It’s a dramatic change of scenery, going from a small cog in the company that calls itself “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” to an equity holder and the public face of a startup site. But that’s the adjustment Doug Kezirian is now making, launching Only Players after an 11-year run at ESPN.
The Las Vegas-based Kezirian, 45, achieved high visibility at ESPN hosting SportsCenter and, starting in 2019, the sports betting-focused Daily Wager. Now he’s taking all those on-air reps and lessons learned to the new web-only (for now) show Wager Watch while serving as Only Players’ chief content officer and senior betting analyst.
So what is the aim at Only Players? How are Kezirian and company looking to set themselves apart?
“There’s a way to do content where you can make people smarter,” Kezirian told Sports Handle. “The large companies that are trying to fill hours and bottomless web content do not have enough true experts. It’s just a fact — the space is too new, and it’s rare to have people that have on-air skills and also betting knowledge, especially when the highest level of professional bettors are not part of the talent pool.
“So our goal is, while still making it entertaining and engaging, to help people understand, help them learn how to bet, learn how to grind out the profit, and understand what the market tells us. It’s intended as an advanced view on betting, as opposed to some of the fluff that is out there.”
Thrilled to officially announce that you can now catch me on https://t.co/6ZEepbuSfw
We are a sports betting media network with my weekday 30-minute show on our website & YouTube
My analysis, detailed picks, written content, etc. all on-demand and free https://t.co/tw5dZptQA6
— Doug Kezirian (@DougKezirian) October 27, 2023
When Kezirian parted ways with ESPN in July (shortly before the company announced the forthcoming launch of ESPN BET), he was already working toward bringing Only Players to life. Loose conversations about the project started in 2022. The plan was to launch by opening day of this football season, but the site wasn’t as ready as Kezirian and his partners wanted it to be, so it remained in beta mode a little while longer.
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There was no downtime between ESPN and Only Players for Kezirian. Quite the opposite. He says he spent his summer “off the grid,” working long days and nights to get the site ready, to the point that one friend did a wellness check on him, feeling like Kezirian had gone full Mikey from Swingers.
For this venture, Kezirian is in on the business meetings, not just the content meetings.
He says he’s proud of what he and his co-workers achieved with Daily Wager, but thinks there’s vast room to build on that.
“When we were launching a show on ESPN, people were asking, ‘What’s it going to look like? How do you do betting content?’ And we’re sitting there with blazers on and doing a version of SportsCenter,” he reflected. “And that helped the leagues warm up to it, right? We were part of the adjustment period for betting content.
“But everyone’s treating sports betting the same way they treat all these other verticals and they assume the formula works, and I’m here to say it doesn’t.”
Kezirian has found most of the betting-focused podcasts and broadcasts out there to essentially offer a traditional sports talk-style conversation that happens to have odds and lines layered in. His vision is of a show where the betting comes first.
And the key to him there is accountability and full transparency, as a host who actually puts his money behind every bet he commits to on air.
If you push the play, bet the play
Wager Watch will feature Kezirian’s daily betting card, which he believes “simulates the day-to-day existence of a sports bettor.” Some days, there will be no bets on the card. Some days, the card will be overflowing.
“If nothing else, I think I’ve demonstrated transparency since day one,” he said. “I think doing the opposite of that is reckless and irresponsible. I think putting out all these picks without a record or without accountability is deceiving.
“Saying you like a play and not betting it yourself? I think that’s weird. I think it’s weird having people who are in the space in states that don’t have legal betting.”
Wager Watch is intended to function as versatile content that can be shared as a full half-hour show or as smaller segments. Only Players is hoping to find a linear TV distribution partner for it as well. Kezirian says the aim is “to be a content provider to a lot of places that recognize they don’t have the horses to do this kind of betting analysis.”
He’s very much focused on the long term — he’s not looking at the site’s first year as make-or-break, but rather feels everyone in the industry should be thinking about the next 10-20 years.
And while Kezirian is confident in his approach to sports gambling content moving forward, he also recognizes that success is not guaranteed.
“If I didn’t have apprehension,” he said, “that would make me a psycho narcissist. I think I have to lean into the apprehension. I think that’s a healthy thing.
“I think in general, people want to outsource work and outsource content and increase their own efficiency. I believe we’ll fill that need for people. And if I’m wrong, and this doesn’t take, and I die on this hill, then fine. I can live with it if I were to die on the hill of legitimacy and credibility.”
Elsewhere in sports betting media news …
- How is the all-time leading off-the-bench scorer in NBA history, Lou Williams, spending his first year of retirement? He’s joined FanDuel TV, as the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand reported. Williams, who played for six teams across a 17-year career, is now part of the cast of FanDuel TV’s Run It Back, alongside Michelle Beadle, Shams Charania, and Chandler Parsons.
- When Falcons running back Bijan Robinson was left off injury reports in Week 7, then barely played due to illness, it set off a minor firestorm in the fantasy/sports betting communities. FOX’s Chris “The Bear” Fallica offered some notable analysis, telling 92.9 The Game, “If [the NFL is] serious about gambling, and they’re suspending players for wagering on non-NFL things in team facilities, and now you get wind about players maybe not healthy and not on the injury report, that’s a big deal.” He said this Robinson situation was a rarity in the NFL, but is common in college football. “I found at least from a college football standpoint this year, information has been very, very hard to access,” Fallica said. “Nobody wants a competitive disadvantage if word gets out that someone’s not playing.”