It all started during one summer at broadcasting camp. Indeed, that is where Mia O’Brien’s foray into sports media began, drawing inspiration from lead instructors and decorated New York sports broadcasters Ian Eagle and Bruce Beck early into her high school days.
While many aspiring media professionals attend seminars and participate in other modes of instruction before college, few get to learn in the number one media market in the country, let alone from two of its most prominent air talents. As a native of Freehold, New Jersey, O’Brien took advantage of every opportunity to familiarize herself with professional teams, most notably the New York Yankees, and find her own unique style to differentiate herself from her competition.
“I attended that camp every summer for the next three summers, building my way through the advanced and elite versions of the [program], and then I was a counselor for two summers at the camp,” said O’Brien. “….The camp has evolved over the years, but it was the most critical step for me into getting into the field and also having a blueprint of sorts of how I would attack this career.”
Energized by her innate will and determination, along with the experiences she had had in her first summer at the broadcasting camp, O’Brien began doing freelance media work as a high school student. Whether it was serving as a summer camp videographer, a broadcast and digital media intern with the New Jersey Jackals, or as a social media and communications intern for her local assemblywoman, O’Brien always remained open to any opportunities that would help her advance her career. From participating in the broadcasting camp, she also worked as a student reporter for MSG Networks on its MSG Varsity channel during her junior and senior years of high school, an anomaly in and of itself – no less in “The Big Apple.”
O’Brien began studying at Ithaca College in 2011 as a Park Scholar, and immediately began partaking in various extracurricular activities, including Ithaca College Television, WICB Radio and the Student Government Association. By her junior year, she was named the sideline reporter for the Ithaca College Bombers football team and hosted The Gridiron Report, a football magazine television show – doing it all as the only woman on-air at the entire school. One year later, she was voted as senior class president. During her free time, she volunteered as a coach at the Ithaca Youth Bureau and helped at a local school, all while maintaining a high grade-point average and freelancing as both a sports reporter for WENY-TV and college football columnist for AOL Sports.
While many of her college experiences were linked to media as a whole, some of them may not have had an obvious correlation to what was her career trajectory; however, all of her activities ultimately served as means to an end. An example of such – aside from her role in the media industry, O’Brien recently completed her first semester adjunct teaching at the University of North Florida within its leadership department.
“When you’re in college, when you’re early in your career, do everything,” said O’Brien. “You never know what random skill or random club you’re a part of then leads to a job down the line.”
Ithaca College is one of a handful of schools known for its communications program and success in placing graduates in favorable positions to land jobs thanks to its vast alumni network and state-of-the-art facilities. Yet one does not need to go to schools known for communications, according to O’Brien, so long as wherever they go not only has the necessary equipment and facilities – but also opportunities. At some larger and prominent communications schools, those can be especially tough to come by.
“You need to make sure at your school there are games you can call – whether that is live-streamed on the internet, radio broadcasts, TV, it doesn’t matter,” O’Brien emphasized. “[You need] the opportunity to get reps calling games or get reps reporting on games and turning packages.”
Upon her graduation from Ithaca College, O’Brien relocated to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to take her first full-time television job as a multimedia journalist and sports anchor at KGAN/KFXA, the locale’s CBS and FOX affiliates, respectively. While it may seem like a smaller market from the outside, Cedar Rapids is within driving distance of several sports hubs, including Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee, and has several NCAA Division I programs including the University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University.
“To get to cover three major D-1 programs at 22 years old in the heart of Big 10 country is a rare, rare opportunity,” said O’Brien. “It’s obviously changed a little bit now with the evolving nature of local news. At the time, it was not easy to jump right there.”
O’Brien made a sacrifice going from Ithaca to Cedar Rapids in an effort to galvanize her career, and was the only woman reporting on sports in the state for quite some time. Even though it is not a major market in terms of size, the daily grind was enough to allow her to garner and refine the skills necessary to continue to move upwards in sports media. She would not have had it any other way though, and remains grateful for what it taught her to this day working in a different region of the country.
“I firmly believe if anyone wants to get into the media business, you have to know how to tell stories and you have to know how to work the gear,” said O’Brien. “You learn how to do that in local news. They throw you into the deep end nine times out of 10, and I was definitely prepared for my next step in my career and beyond.”
