The legalization of sports team gambling in many states, including New York, has been, pardon the pun, a game changer. States now have a new source for raising revenue while gamblers no longer must flock to Nevada to place sports bets.
It has also been a major boon for the coffers of television stations, particularly regional sports networks. When you could only bet with illegal bookmakers, the only sports gambling ads you saw were from seedy Vegas handicappers who promised “you’ll go 4 and 0 this weekend based on our inside information!” if you them a fee. New York Post sports media columnist Phil Mushnick rightfully called them “scamdicappers.”
It’s a different world as major gaming corporations now control the legalized sports gambling market. Name actors as Ben Affleck, Halle Berry, Jamie Foxx, Patton Oswalt, and JB Smoove, as well as retired athletes as Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, and Allen Iverson, have been appearing in ads for the major gambling apps.
The increased interest in sports gambling has led to more television and radio programming geared to those who are new to sports wagering. Realizing the old and tacky gambling programming was unappealing, a new breezier media format started popping up. 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 PM on the MSG Network. Its hosts are former New York Jets safety Erik Coleman (who has a surprising amount of knowledge about the National Hockey League), handicapper Katie Mox, and comedian Jeff Johnson.
I spoke on the phone recently 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 was always a sports fan but told me when it came to gambling, he preferred table card games at casinos. “Blackjack aligned with my math skills,” he said.
While the emphasis is on sports wagering within your means (a point the hosts make clear during every show), Johnson’s job is to steer the conversation to sports in general. A good example was when the hosts discussing whether Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards would score more than 25 points against the Knicks that night. They analyzed the defensive skills of every Knicks guard.
I joked with Johnson that my last sports bet was over 40 years ago on the Kentucky Derby at a Queens OTB. I added I have no desire to download a betting site app on my phone. “That’s all right. You are exactly the kind of viewer we are trying to attract!” he said with a chuckle.
As I predicted in last week’s column, Mayor Eric Adams decided to allow professional athletes and entertainers who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 to play in New York City venues. While I agree with the spirit of the rule, it would have done next to nothing in protecting anyone’s health. For starters, visiting players weren’t subject to it. Secondly, fans no longer must wear face coverings.
The most notable beneficiary was Brooklyn Nets star shooter, Kyrie Irving, who refused to get vaccinated for reasons which were never clear. Irving has said many times he is not opposed to vaccines. That is progress since he famously stated he believed the world was flat. That may have been said in jest to troll folks. 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 claim to have a bad reaction to the vaccine which would keep him off the basketball court.
While Kyrie Irving is happy, the municipal workers who were fired by Adams because they refused to get vaccinated, were furious the mayor is allowing unvaccinated wealthy athletes to earn their hefty paychecks.
Frankly, I have no sympathy for them. They were city workers, and the employer has a right to set workplace rules as long as they don’t discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Secondly, life isn’t fair. The rules for the wealthy and powerful are different than they are for the masses. That will never change.
Forest Hills High School alum Ian Eagle got off a great line when calling Friday night’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament game between the Purdue Boilermakers, and one of the greatest Cinderella stories of all-time, the Saint Peter’s Peacocks. “The Peacocks keep strutting their stuff!” he said excitedly when they took a 50-49 lead in the second half. He also mentioned how March 25 has been dubbed National Peacock Day for reasons which have nothing to do with college basketball. I have a feeling Ian’s employer, CBS, could not have been happy with all this talk glorifying peacocks, since it is the symbol of its broadcast network rival, 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 coming Sunday evening at 7:30. It is titled, of course, “Donnie Baseball.”
Cable network Nickelodeon held their Upfront last Thursday. The Upfronts are where television networks reveal their upcoming programming to advertisers and the press. Tom Brady’s best NFL friend, tight end Rob Gronkowski, came on stage at the Palladium Theater to announce he would be co-hosting with iCarly herself, Miranda Cosgrove, the Kids Choice Awards on April 9.
The indefatigable and popular Nate Burleson is working harder now than he did as an NFL receiver for 11 seasons. Burleson is an anchor five days a week on “CBS Mornings. During the 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 enjoyed a good first year and will be returning for its sophomore season this September.
Nickelodeon will be expanding its sports portfolio this summer as it will have several PGA stars take part with kids in a golf-themed competition titled “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 is launching a new Thursday night series, “How We Roll,” which is based on the life of professional bowler Tommy Smallwood. After being laid off from his Michigan assembly line job, Smallwood decided to go for his dream of joining the Professional Bowlers Association tour. Comedian Pete Holmes, who starred in HBO’s “Crashing,” which looked at the lengths a standup comic will go to get stage time in New York City comedy clubs, stars as Tommy Smallwood.
SNY has launched an app which allows cable viewers to watch all their programming, including live Mets games, on their phones and computers.
Speaking of SNY, Kim Jones has been getting airtime recently on two of its studio shows, “Sports Nite” and “Baseball Night in New York.” Jones is a veteran sports journalist who started in the print world covering the NFL at the Newark Star-Ledger before joining the electronic media world. She worked at the YES Network before moving onto the NFL Network. For reasons I do not understand (and I hope it’s not ageism), the NFL Network did not renew her contract. You can still hear her on WFAN where does fill-in work. Jones has great sports news sources so when she speaks, it’s wise to pay attention.