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It’s A New Industry And Joe Fortenbaugh’s Right In The Middle Of It

“The sky’s the limit. We’re in 18 states right now and by the next election we could have as many as 24 or 25. And, the projections by 2025 have it at maybe 40 States so it’s similar to what happened with marijuana.”

Vik Chokshi

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Joe Fortenbaugh grew up obsessed with sports. The Allentown, PA native’s favorite athletes included Allen Iverson and Donovan McNabb. In the fifth grade, Fortenbaugh’s class project was to give a speech about one of his role-models. While his other classmates talked about parents and family members, Joe expressed his appreciation of Barry Sanders. 

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In 2003, Fortenbaugh graduated from Penn State and was on his way to Thomas Jefferson’s School of Law in San Diego. His reasoning behind getting a law degree was simple: learn contract law and become a sports agent. 

Since his mindset coming out of High School was to work in sports, he knew he needed one more thing along with a law degree to really make it, real-world experience. During his 1L year at Thomas Jefferson, Joe wanted to get an internship, so he searched for NFL agents that were based out of the San Diego area. This is how he came across the name Jack Bechta, San Francisco 49er George Kittle’s agent.

Joe put together his resume and a cover letter and mailed it to Bechta. To stick out from the norm, his plan was to send his resume and a different cover letter to Jack every single day for a month. If he didn’t hear from the agent after a month, his plan was to then start calling the agency every single day for another month. And, if he still had not heard back from them after two months, Joe was going to just show up at their door every single day for that third month.

After 23 days and 23 letters, Fortenbaugh received a phone call from Joe Palumbo (an agent that worked for Jack), who said, “enough of the letters, just come in and meet us”. 

The meeting went well and Bechta ended up giving him an unpaid internship that lasted his whole tenure at Law School. Post graduation, Joe had a job opportunity with the agency, but he wanted to  make money right away so he decided to go another route. 

Joe bounced around a little bit, which included stints of playing online poker and working in Minor League Baseball. While in the Minors, Joe received a call from Becha who was launching a website called National Football Post. Bechta wanted to bring Joe on as a jack of all trades to manage the website. Joe jumped at the opportunity, as he was making only $500 bucks a month working in the Minors despite working crazy hours. 

The website launched in August of 2008, and things were going great. He was writing, traveling, the whole nine yards. Then in August of 2011, while still working NFP, Joe decided he wanted to get into the gambling space. He foresaw it being the next big thing, so his plan was to move out to Las Vegas for one football season to get to know all the oddsmakers and learn about the industry. His thought process was that if sports betting was ever legalized, he might be of value to one of these bigger networks. From then on, Joe started doing more and more gambling related posts and even a video series with various gambling industry professionals.

Fortenbaugh would put together a solid resume, which included of course the NationalFootballPost.com, hosting “The Sharp 600″ sports betting podcast for Covers.com, being a San Francisco morning show host for 95.7 The Game, appearing as a sports betting analyst on dozens of radio shows around the country and doing freelance columns for USA Today and ESPN.com, among others.

Fast forward to 2018 and Fortenbaugh’s gamble paid off in a big way when the Supreme Court deemed the Professional and Amatuer Sports Protection Act of 1992 unconstitutional, thus allowing legal sports betting  to spread. While ESPN had showcased sports betting segments like Chris Berman’s “Swami Sez” and Scott Van Pelt’s “Bad Beats” for years on “SportsCenter”, gambling went to a completely different level after the ruling. 

PASPA Repeal Odds in NJ's Favor Following Supreme Court Hearing

As a result of the Court’s decision, Gambling spread into 22 total jurisdictions (if you count the four states that have passed legislation but haven’t launched wagering yet). Because of the big boom, ESPN dipped more than just their toes into sports gambling. By building a new Las Vegas studio to expand their focus on games and odds, I’d say they’ve gone all-in. 

