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Media Changes, Judd Zulgad Is Always Himself

“The key is this, the thirst for content is actually increasing. It’s not decreasing. How people want to consume said content is changing. But that’s exciting.”

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It’s August of 1989 at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the biggest and most respected newspaper in the Twin Cities area. Inside the halls, there’s an ambitious 19-year-old by the name of Judd Zulgad who’s just been hired as a clerk. Since the third grade, which wasn’t too distant of a memory for the teenager, he wanted to be in sports media. 

However, his journey into the business isn’t the glamorous beginning he probably hoped it would be. Essentially, he was the layout guy.

“I was doing jobs that don’t exist now,” said Zulgad”

He had to have photos sized. Sometimes he had to travel to the morgue to grab photos. He was at the bottom of the Star-Tribune. But he didn’t care. It was his chance to chase his dream.

By the late 90’s, Zulgad had made his way to the sports copy desk and then eventually started writing a sports media column for the newspaper. 

“I enjoyed that a lot,” he said. 

In 2003, Zulgad was assigned to help pitch in with coverage of the Minnesota Wild’s playoff run. It was expected to be brief, but the team surprised the league and made a run to the Western Conference Finals.  

“Then, the internet came around, and then it was an initial boom and then a crash,” Zulgad said. “Our publisher at The Trib, decided he wanted to compete to get Wisconsin readers. So he decided they needed a person to cover the Packers full-time. I got that opportunity for the Minneapolis paper.”

For the 2003 and 2004 NFL seasons, Zulgad was living in Green Bay and covering the Packers for a Minneapolis newspaper. Needless to say, the locals weren’t thrilled about the paper covering the Vikings’ biggest rival on a daily basis. In fact, a lot of fans were mad. But with a local base of Packers fans in the area, Zulgad understood the move and gladly covered one of the most storied teams in the league. 

After two seasons, the controversial experiment was dropped. In 2005, Zulgad was moved to the Vikings beat, working behind Kevin Seifert at the time. He did that for several seasons before finally moving to radio. 

“I came to SKOR North during training camp of 2011,” Zulgad said. “The station started in 2010 and was branded as 1500 ESPN.”

Today, Zulgad is still with SKOR North and is helping lead the charge of the station’s massive push towards digital. It’s interesting to think that the guy who started in the business with jobs that no longer exist, is now at the forefront of the industry with unique content tailored towards digital. 

But to those around him, his willingness and ability to adapt to the changing landscape of sports media is not surprising at all. 

“I think what makes it fun is that it changes, evolves, I love this,” Zulgad said. “The key is this, the thirst for content is actually increasing. It’s not decreasing. How people want to consume said content is changing. But that’s exciting. If you’re like, ‘well, I’m an AM radio person, that’s what I do!’ No! You are a creator of content and reaching people as quickly as possible is the most fun. Just because how it’s delivered changes and morphs, that’s not a bad thing.”

His thoughts on the changing landscape of sports media mirrors exactly what SKOR North has done with its content. The brand has gone from being just an AM radio station to something that can be consumed as a podcast, a TV show or a video on social platforms. 

“I think it’s fantastic,” Zulgad said. “And we literally get pictures of people who put us on their TV.”

With an extensive writing background, it would only make sense that Zulgad writes columns for SKOR North. But outside of that, he also co-hosts Mackey and Judd, Purple Daily and Judd’s Hockey Show, which can all be consumed via podcast. On top of all of that, he’s still covering games for the local teams.

His plate is full, seemingly everyday. But doing digital content as opposed to the strict clock of terrestrial radio, means he can more freely navigate the demands of his day. 

“The freedom of the podcast is great,” Zulgad said. “Keep in mind, for several years, Phil (Mackey) and I did a four-hour radio show. That’s busy. It started at 9:00 and went until 1:00. I have a lot going on but the freedom of podcasts is liberating.”

Zulgad is still a big believer in going to games. He wants to see the action in person, he wants to talk to people, it’s how he does his best work.

What also works for him is being the same person, whether he’s on a podcast or talking to a friend. His personality doesn’t change. Judd Zulgad is the same guy in every single format. 

“I basically talk to people and do the show very much how I live because I think for me, that’s what works. They’re going to be people that don’t like you, but even with that being said, they’ll still like that you are genuine and not trying to alter things.”

There’s a unique twist to Mackey and Judd. You may not notice it unless it’s mentioned on the show, but Mackey isn’t currently based in the Twin Cities. Instead, he lives in Seattle.

It seems like an incredible task to consistently have a great back-and-forth and put together great shows when your co-host is two time zones away. But not with these guys. They make it work. 

