolutely no legal marijuana. What he sees as a potential boom for Tennessee is already legal in both Wisconsin and Florida, albeit exclusively for medical purposes.
A lot of sellers have big plans for pot and cannabis products where they are legal. Very few of them know all the answers though. That is why the RAB has a marijuana FAQ section on its website and advertising agencies specializing in marijuana have sprung up.
For 1010XL, the boom never really materialized according to Ken Brady.
“We have had little success with this category, the players who have come in seem to be interested in demos outside our strengths or have been flakey with no real appetite for a solid campaign that will work.”
Businesses built by someone following their passion for marijuana are flaky? Well, color me shocked!
Jeff Tyler told me iHeart is looking at this on a market by market basis. Wisconsin has made medical marijuana legal. Tyler can’t have his sellers approaching businesses the way sellers in neighboring states like Illinois or Michigan, where it has fully been decriminalized can.
“Until it’s fully legalized the advertiser revenue is very limited,” he said. “We have a team that leads this vertical for iHeartMedia and have states like Colorado that already have fully legalized marijuana so we have a solid plan and guidelines to follow with these advertisers. CBD is a small category with some hit spots in some markets.”
There may never be another category like sports betting. The money cannon that industry was ready to fire was unpresedented. You can’t bank on it happening again.
I asked Dennis Gwiazdon if it was possible that the radio industry will have to play a very proactive role in creating the next boom. He told me that may be the best way to think about it. What he is sure of is that no idea can be dismissed as the industry looks to find another stream of revenue that has the potential of the sportsbooks.
“We definitely have to get smarter at how we generate revenue. Relying on the old, tried and true ways won’t hold up forever. The good news is our business model is already undergoing a sea of change in terms of how we scale our radio/digital/entertainment assets for wider distribution and access. But some of us are further down the road than others. The audio industry is still the ultimate personal experience. How we continue to maximize – and monetize – our relationships with fans is the key to our survival.”
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