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Friday Four-Pack 8.18.23
Barstool/Penn follow-up. Felger talks Big Show. A big summer for MLB.
It probably speaks to where we are in the almost football season part of the sports calendar that Shannon Sharpe joining Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s First Take is the third headline Friday on SI.com
Not even joining the show full-time, but as a twice-weekly guest.
I need football. You need football. We need football.
But we’ll start by crediting baseball in today’s Four-Pack.
TODAY’S FRIDAY FOUR-PACK IS PRESENTED BY NYRA BETS
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What are you waiting for?!?
On a big summer for MLB…
Hopefully, the horse racing industry is paying attention.
We’ll save the heavy handicapping of the races from Saratoga for later today and this weekend, including a good edition of the Alabama Stakes on Saturday.
But the racing industry - and maybe sports in general - should really be trying to take some notes from Major League Baseball.
Long a punching bag for sports media types (like myself), the “dying” sport of baseball is having a resurgence in 2023. From Forbes.
Through August 14, attendance is up +9.2%. When removing 2020 and 2021 when there were capacity restrictions due to COVID, it’s the largest increase dating back to the last expansion when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays were added to the league (+11.4% increase from 1997 to 1998).
Based on projections, league attendance will come in at approximately 70.5 million, the highest it’s been since 2017.
Attendance and ratings up. Length of games down. Stolen bases up. Offense up. Nice little summer for MLB.
As far as attendance, it’s not all about the pitch clock and the rule changes. Teams are starting games earlier to try and make it more appealing for a family to go. And some teams altered ticket pricing. Smart.
But the overall upward trend for the sport? It’s the rule changes! Pitch clock, no shift, etc. The same rule changes the players fought against for years. The same rule changes the commissioner dragged his feet on for almost a decade.
Not everyone is going to be on board - Wade Boggs made headlines this summer when he said he doesn't watch baseball anymore.
You lost The Chicken Man.
The point is these “crazy” rule changes, like asking the pitcher to actually throw the ball rather than stand on the mound for thirty seconds, didn’t RUIN THE GAME…they made it better.
It probably took too long to implement, but you're seeing this summer in the ratings and attendance increases, that you can breathe life into your sport with the help of change.
I mentioned horse racing at the start because, like baseball, there are/were signs that there is a need for real change. And if the folks running the sport don’t see that, they might be in denial.
You have multiple reports from really smart people that show how computer-assisted wagering (CAW) is carrying your sport’s handle right now. And when you remove it, the reality is that the ‘real’ handle is actually way down.
Then this week Brent Sumja, a prominent tournament player and handicapper, announced he was done with the sport.
“It's been a culmination of years of just feeling like something is going on that makes me feel that I am not playing on a level field because of the computer players,” he said. “I don't understand technology, so I don't know how they are doing it. But I do know that when you see late odds changes and they are correct way too often in terms of them winning it seems not possible. It gives me a feeling that I am playing in a game that is stacked against me. You know the old adage, when you feel like you are the sucker at the table it's time to get up. I have read what Jerry Brown wrote in the Thoroughbred Daily News and have followed all the numbers Pat Cummings has been coming up with. It's made me realize I have no edge anymore. If I can't beat the computer players why should I play?”
Sumja said he had been wagering about $500,000 a year and worked with two other horseplayers, one betting $2 million a year, the other $1 million. Both partners have also quit wagering on racing. Sumja's wagering dollars are now devoted to sports betting.
“We're all out, but I don't think the tracks care,” he said.
Based on the numbers, he’s not the only one.
Whether you want to start the conversation by lowering takeout, creating new betting options for newer bettors, having racetracks work together to not cannibalize racing schedules, or further reducing the negative impact of the CAW players - you can start it anywhere. The point is, you need to start it soon.
Sports betting is only going to grow and take more players with it if there’s no action. And without the horse bettor, you don’t have the sport.
For four straight years pre-Covid, baseball saw its attendance numbers decline.
With some rule changes that actually improve the game, they’ve bounced back in a big way this summer. Racing can and should try and do the same.
