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Managing The Crisis – Mike Thomas, Good Karma Brands/ESPN 1000

“Mike Thomas talks to Jason Barrett about managing a new brand in a new city for a new company during a global pandemic.”

Jason Barrett

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New company. New radio station. New staff. New city. New competition. And if that’s not enough to adjust to, how about going thru all of it while the media industry deals with the wrath caused by a global pandemic?

That’s what Mike Thomas‘ world has consisted of the past 5+ months since becoming the Market Manager of ESPN 1000 in Chicago. On this episode we discussed how he’s managed thru those adjustments, which sales ideas have provided a boost, what are the biggest differences and similarities between Chicago/Boston and Good Karma/Beasley/CBS Radio, how ESPN Chicago took advantage of the momentum created by The Last Dance and a lot more.

BSM Writers

Jake Paul, Betr Pair Micro-Betting With Media

There are plenty of hurdles, though, that still need to be overcome before this takes over the betting landscape.

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I’ll be completely honest: I can’t get into TikTok. I’m closing in on 40 years spent on this planet, and it’s simply not my thing. It’s not meant to be, though. The current generation is one with shorter attention spans, the kind that wants a quick highlight of a sporting event so they can shift their focus to something else. When I tell folks a decade younger than me stories about how I–and others of my age group–would sit around and watch an entire SportsCenter, they look at me like I’m crazy. Not sure how they’d look at me if I told them we used to often watch the rerun an hour later, but that’s another discussion.

It’s a big reason why micro-betting is considered the “next big thing” in sports betting. Similar to in-game betting, micro betting goes a step further and focuses on individual events within a sporting event, such as the outcome of a drive, whether a baseball player will get a hit in his upcoming at-bat, or even something such as a coin toss at the Super Bowl. A perfect example of micro-betting is the rise in popularity of betting on whether or not a run will be scored in the first inning of a baseball game. For a generation that wants a quick resolution to their bets, it makes total sense. You place a bet, you find out how it did, and then you move on–whether that’s to another bit of action or something else entirely.

Something else I can’t get into is the whole hoopla surrounding the Paul brothers. Logan and Jake Paul have built an empire for themselves on the back of YouTube, with Jake Paul having more than 70 million followers on social media. For various reasons, I’m not a fan of either individual. Again, though, they aren’t coming after my demographic. Like them or hate them, you have to respect their grind –and you have to admire their business acumen — as they parlay their notoriety and success into sports entertainment by way of boxing and the WWE, as well as a new sports drink company that has already partnered with Premier League side Arsenal. 

Monday’s announcement by Jake Paul of a new micro-betting site simply furthers the narrative and does so in a manner that can’t be ignored by those in the sports betting space. Betr, a joint venture between Paul, sports betting entrepreneur Joey Levy, and the sports betting company Simplebet, was announced yesterday morning. Backed by a $50 million investment from multiple venture capital firms, the new company is backed by ownership groups of franchises such as the Boston Celtics and San Francisco 49ers, and also has financial backing from current and former NFL players including Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, and Richard Sherman. Musician Travis Scott has also put his financial backing behind the product.

The other very interesting tidbit from the press release was the announcement of a media company that would feature, among other shows, “BS w/ Jake Paul”. Their new YouTube channel, which already has over two million subscribers despite not a single video being posted as of Monday afternoon, will feature sports-betting content from Paul and other content creators and will focus on micro betting. In an interview with Axios, Levy said that consumers can “expect 10+ videos a day from emerging content creators we’ve brought into the company,” but that things would begin with a focus on “premium content natives, starting with Jake’s show.”

Sports radio and television have long been focused on making their products more appealing to younger generations. Just take a look at ESPN, where they’ve long been doing “SportsCenter” episodes on Snapchat. This could be a game-changer, provided they can help drive micro-betting into a wider market. 

There is plenty of potential in the space, a big reason Paul was able to acquire such high amounts of funding. Just last year, JP Morgan estimated that more than $7 billion per year would be wagered on micro bets by the year 2025. And earlier this year, the CEO of Oddisum stated in an interview that micro-betting would account for the majority of wagers placed on sporting events within the next three years. Even DraftKings CEO Jason Robins has talked about plans on how his company expects to embrace the trend.

There are plenty of hurdles, though, that still need to be overcome before this takes over the betting landscape. The biggest one is the delivery of data. As we move more towards a society that streams sporting events and other digital content, the delay between real life and what shows up on your mobile phone can be the difference between placing a wager or not. For some services (I’m looking at you, Peacock) there’s often a delay of more than 90 seconds, which means the play I want to bet on is still two or three plays away from being seen with my own eyes. That makes it difficult to place a bet with any sort of confidence.

The other major obstacle will be getting their gambling service legalized. In their press release, Betr stated they will start as a “free-to-play” app in all 50 states, and eventually they will add real money gambling services as they become licensed to operate within individual states. That’s not going to be so simple, though, as gambling addiction concerns continue to rise and multiple state legislatures are already having discussions regarding the matter. 

