The proliferation of legalized sports wagering has been a hot topic the last few years with radio groups aligning with sportsbooks and betting apps such as DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM. These groups, along with local casinos and sportsbooks, are also filling up commercial inventory on stations, creating a robust new category for sellers.
Outside of the sales bullpen, legalized sports wagering has also made its way into daily programming at sports talk stations across the country.
While content does make its way onto Philadelphia’s sports talk leader, Audacy’s “SportsRadio 94.1” WIP-FM, does not carry any long-form, regularly scheduled sports betting programming. “That hasn't been the most effective way to integrate it,” Sports Format Captain and WIP-FM Brand Manager Spike Eskin tells Inside Radio. “The most effective way we’ve been able to talk about sports betting is in the everyday flow of how we talk about sports.”
Eskin, who is heading to New York as VP/Programming of WFAN-AM/FM and CBS Sports Radio in July, says some of the topics of discussion at WIP-FM may be, “What does the line mean for the expected outcome of the game? Are the future championship odds better for our team than we expected? Did someone get hit with a back door cover or a bad beat?”
WIP-FM does have a weekly picks segment on many of its individual shows, but Eskin says they existed prior to sports betting being legalized in Pennsylvania and neighboring New Jersey.
In Chicago, Good Karma Brands “ESPN 1000” WMVP “incorporates the gambling lines into several conversations with fans each day,” Market Manager Mike Thomas says. “Most of our hosts enjoy betting on games, so it’s a natural extension of their discussion.” The station also has a weekly show and a podcast dedicated to gambling.
Sports gambling is not yet legal in Ohio but that hasn’t stopped related content from appearing on the air at co-owned “ESPN Cleveland” WKNR. “I think with the proliferation of sports betting across the country we are certainly talking about it more on our shows,” Director of Content Matt Fishman explains. “The Really Big Show (9am-1pm) has its ‘Bang It Picks’ where they pick certain games for credits (not money) at a local casino. Like Chicago, “ESPN Cleveland” also has a show/podcast dedicated to the topic – “All Bets Are On” – “with the anticipation, and hope, that sports wagering is legalized in Ohio,” Fishman adds.
Integrate With Balance
Dan Mason, former CBS Radio President/CEO who served as Chairman of VSiN (Vegas Stats & Information Network) for nearly two years, believes sports gambling content “should be woven into the programming on an as needed basis… Integrate with balance.”
That’s the direction WIP-FM has taken. Eskin says “it’s been a slow but steady evolution, not dissimilar to what happened with fantasy football years ago… It's affecting our listeners’ lives as sports fans in a different way, so it affects how we talk about sports in a different way.”
Thomas agrees, saying that “it’s just part of the conversation now.” Talent at “ESPN 1000” keep it local too. “We will talk about the odds from a local partner and advertiser on ESPN 1000,” he continues. “It’s a way to grow our partnerships with the Chicagoland casinos and sports books. It sounds natural and it’s an extension of their advertising.”
And even if laying down a bet is not yet legal in your market, there are still ways to tie into the phenomenon. “We had a fun bit during March Madness where Aaron Goldhammer of ‘The Really Big Show’ drove to Pennsylvania during their show to place bets with the BetMGM App on the first-round games,” Fishman says. “It was fun on-air fodder and also showed the absurdity that Ohio does not have legalized sports betting, despite being surrounded by states with legalized sports wagering.”
Will the new awareness and conversations about sports wagering affect ratings? “I'd say it's possible,” Eskin says. “More than anything it’s another narrative device that can make sports more interesting to more people.”
Fishman believes once Ohio legalizes gambling, “ESPN Cleveland” will benefit. “Fans in Cleveland are already football crazy and so [legalized sports betting] will just add to it,” he says. “The key for the shows and hosts is to keep delivering interesting and compelling content and realizing that sports betting, odds and point spreads are another tool to help them connect with their fans.”
Thomas says the legalization of sports wagering “has made younger fans more engaged with the games and sports radio… To me, the more engaged fans are with the games, the more they are going to be engaged with their favorite sports radio station.”
Mason puts it bluntly. “Let's put it this way. If sports radio doesn't provide the information, the listener will go somewhere else to get it.”