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Kevin Smith

NCAA, NBA Not Happy with Radio Ads

16 September 2003

The NCAA and the National Basketball Association are using their muscle in Memphis in an effort to get radio ads pulled from stations that broadcast their events.

While the outcome in Memphis will have no legal binding to other radio stations, it could cause offshore operators to evaluate which stations they are using to promote their off shore sports books. Many operators use all-sports radio stations to advertise for their books since the listeners of the station often fit the sports betting demographic to a tee.

The trouble in Memphis started last week when officials of the National Collegiate Athletic Association asked University of Memphis officials to talk to station executives at WMC-AM (790) about getting ads pulled from the station for Internet betting sites. WMC is the flagship station for University of Memphis broadcasts and the NCAA wasn't happy that the ads were running during football games.

Bill Saum, the NCAA's chief of gambling enforcement, suggested that the University use its influence with the station to get the ads pulled entirely but at least get them taken off the air during U of M broadcasts.

The station has decided to continue to run the ads but made some concessions over the production of them.

On Thursday, U of M media relations director Bob Winn talked to Ron Martin, a producer at the station, about the University's concern over the ads and asked the station no longer carry them.

WMC has a contract with the University to broadcast football and basketball contests, as well as a host of coaches' shows and other Tiger-related programs, but the station isn't contractually obligated to restrict advertising from online gambling sites. Saum also said the NCAA doesn't restrict the advertising either, but the issue is being studied by officials in the group and legislation could be mandated to cut the industry off during the airing of collegiate sporting events.

U of M athletic director R. C. Johnson said that it isn't standard procedure for WMC to get permission from the school regarding potential advertisers for Tiger broadcasts. He said the station didn't ask anyone within the University if they would object to the ads either, though that is something the school would have expressed concern over in advance in light of the NCAA's anti-betting stance. As soon as school officials learned of the ads Johnson said they took steps to ensure they were pulled during U of M games.

WMC senior vice president Terry Wood told the Associated Press that the station would continue to air the commercials, but key personalities within the U of M broadcasts wouldn't be associated with them. He said the station has never aired the ads during U of M broadcasts or high school sports and that policy would stay the same.

Dave Woloshin, the Tigers' play-by-play broadcaster, will no longer read the spots but Martin and Forrest Goodman, both of whom do many of the station's player interviews as well as the pre-game and post-game shows, will continue doing the ads that promote online sports gambling.

Wood said the station receives valuable revenue from the ads and the announcers are also given additional payment for reading them.

Woloshin said he understands both sides of the argument but had no problem ceasing his relationship to the spots.

"If the university asks me not to do these commercials I have no problem abiding by their wishes," said Woloshin.

The ads raised the ire of more than just University of Memphis officials. The Memphis Grizzles, which broadcast their games through a contract agreement on WHBQ, are concerned with the ads too.

Mike Golub, the Grizzlies' senior vice president for business operations, said the team was formulating an approach about how to best deal with the ads. He said that the league and team were "concerned" about the ads and that there was a possibility the team could ask the station to pull the spots.

Golub said the team is looking into the relationship its on-air voice has with Internet betting sites and would be meeting with him and station officials to discuss the matter.

Eric Hasseltine, who in addition to his play-by-play duties on the radio also hosts pre-game and halftime shows and is a sideline reporter for TV broadcasts, has been doing ads promoting sites for WHBQ.

Tim Frank, a spokesman for the NBA said league policy is pretty clear in terms of gambling and sports betting.

"Our bottom line is that anyone who is representing a team should not be promoting a casino or operation that allows sports gambling."

Station officials feel the commercials aren't "promoting" the service, since Hasseltine, or anyone else who does voice over work on the spots, isn't endorsing the product.

"There is a distinction and we have very strict policies and we don't let anyone say 'I personally use this product,' " Dave Greene, WHBQ's general manager, said. "Our policy follows the laws of the FCC and state that allow us to air these ads. It becomes a very difficult decision when you factor in the amount of money they are willing to offer."

Green said the sites pay the same rate as other advertisers, but their appeal is they often buy more spots than other companies.

Saum is concerned over stations that are affiliated with schools becoming associated with the offshore gambling industry.

"No. 1, we're talking about sending student-athletes and society as a whole a mixed message," he said. "No. 2, the (broadcasters) in these particular communities are usually high-profile people looked up to in the community. No. 3 is that they are in our locker rooms and at our practices."

He said the NCAA will encourage member schools to include language in future contracts that would prohibit gambling ads.

"I'm disappointed these (broadcasters) think it is OK," he said. "We can't legislate it but I wish these people would use common sense."

The end-around from legislation by pressuring stations to not carry the ads is a new approach for groups like the NCAA and the NBA, a ploy the entire interactive gaming industry will be watching closely.

NCAA, NBA Not Happy with Radio Ads is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith