Creating and navigating a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet takes practice, especially when writing unique formulas and code. When understood and employed correctly though, the possibilities can seem as if they are innumerable, providing a benefit to the user. For Ariel Epstein, she and her friend created a spreadsheet to make accurate sports bets pertaining to strikeout propositions; that is, bets related to one aspect of the game rather than the complete outcome.
Together, they worked to list every pitcher across Major League Baseball, their game-by-game statistics and other information to a point where they were making accurate bets at a rate of over six in every 10. Through her expertise with strikeout props, she earned her distinct nickname: “Prop Queen.”
It also helped that Epstein was enamored with baseball from a young age, vividly remembering the moment former New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada grounded out to end Game 6 of the 2003 World Series to deliver a championship to the Florida Marlins. Although Epstein grew up as a recreational gymnast, she knew she would never be athletic enough to pursue it professionally and therefore yearned to find a way to stay involved with sports.
“My grandpa showed me the Yankees’ announcers, and I just thought it was the coolest job ever that they got to go to games and get paid to do it and talk about it,” Epstein said. “I always loved to talk [and] I love sports [so] it was just a match made in heaven.”
Epstein began playing fantasy baseball at the age of nine years old with friends and family members – and thanks to her passion and knowledge of the sport, she would often win the league handily and leave her competition in the dust. Once she aspired to work in sports media, Epstein looked to gain experience in any way possible – starting with a high school internship at The Journal News in her home of Rockland County, N.Y. From there, she kept following various professional sports and looked to begin her career at Syracuse University; however, she was initially rejected from the school and instead matriculated at Penn State University.
After two years largely working in radio and covering athletic events around campus, Epstein transferred to Syracuse University to gain more experience working in television and became a member of what she calls the “Newhouse Mafia.” Entering the school as a junior meant that she would have to work extra hard and accept opportunities to expand her skillset, a lesson bestowed on her by sportscaster and Syracuse University alumnus Ian Eagle.
“There was a point where they asked him to do boxing for the first time,” Epstein recalled Eagle telling the students. “He never knew boxing but he called Kenny Albert, I think he said, and he did a lot of research and he tried really hard to just learn it because he didn’t want to say ‘No’ to anything. That really stuck with me through all of my career to keep saying ‘Yes’ so you could get your face and your name out there.”
During her time at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Epstein was fortunate enough to meet people who pointed her in the right direction and helped her build a portfolio. As a member of WAER-FM, Z89 Radio and CitrusTV, she worked at an accelerated pace and earned an opportunity to cover the Final Four in Houston, Texas as a senior.
In the summer preceding her senior year though, she landed an internship with the New York Yankees’ video production department where she learned how to shoot, edit and produce video, making her more versatile while boosting her confidence.
“I got some of those jitters out by interviewing people like Derek Jeter and Álex Rodríguez,” Epstein said. “That kind of felt [like] if I was able to do that, I was able to do anything and interview anybody.”
Out of college, Epstein began writing with SB Nation in an entry level role in order to further establish herself in sports media. She continued to refine her craft and work with more aplomb as time went on, asking players and coaches questions before and after games and, by circumstance, learning how to navigate venues such as Madison Square Garden.
“The hardest part about graduating, to me, was feeling like I belonged,” Epstein said. “It was really hard for me as not only someone who [was then] only 21 years old, but I also look about 10 years younger than I really am. People always think I’m still in high school – but I graduated college. I really wanted to feel like I fit in and belonged so it really helped by doing every little job to get extra confidence in the professional world.”
A few months later, Epstein made the move from working in New York to New Bern, N.C. to join WCTI-TV as a weekend sports anchor and reporter, along with working as a sports radio host on 252 ESPN Radio. While covering sports on the ABC/FOX local television news affiliate, she sought to uncover local angles to national stories and bring a perspective one could not find on larger national networks.
