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Once Crisis-Addled, NFL Thrives In New Riches And Buzz

Surviving racial upheaval, a concussion crisis and a pandemic, the league will rule American sport into the next decade, pivoting around issues to command a $100-billion-plus TV payout while generating a 365-day news cycle.

Jay Mariotti

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Wasn’t football supposed to be ghosted by now, a victim of cancel culture? Allow me to jog America’s convenient amnesia from, say, four years ago. If the concussion crisis and a continuous flurry of personal conduct cases wouldn’t kill the NFL, then the Colin Kaepernick backlash certainly would. That’s what the media were doomcasting then, mainstream and social alike.

Colin Kaepernick Has Been Nominated for the NFL Hall of Fame

Book it: A league lorded by old, white, tone-deaf billionaires had no chance of surviving the onslaught of the people.

So why is it, people, that the NFL in 2021 is more prominent, prosperous and almighty than ever? Deftly surviving those existential challenges AND a global pandemic that didn’t cancel a single game, the league is successfully doubling its media rights bonanza, commanding a collective $100 billion-plus from networks and streamers beholden to the owners like never before. Not only will the NFL remain king, it will stay atop the throne into the next decade, with 17-game regular seasons stretching to 18. And if it didn’t do so without selling out — Roger Goodell, meet the grimy casino world — the league has maintained cross-demographic relevance while Major League Baseball is battered by crippling crises and the NBA struggles amid internal upheaval.

You don’t have to like how the NFL avoided its so-called demise, politicizing and scheming all the way. I’m not a fan of the Jerry Jones grandstand and the Robert Kraft rub-and-tug, a crime he got away with, of course. But if we once looked at Goodell and thought he was the world’s biggest idiot, who’s saying that now? Ray Rice forced the league to look inward and crack down on off-field crime. Safety rules were installed to protect brains. Quarterbacks were surrounded by impenetrable force fields, or so it seemed, and maximized for optimum starpower and importance. Offenses exploded, giving rise to Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and magicians friendly to TV audiences, fantasy geeks and millions of thrill-seekers lapping up the league’s new embrace of legalized gambling.

And when the Kaepernick fallout could have led to labor ruin, Goodell finally expressed what he should have said years before, showing up in his home den — was he in pajamas with giraffes? — and declaring, “We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.”

Crisis averted, the NFL was restored as the epicenter of American sports, the last remaining form of premium appointment media in an evolving culture of cord-cutting, Gen-Z indifference and relentless life problems — COVID-19, racial protests, political madness, deadly Capitol Hill riots and who in God’s name knows what else. Sports doesn’t matter to the masses as it once did.

Football still matters.

Flip on the TV. Check out the websites. Tune to sports radio. What is the dominant topic in March, as America slowly tries to vaccinate itself out of a corona-nightmare? It isn’t college basketball, which might have brackets but lacks the usual passion and interest heading inside an Indiana bubble where only smatterings of fans will be permitted for a sport reliant on energy. The NBA? The All-Star Game was a COVID-distracted bore, and wake us up when the playoffs start and the Brooklyn Nets realize they can’t win a title without a defensive stop, regardless of unprecedented offensive machinery. Baseball, careening toward a devastating labor impasse, is appropriately drawing more attention for sexual harassment than anything happening on the fields of spring training. Are they even playing hockey?

Here’s what America is talking about: the NFL. Through the postseason and another Ageless Tom Brady coronation, the buzz somehow hasn’t stopped. Now it’s all about quarterback-o-rama, the mobility of nobility, non-stop debates on where Watson and Russell Wilson might be headed as they demand their way to preferred destinations. As I’ve written, this get-me-out-of-here-ism isn’t healthy for the league’s competitive integrity or balance, but it’s great for media traffic. Which explains why every legitimate development is met with an enormous headline: Ben Roethlisberger is staying in Pittsburgh … Matthew Stafford finally fled a loser in Detroit for a chance to win in Los Angeles … Carson Wentz, who could play Prince Harry in the movie if this football thing doesn’t work out, has a rehab shot in Indianapolis.