As addictive as betting on sporting events can be, micro-betting is often exponentially more. A study last year from CQ University in Sydney, Australia indicated that micro bettors are more likely to be younger players and that they usually “have high trait impulsivity”. An author of the report also stated, “there’s a very strong link between micro betting and gambling problems”, and pointed out that the short amount of time between placing a bet and having it resolved leaves little time to evaluate performance or track one’s bankroll. 

Whether or not those things are overcome in every state possible is a discussion for another day. The fact is, micro-betting is more likely than not to become a huge growth market for sports betting companies over the next two to three years, and Paul and Levy have become the first big players to jump into the media space. It’s not a question of if, but when, others will follow them into the realm of micro betting sports content, but their announcement on Monday raises the stakes. It also reminds those of us in business, especially sports media, that while we may not fully understand the allure of what the younger generation enjoys, we ignore it at our peril. 

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BSM Writers

Mike Tyson Needs to Remember That There’s No Such Thing As Bad Publicity

Tyson’s natural instinct is to fight, but it might be better for him to go to the corner.

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Someone in Mike Tyson’s inner circle should consider telling him to stop publicly criticizing the upcoming Hulu dramatized limited series about his life.

Maybe those friends and advisors would prefer to tell him that from a distance, perhaps via phone call, email, or text. The boxing icon is clearly upset about this subject and might not respond well to being told to simmer down. Heck, this column with its subsequent suggestions is being written from an undisclosed location.

For more than a year, the former heavyweight champion has denounced the project through his social media channels. According to Tyson, the streaming provider and producers for Mike (scheduled for an Aug. 25 release) stole his life story and created the eight-episode series without his permission. He renewed those attacks this past weekend on Instagram.

Tyson’s allegations of cultural appropriation and comparisons to slavery regarding someone else telling his story are certainly highly charged. But Hulu has made it clear that this is an “unauthorized” depiction of Tyson’s life, a term frequently used to indicate “This is the story they don’t want you to see!”

But recent developments in sports and pop culture have demonstrated the old saying that there’s no such thing as bad publicity when it comes to a documentary or scripted series in need of promotion.

Ask Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Jerry West. All three basketball legends criticized and condemned Winning Time, HBO’s dramatic series on the 1980s, “Showtime” era Los Angeles Lakers.

Johnson dismissed Winning Time by saying that no one from the Lakers organization — players, coaches, or executives — was involved in the making of the series.

“You need somebody who lived through it,” Johnson told Variety. “Not somebody’s opinion. Not somebody’s ‘I think.’ Not somebody’s ‘I saw.'”

Johnson’s opposition to Winning Time is understandable. He’s hardly portrayed in a flattering light, frequently showing him using people to take care of difficult matters he’d prefer to avoid, enjoying his newfound celebrity, and sleeping around with a variety of women despite professing his love for the woman who would be his future wife.

Yet Johnson may also have had an ulterior motive in wanting to promote the multi-part documentary chronicling his life. He was directly involved in the production in They Call Me Magic, recounting events in interviews and choosing director Rick Famuyiwa for the project. It should be noted that the docuseries didn’t draw nearly the same buzz or acclaim as Winning Time, maybe because HBO’s series was released first and fans thought they already got the story.

Perhaps this is one of Tyson’s concerns as well. Hulu’s series will be released long before the rival project that the boxer is executive-producing, starring Jamie Foxx and directed by Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer). According to Variety, production for Tyson’s series has stalled because no TV or streaming network has signed on as a partner. By the time it’s released, viewers may already feel like they saw the story — and told in a more objective or sensationalistic manner.

However, in watching trailers for Mike, it seems likely that Tyson is most concerned that the Hulu series will remind viewers and fans of the scandals in his life that made him one of pop culture’s most infamous figures. Tyson’s life story can’t be accurately told without acknowledging his troubled marriage to Robin Givens and accusations of domestic violence. In 1992, he was convicted of rape, for which he served six years in prison.

Tyson’s behavior was also controversial in the ring. Considered unbeatable and potentially one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time, he inexplicably lost to Buster Douglas in 1990. Perhaps his most disgraceful fight was in 1997, when he bit off a part of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Despite his past, Tyson has rehabilitated his image to become a beloved cultural icon. He had a memorable appearance in the 2009 film The Hangover. He was featured in a Scooby Doo-inspired animated series, Mike Tyson Mysteries. He starred in a one-man show, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, that played in Las Vegas and on Broadway, and eventually toured the country.

Younger generations of fans might not even be aware of Tyson’s past wrongdoings. But the Hulu series will bring them to attention and perhaps prompt many to look up the story of those transgressions. New stories may even be written to document those events for current audiences.

Tyson’s past is a matter of public record too. Though what he did may surprise some who didn’t know already, those stories and dramatized behavior likely won’t be as jolting as Jerry West’s portrayal in Winning Time.