“My boss Brian North – he told me at WCTI, ‘You’re not a national station. You are a local station,’” Epstein recalled. “‘People are tuning in to us to hear the local angle. Do not tie it in to what happened in the 49ers game despite it being potentially the biggest game.’”
Starting in a smaller market also allowed Epstein to continue to adapt and, if necessary, learn lessons through failure. One day during her first few months at the station, she was essentially her own crew in producing a high school football playoffs show – outside of seven photographers she delegated to shoot local games. Epstein was working as a cameraperson, producer, editor, writer and anchor for the program.
Additionally, she compiled highlights to play over the air and was often unaware of the accompanying game score. In balancing all of these responsibilities, her countenance was one of visible distress and completing the broadcast seemed like an insurmountable task.
“It was the biggest meltdown I’ve probably ever had,” Epstein expressed. “I had to compose myself on air and then when I got off camera, I just broke down crying because it really just was horrible…It really just taught me that if you mess up, you’ve got to just push through, learn from your mistakes and then move on.”
Although Epstein remained in local news for the next few years, she did not want to remain locked in a contract and decided to move on once her deal expired in 2019. Unemployed, she returned home to New York where she was freelancing for various entities, including for the Rockland Boulders (Minor League Baseball team), SNY, and the U.S. Open Tennis tournament. One day she was scrolling through Twitter and noticed a company called SportsGrid appear on her feed – the start of her foray into sports betting..
The company was fairly new having recently transitioned from focusing on fantasy sports to sports betting and according to Epstein, had a website that looked like a place to go to buy something illegal. Nonetheless, she knew the company was legitimate because of a friend who knew one of its employees and recognized the growing impact of sports betting after reading the moneyline off of a graphic in an audition for a role at CBS Sports HQ.
The U.S. Supreme Court had recently struck a decision overturning the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (2018), effectively giving the states regulatory power over sports betting. Because of this and the augmentation of related content, Epstein recognized that there may be an opportunity to work with the company, especially once she saw it only had men on their platform. Motivated to create an opportunity and enter the niche sector of the sports content marketplace, she messaged the CEO on LinkedIn expressing her interest to audition for a role.
“The fantasy market by then was oversaturated with talent; people were doing fantasy all over the neworks so there wasn’t really room for me to do that,” Epstein said. “I was doing fantasy my entire life…. [and] I knew that betting was going to kind of be like that and that’s why I jumped in.”
Once she joined SportsGrid, she worked as a betting analyst on Pro Football Today, a show that would air during the football season on MSG Network. Additionally, she hosted FanDuel’s Inside the Lines segment surrounding pregame coverage of New York Knicks basketball and would also provide sports betting updates on ESPN New York 98.7’s flagship afternoon program: The Michael Kay Show.
Essentially, SportsGrid was a content outlet for sportsbooks to promote their services and try to attract new users; in fact, she hosted a multiplatform three-hour weekday morning show called The Morning After in which she discussed the sports news of the day and tied it into betting.
“I think the biggest thing with betting [is] interaction; it was the biggest thing I learned when I was on social media [is] how much people interacted with the betting content and that was so much fun,” Epstein said. “….As opposed to just throwing out random questions, we prefaced it with odds and I think that helped people to understand what good or bad odds; short or long odds, etc. meant for anything.”
Starting out in the industry communicating to a niche audience, Epstein had to find a way to gain ethos and the trust of her audience. Therefore, she always delineates the logic behind certain picks she makes, providing an explanation for those who are trying to make an informed decision.
One time, she received a direct message from someone on Twitter thanking her for doing it, as it helped him comprehend a pick and ultimately resulted in his winning the bet. His pick, it should be noted, differed from what Epstein had proposed to her followers; even so, it was her cogent analysis that compelled the Twitter user to change one aspect of the prop that led to his win.
“People can’t give you crap if you give them information that backs up your pick,” she said. “I’ve always tried and prided myself on that [and] as a female, make sure everybody respects the pick I give out because it comes with great detail and analysis.”