On a few Barstool/Penn followups…
I wrote last week about the non-compete that Dave Portnoy had to agree to as part of the deal to buy back Barstool from Penn Gaming for $1.
Okay, so the *. There is some sort of non-compete that Dave agreed to when he made this deal with Penn. Some speculation that the non-complete prevents Barstool from doing ANY advertising deals with sportsbooks. That seems hard to believe. No one has any details, other than Penn gets 50% if Dave decided to sell at some point. But no reporting about the non-compete. If we find out Barstool can’t work with ANY sportsbooks in ANY fashion (basically can’t take their advertising money) maybe we’ll reevaluate.
RE: that non-compete. After doing some digging this week, I feel very confident in saying at some point during the upcoming football season, Barstool will once again be able to work with other sportsbooks. Which makes sense - Penn still wants you to bet on the Barstool Sportsbook app between now and when ESPN Bet launches sometime this fall.
As for them working with other sportsbooks, I’m sure they will. Barstool offers a rabid fanbase that is going to bet with their personalities no matter what platform they’re betting on. In fact, they WANT to bet with those personalities. That is super valuable.
Our buddy Ian, former producer of the Dennis and Callahan Show on WEEI, reached out with a good question - what happens to future bets you have on the Barstool app? The answer I got from Penn/Barstool - they’ll transfer right over to ESPN Bet. We’ll see how seamless the process is come the fall.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission said Thursday that Penn will not have to reapply for a license in MA when the switch over to ESPN Bets. They also said the Can’t Lose Parlay investigation remains ongoing. 🙄🙄🙄
On Mike Felger’s ‘Big Show’ take…
Mike Felger is the biggest ‘local’ sports radio host in the country.
I would have said Craig Carton a few months ago, but he’s off to sports TV land.
Felger’s show rates in the 20s on a consistent basis in the Nielsen radio ratings. In a major sports market. It’s simulcast on TV locally and on satellite. Felger and Mazz is a monster as far as local/regional sports radio goes.
So when Felger talks about sports radio in Boston, it’s worth listening.
Last week Felger weighed in on the old Glenn Ordway-hosted “Big Show,” as part of his own show’s “Off Air Show,” on this day hosted by fellow degen gambler and noted air fryer expert Joe Murray.
Joe asked Felger about his influences in radio. Then this poorly edited clip starts. Felger has a potty mouth here, FYI.
You can watch the whole video here from BostonRadioWatch on Twitter.
Many of the responses to the video on Twitter/X seemed to insinuate that ‘The Big Show,” which ended up being a model of sorts for sports radio across the country, died because it didn’t talk enough sports.
I could not disagree more. And hopefully, I can get the now-retired Ordway on his computer from Arizona and discuss that more in the next few weeks.
As a die-hard listener and eventual intern for The Big Show, those segments of ‘grab ass’ as Felger called them were some of the best moments on the show. Glenn created characters out of the co-hosts and it made for great radio.
I’d argue Felger has done the same with Mazz, Greg Bedard, Wiggy, etc.
The common bond between the shows is a sense of urgency. As a listener, the topic being discussed seems important, even if it’s the Red Sox bullpen or the Patriots coaching staff.
And making that stuff sound and feel important four hours at a time is a skill. Glenn had that and Felger does too.
You can do both - the sports and the grab ass - it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Well, I guess in Felger’s case it does.
The Big Show had its issues, but a lack of talking sports was not one of them.
On another Substack to recommend…
Last week we mentioned Chuck Simon’s great racing Stack, Going in Circles Digest.
If you found us here at MutStack because you’re interested in the sports betting space, then Steve Ruddock’s Straight to the Point is another to subscribe to today.
Steve was front and center for the Massachusetts legalization process and is now writing on sports betting issues four times a week.
He’s opinionated on this stuff, which I appreciate it. The “Around The Watercooler” section has good rumors and gossip. Interesting stuff in there every time I click on it. Go subscribe.
Happy Morgan Wallen at Fenway Park Week to those that celebrate.
Thanks for reading and sharing. Comments are open below and I try and respond to them all.