O’Brien’s reputation as an on-air talent from her early days in the industry was as someone who possessed great creativity, candor and congeniality; however, the first of those three “C’s” was suppressed during her time in Cedar Rapids. Upper management’s philosophy of local news and its purpose did not align with O’Brien’s long-term goals; therefore, she left Iowa after three years and moved to Jacksonville to take a job with First Coast News. Then, everything changed.
“It was [because of] the ownership group at First Coast News that I was truly able to embrace the creative person that I was at Ithaca [and] that I wanted to be in the field,” O’Brien stated. “….I can’t thank them enough for that opportunity to really tap back into that side of my brain and also giving me the opportunity to really attack any and every project I wanted to…. Whatever it was, they said ‘Here’s the trampoline – go jump on it.’”
For over two-and-a-half years on local news television in Jacksonville, O’Brien reported on the Jacksonville Jaguars and Florida Gators, along with other local high school and college sports teams.
She decided to make the move to work in radio on a full-time basis this past March. While the move may have seemed confusing to those on the outside, following a similar path to other women in the industry, including Vanessa Richardson of ESPN 97.5 Houston, made it less daunting for O’Brien.
After working as a co-host for the all-women sports show Helmets & Heels on 1010 XL/92.5 FM Jax Sports Radio for just over six months, O’Brien accepted her first Monday-to-Friday job at the station. In her new role, O’Brien has teamed up with Joe Cowart, Leon Searcy and Matt Hayes on XL Primetime, a midday trio that had fostered a working chemistry to create an entertaining and informative radio program. The co-hosts, along with show producer J.J. LaSelva, were welcoming and offered their assistance to O’Brien to help her assimilate into the show, and it was assistance that she certainly valued. Yet she knew through her previous experiences in media that chemistry is not fostered instantaneously and cannot usually be expedited. Thus, she studied the rhythm of the show and eventually found points where she could contribute.
“Getting used to the workflow; getting used to ‘Okay, this is where I step in [and] this is where I step out and I let everybody else talk.’ I knew it wasn’t going to be an overnight fix,” said O’Brien. “It’s still not completely 100% perfect and it never will be, but it definitely took a little bit of time.”
In terms of professional sports, Jacksonville, Fla. revolves around its NFL team, and the city also has franchises in the East Coast Hockey League and Indoor Arena League. Additionally, it is home to the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, the Triple-A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins, and the PGA Tour’s PLAYERS Championship often takes place just outside of the city. Being able to talk about the local teams, along with national sports news, has been a welcome change for O’Brien, who had grown accustomed to stringent time limits on her reporting in local news.
“We can talk NBA; we can talk other sports on radio because we have three hours a day to fill,” O’Brien said. “That’s been really fun because in local television, we don’t necessarily have that because… you’re only getting a minute-thirty for a story [and] three minutes for your sportscast so you’re really hyper local-focused. In radio, we can talk about whatever we’re feeling; whatever the news of the day is, and that has been really exciting because I do have a lot of interests.”
Even so, much of the listening audience in Jacksonville craves content related to the Jaguars, whether it be during the season or the offseason. O’Brien does more than just co-host the station’s midday sports radio show, but also manages its multimedia content, meaning she must have even more of an awareness of what resonates with the audience and the alacrity to deliver it to them.
“You have to pick and choose how you are strategic in what you put out there in terms of the content,” said O’Brien. “It’s been a learning process; it has been a learning curve… but it’s exciting and the hope is obviously down the line we’ll have an even better idea of what our audience wants.”
One of the ways in which 1010 XL/92.5 FM Jax Sports Radio has penetrated into the digital age of radio is by making sure all of its shows are supported with video, to ensure fans have multiple means of consumption and engagement. The 1980 hit single Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles has been proven wrong, according to O’Brien, for video is now enhancing the brand of the radio star and the content and ratings of their radio station.
“By streaming, not only do you tap into more potential consumers, but for us on the digital/multimedia side, it’s so much easier for me to press inpoint, outpoint [and] crop that clip if there’s a great moment from a show and then stick it on Instagram… TikTok… or Twitter,” said O’Brien. “It promotes our posts [and] gives the consumers an idea of who [the hosts] are and what they look like.”