When she was with SportsGrid, Epstein was once again working in multiple roles – albeit remotely as a result of the pandemic. These included researching betting information using overnight data, accumulating what she believed would be winning picks, recording the content and then editing it for distribution in a timely manner. While she worked long days, it was her persistence and passion for the craft that helped her become a reliable and trustworthy source of information.
Two years after she started at SportsGrid, Epstein began working with Yahoo! Sports where she was creating video content for its sportsbook. Now working with a company that had thrived in the fantasy space, she sought to foster a connection between it and sports betting as a means of cross-promotion.
For example, she would use her foresight to determine which players would do well in fantasy sports for the day, and then mention a related prop to bet on, such as betting the over on their total rebounds. Conversely, if she felt a player would not perform well or if a fantasy user was set to face that player, she would advise them to take the under on props such as total points.
“Those would be the kinds of correlations I would make across the Yahoo! platforms and I always just joke that [the] prop market is the gateway drug into betting because people are so familiar with fantasy [sports],” Epstein said. “I think it was great for having a platform that you could just take the average sports lover and bring them into a market that could also help entertain them while watching the game.”
In 2021 – the year in which she began her first year with Yahoo!, the sports betting market had a valuation of $76.75 billion with an annual compound growth rate of 10.2%, according to a market analysis report by Grand View Research.
Moreover, a survey conducted by Morning Consult found that there was an 80% increase in the number of people betting on sports, a figure likely accentuated thanks to the practice becoming legal in 11 additional states. It was also during this year when Epstein began contributing to Turner Sports’ coverage of the National Basketball Association on both TNT and NBA-TV.
The NBA’s current media rights deal began in the 2016-17 season and is set to expire following the completion of the 2024-25 campaign. Over that time, sports media has gone through immense changes in the way games are distributed and consumed, including technological innovations in streaming and direct-to-consumer platforms on which to watch games. Similarly, sports betting advertisements and related content have permeated through much of the broadcasts both regionally and nationally, leading to new revenue streams.
Even though the exact revenue increase is unknown, a 2018 estimate by the American Gaming Association expressed the league could bring in at least $600 million per year through the legalization of sports betting.
“They’ve just done a lot, whether it’s in-game promotions; whether it’s live betting opportunities [and] making sure there’s a million different player prop options a day,” Epstein said. “They are probably the league that is daily high in demand. [It is] a very intriguing market; I’m pretty sure it’s second or third to the NFL and college football.”
Epstein continues to reiterate to sports networks that the discussion around sports betting does not need to solely relate on what bets to make for a given matchup. Instead, she implores conversational discussion; that is, betting analysts fusing their esoteric knowledge with analysts focused on the sport itself to create compelling and engaging content.
For example, a betting show could analyze how Carlos Correa signing with the Minnesota Twins altered the San Francisco Giants’ and New York Mets’ chances at winning the World Series after those two teams reportedly had agreed to contracts with him but subsequently backed out because of concerns with his physical.
It is part of the reason why she joined MLB Network this past year to host Pregame Spread with Matt Vasgersian. The network had been on her radar from the time she was in Syracuse University when she met with some executives about a production assistant role she had no interest in just to make herself known. Then for the next five years, Epstein made it a point to keep in touch with these executives twice per year, allowing her to stand out if an on-air opportunity ever arose.
Ironically enough, Vasgersian (colloquially known as “Matty V”) was listening to Epstein on the way into work one day and realized that she would be a great fit to join the network to provide sports betting content. When Vasgersian approached network executives with the idea, he was unaware that they were already working on bringing Epstein aboard for the same purpose. Once the deal was closed over lunch with Vasgersian and the executives, they got to work creating the new studio show conceived by adaptations in the way sports were and continued to be consumed.
“When Matty V came to them with my name, they already knew who I was from my emails so I barely even had much of an audition process,” Epstein said. “They kind of already knew that I was going to be Matty’s co-host for the show.”
