In 1991, Rick Reilly wrote an outstanding article in Sports Illustrated that exposed a number of pick-sellers as scammers. In the article, titled “1-900-Ripoff,” Reilly captured the tout industry with the opening sentence of the second paragraph:
In a world of cheats, cons, grifters, swindlers, carnival barkers and people you would not want to change your fifty, the brotherhood of so-called sports advisers is a gutter unto itself.
In 1987, the Los Angeles Times published an article that exposed the countless scam tactics used by tout services like Mike Warren and Larry Dukehart and Danny Sheridan.
Fast forward to 2014.
Just before the Super Bowl, the New York Times Magazine published a lengthy article on sports betting in Las Vegas which glorified “professional gambler” and tout Vegas Runner. A day later, The New Yorker ran an article highlighting the alleged handicapping prowess of tout Marc Lawrence. Meanwhile, ESPN Insider publishes content from touts like Teddy Covers and Grantland features articles by RJ Bell, the CEO of one of the country’s largest pick-selling operations. When he was at CNBC, Darren Rovell uncritically published an article reciting the claims of tout Adam Meyer that he generates over $40M in revenue per year selling picks.
Oh, and CNBC is running an entire series of “reality television” shows that celebrate a convicted telemarketing felon turned handicapperÂ (Darin Notaro, aka Steve Stevens) who uses old-fashioned boiler room tactics to sell sports picks.
It sure seems as if there has been a marked change in how mainstream media covers touts.
Why is that?
Well, there are probably a few dynamics in play.
First, mainstream media companies have a greater need for more content than they had in the past. The need for more content, inevitably, leads to a lowering of standards for content. And, next thing you know, ESPN Insider, which requires a paid subscription, is publishing articles by Teddy Covers. We’ve covered this dynamic before when examining why ESPN is like CNBC.
Another related factor: there is more interest in sports betting. The discussion of point spreads and betting has gone fully mainstream. ESPN shows each game’s point spread on it’s ticker. Every major media company’s app also lists point spreads for football and basketball games. If you ask Siri the spread for a game, she can get it for you.
As the interest in sports betting has grown, the demand for content has grown. And with a greater demand for content, mainstream media outlets have turned to people in the sports betting industry who seem to have knowledge of sports betting. Unfortunately, in many cases, the people mainstream media turned to are touts who are more than happy to share their expertiseÂ to increase their exposure and help build their bona fides which, in turn, helps them sell more picks to unsuspecting customers.
But beyond the increased need for content generally, and the increased need for sports betting content specifically, there’s likely another factor influencing how the mainstream media covers touts.
Tout tactics have changed.
In the ’80s and ’90′s, touts invented larger-than-life personalities, like professional wrestlers, and they’d sell picks mostly via heavy-handed telemarketing. They’d buy radio and television time, they’d yell about locks of the century, they’d encourage viewers to call toll-free numbers to get a free pick, and then they’d upsell. Once they got your phone number, they’d call you over and over and over again until you bought some kind of package. And then they’d call you more. The fraud was so blatant that it begged for ridicule and investigation.
Now, touts are subtler. They still use fake names, of course, but they don’t scream and yell. And, for the most part, they don’t badger potential customers with non-stop telephone calls. Instead, many try to portray themselves as advanced analysts by regurgitating nonsensical trends. It’s a kinder, gentler tout world than it used to be. And, as a result, the mainstream media is both more comfortable turning to them for content and less inclined to investigate their business practices.
But this changed dynamic between the mainstream media and touts doesn’t change the inescapable conclusion: if someone is selling picks, the likelihood that they are a long-term winner is ~0%. So whether it’sÂ Stu Feiner selling you a pick by taking his shirt off and screaming at you or Vegas Runner updating you on “true steam” moves, buying picks from these sorts of touts is a losing proposition.