One of O’Brien’s ongoing projects is working on the documentary series The Book of Bo, a look into the career of former Jacksonville Jaguars’ tackle Tony Boselli. The series will be released in various chapters, and will be made available in video form on Facebook and YouTube for fans to watch. Additionally, O’Brien has been appearing across station programming to play clips from each upcoming episode to create buzz and promote the series as a whole.
“I think it’s really cool that the station has supported initiatives like that, and moreover my general manager Steve Griffin has been amazing in terms of whatever I need, they go get for me,” said O’Brien. “They are ready to tap into the future and step into what multimedia sports coverage is going to be 10-20 years down the line, and I don’t think a lot of terrestrial radio stations could say that.”
Terrestrial radio as a means of transmission and paradigm on which to base content is not being eliminated; rather, it is simply being modified to be part of a multi-platform approach to creation and subsequent dissemination. Through this modern approach, stations like 1010 XL/92.5 Jax Sports Radio are able to remain at the forefront of innovation and find new ways to expand their body of consumers.
“I think what’s really cool is that the terrestrial radio station is obviously the backbone to everything we do; that’s what gives us the ability to take risks like what we’re doing with this project and so many others,” O’Brien explained. “But at the same time, you can still utilize it; it’s not like it’s going away. We are keeping terrestrial radio – that’s not going anywhere – it’s how we generate so much of our content. We can use the multimedia channels to also generate content that we can then put on terrestrial radio as well.”
Throughout this story, a theme you may have noticed is how O’Brien was consistently one of, if not the only woman working in sports media from the time she attended broadcasting camp. Although she has occasionally worked with other women in the industry, including ESPN’s Emily Kaplan who just served as the network’s lead hockey reporter during the Stanley Cup Finals, she never saw her situation as unique. Rather, she accepted it as an aspect of the intrinsic meritocracy of sports media and was thankful for her other colleagues for viewing her as another member of the team.
As the conversation around diversity has been amplified though, it has shifted her perspective and opened her eyes to the disparities that regrettably exist in sports media. O’Brien hopes to serve as an inspiration to girls looking to work in sports media, and is always willing to extend a helping hand to those who need it.
“That’s something I think I would have done anyway, but I think a lot of the conversations around women in sports and encouraging women to reach out to each other and to have this bond and commiserate about some of the nuances that go on in the industry – I think that has encouraged me not to just dismiss it as: ‘Well, I’m just one of the guys.’”
O’Brien is currently the only woman on the Jaguars’ beat on a day-to-day basis, continuing to prove women can work in all facets of the industry. There are obvious implications of the imbalance ingrained within parts of the industry, yet by taking action, people – whether they are directly affected or not – can right these wrongs to foster an environment of inclusivity and equity. Nonetheless, O’Brien and other women working in sports say they are selective in terms of what complaints they choose to publicly voice.
“The more flexible and adaptable you can be and the more you can laugh and just move past and kind of pick and choose your battles, the better off you’re going to be,” O’Brien said, “and also knowing there’s other women out there going through similar situations.”
It is evident that O’Brien enjoys the spontaneous nature of her career, being able to work on multiple projects varying in size and scope to bring content to sports fans inside and outside of Jacksonville. Much like Samantha Ponder, the former host of College GameDay on ESPN, O’Brien values versatility in media, and likes being able to do multiple things such as sideline reporting, hosting and audiovisual post-production work. As long as she continues to find new ways to differentiate herself in today’s media landscape by utilizing and enhancing the repertoire of skills she has been cultivating since broadcasting camp, O’Brien will “Catch ya later,” on whatever platform you choose.
“I knew very early on that sitting at a desk wasn’t going to be my M.O., and it still isn’t,” said O’Brien. “I also enjoy changing it up – whether that’s working on a video project one day; working on a podcast project the next day; meeting with clients a third day. I feel very lucky that this is a very big step forward towards that ultimate career goal of being a Swiss-army knife. Not that I wasn’t before, but I especially am now.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, Derek serves as a production manager, broadcaster, voiceover artist, technical director, audiovisual editor, and media engineer for Hofstra University’s WRHU. He has also worked on New York Islanders radio broadcasts. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @DerekFutterman.