Although her primary role with the network is on Pregame Spread, she has also contributed across its programming as a senior betting analyst and hopes to be able to innovate in terms of betting and live game coverage. She affirms that even though sports betting will likely remain a secondary conduit of information, it can grow akin to alternate broadcasts to appeal to a different category of fans.
“A majority of the numbers are still going to come in on the main broadcast,” Epstein said. “I think the next step is getting a betting analyst into the broadcast booth. It’s something I’ve definitely talked about with people[;] …getting us out of the pre/postgame show and into the broadcast booth to give the live betting analysis.”
Today, many sports books are creating their own content without the use of external entities, fundamentally shifting the media ecosystem. As a result, PointsBet sportsbook reached out to Epstein to see if she would be interested in joining their team and appearing on programming taking place from brand new studios in downtown Manhattan. In essence, the sportsbook was looking to revamp the way in which they were doing things across the board, organically building new sources of content. She recently began working with them and has enjoyed her experience thus far.
“It’s just been such a pleasure [over] the last couple of weeks to really be part of something that’s growing and also knowing that everybody who’s in the building is coming from very established backgrounds,” she said. “[It] is a great core of people [who] are putting together really high-quality content – and everybody’s educated on what they’re talking about and [are] super entertaining.”
In her new role, Epstein appears on both The Straight Line football show with Ryan Leaf and Count It, a basketball show hosted by Kazeem Famuyide. Furthermore, she is creating content for the sportsbook on social media and its newsletter. With many states moving to legalize sports betting, Epstein and her colleagues at PointsBet are focusing on the regionalization of the practice, looking to reach consumers across the country. The sportsbook has a partnership with NBC through which it provides odds and advertising for local affiliates, along with on the Peacock streaming service.
“I think it really helps to give people the names that they know in the states that they live in,” Epstein said. “If you make it relatable to what people know best, then they’ll say, ‘Oh okay, that kind of makes sense,’ and they’ll jump in with you or they’ll go focus in on that game or they’ll watch that bet-stream because it’s their team.”
Providing specialized sports content through the lens of betting has also become a focus of various radio stations as of late. Audacy and the BetQL Network, for example, have launched various radio stations in the “wagertainment” format including in New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C. Similarly, sports betting network VSiN has content partnerships with iHeartMedia and Gow Media’s SportsMap Radio among others to broaden the reach of sports betting as a whole, as recently outlined by Barrett Sports Media’s Demetri Ravanos.
“I think it’s important to have these places where you can go to get your betting information because I don’t want to turn on a random network and hope that I get a betting show,” Epstein said. “I could be on my drive home; I could just be sitting at home – I want a place that I can go to see and hear what people are betting on and know when I turn on that station, that’s what I’m getting.”
The implementation of sports betting into sports media is an ongoing process with changes happening at a rapid pace. The multi-tiered approach to reaching consumers and transforming it into concurring and recurring engagement is what continues to be improved on – while also ensuring users bet responsibly.
Epstein looks to be a part of that, whether that be talking about the game at hand or sharing and explaining her latest prop, her preferred mode of betting over same-game parlays. After all, she is the “Prop Queen” and her work and expertise has helped sports media usher in a new part of coverage that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
“I would say my goal in this business is to continue to help show that sports betting is fun, but teaching people how to do it in a smart way and that it continues to be fun because you don’t go bankrupt,” she said. “I’ve always just loved the game. I love sports betting because I get to focus on the game.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs
Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?
Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.
Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.
The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.
Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.
Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.
So how did NBC get here?
Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.
Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.
Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.
But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.
As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.
Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.
NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.
Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.
But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?
Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)
The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.
Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice
“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”
I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.
Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.
On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.
All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.
It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.
Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.
How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.
On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night.
Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night.
To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.
Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.
Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore
“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”
One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.
The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.
Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.
But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.
I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.
Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.
How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.
Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.
This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.
Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.
On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.
At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.
Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.
Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?
I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.