Wagertainment – New York Sports Day
The legalization of sports team games in many states, including New York, was a game-changer, pardon the pun. States now have a new source of revenue while gamblers no longer have to flock to Nevada to place sports bets.
It has also been a major boon to TV channel coffers, especially regional sports networks. When you could only bet with illegal bookmakers, the only sports betting advertisements you saw were from seedy Vegas handicappers who promised “you’ll make 4 and 0 this weekend based on our inside information!” if you pay them. New York Post sports media columnist Phil Mushnick rightly called them “scamdicappers.”
It’s a different world as the big gaming companies now control the legalized sports betting market. Named actors like Ben Affleck, Halle Berry, Jamie Foxx, Patton Oswalt, and JB Smoove, as well as retired athletes like Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, and Allen Iverson, have appeared in ads for major gaming apps.
The increased interest in sports betting has led to more TV and radio shows aimed at those new to sports betting. Realizing that old, tacky game programming was unappealing, a new, lighter media format began to appear. Nick Kostos, whose show is heard on WFAN, calls this genre “Wagertainment.”
A good example of this is “The Betting Exchange” which airs Monday through Thursday at 5:30 p.m. on the MSG Network. His hosts are former New York Jets safety Erik Coleman (who has a surprising knowledge of the National Hockey League), handicapper Katie Mox and comedian Jeff Johnson.
I recently spoke on the phone with Jeff Johnson who grew up in Queens Village and graduated from Forest Hills High School. Johnson studied computer science at Hofstra University but fell in love with the arts after reading “Macbeth” in an English class at FHHS. He has always been a sports fan but told me that when it comes to gambling he prefers table card games in casinos. “Blackjack matches my math skills,” he said.
While the focus is on sports betting within your means (a point the hosts make clear on every show), Johnson’s job is to steer the conversation towards sports in general. A good example was when the hosts discussed whether Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards would score more than 25 points against the Knicks that night. They analyzed the defensive skills of each Knicks guard.
I joked with Johnson that my last sports bet was over 40 years ago on the Kentucky Derby in a Queens OTB. I added that I don’t want to download a betting site app on my phone. “It’s okay. You’re exactly the kind of viewer we’re trying to attract!” he said with a chuckle.
As I predicted in last week’s column, Mayor Eric Adams has moved to allow professional athletes and entertainers who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 to perform in New York City venues. While I agree with the spirit of the rule, it would have done next to nothing to protect anyone’s health. For starters, visiting players weren’t subject to it. Second, fans no longer have to wear face coverings.
The most notable recipient was Brooklyn Nets star shooter Kyrie Irving, who refused to be vaccinated for reasons that were never clear. Irving has repeatedly said he is not opposed to vaccines. That’s progress since he said he believed the world was flat. This may have been jokingly said to trolls. It wouldn’t surprise me, given Irving’s quirky personality, if he now gets the COVID-19 vaccine. Of course, given his penchant for missing games, he would then pretend to have a bad reaction to the vaccine that would keep him off the basketball court.
While Kyrie Irving is happy, city workers who were fired by Adams because they refused to be vaccinated, were furious that the mayor would allow wealthy unvaccinated athletes to earn their big paychecks.
Frankly, I have no sympathy for them. They were city employees, and the employer has the right to set rules in the workplace as long as they don’t discriminate based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Second, life isn’t fair. The rules for the rich and powerful are different from those for the masses. This will never change.
Forest Hills High School alum Ian Eagle threw a great line calling Friday night’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament game between the Purdue Boilermakers one of the greatest Cinderella stories of all. the times, the peacocks of Saint Peter. “The Peacocks keep strutting!” he said excitedly as they took a 50-49 lead in the second half. He also mentioned how March 25 has been dubbed National Peacock Day for reasons that have nothing to do with college basketball. I have a feeling that Ian’s employer, CBS, could not have been happy with all this talk glorifying peacocks, as it is the symbol of its rival on the broadcast network, NBC, as well as the name of its popular streaming service.
The MLB Network will debut its documentary on former Yankees great and current Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly this Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. It’s called, of course, “Donnie Baseball.”
Cable network Nickelodeon held its Upfront last Thursday. Upfronts are where TV stations reveal their upcoming programming to advertisers and the press. Tom Brady’s best friend in the NFL, tight end Rob Gronkowski, took the stage at the Palladium Theater to announce that he will be co-hosting with iCarly herself, Miranda Cosgrove, the Kids Choice Awards on April 9.
The tireless and popular Nate Burleson is working harder now than he did as an NFL wide receiver for 11 seasons. Burleson is an anchor five days a week on “CBS Mornings.” During football season, he spends Sundays on the panel of “The NFL Today” on CBS. He also hosts Nickelodeon’s weekly football show, “NFL Slimetime,” which had a strong first year and will return for its second season in September.
Nickelodeon will expand its sports portfolio this summer as several PGA stars will compete with kids in a golf-themed competition called “The Slime Cup.” If it’s Nickelodeon, then you know green slime is involved. Since golf is played on green grass, you knew this pairing was inevitable.
CBS debuts a new Thursday night series, “How We Roll,” based on the life of professional bowler Tommy Smallwood. After being laid off from his job at the Michigan assembly line, Smallwood decided to pursue his dream of joining the Professional Bowlers Association tour. Comedian Pete Holmes, who starred in HBO’s “Crashing,” which examined how far a stand-up comedian will go to get stage time at New York’s comedy clubs, stars as Tommy Smallwood.
SNY has launched an app that allows cable viewers to watch all of their programming, including live Mets games, on their phones and computers.
Speaking of SNY, Kim Jones recently aired on two of her studio shows, “Sports Nite” and “Baseball Night in New York.” Jones is a seasoned sportswriter who started out in the print world covering the NFL at the Newark Star-Ledger before moving into the electronic media world. She worked at the YES Network before moving to the NFL Network. For reasons I don’t understand (and I hope it’s not ageism), the NFL Network did not renew his contract. You can still hear her on WFAN where she does replacement work. Jones has great sources of sports information, so when she talks, it’s wise to pay attention.