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Can Sports Radio Be A Political Force For Legalizing Sports Gambling?

“We’re openly talking about gambling openly, even in places you technically aren’t allowed to lay money down. Should sports radio go a step further?”

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There are a group of states in this country that will not follow the trend. Politicians can site sin or moral decay or lack of oversight. The result is all the same. Their states aren’t likely to legalize sports gambling.

Hawaii and Oklahoma are among them.

Florida sits all alone. It legalized sports betting through a deal with the Seminole Tribe only to have a federal judge strike the deal down. It makes the Sunshine State the only one to legalize and then immediately outlaw gambling since the PAPSA Ruling in May of 2018.

Hawaii and Oklahoma may eventually legalize betting. It seems unlikely. Florida may find a way back to taking wagers. It seems complicated.

I asked programmers in these states what their station’s relationship with gambling is right now and what it could be. After all, legal or not, plenty of people are still placing bets on games. That can take a lot of forms, some safer than others, but at the end of the day, it is all money that states could be taxing and using to make much-needed infrastructure improvements.

Scott Harris is the program director of FM 96.9 The Game in Orlando. For his hosts, talking gambling was nothing new. It also isn’t a discussion that he has asked them to limit to odds and totals.

“Some of our shows have talked sports gambling/lines/odds for years so it was already part of our dialogue and we certainly are staying on top of where this story goes in regards to Florida,” Harris told me.

In Oklahoma, Jeremie Poplin is trying to push the issue. Whether Oklahoma comes around and turns the key on sports betting next week, next year or next decade, he and his staff at the recently launched The Blitz 1170 in Tulsa are ready to educate and profit.

“We have added specific guests and added gambling centric shows to the lineup already in anticipation of this becoming a reality in Oklahoma at some point,” Poplin says. “There is revenue already attached to the shows as we lay the groundwork for the future.”

Poplin isn’t going to wait on the state to make a move. He is careful to note that when betting is discussed on the Blitz, it comes with the caveat that the station doesn’t really know when the information can legally be put to use.

Jeremie Poplin savors long radio run and great health | News |  tulsaworld.com
Courtesy: Tulsa World

“We are talking about it from a variety of different angles to make sure we cover multiple aspects and will be focusing on it even more after the new year. We are being open and honest with our audience about how the landscape has changed across the nation and how it COULD be changing in Oklahoma soon. We have tried not to put any type of time frame on when it could be happening in Oklahoma.”

So here we are at the end of 2021. It’s not just that people are gambling anyway in places where betting on sports isn’t legal. Radio stations are giving picks and advice that listeners aren’t supposed to be using and almost certainly are.

Forget avoiding gambling talk. The “for entertainment purposes only” disclaimer has almost disappeared. We’re openly talking about gambling openly, even in places you technically aren’t allowed to lay money down. Should sports radio go a step further?

Legalized vice always comes with a windfall. Just look at Colorado. The state benefitted from legalizing and taxing canabis. Now it is doing the same with gambling. That has been good for sports radio stations in the state. The United States is a democracy built on lobbying. Shouldn’t we be lobbying our state legislatures and using our influence to advance the cause of legalized gambling and thus our own financial interests?

“Local radio has discussed the possibility of legalized sports gambling in Hawaii for years,” ESPN Honolulu programmer Josh Pacheco told me in an email. “It helps that a lot of local people go to Las Vegas, affectionately known as ‘The Ninth Island’ and gamble and have a great time. It’s tricky to advocate for it though, because the signs are clear that it isn’t going to happen.

“Just within the last year, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, in trying to find new ways to bring in revenue to create homes/lands for Native Hawaiians on its wait list, proposed legalized gambling at ONE location on the island of Oahu. It was met with a lot of resistance, with lawmakers and opponents citing negative social impacts and the potential for increased crime. The proposal was tabled and hasn’t moved since.”

Jeremie Poplin definitely understands the power sports radio can have in trying to change minds in Oklahoma. He says that stations across the state seem to know that sports betting wouldn’t just be good for radio. It would be good for generating revenue to make all sorts of improvements within the state.

He points out that it isn’t as easy as the media speaking as one or influencing conversations about gambling. That doesn’t mean he is entirely pessimistic about being able to make an impact in some way.

“The political lanscape in this state is a tricky one right now,” Poplin told me. “Our governor and the tribes are not seeing eye to eye on a variety of issues, including a decision over sovereignty issued by the Supreme Court. What seemed like an easy path to gambling a couple of years ago, now seems way down the road. If we band together in our messaging that included Tribal leadership as well, that might start to move the needle.”

Scott Harris isn’t ready to make a stand. To be fair, he says that is because he doesn’t think he, his staff, or the sports media industry has to. Floridians had a taste of sports gambling. It will be hard to put that toothpaste back in the tube.

“I think those entities are aware of the consumer market. We focus on the relevant news of these stories and know sports gambling is here to stay and at some point Florida will figure it all out. What we are also focused on is the revenue to be generated from the category and expect our state to be among the most popular for sports wagering with the major players aggressively marketing their services.”

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I don’t think any of these legislatures are naieve. Surely they know people are gambling whether it is legal or not. Now, it has become about not wanting to be labeled a flip-flopper or soft.

Whether it is a formal movement or not, it is up to sports radio professionals to keep pushing the cause forward. It doesn’t matter if you personally are a gambler. Sportsbooks are spending a lot of money on sports radio. Advocating for legalization is advocating for yourself and your colleagues.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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