Jason Barrett Podcast – Dave LaGreca
How did Dave LaGreca convince the bosses at SiriusXM to let him talk about wrestling as a full-time job? He didn’t. He tells Jason why wrestling fans are the kind of loyal audience every show and network want.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Evan Roberts, Self-Professed Sports Maniac, Thrives at WFAN
From an early age, Roberts knew that radio was the medium through which he wanted to express his fandom, especially WFAN.
Evan Roberts made his first appearance on WFAN at just 10 years old, filling in for NBA play-by-play announcer Mike Breen delivering sports updates on Imus in the Morning. The opportunity came after he sent a letter on a whim to the station asking for a job since he enjoyed listening to the station with his father. Desiring to become a radio host was the result of dynamic career aspirations that transitioned from wanting to work as an architect to trying to become the play-by-play announcer for his favorite baseball team, the New York Mets.
“Listening to Mike and Chris, and Benigno in the overnights and Somers – I was like ‘That’s what I want to do’,” Roberts recalled. “….It couldn’t be any more specific when I’m listening to the Fan saying ‘I want to be on the Fan.’ About a decade and a half later, I was able to get it done and I’ve been there ever since.”
From an early age, Roberts knew that radio was the medium through which he wanted to express his fandom, especially WFAN. As a native New Yorker, Roberts connected with the teams in the area and sought the chance to talk about them for a living on a sports radio station with a storied history in the area.
Since 1989, WFAN has been one of the pillars of New York sports coverage and a place that helped pioneer the sports talk radio format. Getting there, though, required that Roberts had deft knowledge of sports, an ability to connect with fans, and experience that ensured he was ready for an opportunity in the number one media market in the world.
While attending school, Roberts was hosting a radio show called Kidsports on WGBB, a radio station based in Freeport, N.Y. serving Nassau County on Long Island. He then moved to Radio AAHS to host What’s Up With Evan Roberts and Nets Slammin’ Planet, the latter with famed high school basketball player Albert King and NBA insider Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson. Aside from being able to refine his hosting skills, Roberts made valuable connections in these roles including one that would help him land his first job out of high school: Danny Turner.
Before he was named the senior vice president of programming operations at XM Satellite Radio in Washington, D.C., Turner served as the engineer for Roberts’ shows on Radio AAHS. He helped to coordinate the technology associated with broadcasting since the shows were done remotely rather than from out of a studio.
“[He] ended up working at XM Radio and heard one of my tapes as it went on and said ‘I remember him. I like him,’ and then sent it to the right person and they ultimately hired me,” said Roberts. “It was my first real, real job working out of high school, and that was about meeting someone earlier on and remembering who that person was and sending as many tapes as I could.”
As a graduate of Lawrence High School, Roberts quickly made the move from Cedarhurst, N.Y. to Washington, D.C. to begin working at XM Satellite Radio, a place he would stay for the next two years. Then, he made the move down I-295 from D.C. to Baltimore, Md. where he worked at 105.7 The Fan WJFK-AM and had to adjust his sports consumption to align with the interests of those listeners. It taught him the importance of research and preparation, important aspects of working in sports media that he still utilizes to this day.
“When I was in Baltimore, I had to be Baltimore,” said Roberts. “I had to understand what makes the Orioles fan tick; what makes the Ravens fan tick. I didn’t grow up as an Orioles fan or a Ravens fan. The Ravens had won the Super Bowl years earlier. I know nothing about winning Super Bowls; I’m a Jets fan.”
At 21 years old, Roberts made the move back to “The Big Apple” when he was hired by WFAN as an overnight host, a role he stayed in for the next two-and-a-half years. Simultaneously, Roberts was working on Maxim Radio doing a night show on the Sirius Satellite Radio channel. Balancing those two roles, while it may have seemed daunting, gave Roberts the chance to broadcast in his home market and talk about the teams he grew up rooting for; the aforementioned Mets and Jets, along with the then-New Jersey Nets and New York Islanders.
