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The Irony Of MLB Wanting To Be In The Gambling Business

“We are coming up on the 32nd anniversary of Rose accepting his permanent ban from the game he loved.”

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“Make. It. Rain.” So says the Draft Kings spokesmodel ad nauseum every time I watch a baseball game.

Seems like these days all MLB telecasts have some gambling app advertising their wares.  What was once ‘taboo’ in the game of baseball, seems more like the norm now. Gambling is legal, so I get it. Gambling brings in money, so again I get it. What I have a hard time understanding is the complete change of philosophy by baseball. The sport has been littered with scandals related to gambling, including Pete Rose being banned for life from baseball. 

Pete Rose gambling exposed: Inside the Sports Illustrated investigation -  Sports Illustrated
Courtesy: Sports Illustrated

So now that some teams, most notably, the Chicago Cubs, are lobbying to have sports books built inside of their stadium. The oldest ballpark in the National League would build a two-story facility just outside the stadium at the busy corner of Sheffield and Addison Streets in Chicago. In a statement the Cubs said, “While the game of baseball has largely been the same for the last 150 years, the fans have changed. The way they consume baseball is different through emerging technology and content platforms,” the Cubs said in their statement. “Sports wagering is becoming a big part of that change and this sportsbook will allow us to connect fans to the game in new ways.”

Wow times have changed. So, tell me, when is the press conference to reinstate Rose? When is the press conference to reinstate the members of the 1919 “Black” Sox? I know, before you blow a gasket, these are different times and one doesn’t necessarily beget the other. The transgressions I speak of, were committed during a period where gambling wasn’t legal in most places. That makes it more of a “sin” I guess. 

We are coming up on the 32nd anniversary of Rose accepting his permanent ban from the game he loved. By Rose voluntarily joining the list, MLB agreed to not release the findings of its gambling investigation. Baseball rules state that Rose could apply for reinstatement to the sport, but then commissioner Bart Giamatti said, “There is absolutely no deal for reinstatement. That is exactly what we did not agree to in terms of a fixed number of years.” 

The Black Sox scandal was a completely different animal all together. Those that participated did so because that was really their only way of getting paid. Salaries quite obviously were paltry compared to the game even 40 years after the event. The yearly salaries of the 1919 players were probably less than the highest paid guys of today, pay in taxes every year. There were no player bonuses for making, or winning the World Series. So, there was a monetary carrot dangled in front of the 1919 Black Sox. 

That won’t be an issue this time around. But there are still some folks worried about the Cubs and other teams letting gambling take place in the buildings they play. 

In May of 2018, when the Supreme Court legalized sports betting in many states the prevailing thought was concern. Umpire Joe West said to USA Today 3 years ago, “It scares me to death. I’m not worried about any of my guys doing anything (illegal), but I am worried about their security. People won’t have just a rooting interest in games, but now they’re gambling on them. So, if they lose their money, and they’re mad enough, anything’s liable to happen.”

Gambling hadn’t been a part of the game for a very long time, so why now?

You guessed it, money.

“Sports betting happens,’’ Commissioner Rob Manfred told Yahoo Finance in 2018. “Whether it’s legalized here or not, it’s happening out there. So, I think the question for sports is really, ‘Are we better off in a world where we have a nice, strong, uniform, federal regulation of gambling that protects the integrity of sports, provides sports with the tools to ensure that there is integrity in the competition…or are we better off closing our eyes to that and letting it go on as illegal gambling?’ “And that’s a debatable point.’’ Said Manfred. 

It’s quite a far cry from Manfred’s predecessor Bud Selig, who back in 2013 testified under oath that gambling was an “evil, which creates doubt and destroys your sport.” Selig stated back then that Las Vegas would never have a baseball team, and responded to New Jersey’s ongoing fight to legalize sports betting by saying, “This is corruption, in my opinion.”

Bud Selig leaves a complex legacy - The Washington Post
Courtesy: Morry Gash/Associated Press

This is 2021 and there is money to be made. Audiences are viewing games differently and some sports are trending older, including baseball, which makes the powers that be, well, nervous.