The Lakers star was perceived as a gentleman, not the angry, self-doubting rage monster shown in the series. But colleagues and those who covered West stuck up for him in the press, saying the depiction was unfair. Eventually, West objected himself, demanding that HBO issue a retraction of how he was portrayed and threatening to take a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Tyson almost certainly won’t receive that kind of defense. But like West and Johnson, he’s directing attention at something he wishes people would ignore. Yes, if he feels the portrayal is unfair or that he should’ve been paid for his story, he’s entitled to object. Instead, however, Tyson is creating anticipation for this Hulu series, for which the streamer hasn’t given a big promotional push. Why bother spending money on such an effort when Tyson is already providing so much promotion?

Hulu will surely do more in the days and weeks leading up to Mike‘s premiere. But for now, all that needs to be mentioned is that the series premieres Aug. 25. Especially if Tyson continues to say more about it on social media. His natural instinct is to fight, but it might be better for him to go to the corner.

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BSM Writers

Stories Are What Made Vin Scully Special

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There will never be another Vin Scully. In school, I was taught to never write or speak in absolutes. I’m willing to risk the F here: There will – NEVER – be another Vin Scully.

The legendary voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers passed away last Tuesday after 94 incredible years on this earth. I could not imagine that, given the opportunity before stepping out of this life, Vin Scully could’ve found many regrets. The only issue would’ve been the fact there has never been another that would be qualified to narrate the story of Vin Scully’s life. That honor should’ve been wholly reserved for, well, Vin Scully.

Scully called his first Dodger’s game in 1950 – in Brooklyn, mind you – and his melodic voice would describe that team until his retirement in 2016. Imagine a man who was so good at his job that, in his first Dodgers game, Jackie Robinson hit clean up and in his final Dodgers game, Yasiel Puig did. Scully literally bridged the gap from the man that broke the color barrier batting fourth to his final line-up including a black player, two Cuban players, a Mexican player and a pitcher from Japan.

I grew up in Anniston, Alabama, part of an exit sign on I-20 between Birmingham and Atlanta. We were fed a steady diet of Braves games on The SuperStation WTBS. The single most popular Braves player was Dale Murphy. We all tried to emulate the every move of Murph. Those Braves teams were awful so you didn’t have to go too far down the list of most popular Braves until you got to the names Ernie Johnson, Skip Caray and Pete van Wieren. They were the Braves TV and radio guys and could find a way to keep a team that was 15 games back entertaining.

There is nobody that would make an argument those announcers, great as they were, are the most important parts of Braves history. But Vin Scully is on that list when you are discussing the L.A. Dodgers. And this is a franchise that has won seven World Championships we are talking about here. In what would be one of the most storied halls of fame in sports, Scully would be a first ballot choice in the Dodgers Hall of Fame. He would also be the only choice for master of ceremonies.

Though I am not an antique, I did grow up in a day in which not every single game was televised. As a Southerner, I can tell you few people were more important in the Deep South than John Ward, Jim Fyffe, John Forney and Larry Munson. Those men caused the world to stop in places like Eastaboga, Alabama and Ellijay, Georgia. They were the voice of record for Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama and Georgia football. They painted the pictures in the minds of millions of people of big wins and gut-punch losses.

But now, all the games are televised and, in many ways, the old school radio play-by-play announcer has become the voice of the highlights of the biggest plays. Three and a half hours of work is often consumed in fifteen second sound bites later on. It is just not the iconic job it once was.

Scully beat that system. He was, simultaneously, the TV and radio voice of the Dodgers, an incredibly difficult thing to pull off. I remember vividly the first time I purchased MLB Extra Innings, giving me access to all 162 Vin Scully games. Many summer nights I’d simply turn on that Dodgers game and listen to a few innings of Scully’s stories. I had zero concerns with the outcome of the game. In fact, for me, the game was simply the canvas that held the art of Scully’s work.

The stories were what set him apart. A base hit was an unwelcome event in an at bat, I wanted every batter to have a full-count so Vin had plenty of runway for his stories. He could time them out in a manner that it seemed Clayton Kershaw was in on the production and would hold his delivery to match a perfect pause in Scully’s stories. As ESPN’s Buster Olney said of Scully on my show, “If he needed a foul ball to finish his story, he always got one.”

I don’t imagine any artist ever walked inside the Sistine Chapel and said out loud, “You know, I could’ve done this a lot better.” I doubt many architects walk past the Hagia Sophia and say, “I would’ve put in more windows.” Likewise, there is no sports announcer worth their salt that would say, “Vin could’ve been so much better.”

Nope, Vin Scully did it perfectly. Then he gently dropped the mic and graciously walked off. Rest well, Mr. Scully, I can’t imagine there are many regrets. Our only one is there is nobody left behind remotely qualified to voice the story of your life.

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