Then in 2007, Roberts got his big break when he was named the midday co-host with Joe Benigno on the program Benigno & Roberts in the Midday. Benigno, who got his start on WFAN as a regular caller, had grown a rapport with listeners since joining the station in 1995, making the task for Roberts, a 23-year-old at the time, more difficult in terms of fitting in. Roberts is grateful that Benigno, a host he grew up listening to on WFAN, was accommodating and amicable towards him – plus it helped that they aligned in their rooting interests as Mets and Jets fans.
“He was very welcoming, and he didn’t have to be because I was a lot younger; he had no idea who the hell I was,” said Roberts. “….Right out of the gate, I think he saw my passion [and] my knowledge; he saw a little bit of himself in me, and we were able to bond right away.”
To make a name for himself in the new midday time slot, Roberts stuck to the principles that had been given to him from his early days of radio; that is, to be himself. From the start of his foray into sports media, Roberts and most people around him knew that he was, in his own words, “a sports maniac”, and he needed to maintain that genuine identity on the air. His relatability and passion for the teams as a fan made him an ideal fit for the station synonymous with New York City bearing those iconic call letters and an unbeatable afternoon duo.
“I think as time [went] on and Joe and I developed even more and more chemistry, the audience knew who we were,” said Roberts. “They certainly knew who he was, but they learned ‘Evan’s a die-hard Mets fan. He doesn’t miss a game.’”
While it was important for Roberts to emulate his fandom for the teams he roots for, he quickly developed a cognizance for trying to talk about other teams impartially while on the air. It is a challenge, to a degree, to maintain objectivity daily with intrinsic fandom for certain teams, but being able to understand how other fan bases feel after monumental victories or crushing defeats renders the art of appealing to the listening audience easier. It also upholds WFAN’s commitment to serve as an outlet for all New York sports fans rather than just certain cohorts of them.
“We’re trying to appeal to everybody,” said Roberts. “We want everybody listening. Not just Yankees fans; not just Mets fans; not just die-hard sports fans; not just casual fans. How do you keep every single person wanting to listen to the radio?”
When Roberts first joined the station in 2004, most New York sports teams were rebuilding aside from the Yankees. Today, the preponderance of professional teams in the New York Metropolitan area are contending or at least have the chance to appear in their league’s playoffs, something that is exciting for fans like Roberts but presents a challenge in doing effective sports radio that accurately depicts the emotions of listeners.
“I think what’s going to be a real challenge… is [when] the Mets are in the playoffs, the Yankees are in the playoffs, the Jets look competent, and the Giants look competent, and it’s a Monday,” Roberts expressed. “You’ve got four monstrous fan bases that care about their team. How the hell do you find a way to keep them all entertained?”
To express the true extent of his fandom for niche sectors of the audience, Roberts turns to another form of aural consumption: podcasts. There has been much discussion over the ability of traditional radio and podcasts to coexist in this digital age of media; however, Roberts believes that the two mediums provide a unique combination that was previously nonexistent.
In his opinion, podcasts are a method to delve deeper into topics or teams that do not garner as much time on the radio, specifically those that do not generate as large of a market share or which are not as representative of the interests of the majority of listeners.
“I do a Mets podcast specifically – I called it Rico Brogna because I loved Rico Brogna as a kid and I figured ‘Why the hell not?’”, Roberts said. “…I do an hour breaking down the Mets in a hard-core way that I’m not going to do on WFAN for an hour. I may do it for a couple of minutes. I think those two things work perfectly side-by-side.”
Still, most listeners, according to Roberts, will likely turn to terrestrial radio to get their sports fix, especially if they do not express allegiance to solely one team.
“The majority of people are still going to turn on WFAN and say ‘Okay, entertain me. I don’t know what I want to hear. You just entertain me’,” said Roberts. “I think those two forms of entertainment can work side-by-side. That’s why we do it.”
When Mike Francesa signed off WFAN in December 2017, the station had to make changes in the afternoon drive-time slot which it did with the debut of Carlin, Maggie & Bart. The show was eventually disbanded though when Francesa ended his retirement just over four months later, returning to afternoons. His return to WFAN did not last long though, departing the station again in December 2019. Again, WFAN had to make a change in afternoons, this time moving Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts to do a 2 to 6:30 p.m. show renamed Joe & Evan.
