With expansion of legalized sports betting, shows on gambling are taking off
Alex Monaco is only 31, but that is old enough to remember a world in which the notion of a daily show on a major regional sports network built around his rapid-fire betting analysis would have seemed . . . well, odd.
But that was the world we lived in until May 14, 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to an expansion in legalized sports gambling, eventually leading in January to New York State allowing mobile bets.
Now, here we are, with media outlets making betting a regular part of their schedules to an extent that until recently would have been inconceivable.
"It’s pretty surreal," said Monaco, host of "The Bettor Half Hour" on MSG Networks.
Kevin Marotta, MSG’s senior vice president of marketing and content strategy, said that if several years ago you had asked people in the business how quickly betting content would proliferate, they might have guessed 10 years.
"But things did move," he said, "really, really quickly."
National outlets such as ESPN and Fox have gotten in on it, as have local channels on TV and radio. SNY had two gambling-related shows during football season and weaves the topic into its regular programming. WFAN has a gambling show that sometimes occupies the 6:30 to 7 p.m. time slot.
But MSG has leaped into the genre more aggressively than any other local outlet.
It has a one-hour bloc weekdays 5 to 6 p.m. with Monaco’s program followed by "The Betting Exchange," a discussion-centric show with Katie Mox, Jeff Johnson and former Jet Erik Coleman. Both shows are sponsored by DraftKings.
During football season, MSG also had a Sunday morning show called "Odds with Ends," featuring former Giants Mathias Kiwanuka and David Tyree.
The week before the Super Bowl, the network did a "Bet-A-Palooza" marathon that included simulcasts of two Knicks games on MSG+ centered around betting talk. (Three more such Knicks simulcasts are coming this month.)
Just last week, MSG premiered a talk show called "One Course with JB Smoove," that is sponsored by Caesars Sportsbook, in whose ubiquitous TV ads Smoove stars as Caesar. (The show itself is not gambling-centric.)
MSG rolled out its gambling lineup last autumn, ahead of New York’s long-awaited legalization of mobile betting, a milestone that when it arrived provided a jolt of added energy.
"It felt different once that happened, which I think was pretty wild to see," Marotta said.
The shows are built around young, user-friendly hosts and experts who are there more to entertain and educate than to reach hardened, experienced gamblers.
"It was really [MSG] feeling that there was an opportunity to give fans sports betting content that was relatable, down-to-earth, not too scary," Marotta said.
Monaco does not pretend to be the sort of gambling pro who spends hours analyzing games using advanced mathematical models and analytics, and he knows his viewership is not in that category, either.
"I’m more educating the common bettor, the new bettor," he said. "We’re in [grade] K-through-5, if you will, where the big guys are in upper division or AP high school-type classes."
Monaco grew up in San Diego, but his father, Bob, is from Commack and he has many New York-area people in his family dating back generations. So he comes by his manic pace naturally.
"I’m energized," he said. "I don’t know how I have it in me, but I’m a non-coffee drinker. It’s all-natural energy."
The tricky balancing act for media companies, just as it is for communities in general, is managing the spread of sports betting while being mindful of those for whom gambling is or will become a problem.
That is a fine line. But MSG and others try to thread it. Among other things, MSG’s hosts are open about their losing bets and maintain a sense of humor about the futility of it all.
"We think that’s where our content is leading people, that this is for fun," Marotta said. "If you follow along, follow along responsibly and for fun versus we’re giving you tips that are going to change your life. Because that’s not what we feel like we should be in the business of."
Sports betting already has had an impact on the bottom lines of media companies because of heavy advertising, but we still are in the early stages of its growth on the content side.
To use a betting term, Monaco called it "a lock" that programming centered on gambling will continue to expand along with legalized sports betting itself.
"I’m blown away at how fast it’s come," said Monaco, who before moving to New York used to host a show about betting in a more traditional venue — the Las Vegas Strip. "You’re seeing it in traditional sports broadcasting a little more, and I think that’s going to be more and more prevalent as the years go by."
“I’m more educating the common bettor, the new bettor. We’re in (grade) K-through-5, if you will, where the big guys are in upper division or AP high school-type classes.”
— Alex Monaco