Left Coast Bias: Legalize It Already - Broadcasting & Cable

Left Coast Bias: Legalize It Already

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Being married to a former sportswriter has its advantages. For instance, the missus doesn't care that some game is always on TV in our house, or that our 3-year-old was so psyched to get a pair of baseball batting gloves that he slept with them on literally every night for a week.

She's also a fantasy sports player, both baseball and football. The birth of our kids was fine and all, but I was never prouder as a husband than the other day, when I peered over her shoulder during her fantasy draft as she was talking trash with other players via instant messaging while drafting Minnesota Vikings savior Brett Favre. Now that is devotion.

So to return the favor, I often painfully sit with her through some of her other viewing choices, which basically encompass every reality show that contains the terms “house,” “color,” “design” or anything like that. If anyone remodels it, paints it or sews it, she will come.

Hopefully that explains why I was sitting with her last week watching Project Runway, though it doesn't hurt that a couple of the contestants are not tough on the straight-male eyes. Which, of course, is the target audience of that show.

Late in the program, when one contestant made it to the next round while I was reading a magazine, the wife caught me off guard with this line: “Awesome, he's on my fantasy team.”

After looking up to see if Lifetime was suddenly running pre-season football updates, I realized she was talking about fantasy Project Runway. And I don't mean the kind of fantasy I was playing while watching that episode, which featured both Heidi Klum and Rebecca Romijn. Nope, she drafts contestants and scores points based on the show's outcome.

Once I was done checking with my lawyer to see if that were grounds for an annulment after seven years of marriage, I started thinking about what keeps us hooked on certain TV properties. Then I thought about Delaware. Not moving there to get away from her, but the recent judgment that kept that state from becoming the second in the nation to legalize gambling on individual sports contests. Had Delaware done so, it may have set the stage for more states to follow.

Without getting into a big moral debate on gambling, let's be honest; if someone wants to bet on a game, they can find a way to bet on a game. Everyone knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy. So can we finally just legalize it, tax it and pay teachers more, please?

And it's nothing new to say that while leagues like the NFL get their bread buttered by gambling, publicly they run away from it. Names like Pete Rose and disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy are all the reason they need.

But we all know that betting boosts ratings, period. And right now, the sports marketplace could use some eyeballs. From baseball to NASCAR, we are seeing some Nielsens that could use a boost.

So while the networks that carry sports are rightfully innovating left and right, probably the most valuable thing they could be doing is lobbying behind the scenes for another state—any state—to take advantage of the recession and push through a gambling bill. If one state legalized it and didn't subsequently crumble into a bastion of crime, other states would have cover to pursue similar legislation.

And for networks that carry sports, that would be the definition of ratings momentum. Unfortunately, at this point it's probably just a fantasy that even my wife wouldn't bet on.

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ben.grossman@reedbusiness.com

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