For Roberts, the opportunity to host in the afternoon slot that he had grown up listening to Mike Francesa and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo make famous with their program Mike and the Mad Dog was an opportunity he did not hesitate to accept. Yet the change in time also required a change in approach regarding topic selection; after all, since the show would be starting later in the day, it was more important to preview the forthcoming action than recap that of the previous day.
“Even though you’re doing the same thing because you’re the same person, you’ve got to realize the audience is thinking about things a little bit differently; they’re not always analyzing what happened last night,” said Roberts. “I always find that interesting [trying to] balance the two [and] it’s almost like a game.”
When Benigno retired from the station in November 2020, Craig Carton made his return to the New York City airwaves pairing with Roberts to form the new afternoon duo Carton & Roberts. Carton had previously been with the station hosting mornings with Boomer Esiason on Boomer and Carton from 2007 until his arrest in 2017. He served time in prison for fraud-related charges, and ultimately sought and received help for addiction related to gambling.
Since his return to WFAN, Carton has been vocal about his struggle to overcome addiction and the lessons learned from his time serving in prison, hosting a special weekend program titled Hello, My Name Is Craig to discuss these issues in-depth. On Carton and Roberts, the duo has experienced immense success, recently topping ESPN New York 98.7 FM’s The Michael Kay Show in the spring ratings book. From the onset of Carton and Roberts working together though, there was some trepidation as to whether their personalities would blend well together on sports talk radio.
“I remember the first time I was told ‘Hey, there’s a possibility of you and Craig together.’ I was like ‘What?,’” Roberts said. “My first reaction was ‘Really?’”
Now nearly two years in, Roberts enjoys working alongside Carton and learning more about his perspectives and thoughts on the radio industry. Following advice he was given from both Russo and Esiason on working with Carton, Roberts has let him take the lead and discover how the show can effectively inform and entertain its vast listening audience.
“Let’s take a step back; don’t have an ego,” Roberts recalls thinking when he started the new show. “Watch this magician figure out how this show is going to work and then lean into it. I think that’s what I did and it has worked, and I feel very comfortable, I know he feels very comfortable and we’ve got a successful thing going on now.”
Roberts views Carton as an informed talent in the radio industry, aware of the changing nature of the medium and the potential it has to serve its audience. Roberts indeed experienced success in his previous roles, most notably when working in middays with Benigno; however, he is always willing to try new things and form new approaches towards jaded industry practices and show formats.
“I know that I have a guy who I’m working with who knows the medium as well as anybody,” said Roberts. “If he has a vision on how this could work with his personality and my personality, I’m going to listen; I’m going to follow along.”
WFAN and SportsNet New York (SNY), the flagship network for the New York Mets and New York Jets, agreed last year to simulcast Carton and Roberts from 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays. While the move, which has been made with various other WFAN programs over the years including Mike and the Mad Dog and Boomer and Gio puts the radio program on a visual medium, Roberts’ approach to the show did not change.
The thought always was that he would be doing a radio show with the curtain pulled back, giving longtime listeners the chance to see the two co-hosts during their discussions and on-air interactions.
“They’re listening to the radio, and it’s cool sometimes when you get to peek in and say, ‘Oh, look at Craig’s expressions. Look at Evan’s expressions. Look at the way they’re looking at each other. Boy, they hate each other right now,’” Roberts said. “I think it’s people looking in on a radio show, and that’s what I always try to remind myself. It’s on TV – that’s great – but we’re a radio show first, and I think a lot of people kind of like to eavesdrop on that.”
One of the challenges of doing a radio show whether or not it is simulcast is in taking calls, and various hosts and producers have differing opinions when it comes to their value on the air. Still, while the hosts, producers, and caller themselves may enjoy their interactions, it is fundamental awareness is placed on the audience that does not call in and their enjoyment of listening to a caller.
“I think when you’re talking [to] somebody, you’re not just thinking about the conversation you’re having with them,” said Roberts. “You’re thinking about the 98% of the audience that doesn’t call in and if this is entertaining or not; if this is informative or not; what are they getting out of this?…. I love callers – it’s a big part of WFAN – but as I interact with them… I think the thought that I always try to have is ‘How is everyone else listening feeling about this discussion?’”