For the first time in a very long time, baseball is thinking way outside the box. It’s being reported by a few media outlets, including The New York Post, that Major League Baseball and Barstool Sports have had significant negotiations about airing national games on the site’s platforms. According to the Post, the discussions are what Barstool founder Dave Portnoy referred to a few weeks ago when he mentioned his company has had talks with “major leagues.”

MLB and Barstool potentially could team up to create a new type of broadcast with a focus on in-game gambling. The Post reported that the talks have only recently started and while they’ve picked up some steam, an agreement is not a certainty. 

What does that actually mean? Well, there is a hole to fill in baseball’s midweek broadcast schedule. Under new agreements with television partners, there are no longer exclusive Monday or Wednesday broadcasts. It’s uncertain if baseball would turn to YouTube, which has aired MLB games before, or if Peacock which just did games in July are really contenders. 

This is where Barstool could come in. It would really be a win-win for both the league and Barstool. The site would serve up a younger audience to MLB. The league has been trying to create ways to target millennials for a long time. Barstool has that built in already and would be able to create an “event” every time they air an MLB game. They would likely deliver games on the Barstool website and also its Instagram and Twitter accounts as well. The site’s many correspondents across the country are terrific at promoting their product and this would be no different. 

As the Post, points out, if a deal is reached and it’s “non-exclusive”, the games would likely still be broadcast on RSNs, making Barstool’s stream an alternative broadcast. That would allow for those that want a traditional broadcast to get that and those that want a different approach, will get what they want. 

The “different” approach would likely not feature a play-by-play and color analyst like you are used to seeing. This would be more like a host, and a bunch of other people, sitting around watching a game, talking about it. They’d also be discussing the gambling aspects, like money lines. It would be a little baseball and a lot of gambling. Just the way some people want it. 

As I write, I’m thinking about how I feel about all of this. Not just as a broadcaster but as a lifelong fan of the sport of baseball. I come to the conclusion that as much as the new stats we use in baseball took some getting used to, so will gambling. 

I don’t think we’ll notice much difference in the way a normal game is covered. Yes, I’ve already seen “tickers” at the bottom of the screen give me different information. During a broadcast I can get the latest in money lines and spreads. I’m sure that broadcasters will have to read promos for the various outlets their teams may have a partnership with. That’s not anything unusual these days, with most every element sponsored. As a play-by-play announcer, I think the audience understands YOU, yourself aren’t endorsing a product. I don’t really think any credibility issues will arise.

I mean, Al Michaels has been alluding to gambling during football games for years. Like, “this game is now OVER”, not meaning the game is finished, meaning the total has gone over the number. All good, because Michaels is one of the best to ever turn on a microphone. 

I have to admit, I never thought I’d see the day where baseball welcomed and partnered with gambling establishments, like apps and casinos. At the end of the day as a fan, I’m not a big gambler, but why would I be against what a lot of people really enjoy?

Oh yeah, and it’s legal. The thing that is strange is how quickly and comfortably baseball has been willing to partner with what was once so forbidden.

Here’s a fact. Whether you want to believe it or not, there are fans, sitting in your favorite ballpark today that are wagering on games. Baseball and other sports are just trying to get in on the action and tap into this very lucrative market. Hard to really blame them. 

The only thing I hope is that baseball seriously does its homework. How will it separate the teams from the wagering? If bets are being placed in the actual ballpark they are playing in, the criticism they’ll hear from the fans will be a little different, I’m sure. “Hey you just cost me money with that strikeout!” Can you imagine? 

Why gambling used to scare baseball and why it doesn't anymore -  SBNation.com
Courtesy: SB Nation

The probability of players or umpires or officials to willingly participate in a conspiracy are low, but you have to consider the future. What haven’t they thought of? What are some of the loopholes? How could baseball be opened up to its next gambling scandal? 

I’d be willing to bet there is a lot of scrambling going on at baseball’s headquarters in New York. 

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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