“The way I talk about this is simple,” Zulgad said. “Phil and I started to do a four-hour show together the day after New England beat Seattle in the Super Bowl. We did that show for four years and then a drive time show. Doing a radio show for four hours a day is an eternity. I liken it to bands that play small clubs. We didn’t agree all the time, but we got to know each other’s mannerisms, strengths, and weaknesses, so when Phil moved it didn’t change a thing. If Phil and I had been working together for six months and he moved, it’s probably difficult. It’s doable but difficult at times. But we are in lockstep. It’s as seamless as it could possibly be.”

At 52 years old, Zulgad can honestly say he loves his work as much as he did after his first big break. He’s stayed at the top of the game by adapting to all of the changes thrown his way. 

It’s helped he’s been so versatile as both a writer and a host. He’s excelled at both. And yes, his writing has made him a better host. 

“It helps me personally to sort my thoughts out and to take a path,” Zulgad said. “I find I’m at my best when I take a tactical approach to a topic, as opposed to hey, let’s just talk about this. My ability as a writer has allowed me to pick up on things and create a thread.”

SKOR North will continue to push digital. Zulgad will continue to help lead the charge. Not just because it’s the company’s vision, but because it’s his vision, as well. 

“The podcast gives you the freedom to only do segments on things you know that are hot topics,” Zulgadsaid. “People will say ‘you should talk about this more’ or ‘you should talk about this less’. When you’re doing a radio show it’s a lot more difficult to pick and choose what’s right. There are people who will say, you did an hour on the Wild? You’re crazy! But when it’s a podcast, you literally can cherry-pick the best things and have conversations that don’t go to break.”

BSM Writers

Keith Moreland’s Broadcasting Fills Void Left by MLB Career

“When I got through… I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”

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Austin American-Statesman

Sports color analysts are more often than not former players. This has been a consistent norm across sports broadcasting at all levels. The analyst is there to add “color” to the play-by-play broadcaster’s metaphorical and verbal “drawing” of the game. For former MLB slugger and catcher, Keith Moreland, this was the surprise post-playing retirement career that has boosted him to a key figure in Austin media and national media alike.

Moreland played football and baseball at the University of Texas before making his way to the MLB for 12 years with key contributions to the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs in the 1980s.

Moreland reminisced on his decision to play baseball full time: “I thought I was going to be in the NFL, but Earl Campbell changed that. I had just played summer ball. We had won a championship and I missed the first few days of two-a-days. I hadn’t even had a physical yet and I’m in a scrimmage. I stepped up to this freshman running back and as he ducked his shoulder, one of his feet hit my chest and the other hit my face mask and he kept on truckin’. I got up and I thought ‘I could be a pretty good baseball player.’

So I told Coach Royal after practice I was going to focus on baseball and he asked ‘what took you so long? We were surprised you came back because we think you have a really good shot at playing professional baseball.'”

It was a good choice for Moreland. He was part of the 1973 College World Series winning Texas Longhorns baseball team. While at Texas Moreland hit .388 and became the all-time leader in hits for the College World Series. After being drafted by the Phillies in the 7th round of the 1975 draft, Moreland would go-on to play in the majors from 1978 to 1989.

“You go your whole life trying to get to play professionally. When I got through my opportunity to play in the big leagues, I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”

Broadcasting was not the original retirement plan for Moreland. He first tried his luck at coaching with his first stop being his alma mater as an assistant for the Longhorns. At the time, Bill Schoening (a Philadelphia native and Phillies fan), was the radio play-by-play broadcaster. Schoening made Moreland a go-to for a pre-game interview and convinced him to come on talk shows. Schoening even convinced Moreland to practice live broadcasting skills by taking a recorder to games and listening back to them to learn.

“Bill was the guy who brought me onboard and I still have those tapes and I really learned from them, but I don’t want anyone else to ever hear them!” Moreland adds with a chuckle on how far he has come in over 25 years of broadcasting.

Moreland has been a key part of University of Texas radio broadcasts for baseball since the 1990s and has catapulted that broadcast experience to Texas high school football, Longhorn football radio and television broadcasts, ESPN, the Little League World Series, the Chicago Cubs and more since hanging up his cleats and picking up a microphone.

While his playing days are well behind him, Moreland still takes the spirit of his professional athlete background to his broadcasting:

“If you don’t bring energy to your broadcast, somebody’s gonna turn the game on and wonder ‘what’s wrong? Are they losing the game?’”, Moreland remarks, “So you have to come prepared and with energy for the broadcasts.”

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BSM Writers

Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting

The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.

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Maryland Matters

As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.

For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.

While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements. 

While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized. 

Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.

People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.

First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.

