“He was our prognosticator,” Musburger said with a wink.
More than four decades later, Musburger remains a trail blazer. He is he co-founder of Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSiN), a family business aimed at building a streaming service offering actionable information for sports bettors.
In short, VSiN wants to be the CNBC for gamblers.
It may be a niche market, but it is a booming one perhaps on the verge of exploding. Here in Nevada, sports betting is a nearly $5 billion a year industry. In December, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether to strike down a federal ban on betting amateur or professional games except in the four states that already have operations.
The case was brought by the state of New Jersey, but more than a dozen other states have introduced legislation legalizing the activity in pursuit of what law enforcement and industry experts say is the $150 billion that is wagered annually with illegal or offshore bookmakers.
In betting parlance, the over/under on sports betting becoming legal is three years. Musburger, who long has liked to wager a few bucks on games, takes the under.
“You are not stopping gambling,” he said. “Learn to live with it and move on.”
It was Brian Musburger, Brent’s nephew, who first envisioned a gambling network after overhearing a conversation between his uncle and Vacarro. He was an agent alongside his father, Todd, who had clients like Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson.
“I was with him and a fly-on-the-wall in this conversation where Jimmy told Brent that he had gotten a phone call from a trainer of a team who told them that one of its stars had to have his ankles taped and wouldn’t be very mobile,” said Musburger. “So Jimmy adjusted the point spread.”
While the networks and ESPN fill their sports broadcasts with features or opinion and fantasy draft shows, the younger Musburger targeted an underserved audience.
“If you could bring people into the conversation that happens behind the scenes in the sports books, you have a different kind of sports talk,” Musburger said. “This is the nerve center. Their livelihood depends on getting credible information.”
Brent Musburger knew his way around Las Vegas and the people that made it work.
One of them was Mike Gaughan, the owner of the South Point.
He saw a promotional opportunity and agreed to host VSiN. He built them a more than $1 million state of the art studio. The terms? VSiN agreed to pay him $1 annually for five years.
Brent knew that his uncle was winding down a nearly 50-year broadcast career.
“Unc, I need you,” he told Brent.
On Jan. 25, Musburger announced his retirement from ESPN. Six days later, he called his last college basketball game, a Kentucky game at Rupp Arena. Less than two weeks later, he christened VSiN by anchoring a pregame show for Super Bowl LI.
“I couldn’t leave the booth and not do anything – Arlene would have killed me,” Musburger said, referring to his wife of 54 years.
Musburger’s day often ends here at a lounge across from the fishbowl studio. He fishes free drink vouchers from a battered briefcase and returns from the bar with a handful of Bud Lights. VSiN is a growing, but frugal operation: The network was launched with more than $1.6 million of mostly Musburger’s and friends’ money.
With more than 80 hours of broadcast time to fill, VSiN leans on bookmakers from around town as well as reporters and analysts from various news organizations. There are remote look-ins and interviews from the other casinos. The network is simulcast on SiriusXM radio, and VSiN is producing short form videos for yahoo.com.
It has launched a subscription digital magazine chock-full of stats and do-it-yourself handicapping methods with more specialized products – N.B.A. packets, for example — in the pipeline. It has attracted 1.4 million unique visitors (predominately male and affluent) who watch for an average of 26 minutes.
Brian Musburger is raising an additional $10 million and says VSiN will grow tenfold on all platforms by the end of 2018.
Richard Greenfield, a media analyst at BTIG Research, says the momentum Netflix has gained shows that information and entertainment is moving from a linear broadcast model to a streaming one.
“Consumers are thirsty for more and more high quality content on streaming video content to watch on any device when and wherever you want,” Greenfield said.
For now, however, the dulcet tones and informed – sometimes hot — opinions of a soon-to-be-inducted Hall of Fame broadcaster remain VSiN’s most valuable asset.
Last month, he threw cold water on hosannas offered to Tony Romo, the former Dallas quarterback and now television analyst, who recently garnered praise for his ability to predict upcoming plays.
“Tony, get off it. First of all, you’re intruding on your play-by-play man Jim Nantz, who’s just trying to give us the scene,” he said on his show. “and the more years you spend away from the league, you’re going to know less and less about the personnel that’s out on the field. So I’m blowing a ‘stop the hype’ right now.”
Do not get him started on the hypocrisy of the N.F.L. when it comes on its stance against sports betting. He notes that two venerable owners, Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tim Mara of the New York Giants, were close friends as well as gamblers, proud ones.
The N.F.L. injury report became a staple of the league in 1947 when then commissioner Bert Bell learned of a bribe attempt on two players and realized that gambling on football was not going to go away.
Musburger says the N.F.L. should drop its opposition to gambling and start addressing more pressing problems like anthem protests and players’ head injuries, which are contributing to lower television ratings and a decline in participation in youth football.
“They are trying to figure out how to make money off it,” said Musburger. “Otherwise, why would they vote 31 to 1 to move the Oakland Raiders here unless they understood where it all was going?”
Musburger’s veiled gambling references prompted viewers’ suspicions that he bet on games that he announced. After all, the name of his show, “My Guys in the Desert,” came from a phrase he uttered often to signal this was what his bookmaker friends here were thinking about the upcoming game.
Musburger said that he did only once long ago on a Lakers game. When Kurt Rambis scored a late basket to make Musburger a loser, he said he felt like any other gambler watching a game because he had a few bucks on it rather than the broadcaster who will be inducted in the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in December.
Now about his “You are looking live …” catch phrase – that was born as a service to his friends here in the desert. Throughout the run of “N.F.L. Today,” there was no Weather Channel or cellphones to check conditions, so Musburger came up with the idea of a live shot that not only served as a tease to the coming games but might move a gambling line.
“Let’s face it – gambling is the foundation of the N.F.L, and every other sport’s popularity,” said Musburger. “It’s more fun to watch the game if you have a few bucks on it and in this day and age of information, it’s time to bring it in out of the dark. Gamblers are smart people. Let’s treat them like it.”