While Carton and Roberts continues to do well in afternoon drive among the demographic of men 25-54 years old, the way the ratings are interpreted by each person and entity in radio differs. Something the Nielsen ratings do not take into account is the number of people listening to the show on-demand as a podcast or watching its simulcast on SNY. During his time with Benigno, Roberts scrutinized the numbers, looking at copious and exiguous details, similar to how he consumes professional sports.
The difference is that while it may be good to have a complete understanding of show performance, getting caught in the minutiae of ratings and trying to improve in weaker areas can sometimes be, according to Roberts, a means without an end.
“I think I realized as time went on that’s going to give you a headache and it’s not going to really help anything,” said Roberts. “I think I learned a little more that you still look at numbers but maybe with a broader view of things; not as specific. I look at [them] a lot, but sometimes it’s tough. I don’t think you want to alter a show too much based on what you think is a pattern but may not necessarily be a pattern.”
This fall, both Carton and Roberts will be starting new roles in media while continuing to host their afternoon show. Carton is going to begin hosting a new national morning show on Fox Sports 1 with a co-host yet to be determined, a move that will place him primarily on television in mornings against WFAN and CBS Sports Radio’s simulcast of Boomer & Gio. Roberts will continue to stay on WFAN, adding a new Saturday program with his former co-host Joe Benigno beginning on September 10.
“It’s like getting back on a bicycle,” Roberts said of working with Benigno. “It’s always comfortable…. It’s going to be [like] our old show – just once a week on a Saturday.”
WFAN was the sound of Evan Roberts’ childhood, and a large reason he became as invested in professional sports as he considers himself to be today. Throughout his time at the station, he has worked with various hosts and recently welcomed new program director Spike Eskin to the station. He says the contrast between Eskin and previous program director Mark Chernoff is stark – yet they are similar in where it matters most: being able to effectively lead WFAN.
“I think they both very much understand radio, and that’s the most important thing,” said Roberts. “You’re the program director of WFAN; I think you have an idea of what good radio is… [They are] both very, very intelligent radio guys that I trust, but everything else about them is probably polar opposite.”
For aspiring professionals looking to pursue a career in sports media, Roberts advises them to take advantage of the innovations in media and communications especially when it comes to podcasts. With widespread evolution and progression in technology coupled with altering consumption habits and means thereof, putting in the time allows novices to hone their skills and position themselves well in sports media. That and always being willing to learn and study to be the most prepared and informed host as possible – especially when talking to listeners, many of whom have seen teams in their ebbs and flows.
“My wife knows that I’m going to watch every pitch of the Yankees and Mets game,” said Roberts. “I may do it on DVR, and I may do it at 2 in the morning because we need to have a life; I don’t want to get divorced, and I want my kids to love me, but she also knows that I want to be as informed as anybody on the radio and that’s not going to stop.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, Derek serves as a production manager, broadcaster, voiceover artist, technical director, audiovisual editor, and media engineer for Hofstra University’s WRHU. He has also worked on New York Islanders radio broadcasts. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @DerekFutterman.
Jake Paul, Betr Pair Micro-Betting With Media
There are plenty of hurdles, though, that still need to be overcome before this takes over the betting landscape.
I’ll be completely honest: I can’t get into TikTok. I’m closing in on 40 years spent on this planet, and it’s simply not my thing. It’s not meant to be, though. The current generation is one with shorter attention spans, the kind that wants a quick highlight of a sporting event so they can shift their focus to something else. When I tell folks a decade younger than me stories about how I–and others of my age group–would sit around and watch an entire SportsCenter, they look at me like I’m crazy. Not sure how they’d look at me if I told them we used to often watch the rerun an hour later, but that’s another discussion.
It’s a big reason why micro-betting is considered the “next big thing” in sports betting. Similar to in-game betting, micro betting goes a step further and focuses on individual events within a sporting event, such as the outcome of a drive, whether a baseball player will get a hit in his upcoming at-bat, or even something such as a coin toss at the Super Bowl. A perfect example of micro-betting is the rise in popularity of betting on whether or not a run will be scored in the first inning of a baseball game. For a generation that wants a quick resolution to their bets, it makes total sense. You place a bet, you find out how it did, and then you move on–whether that’s to another bit of action or something else entirely.
Something else I can’t get into is the whole hoopla surrounding the Paul brothers. Logan and Jake Paul have built an empire for themselves on the back of YouTube, with Jake Paul having more than 70 million followers on social media. For various reasons, I’m not a fan of either individual. Again, though, they aren’t coming after my demographic. Like them or hate them, you have to respect their grind –and you have to admire their business acumen — as they parlay their notoriety and success into sports entertainment by way of boxing and the WWE, as well as a new sports drink company that has already partnered with Premier League side Arsenal.
Monday’s announcement by Jake Paul of a new micro-betting site simply furthers the narrative and does so in a manner that can’t be ignored by those in the sports betting space. Betr, a joint venture between Paul, sports betting entrepreneur Joey Levy, and the sports betting company Simplebet, was announced yesterday morning. Backed by a $50 million investment from multiple venture capital firms, the new company is backed by ownership groups of franchises such as the Boston Celtics and San Francisco 49ers, and also has financial backing from current and former NFL players including Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, and Richard Sherman. Musician Travis Scott has also put his financial backing behind the product.
The other very interesting tidbit from the press release was the announcement of a media company that would feature, among other shows, “BS w/ Jake Paul”. Their new YouTube channel, which already has over two million subscribers despite not a single video being posted as of Monday afternoon, will feature sports-betting content from Paul and other content creators and will focus on micro betting. In an interview with Axios, Levy said that consumers can “expect 10+ videos a day from emerging content creators we’ve brought into the company,” but that things would begin with a focus on “premium content natives, starting with Jake’s show.”
Sports radio and television have long been focused on making their products more appealing to younger generations. Just take a look at ESPN, where they’ve long been doing “SportsCenter” episodes on Snapchat. This could be a game-changer, provided they can help drive micro-betting into a wider market.
There is plenty of potential in the space, a big reason Paul was able to acquire such high amounts of funding. Just last year, JP Morgan estimated that more than $7 billion per year would be wagered on micro bets by the year 2025. And earlier this year, the CEO of Oddisum stated in an interview that micro-betting would account for the majority of wagers placed on sporting events within the next three years. Even DraftKings CEO Jason Robins has talked about plans on how his company expects to embrace the trend.
There are plenty of hurdles, though, that still need to be overcome before this takes over the betting landscape. The biggest one is the delivery of data. As we move more towards a society that streams sporting events and other digital content, the delay between real life and what shows up on your mobile phone can be the difference between placing a wager or not. For some services (I’m looking at you, Peacock) there’s often a delay of more than 90 seconds, which means the play I want to bet on is still two or three plays away from being seen with my own eyes. That makes it difficult to place a bet with any sort of confidence.
The other major obstacle will be getting their gambling service legalized. In their press release, Betr stated they will start as a “free-to-play” app in all 50 states, and eventually they will add real money gambling services as they become licensed to operate within individual states. That’s not going to be so simple, though, as gambling addiction concerns continue to rise and multiple state legislatures are already having discussions regarding the matter.
As addictive as betting on sporting events can be, micro-betting is often exponentially more. A study last year from CQ University in Sydney, Australia indicated that micro bettors are more likely to be younger players and that they usually “have high trait impulsivity”. An author of the report also stated, “there’s a very strong link between micro betting and gambling problems”, and pointed out that the short amount of time between placing a bet and having it resolved leaves little time to evaluate performance or track one’s bankroll.
Whether or not those things are overcome in every state possible is a discussion for another day. The fact is, micro-betting is more likely than not to become a huge growth market for sports betting companies over the next two to three years, and Paul and Levy have become the first big players to jump into the media space. It’s not a question of if, but when, others will follow them into the realm of micro betting sports content, but their announcement on Monday raises the stakes. It also reminds those of us in business, especially sports media, that while we may not fully understand the allure of what the younger generation enjoys, we ignore it at our peril.
Jason Ence resides in Louisville, KY and is fully invested in the sports betting space. Additionally, he covers Premier League and Serie A soccer, college football, and college basketball for ESPN Louisville 680 including serving as the station’s University of Kentucky correspondent, and co-host of the UK football and basketball post-game shows. He can be found on Twitter @JasonUK17 and reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.