SBJ/Sept. 28-Oct. 4, 2015/Media

Musburger has no plans to stop casual references to gambling

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One of biggest sports media trends this year has been the increased attention TV networks are giving to gambling, from the glut of daily fantasy ads to the amount of attention on-air talent gives to point spreads and over-under lines.

But ESPN/SEC Network’s Brent Musburger, the first broadcaster who comes to mind with regard to gambling talk on television, says his gambling references will not become more overt when a team scores a seemingly meaningless touchdown at the end of the game to cover a point spread. Instead, Musburger will continue to make veiled references to such scores, saying something like “it is important to some” or referencing his “friends in the desert” (i.e., Las Vegas).

“I like to refer to ‘high-scoring games’ or ‘low-scoring games,’” Musberger said. “Those who know, know. Those who don’t, it’s fine.

“I am very aware about what’s going on,” he continued. “I know when spreads or over-unders are covered. That’s not the main point of emphasis in covering a ballgame. I’m aware that a lot of people are interested in it and partake in it. Nobody has ever said anything to me. Executives understand the appeal.”

Musburger applauded ESPN and others for being more forthright in addressing gambling during studio shows, such as Scott Van Pelt’s new show and “College GameDay.” He said studio shows offer more time to address gambling issues smartly and thoroughly than live games.

“I would be a little uneasy at the college level if they make too big a deal of it during the games,” Musburger said. “The studios are fair game. That’s where they should discuss it and go for it. If any announcer wants to make a casual reference, that’s fine. That is not the primary reason people come to the games. There’s still a lot of passion for the teams.”

“We have to get away from the idea that this is some dark thing that goes on where everybody’s trying to fix games.”
—Brent Musburger

Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Musburger has been the poster child of gambling talk on TV dating to the late 1970s, when he and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder had a weekly segment on their CBS NFL pregame show that focused on which team should be considered the favorite.

“[Former NFL Commissioner] Pete Rozelle is the one who basically signed off on using The Greek,” Musburger said. “The only thing he ever asked us was not to specifically say a six-point or a 10-point favorite, but to use the checkmarks that we developed so that people would understand which side The Greek might be leaning.”

Like others, Musburger has noticed that gambling is getting more attention on television this year, a development he believes comes a result of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s call last year to legalize it.

“That is the grown-up way to view gambling,” he said. “We have to get away from the idea that this is some dark thing that goes on where everybody’s trying to fix games.”

As for Musburger, he said he has no problem with announcers who bet on games, so long as they aren’t the games they are working. “If you want to have a wager on another game, that’s all well and good,” he said.

He dabbled with some daily fantasy baseball games with FanDuel earlier this year and was shut out.

“The fantasy thing amuses me from the standpoint that it was unexpected,” he said. “When the NFL fell in behind fantasy football, there was no such thing as daily fantasy. My guess is that there are certain owners in that league right now who are a little uneasy about the monster that may have been created here.”

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

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