Sources: Philadelphia Eagles trade QB Carson Wentz to Indianapolis Colts  for two draft picks - 6abc Philadelphia

The drama is only beginning, sure to extend through an April 29 draft night that will include teams jumping the line with trade-ups. Don’t be shocked, after Trevor Lawrence joins Urban Meyer in Jacksonville and Zach Wilson’s life is ruined with the Jets, that the Panthers trade up to take Justin Fields and the Falcons select Trey Lance — yep, quarterbacks with the first four picks — with the 49ers potentially moving up to No. 9 to snag Mac Jones. But those calls are weeks away. As long as Wilson and Watson aren’t tethered to their current situations, the hum will grow louder.

If the Seahawks now are listening to Wilson offers, does that mean the four teams on his agent’s stated wish list — Cowboys, Bears, Saints, Raiders — now have legitimate shots? Shouldn’t Wilson push hard for New Orleans and do his best to avoid Boss Jerry, Jon Gruden and Chicago’s QB dead end? And what if the Saints don’t land Watson or Wilson? Is that why Drew Brees, supposedly being fitted for an NBC blazer, was working out furiously on a video posted by his trainer? If the Saints don’t want him anymore, might Bill Belichick take a one-year flyer? Or might he trade up for Jones, who’s being compared to Brady, though he’s more likely a byproduct of having DeVonta Smith in his daily radar at Alabama? Maybe Jerry tires of Dak Prescott’s contractual demands — the guy has more commercial endorsements than playoff appearances — and trades him for Derek Carr … or Wilson.

Might the Bears be best served, given their dismal history at the position, playing an entire season without a quarterback? Will anyone opt for a feel-good triumph in Alex Smith? And who wants Sam Darnold? Maybe the Washington Football Team, which could make something of the misfit after extracting a decent playoff showing from Taylor Heinicke. And will Lamar Jackson, still a postseason straggler, become the next star to enter the get-me-out-of-here derby if the Ravens don’t extend his contract to his wishes?

Know how crazy it’s getting? Baker Mayfield — entrenched in Cleveland, at least until his next four-turnover game — tweeted something about seeing “a UFO drop straight out of the sky” on his way home from dinner. Fox Sports Radio host Colin Cowherd, who still would bash Mayfield if he won a Super Bowl, said, “I would prefer of all the qualities of a franchise quarterback … I want to know your arm. Are you good pre-snap? Are you mobile? The ability to see UFOs in the offseason is nowhere near my top 10 qualifications. Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady have never seen aliens. I would prefer my guys don’t talk about it.”

You’ll never guess who stepped out of his Super Bowl hangover to respond. “How do you know I’ve never seen aliens Colin?” tweeted Brady.

With the Kardashians fading from mass TV consumption — may Kanye rest in peace — QB Chitter-Chatter is the new American gossip obsession. Whether it’s a scam created by agents or a natural outgrowth of the most glamorous position in team sports, the rage is just another reason why Fox, CBS and NBC have no choice but to ante up, soon to announce 11-year deals at roughly $2 billion each to renew current packages. And why ESPN, with the promise of a long-coveted spot in the Super Bowl rotation, will pay more than $2 billion for “Monday Night Football” after initially balking at the NFL’s demand of a fee increase. And why Jeff Bezos is an expected part of the mix, buying “Thursday Night Football” for his Amazon Prime Video platform and forcing Baby Boomers to figure out this streaming thing.

The post-pandemic media landscape will look like a war-torn battlefield, leaving uncertainty across the entertainment industry. Turns out the NFL was disruption-proof, its ratings holding reasonably steady when 2020 ratings were tumbling throughout sports, making football the surest investment bet for the networks. The league did lose $5 billion in 2020 revenue, yet still topped out near $10 billion, according to Forbes — while MLB was falling to $4 billion and the NBA, over two seasons, to $7.9 billion. With the new media jackpot, the NFL is the only major sports league without financial concerns, with the 32 teams assured of sharing added multiple billions per year.

Image result for all 32 nfl team logos | Nfl teams logos, Nfl logo,  Football logo

If anyone has a crystal ball about where the world will be in 2031, please show me. It’s possible a different collection of NFL bidders takes shape, from platforms we don’t know about yet. Jones and Kraft likely won’t be involved, and perhaps Bezos will have ascended to the ownership of the Washington Football Team. Maybe virus variants lead to another pandemic that forces sports into movable bubbles without spectators, designed by Elon Musk. My guess is your guess, much depending on whether the NFL retains the eyeballs of teenagers as they grow into disposable-income adulthood.

Until then, I just want to know where the doomcasters went.

Probably debating where Russell Wilson ends up, I suppose.

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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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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