If you took the under on a line of four months between the Supreme Court reversing the law banning sports betting in most states and a major cable network launching a show all about sports betting, go ahead and cash your ticket now. Lock It In debuted on Fox Sports 1 on September 10, becoming the first American TV show (joining countless podcasts and online-only shows) to talk about sports strictly through a wagering lens.
The ratings have been less than stellar. In its first week, the show averaged 46,000 viewers a day. While the Friday uptick to 60k might have been considered encouraging, the Twitter account @SportsTVRatings was still mocking away in Week 2, noting that ESPN’s programming in the same time slot (4:30-5:30 p.m. ET) was rating 13 times higher.
New shows often take a while to find their audience. This is far from an apples-to-apples comparison, but the world would be a very different place if NBC executives had made up their minds about Seinfeld after one low-rated (relatively, for 1989) week.
At the very least, US Bets wanted to give Lock It In a full week to work out some kinks before penning a review. But after watching a couple of Week 2 episodes, we’re starting to develop a sense of what’s working, what isn’t, and what singular change could significantly elevate the show.
The core four
Like Seinfeld, Lock It In’s on-air talent consists of three men and one woman and would never be accused of being ethnically diverse.
Rachel Bonnetta plays the role of host and traffic cop, and the Canadian is unmistakably relaxed on camera, striking just the right casual tone. There’s nothing stuffy about her persona, nor should there be on a show this full of ribbing, banter, and testosterone.
Bonnetta is the only member of the team who’s in studio; her three cohorts all appear via satellite.
Former Caesars oddsmaker Todd Fuhrman, the host of the Bet the Board podcast, brings gambling expertise and numbers nerdistry to the show, not to mention he’s been excellent (so far) at actually predicting outcomes of games. (He nailed Trey Burton at 10/1 to score the first touchdown on Monday night, among other outstanding calls.) Furhman is a bit robotic for TV, but otherwise, not much to criticize.
Sal Iacono, better known to much of the public as “Cousin Sal” from Jimmy Kimmel Live (he is, in fact, Kimmel’s cousin, and a writer on the late-night show), brings common-man relatability and a sharp sense of humor. Plus he’s a longtime sports betting enthusiast, hosting the Against All Odds podcast and appearing on Bill Simmons’ podcast for nearly a decade to predict NFL lines.
As for Fox Sports Radio host and sometimes lightning rod for controversy Clay Travis, it’s less clear what he brings to the table. Travis has a bit of that “empty sports talking head” to him; he’s any old Around the Horn panelist. He’s by no means bad on Lock It In, but he doesn’t add much to the viewing experience, other than providing a punching bag when Iacono is in roasting mode.
The group’s interactions are relatively smooth for four earpiece-wearing talking heads in four different locations, though occasionally audio lags and delays will hurt the flow and the panelists will start talking over each other or pause awkwardly.
Breaking it up
Like most modern sports-talk TV shows, Lock It In is heavily segmented and built around quick topic changes. There are some segments that come and go, but four appear to be a part of the lineup every day:
- Handicapping the Headlines: This takes up the bulk of the first 20 minutes of each show. It’s a standard sports news rundown, but everything has a betting bent. For example, the news story about Josh Gordon going to the Patriots was tilted toward what it meant for betting on New England in Week 3.
- Place Your Bets: Each panelist starts the week with $1,000 in fake money and places “bets” throughout the week (clearly an idea they stole from the Gamble On podcast). It’s a fun segment, but it drags on too long and features too many bets from each panelists. Also, it’s a segment that’s definitely weaker on days (namely Tuesday and Wednesday) without an impending NFL game to bet on.
- VIP Room: This is an interview segment. A guest joins via satellite, providing an additional test of Bonnetta’s ability to control the flow of conversation.
- Mad Props: This is an extension of the “Place Your Bets” segment, as the panelists spend more pretend money on prop bets toward the end of the show.
Odds and ends
Here are an assortment of additional thoughts on the show, starting with a criticism of an inexcusable production decision:
- At one point on the September 17 show, an on-screen graphic flashed odds attributed to an offshore sportsbook that serves U.S.-based customers illegally. Prior to 2018, this might have been understandable. But now, anyone in America can go on FanDuel Sportsbook, Play Sugarhouse Sports, etc., and look up odds from a legal U.S. bookmaker at any time. Get it together, Fox Sports.
- Iacono’s humor mostly works, whether making jokes at his own gambling-degenerate expense (he saw a musical over the weekend and noted, “I bet that the intermission would be over 14½ minutes, I think it’s the only bet I won this weekend”) or at his fellow panelists’ expense (“That take [from Travis] was longer than Todd’s sideburns”). However, he may have gotten a bit too edgy on the September 18 show, when he cracked that Josh Gordon was conceived in a TGI Friday’s parking lot (a quip his colleagues wisely brushed off without comment).
- It’s not just sports. The group made Emmy awards bets on this Monday’s show, the sort of thing that makes for a nice change of pace.
- DraftKings is a sponsor, and the show includes quick segments on recommended daily fantasy players. (Plus the panelists will occasionally reference the news’ fantasy impact during the “Handicapping the Headlines” segment.)
More to come?
Iacono told the New York Post recently, “By this time next year, there are going to be 10 shows about gambling.” That projection was made, however, before viewership numbers in the 40,000 range started coming in.
It’s natural to wonder whether the early low ratings bode poorly for other shows in the mold of Lock It In.
There will assuredly be more of them, and ultimately Lock It In’s legacy might be that it serves as a template that ESPN and others can learn from before launching their own equivalent.
The big takeaway for me is that an hour every day is just too much. Lock It In would work much better as a half-hour show, like PTI and Around the Horn.
Iacono was just complaining, rightfully so, that Kimmel’s nightly hour-long show shouldn’t have to compete for an Emmy against weekly 30-minute show like Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, because they’re facing drastically different degrees of difficulty.
Want to make Lock It In easier for viewers to add to their daily rotation, Fox Sports? Lower the degree of difficulty. Cut the show in half. Lock It In is an idea whose time has come, and it’s mostly well executed, but it’s stretched far beyond its optimal length.