Bit by bit and bet by bet, the negative connotation surrounding sports gambling is fading. And the significance of ESPN, some 40 years into its existence, launching a show all about what used to be the sports world’s dirty little secret was not lost on Daily Wager host Doug Kezirian.
“We’re really doing it here!” Kezirian exclaimed in closing the debut episode on Monday. “We really are doing a sports betting show at ESPN.”
ESPN isn’t the first to try a national show like this; Fox Sports claimed that title last fall with Lock It In. But it’s clear that ESPN is not trying to replicate Fox’s formula. If anything, ESPN is trying to replicate a formula that has worked for many years at ESPN. Through four episodes of Daily Wager, we’ve gotten a strong sense of what the show is, and Kezirian’s description to US Bets last week, “SportsCenter through the lens of sports betting,” encapsulates it well.
The stakes are lower on ESPNEWS, the specific network on which the show airs Monday-Friday, from 6-7 p.m. ET, allowing Daily Wager to work out its kinks without too bright a spotlight. But frankly, even though Kezirian said on this week’s Behind the Bets podcast that DW is “a work in progress,” it’s already rather polished and smooth and ready for prime time — if the ESPN audience is ready for it.
Identifying the target audience
The overriding question for which Daily Wager needs to figure out the answer is, “Who is this show for?”
Sports betting is only legal and regulated in eight states right now. That number could triple or quadruple within next few years, but as of now, there’s a limited fraction of the ESPNEWS audience that can take the information shared on DW and legally act on it.
Will the show appeal from an information perspective if you aren’t a bettor, or are those sports fans better off soaking in highlights on SportsCenter? Does it give enough betting information if you are a serious bettor, or is those viewers’ time better spent consulting with online number crunchers?
#DailyWager was fine, but the problem with any mainstream #sportsbetting show is how much value can it really provide unless there's a guy in the back running linear regression models? I'd rather see something weekly that focuses on education.
— Robert DellaFave (@RobertDellaFave) March 11, 2019
Gambling Twitter was all over Daily Wager as the first episode aired on Monday, a departure from the debut of Lock It In, which seemed to arrive without much social media reaction. That’s the power of the ESPN brand in action; when the “Worldwide Leader” gets involved, people pay attention.
But the sports betting super-nerd on Twitter isn’t necessarily the DW target audience. It seems this show is really for the casual gambler, the person who likes to have a little action on the games but has no aspirations of making a full-time living betting. It’s for the sports fan who finds betting fun to talk about but isn’t interested in staring at the Don Best screen all day.
It’s for the East Coaster who gets home from work around 6 p.m. and has access to online betting, wants to have the latest lineup news and pick up a few tips from insiders, and likes to place a few bets shortly before the evening’s games begin. That’s a very specific audience, mind you. But those are the people most likely to make Daily Wager a part of their daily routine.
There’s no doubt that some viewers will suffer from information overload watching DW. There are odds and stats listed on the left side of the screen (individual games) and across the bottom (futures), not to mention the usual ESPN “Bottom Line” flowing beneath it all. You can’t possibly absorb it all. But the graphics are helpful if there’s a particular game or sport you’re already zeroed in on betting.
The show is not dumbed down — it assumes its audience understands the basic betting terminology — but it’s also clearly making an effort not to go over anyone’s head.
Ultimately, the watchability of the program rests on Kezirian. He’s your buddy and the slick traffic cop at the same time. It’s a role that Stephen A. Smith could never tone himself down enough to play but that some SportsCenter anchors over the years might be too dry to pull off.
Kezirian could probably use a touch more shtick. One of the most enjoyable moments of the first week came on Thursday, when basketball analyst Sean Farnham made fun of Kezirian’s socks, illustrating that occasional goofiness is good for the show. But especially coming out of the gate in Week 1, Kezirian is wisely erring on the side of playing it straight. And as a point guard, with countless guests and graphics to set up and presumably a constant flow of voices in his earpiece, he’s been as smooth in distributing the ball as you could ask for.
- The show leans heavily on its expert guests. We counted 19 different faces joining Kezirian either in studio or via satellite in the first four episodes. The good news is, if there’s an expert you aren’t a fan of, you won’t suffer for very long. Every segment on DW is a quick hit, usually over within about two minutes.
- In a departure from the typical game analysis and betting recommendations, DW welcomed ESPN.com gambling reporter David Purdum on the debut episode to talk about state-by-state sports betting legalization. One minor nitpick: Purdum said 80% of the bets so far in New Jersey have been made online, when he should have specified that number applied to January 2019.
- How have you fared this week if you placed a unit on every one of Daily Wager’s “Best Bets”? After a rough 2-4 start on the opening episode, Kezirian and company went 4-2 the next two days and 4-3 on Thursday, putting them collectively at 14-11, just barely beating the vig.
- It’s not always clear what sportsbook the odds and info are coming from. In certain situations, DW names the book; for example, on Monday’s episode, the show cited FanDuel Sportsbook for Antonio Brown receiving props and Westgate Las Vegas for odds movement on Raiders and Steelers futures, and at the end of the show Wednesday, Kezirian shared DraftKings Sportsbook’s stats on Cleveland Browns action after the Odell Beckham Jr. trade and shouted out PointsBet for holding the Browns line at 30/1. But with most of the odds used on the show, as best we can guess, the numbers are coming from Westgate — for now.
- Bottom line: In each of the first four episodes, the on-air talent and behind-the-scenes folks have managed to fill an hour of air time without being repetitive. A sports betting show with this many moving parts would be nearly impossible to pull off in less experienced hands, but ESPN is the one place that can make it work.