That is where Fortenbaugh comes in. He has relocated to Las Vegas to do TV, radio and digital for ESPN, headlined by working alongside co-host Doug Kezerian on ESPN’s Daily Wager. He will also co-host both a new digital sports betting program (not named yet) and has joined the cast of GameDay, an ESPN Radio show every Saturday with Matt Jones and Myron Medcalf. ESPN began using Fortenbaugh as a guest in March of last year when the network launched The Daily Wager

But, it wasn’t all roses for Fortenbaugh, who faced many hurdles along the way. So many, that his dad had the “talk” with him about having a backup plan and he himself even looked into potentially going to school to become a blackjack dealer. 

“Before I broke in it felt like at every point before the next step happened I was almost at a breaking point where nothing was going to work out … A lot of heartbreak and coming up just short on jobs I wanted … A lot of 15-hour plus workdays.”

I asked him about his thoughts on the future of the gambling industry. Joe, like many others, is optimistic about the boom.

“The sky’s the limit. We’re in 18 states right now and by the next election we could have as many as 24 or 25. And, the projections by 2025 have it at maybe 40 States so it’s similar to what happened with marijuana … On the job front, this is going to open up a lot of opportunities for people. You’re going to need production people, camera people, sound people, makeup people, writers, audio, etc. and you’re going to see opportunity for everyone from a corporate standpoint as well.”

The only word of caution Joe gives is to make sure you vet out who you follow and listen to in the industry.

“It’s a new industry and everyone’s talking about spreads now. There are going to be people that understand the information, and there are going to be people who don’t. Some guys might not and you have to do what you do with a lot of your information. You are going to have to be diligent and sort through it just like news and politics.”

During our conversation, another hot topic, social media, also came up. I asked him about his advice on dealing with internet trolls. While he loves using Twitter as a creative resource, he doesn’t like the negativity and vitriol. In the end, he understands that comes along with the job. 

Fortenbaugh recited a family trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming that changed his perspective on things. Seeing his kids running free outside and the beauty of the outdoors made him realize that there was more to life than being connected to his phone and social media in general. But, he gets it.

REVEALED: The Best of Jackson Hole Guidebook Cover Photo - Buckrail - Jackson  Hole, news

“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t pay attention to it. If you are going to use social media, it’s going to be very difficult to avoid the negativity. Trust the process and on the flipside, the trolls will keep you focused and hungry.”

As for advice to anyone trying to make it in the industry itself?

“Just start doing it. Just grind. Just start getting your reps. Do a podcast, do a livestream, do whatever you can. Right now is a wonderful time for young people who are trying to get into the industry because you don’t need to actually be hired to do it. You don’t need to wait for a newspaper to give you a job, you can start a blog, you can just start tweeting, you can do a livestream where you don’t need a great technical production because the best thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to get your reps in.

“I was awful on the radio, tv and in writing when I first started. By no means am I great now, but I’m a lot better than when I first started because I got the reps in and the experience. And, I study people in the industry who are very good.

“Let me tell you something if you’re single and you don’t have children, you have no excuse. Once you have kids, you’re going to want to be a Dad or Mom and you’re going to have to find that balance and the time is not going to be there like it used to be where you could put in 16 hours a day 7 days a week, so get it done now.”

Before we parted ways, I asked Joe a personal question. Being a gambler myself, I had to ask him about his favorite NFL bets for Week 1. 

“If the number gets to +3 (currently +2.5), I like the Los Angeles Rams in that Sunday night game against the Dallas Cowboys. I’ll also take the Minnesota Vikings -2.5 at home against the Green Bay Packers. I am not a fan of Green Bay this year. Look at their record in one score games, look at their turnover differential. They are kind of a house of cards. Rogers’ numbers are way down, second worst completion percentage of the last 12 years and his second worst quarterback rating of the last 11 years. They drafted Jordan Love so there’s going to be that pressure on him. And, I love Minnesota’s acquisition of Ngakoue, so they are going to be bolstered on defense.”

In 2003 Fortenbaugh had aspirations of becoming an agent. Fast forward 17 years later and his life has turned out very different than he imagined at that time. 

Cole on Twitter: "Joe Fortenbaugh from Daily Wager gave out Florida-7 this  morning on Sportscenter… "

“My ultimate goal was happiness. I wanted to grow up and do something that I loved.”

After speaking with him and from the looks of things, it worked out just fine. I’d even say, it all came up aces.

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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BSM Writers

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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BSM Writers

Grading How the Networks Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion

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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