Athletes and journalists find natural transitions to sports betting, gaming industries

Athletes and journalists find natural transitions to sports betting, gaming industries

  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports
July 10, 2022 11:02 AM
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports

During four years of college and nine in the NFL, Mike Pritchard ensured he was prepared for every game. The former wide receiver from the University of Colorado, the 13th pick in the 1991 NFL Draft, devoted long hours to studying his opponents, looking for any information that gave him an edge.

Little did Pritchard know his devotion to video study would help him succeed in another role.

As a host and analyst with the VSiN Network in Las Vegas, Pritchard still dissects game footage in hopes of gleaning information that will give bettors the same edge he sought during his playing days.

“I definitely lean on my habits and my standards that you need to be successful as a professional athlete,” Pritchard says. “I approach sports betting the same way. I’m meticulous in my process and what I want to achieve in terms of research and preparation.”

With the emergence of sports betting, the gaming industry increasingly needs uniquely talented employees. While some roles will be filled with MBAs, financial resumes, and STEM backgrounds, companies have found success for other roles by hiring individuals with skillsets and experiences from sports.

Siska Concannon, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Affiliated Sports Fans and a former Australian National Champion rower, says athletes bring a unique toolbox of skills to gaming.

“I think in the business world, you can be as prepared and ready for a meeting as possible, but then someone comes in and throws a wrench into something,” says Concannon, who formerly worked for Penn Interactive as vice president of marketing.

“I think sports teaches you to pivot and react quickly. And one of the greatest lessons I learned as an athlete that I have taken into my professional career is that it’s one thing to be out front, but when someone comes to challenge you, what is your reaction? Do you stay cool in the moment and have faith in your strategy? Or do you pivot to their strategy in a panic?”

While many athletes working in gaming are brand ambassadors, Pritchard and Concannon are among those who have leveraged their skills and talents to become more than just figureheads.

Ross Tucker played offensive line for six NFL teams and hosts various podcasts including Even Money, a sports wagering podcast.

At VSiN, Pritchard is joined by former NFL quarterback Shaun King, who co-hosts The Night Cap.

Former journalists and broadcasters are also transitioning to sports betting and gaming. Brent Musburger, the longtime voice of the NFL and college football at CBS and ABC, is also a host on the VSiN network. Bill Simmons, who started his career covering high school sports in Boston, is the founder of the website The Ringer, where he oversees numerous podcasts including The Ringer Gambling Show.  

Concannon says sport provides athletes with a “beautiful crossover” into careers in business, and naturally, sports betting and gaming.

“My 12-year career in rowing set an incredible foundation to be able to demonstrate, to be able to accept, that things don’t come overnight, that things can be very unfair,” Concannon says. “Sport is political as much as anything else, and not everything comes to you because you’re the best or the strongest. You have to overcome these things and stay mentally strong to be a true champion in order to be successful entering into a world such as online gambling or tech.”

*****

Will Hill wouldn’t have thought about working in the gaming industry if it wasn’t for a former boss. He started his career as a reporter for local TV stations in London and Winsor, Ontario before taking a job with the Toronto Blue Jays as director of public relations, then switching to guest services and fan experiences.

Hill might still be with the Blue Jays if it wasn’t for Paul Godfrey, the former president and CEO of the team. When Godfrey left to become chair of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission, he asked Hill to join him.

“Because I had spent some years with the Blue Jays reporting directly to (Godfrey), we had a great personal and strong professional relationship. He felt comfortable asking me to come over with him,” says Hill, who recently took a job with Sightline Payments as vice president of business development for Canada.

Hill quickly learned that the skills he employed as a reporter and with the Blue Jays – comfortably conversing with a wide range of people, being able to assess what clients needed, creating succinct and direct messaging – were transferable to the gaming industry.

“Connecting with others is right within my comfort zone,” Hill says, noting that his experience at the OLGC will be helpful as he immerses himself in the emerging cashless payments industry in Canada for Sightline Payments.

After graduating from Johns Hopkins University, Patrick Eichner served internships with the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, was a PR staff member at two Super Bowls, then a gameday staff member for the New York Jets and Giants.

For a guy who played college football and wanted to get into sports information, it seemed like Eichner was on the right path. Until his boss, Jets Senior Vice President, Communications and Content Eric Gelfand, encouraged him to take a job with DKC, a public relations firm in New York.

“He said, I know you love football and I can see right now you really want to be in the sport,” Eichner says. “You might hate me for a year or two years or five years, but I promise you you’re going to look down the road and be very thankful for this and appreciate the chance to round out your skillset and be exposed to different facets of PR.”

Eichner eventually leveraged his experiences in football and public relations to become PointsBet Canada’s Senior Director of Communications. When asked what skills he learned working for pro football teams he applies to his current role, he answers: “Essentially everything in terms of how you handle yourself in a professional setting.

“I’ve talked about how impressively run (pro football teams) are, but at the same time it doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and butterflies moving forward. You certainly have your share of things to deal with on the team side, too. I was just starting my career, so I was being exposed to some pretty impressive business leaders – in PR, you get to touch every department – getting to see how those folks work together with larger executive teams, handling those situations, always staying calm, cool and collected, no matter what came at them.”

*****

A Las Vegas native, Mike Pritchard wasn’t allowed to frequent casinos while in high school. At Colorado, he was steered away from anything having to do with gambling.

“That’s your training,” he says. “You avoid gambling on sports.”

Once he started playing in the NFL, Pritchard occasionally played table games, but the sportsbooks – when he was in the league, Nevada was the only state where sports betting was legal – were still off-limits.

When VSiN founder and CEO Brian Musburger approached Pritchard about joining the network, he was intrigued because the “sports betting landscape had changed so much,” he says. Pritchard’s comfort level increased when the Oakland Raiders moved to Las Vegas, a sign that the NFL was not averse to sports betting.

“Lo and behold, I stepped into a sportsbook and my eyes were opened,” Pritchard says. “I just committed myself to get educated as fast as possible.”

Now, instead of a football game once a week, Pritchard gets that same sense of excitement Mondays through Fridays for Betting Across America with his co-host Josh Applebaum.

“You have to get ready; you have to be prepared every day,” Pritchard says. “At least that’s how I approach it. It’s a competitive situation, and I don’t want to make any mistakes. And it’s the closest I’ve come in my post-NFL playing career to mimicing that feeling generated when I was playing.”

Rege Behe is lead contributor to CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at rbehe@cdcgaming.com. Please follow @RegeBehe_exPTR on Twitter.