Who would have thought that a Supreme Court decision would spur the growth of a new talk radio format? But that’s what appears to be happening since May 2018 when the Supreme Court ended the federal ban on sports betting.
Today, sports betting is legal in 11 U.S. states, according to BusinessInsider.com, while 24 more states have legalization legislation pending. In line with this trend, iHeartMedia station WDAS(AM) in Philadelphia relaunched as “Fox Sports Radio — The Gambler” in August 2019. The station now features a mix of sports talk and betting content. (Previously WDAS was “Breakthrough Radio,” in partnership with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia offering variety hits and health features.)
“The legalization of sports gambling is happening all over the country and the numbers are only increasing. Folks want to have fun, throw a couple dollars on a game and be entertained,” said Sean Brace, program director/afternoon host at The Gambler, and former host on local sports station 97.5 The Fanatic.
“Our goal at the Gambler is to give the right information — the stuff that is important to a gambler — all while be entertaining.”
The Gambler isn’t the first U.S. radio station to adopt the sports betting format. That honor goes to Longport Media’s WBSS(AM) in Atlantic City, which relaunched as “AM 1490, Sports Betting Radio” earlier in August. Unlike The Gambler, Sports Betting Radio is hardcore: It offers around-the-clock sports betting talk.
“We are very proud that our AM 1490 Sports Betting Radio is the nation’s very first terrestrial radio station devoted to sports betting 24 hours a day,” said Paul Kelly, Longport Media’s president/general manager.
“It’s exciting to see more stations beginning to follow suit with people realizing just how big sports betting is around the country, even in markets where it’s not legalized.” (Note: Sports betting is legal in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, ensuring that both stations are operating within the law.)
WHAT’S ON AIR?
Although The Gambler does offer sports betting information, its format is still anchored on the sports talk format. And given that the station is branded as “Fox Sports Radio” first, it does rely on that network’s talent.
“Right now, our content is a solid mix of national voices — Dan Patrick and Colin Cowherd from Fox Sports — and my show ‘Daily Ticket with Sean Brace,’ from 3 to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday,” said Brace, whose show mixes betting information with sports talk.
“RJ Bell’s ‘Straight Outta Vegas’ is on right after my show, so for four straight hours you get the latest line movement, odds and pertinent information at the perfect time. Most games go off at 7 p.m. on the East Coast, so we have you covered right up until kickoff.”
At AM 1490 Sports Betting Radio, it’s all betting talk; all the time.
“Our station partners with Gow Media’s new BetR Network that launched in August, and their programming is unmatched in terms of the knowledge and sports betting acumen of the hosts,” said Kelly. “I believe our product is better not only for sports bettors but for sports fans in general, because our hosts actually talk about the games and the players and what’s happening on the field, instead of the nonsense you hear on typical sports talk stations these days.”
When Sports Betting Radio launched, all of its content came from the BetR Network, with plans to expand its own content.
“We’re now beginning to add local programming as well so we can put more of a focus on the local teams and have more local listener interaction,” Kelly said earlier this fall. “It also allows us to get out and take the station to the people with live on-location broadcasts.”
REVENUE OVER RATINGS?
Jason Barrett is president of Barrett Sports Media, a sports radio consultancy in New York. “I think The Gambler chose a great lane to establish itself because WIP and The Fanatic are already well-established successful sports talk brands in this market,” said Barrett.
“However, they’re going to need more than a catchy name, one afternoon show and one national sports betting show if they want to own that identity. The path they’re taking won’t likely produce big ratings, but it should serve them well from a revenue standpoint.”
Barrett’s assessment was echoed by Don Kollins, president/CEO of DK Media, a radio consulting firm in San Francisco. “I like the idea of a sports format such as The Gambler: I see a real opportunity to stand out in the mix of others,” he said. “Of course, the station will need to be entertaining and engaging; giving the listeners the ‘goods,’ so to speak, and celebrating the wins. But all in all I salute the company for thinking out of the box.”
Jason Barrett is bullish about the sports betting radio format in general. In fact, a large number of groups are in a rush to own a strong position in the space because there’s a feeling of it being an area where brands will be able to reap the rewards financially through advertising, events and direct-to-consumer subscriptions, he said.
Meanwhile, although the sports betting radio format is new, betting information on radio is not.
“Currently, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, ESPN, VSiN, The Action Network, RADIO.com, Bleacher Report, The Ringer, SiriusXM and Barstool Sports offer content that focuses on sports gambling,” said Barrett. “It may be a niche space that won’t appeal to the entire audience, but those who do listen are people who potentially are more valuable because of their willingness to part ways with dollars.”
This last point is echoed by Longport Media’s Paul Kelly. “The sports betting format makes a lot of sense for pretty much any business looking to target men with disposable income,” he said. “You don’t need to be a sports betting business to advertise on this format any more than you need to be a music shop to advertise on top 40 radio.”
According to Kelly, roughly 70% of sports bettors are men, and the overwhelming majority of them are in the “money” 25−54 demographic.
“Sports bettors are also twice as likely to make more than $100,000 per year than the average person, so this is a very sellable demographic for radio,” he said. “According to the American Gaming Association, nearly 40% of adult Americans, about 100 million people, are either current or potential future sports bettors. That’s 40% of a market’s cume that’s potentially interested in this format.”
RESULTS TO DATE
These are early days for sports betting content on U.S. radio but early results appear promising.
At AM 1490 Sports Betting Radio, “so far, so good.” said Paul Kelly. “The product is entertaining and very informative at the same time and people seem to be genuinely enjoying it. We’ve been able to generate instant results for those advertisers in the sports betting industry since our format is so targeted to exactly the people they’re trying to reach.”
Over at the Fox Sports Radio — The Gambler, “It’s way too early to look at any data or numbers but the show is going really well,” said Sean Brace. “Our pregame show, ‘Live with Eagles Hall of Famer David Akers,’ was amazing. We are also live on remote at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City every Friday.” At the first remote, he said, “the energy inside the sportsbook/casino was off the charts.”
As for the future of the concept? “The sustainability is going to depend on the appetite in local markets towards gambling,” said Jason Barrett. This said, “Revenue is projected to increase in this category, and to not be active in it when radio is fighting for every last penny would be foolish.