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101 ESPN Is All In On eSports

“101 ESPN’s eSports event took place on a Friday, resulting in a number of people taking off work to be there, and spending the entire day inside the venue.”

Tyler McComas

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I’ll argue with anyone the NCAA Tournament is the most entertaining post season in all of sports. The buzzer beaters, the occasional Cinderella teams, nothing can top the one-and-done format March Madness bring us every year. But what if you could take what college basketball has mastered and use it as an opportunity for your station?

Sure, many stations across the country did some form of a 68-team giveaway the Monday following Selection Sunday at a local restaurant or bar, but what about an outside the box idea or event that draws in new listeners while capturing the magic of the one-and-done format?

Not only did 101 ESPN in St. Louis find a unique way to grow its brand, it may have also cut down the nets for best original idea this year. On March 1st inside a local Dave and Busters, gamers from in and around the St. Louis area flooded in for an all-day eSports event hosted by 101 ESPN. Two 64-team brackets were created, one for Xbox One players and the other for PS4, as gamers on each device played FIFA 19 with an NCAA Tournament style bracket creating the matchups in each round.

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The games were broadcast by 101 ESPN on Twitch, and each show host was live and on-location for the event, putting off a vibe and energy that was unique to any eSports event the city had seen before. With the popularity of eSports continuing to rapidly grow across the country, 101 ESPN program director Chris ‘Hoss’ Neupert saw an opportunity for his station to capitalize.

“I’m a geeky gamer from way back,” said Neupert. “I love video games and it’s the fabric of our station. We have video games in our offices and we play. For us it’s competition and a little bit of a break from reality. You hear a lot about the growth of eSports and it’s hard to ignore. Being a gamer, myself, I’ve enjoyed learning more about the space. I think the competition and entertainment surrounding these events appeals to sports fans. On a personal level, it’s been exciting to see it grow, but there’s still much more we have to learn going forward.”

Many show hosts take pride in being able to adapt to any on-air situation, but that becomes difficult when you have limited knowledge of the subject at hand. Though eSports is growing, it’s still a relative unknown aside from the people who haven’t immersed themselves in it. When trying to find hosts that are capable of hosting an eSports event, your regular show hosts, who may be unfamiliar with the medium, may not always be fit for the task.

To make sure 101 ESPN’s talent were speaking the right language, Neupert wanted the right combination hosting the event. One host was already inside his building, but to find a second, he took to Twitch. That led to finding a local gamer by the name of FOXE, who had a strong, local presence with gamers and was outgoing and entertaining on her stream.

Though she didn’t have any previous experiences hosting a radio station event, Neupert decided to give Foxe a shot, and came away impressed. Not only did he find someone suitable for the job, but she already had built a local following on Twitch which helped get the word out to other gamers.

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A sports radio station hosting an eSports event is still uncommon, even if many in the format are now aware of the space gaining momentum. There’s a lot of curiosity of how to create and promote events that may not appeal to a radio station’s everyday audience. Neupert said that the targeted audience for the event were young millennial and gen z sports fans. He didn’t expect the older sports fan who’s grown up on the St. Louis Cardinals to show up for the event.

“In terms of promotion, we did a little bit of everything,” added Neupert. “We promoted the event on-air, on our eSports show, and on Facebook, Twitter and Twitch. We sprinkled it all over the place.”

He continued, “It was definitely a different audience. Much younger and diverse than we normally see at station events. Most of the crowd were in the 18-35 demo which was cool to see. St. Louis has a big Bosnian base, so we had a lot of Bosnian players, a lot of African American players, a lot of Caucasians, too. In addition to the gamers that were competing, they brought friends and family to watch. It was a good 9-hour day and people were hanging out the entire time.”

101 ESPN’s eSports event took place on a Friday, resulting in a number of people taking off work to be there, and spending the entire day inside the venue. That was uncharacteristic for Dave and Busters who told Neupert afterwards that the turnout helped them enjoy a great business day. The feeling all around was that the event surpassed everyone’s expectations, including attendees who wanted to know when the next gaming event was taking place.

All the credit for the event’s success goes to Neupert and his staff at 101 ESPN, because they took a chance to try something new, and explored different avenues to make sure it was a success. The station even arranged quality prizes for the winners, a grand prize of 1,000 dollars, 750 dollars for second place and 250 dollars for third.

But how did sales factor into the event? It generated great pub, and brought new people to the radio station, but since this was a new unproven concept, I was curious if making money off the event was a primary focus.

“Sales wasn’t the key focus for this event,” said Neupert. “It was about putting together a great product and entering a new untapped space. The idea was to set ourselves up for long-term success, not just produce a one-and-done. We needed to educate ourselves on air, as well as in sales about what these events are capable of, understanding that it’s not conventional. Moving forward, we now have one successful event under our belts and can take what we learned from it to create future opportunities for our sales team.”

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What will be interesting to keep an eye on in the future is if the event produces a ratings lift for 101 ESPN with listeners 18-35. The increased exposure could also lead to more listening to Checkpoint XP, the nationally syndicated eSports program offered by Westwood One which 101 ESPN carries on Friday night from 10pm to midnight. But one thing is for sure: 101 ESPN will be increasing their activity on the eSports front.

“We’ll absolutely do another event in 2019, likely towards the end of the year,” said Neupert. “We would do more, but we have a new flagship deal with the St. Louis Blues and that’s a top priority. It’s very important for us to start next season sounding like we’ve been airing their games for years. Long term though we’d like to do more with eSports because it’s a space that is generating a lot of excitement and we see a lot of opportunities in it.”

BSM Writers

Who Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion Best?

Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.

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The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.

In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?

We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?

Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:

Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN

ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.

The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.

Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.

Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.

“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”

Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.

“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?

“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”

Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.

Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.

The NFL Today – CBS

CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.

Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.

The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.

Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.

Fox NFL Sunday

The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.

Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.

Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.

Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.

Football Night in America – NBC

Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.

But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.

Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?

When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.

But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”

“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”

Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.

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BSM Writers

Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers

Jason Barrett

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Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.

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iHeart: https://buff.ly/3oyi0U0

Google: https://buff.ly/3vh7Tqu

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3w9hqAh

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Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area

Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.

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Joe Rogan

For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.

As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.

I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.

At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.

From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”

But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.

But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.

However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.

One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.

Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.

There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.

Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.

At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.

There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.

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