The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues. 

None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.  

As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.

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BSM Writers

Saban v. Jimbo Is WrestleMania for College Football Fans

Ryan Brown says the Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher feud is one made for pay-per-view and we have nearly five months to hype the match.

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Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

It was the day after I turned eleven that Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre ‘The Giant’. WrestleMania III filled 90,000 seats at the Pontiac Silverdome and the living room of one of the houses in my neighborhood. Real or fake, we didn’t care. Three decades later, Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher is 100% real and it is coming to a living room near you.

I live in the capital city of SEC Country – Birmingham, Alabama. SEC football needs no additional drama here. You get a complete college football obsession at birth. That said, the October 8th Texas A&M visit to Alabama will be among the most anticipated regular season college football games both regionally and nationally.

One would think CBS will use their annual prime time date for that Saturday just as they did for last season’s Alabama at Texas A&M game, you know, when Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher were on speaking terms. Not knowing how the season will play out, it would be no surprise if ESPN’s College Gameday is in Tuscaloosa as well. While we are at it, let’s just cut to the 2024 chase and schedule a Presidential debate in Tuscaloosa that weekend, as well.

Not one person will be surprised if Alabama is undefeated and the top ranked team in the nation that week. The surprise, based on the rest of the Jimbo Fisher era, will be the Aggies being unbeaten. Their trip to Alabama comes at the end of a five game stretch that includes Appalachian State at home, Miami at home, Arkansas in Dallas and a road game at Mississippi State. Incidentally, the same Texas A&M team that was able to upset Alabama last season also managed to lose to Arkansas and Mississippi State.

Just the prospect of the two teams being unbeaten and highly ranked causes some to say this game would need no extra storylines. Shouldn’t that, and being on CBS in prime time, be enough? The Saban-Fisher Feud already has people discussing this game nationally and Lee Corso hasn’t even donned a body odor-filled mascot head yet.

I would like to project this game to deliver the largest TV audience of the regular season but I can’t, for one reason: I’m not certain it will be close. I think Alabama is that much better than Texas A&M. That’s why the build up will deliver a huge first half audience.

For perspective, in the 2021 regular season, the Alabama at Texas A&M game had the fifth largest TV audience, in a game that went down to the final play. The Ohio State at Michigan game had 15.8 million viewers on as part of FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff, almost double that of Alabama at Texas A&M on CBS in prime time.

That brings me to another misconception: big games have to be in prime time to get a big audience. Of the top ten largest college football audiences in the regular season and conference championship weekend, only half were prime time games. College football fans, and NFL fans for that matter, will find the best games no matter where they are placed.

So, back to Saban v. Fisher; why is it a bad thing? Would SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey prefer it not happen? Of course. Will it bring more attention to a game in the conference he oversees? I say, absolutely. Heck, my daily show is already selling t-shirts for the game. You may say “shameless plug”, I say paying for my kid’s college. Tomato, tomahto.

This is what made “Mean” Gene Okerlund a household name in the 1980’s. He was the far too serious host that interviewed the wrestlers who challenged other wrestlers to a grudge match in exotic places like the Macon Coliseum and the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and the Dallas Sportatorium. Why did they do that? First, it was entertaining but, primarily, it sucked the viewer into making plans to view those matches.

I mean, if Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat said he was going to rip the head off “Big” John Studd, was I going to miss that?

That was why a bunch of kids crowded into a living room in Anniston, Alabama in 1987 to watch WrestleMania III, The Main Event. I can’t tell you who was on the undercard that night. The only wrestlers we cared about were Hulk Hogan and Andre “The Giant”.

Actually, my friend’s mom thought the Ultimate Warrior was “cute and had a great body”. He wasn’t on the card and I thought it was odd she told us that but she was footing the bill for the pay-per-view and had mixed the fruit punch Kool-Aid, so who am I to judge one’s wanton desires?

Texas A&M at Alabama will be the SEC’s main event this season and, if the cards fall right, it may be college football’s main event. What happened between the two head coaches might not be the proudest moment in SEC history but it will bring more attention to that game. And, my word, we finally have a nano-second in which two prominent coaches weren’t pre-programmed robots refusing to deviate from the script.

As amazing as WrestleMania III was for my childhood, it was scripted. The Tide and the Aggies will not be. College football remains one of the greatest values in sports. I pay very little to watch unscripted game after unscripted game. Truth is, you couldn’t even script most of what we see on a college football Saturday. 

Texas A&M at Alabama is already beyond what the most creative writers could imagine and that is why this fuel to the already smoldering fire adds to this game. Now, if Nick Saban will just try to bodyslam Jimbo Fisher, we’ll have something.

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