It is no secret that the sports betting industry has grown at a rapid pace over the last few years.
Darren Rovell was one of the first to make the move from traditional media to sports betting back in 2018, when he left ESPN to join Action Network. He's been there ever since, and even announced last November that he agreed to a new deal with Action Network.
That's why it was great to have Rovell sit down with me during NFL Draft weekend to discuss all aspects of sports betting. We talked about his experience in sports betting, where he thinks the industry can evolve, and his advice to those jumping into sports betting for the first time.
Q: You were one of the first to move from traditional media to sports betting. What went into the decision in 2018 to join Action Network and this industry?
Rovell: I've gone with my gut my entire career. I was hired at 21 at ESPN. Then at 26, they are still treating me like the kids. So, I was like, alright, I'm never gonna get anywhere. Then I went to CNBC and was able to make myself bigger — Twitter happens — and them I’m back at ESPN.
In 2018, I had eight months left on my ESPN deal. But I’m in New Jersey and New Jersey is the state that caused all of this. Not to get religious, and I’m not a religious person, but this was like God telling me you are now getting the chance to see how big this business can be and it’s just going to spread bigger. So I basically asked ESPN how big they are going to get into gambling. They said maybe not enough, so I asked if they’d let me out and they did.
I went to a place that makes sense for my brand, which is not like a tout place. Action Network is based on statistics, and if you don’t want to go with your gut, you actually have to have data on your side. It worked out really well. I wasn’t scared when I made the move. Surprisingly, because it was legal, I didn’t get the amount of crap that you thought I would have gotten. There were people who said it was a bad move still, but not insane.
Q: What is the most memorable story you have done with Action Network?
Rovell: I really just think about the platform and how people come up to me and say I got them to change their gambling life. (They mentioned that they) don’t even watch the games anymore, just like watching the data come through and what side I’m on. That makes me proud of the product that we have managed to have, because I have a greater role than just writing.
Q: How have you seen this industry evolve over the last few years since joining Action Network?
Rovell: It’s pretty incredible. It is interesting to see how much people talk about gambling now. When I talk to my friends, right? They weren’t gamblers, and now the conversation and texting just blew up. Everyone seems to know who the favorite is. It is very interesting to me to see how much people are talking about things.
Obviously, I think the one thing that is missing is just talking about gambling on the broadcast — the way we are all watching it. They should be talking more about gambling.
Q: What is the next evolution of the sports betting industry?
Rovell: If you are on the broadcast, and you are not going to go further, you are going to have to do a betcast or something like that on streaming. I think we're obviously mainstream enough that at least the broadcasters should have permission to talk about the lines. No one thinks there’s any malfeasance happening. We are past the point of, if there is gambling that means there will be crazy things going on. Well, if there are, we could monitor it.
Q: Let’s talk about your experience as a bettor. What is the biggest bet you’ve ever placed?
Rovell: I’m placing no more than $2,000 bets. Probably betting roughly $100,000 a year. I try to win a big future bet, like my Northwestern bet. I basically bet to make sure I know what’s going on in a game. If there is a big game, I’ll bet on it on purpose. Just for Twitter, that way I can do like a pop-up video of gambling or something.
Q: What is the background of the Northwestern bet being the biggest bet you’ve won?
Rovell: It was $1,500 to win $238,000 for Northwestern to win the Big Ten. They were 3-9 the year before, and I knew they were getting key pieces from the transfer portal and the betting markets didn’t calculate that. I knew they could potentially get to the Big Ten Championship Game.
We then had a simulcast of me and the broadcast (for the Big Ten Championship Game) and we had 440,000 people watching. The sportsbook started at a $25,000 offer (for a cashout). When Northwestern led 10-6 at the half, (the cashout) was at $71,000 and I said no. Then the funny thing is that the cashout ended, not on a play, but because corner Greg Newsome II was not coming back for the second half. As someone who was a Northwestern guy and follows it, I just knew we didn’t go too deep. After he was gone, I (cashed) out.
Then, Northwestern lost and people blamed me.
Q: What goes in your process before placing a bet?
Rovell: I actually do about 75% live betting. I’m not the best bettor, but what I would say to people is just because you can tweet in two seconds, that doesn’t mean you should tweet in two seconds. Just because you can bet live in two seconds, that doesn’t mean you should live bet in two seconds. You should know what you are doing.
For example, Thanksgiving is a great day for me because the Cowboys are the most-public team and Thanksgiving is the most-public day. If the Cowboys are the favorite, and the Cowboys go up a touchdown, my biggest bet is going to be on the other side. That worked out for the Cowboys-Bills game, as Cowboys go up on Thanksgiving and I put a ton of money on the Bills. They should be like +230, but the algorithms have them at like +500 because it is so public.
My methods are to think about how things are going to go before they do it. At an opponent’s 35-yard line, that’s where I make the decision on are if they going to score and what it’s going to be. Because if it is a holding call, they move back to their 40, and they might not score. If it is a rush, maybe they will make a field goal. I like to have my methods, but I like to live bet.
Q: What sport have you found is the easiest to bet on?
Rovell: College football. The NFL is impossible. Hockey, I’ve been trying so hard. It’s the most exciting sport to bet, especially the totals.
But I like college football. I think it's harder to handicap. I think (all of) the matchups, you know, there's a lot of moving parts and I think it is harder to handicap.
Q: What advice would you have for people who are new to sports betting?
Rovell: Decide whether you are in it for fun or money. Because if you are in it for fun, go bet on your team. If you are in it for money, you have to be willing to bet on a Ball State-Miami (Ohio) game. You have to be willing to go on things that are streamed.
If you are betting for money — not to toot our own horn — but don’t go with your gut. Look where the data is.