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Frustrations Grow In Sports Radio Markets Without Legal Sports Betting

“Every other radio station and media entity in states where it’s legal, the minute it goes legal, are asking how quickly they can get in and how much money can we make off it.”

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When I was growing up in central Kentucky, I lived for two years in what was known as a “dry county”. That is one where alcohol could not be sold. The financial impact on local stores and restaurants was significant. The county eventually was forced to relent and allow sales in certain areas.

As a sixteen-year-old, it made no sense to me that people were allowed to drink alcohol and bring it home from neighboring counties, so long as they didn’t purchase it in the one we lived in. The way I saw it, they were going to drink one way or another–you might as well benefit from it financially. 

Now as an adult, I am having the same thoughts regarding sports betting. With 34 states having legalized wagering on athletic events and states such as California and Missouri possibly doing so this calendar year, it makes little sense to me that multiple states refuse to allow their citizens to do so. They are ceding millions of tax dollars to neighboring states every month. 

While an annoyance to the individuals who are unable to place wagers when they choose to, there is a tangible impact on the bottom line of businesses around the country. One of the hardest hit is the sports radio industry, which is unable to reap benefits from the windfall that comes along with legalization. I spoke with multiple individuals in the industry last week from states that have yet to pass legislation, despite multiple efforts, to gauge how they view the situation.

“It is bad for business what the state of Kentucky is doing,” says Andy Sweeney, program director for ESPN 680 WHBE in Louisville and host of The Take with Andy Sweeney.

Kentucky is in a truly unique situation. The state shares a border with seven states, more than any other in the union. It will soon be an oasis of no sports betting.

“All the states around us have passed it once Missouri is done, and some of them have been gambling for years, like Indiana. Our advertising and marketing would go up substantially.”

Sweeney is not the only person who knows there would be a tsunami of advertising dollars flooding their market. The Adam Gold Show, on 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh, North Carolina is syndicated across the state, and host Adam Gold says the legalization of sports wagering in the state would be game-changing.

“BetMGM, Caesars, DraftKings, FanDuel; there’s probably a dozen reputable gambling entities that, as soon as it became legalized, would be throwing money at sports radio stations hand over fist, and honestly, it might be the total-game changer when it comes to sports radio advertisement.”

Gold recalled how much money was thrown their way a few years ago when daily fantasy sports became legal in the state, laughing as he pointed out he was doing ads for DraftKings while his then co-host was doing the same for FanDuel. 

David Schultz echoed those thoughts when I spoke with him regarding efforts in Alabama. The program director of 105.5 WNSP in Mobile is also the host of The Game Plan. He knows the money is there to be made.

“I’m sure we’d get DraftKings and other sportsbooks involved,” he said, “so it’s a loss of revenue for the station, that’s for sure. And that’s a frustration. We’re all looking to profit from it.” 

Schultz also lamented the tax dollars being allowed to leave one of the poorest states in the country, with his listeners driving an hour away to Mississippi to place wagers while they listen to his show.

“I think it’s sad they didn’t take advantage of Florida screwing it up,” he said. “I think it’s foolish that everybody’s got it, and some people don’t want it for whatever reason. It seems to be good for the state.”

However, he pointed out that many opposed to gambling were doing so for selfish reasons. “When it comes to sports gambling, greed is going to be involved.”

In Florida, sports wagering was actually allowed briefly in the fall of 2021 on a trial basis, but it quickly was shut down after a court ruled against its legality. While the Seminole Tribe is appealing the decisions, many doubt it will be a settled issue until 2023 at the earliest.

For John Mamola, the program director at 95.3 WDAE in Tampa, the entire situation even tempted him to try it out a bit. While not a gambler himself, he attests to the appetite in his state for its legalization. 

“They know this is the golden goose,” Mamola said regarding the growing partnerships surrounding sports betting. “Every other radio station and media entity in states where it’s legal, the minute it goes legal, are asking how quickly they can get in and how much money can we make off it.”

He also pointed out that DraftKings has a partnership with his parent company iHeart Radio, and legalization would immediately lead to additional advertising opportunities for his station. 

While some of the arguments against sports gambling are valid, such as the threat of addiction, there are others based on awful rationale. Last Friday, Sweeney was joined by Kentucky house representative Al Gentry, after legislation failed, despite having enough votes to pass it, due to the Republican super-majority refusing to allow it to come to vote without “a majority of the majority” being in support of the bill.

Gentry addressed concerns from fellow state senator C. B. Embry, who claimed legalizing sports gambling would lead to college players throwing games.

“Let’s face it, he’s a little bit ignorant on some of these issues,” Gentry said, “but unfortunately, you run into that in Frankfort on certain issues. When you deal with these individuals that just don’t keep up on modern times, it’s frustrating.”

Sweeney echoed that frustration, borne in part by his unique situation of being an Indiana resident who works in Kentucky. Given his station is located less than five miles from the Indiana border, advertisements for legalized sports wagering play daily on his airwaves. While it only inconveniences him while he’s inside the state border during weekdays, he knows that is not the case for much of his listening audience.

“I live in a situation where it doesn’t affect me personally as much,” he pointed out, “but if you live in the middle of the state it absolutely does. There’s no doubt about it that our relationships with those online books and our advertising would be improved substantially, and that is why it’s so frustrating to us.”

He went on to point out that legalization wouldn’t impact his station nearly as much as it would others in places such as Lexington and Bowling Green.

“We can still have the fun because we are so close to Indiana. If we were 45 minutes from Indiana, like some of our listeners, they’re unable to do so.”

As for whether legalization would take place in their states, three of the four individuals I spoke with had hopes that it would–but not anytime soon.

“The earliest I think people in Kentucky can look at it is 2025,” Sweeney said, “and by then they will have been three, four, five years behind these surrounding states. Some of these politicians are uneducated on the subject and I think that’s what’s being fought.”

Gold strongly believes it should be up to personal decision, not the North Carolina government.

“We all know if you want to gamble, you’re going to gamble. People are going to use an illegal bookmaker like Bovada,” he said. “My line has always been, ‘If you’re anti-legalized sports gambling, then you are pro-organized crime’.”

He added that every major game-fixing scandal has been rooted out by the casinos, further reason to allow the professionals to run the show.

“Being anti-sports wagering makes no sense to me; it’s puzzling why we’re taking this long.”

Nearly everyone believes that Florida will eventually get it figured out, especially as Mamola points out that governor Ron DeSantis is up for re-election in 2022 and legalization would help his chances. To that end, Mamola knows how important it is for fellow program directors to have a plan for if, and when, legalization happens in their state.

“I think the biggest key for when it does go legal is to find interesting ways of really dumbing down the basics of wagering and trying to make that as entertaining as possible for those that don’t gamble, like myself.”

Mamola continued, “It’s going to be a combination of really coming up with some programming, crafting it right to where it caters to the long-time gambler but at the same time it’s welcoming to the person who’s interested but hasn’t done it yet, and finding those voices to really drive home the message, those trusted resources for our listening audience.”

That said, perhaps the most frustrated voice of all belonged to Schultz, who pointed out Alabama is one of just five states without a lottery system. He also stressed that the legalization of sports betting, which is heavily supported by governor Kay Ivey, would require an amendment to the state’s constitution.

When asked when he thought it would happen in Alabama, Schultz was very direct in his answer. “Never,” he said emphatically before following with, “Not only will we be the last state without it, we won’t get it. Not until February of 2024 at the earliest, and I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one either.”

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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