Why Senior Media Executive Chad Millman Left ESPN For The Action Network

Chad Millman had been a 16-year veteran of ESPN, recently holding the position of Vice President and Editorial Director of Domestic Digital Content. The senior media executive departed from the company earlier this fall and joined The Action Network.

He recently appeared on the SI Media Podcast with host Richard Deitsch and outlined his decision to depart from Bristol, Conn. in addition to his current plans for The Action Network, which now includes FantasyLabs and sports betting analytics companies Sports Insights and SportsAction. The betting entities reside under parent company The Chernin Group.

Millman explained that when he first heard from Mike Kerns, President of Digital at Chernin, he thought since the company is a majority owner of Barstool Sports, that he was going to pitch him a content deal with ESPN. However, that wasn’t the case as Kerns described how Chernin had a vision for building a sports betting network as it looked to acquire similar themed companies for its portfolio.

“What (Mike) was describing to me was everything I had ever wanted to do,” Millman said on the podcast. “I loved doing the sports betting stuff. I feel great when I do it. I’m writing the newsletter right now. It’s as much fun as I could have. I loved when I was writing columns on sports betting for ESPN, and I loved doing the podcast. The challenge for me at ESPN was always it wasn’t going to get any bigger. It was always going to feel like a small niche job. I was very fortunate in that they kept offering me bigger jobs, and so I kept taking those because they were really good opportunities.”

Added Millman: “What Mike was putting in front of me was a better vision than anything I could have sort of planned for at ESPN and sort of what I wanted to do in the gambling space there. I do believe this is the direction sports is going. I believe this is how fans are viewing games, and it’s the prism through which they’re experiencing a lot of these events. I was never going to be able to do that at ESPN. What Mike presented was something that I couldn’t ignore.”

Below are more of Millman’s comments on the state of betting in the U.S., breaking into the industry and could gambling become its own beat at traditional media publications, among other topics.

On why he is bullish about providing sports gambling and betting content to fans…

One is certainly regulatory. I felt for a long time that sports betting would become legal sometime. I started covering it aggressively say between 2008 and 2010. During that time, I’ve just seen a consistent conversation from a legislative perspective at the state level and both at the federal level of people saying, ‘We want this to be legal’ and sort of what the revenue benefits are. I think we’re getting closer to that. The Supreme Court is going to hear a case in December about overturning the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that basically limits states from enacting legalizing sports betting. Who knows what’s going to happen with that case? … I believe in this topic, and I believe where it’s going. People like being smarter. I haven’t made it a secret that I’m not the biggest bettor in the world, but I love the language. I love the culture. I love the characters. I love the way there’s an entire universe of conversation happening around sports that has nothing to do with what’s happening on the field, but people get really excited about.

On how he is building The Action Network…

We are trying to build a community and culture that is Action Network, not just these three disparate companies. … The three things that we collectively decided that we wanted to focus on from an Action Network perspective was starting a newsletter…getting my podcast restarted because we think podcasts are a great way to connect with this audience. … And then also figuring out what we look like on social.

Those are the three ways we can brand ourselves and amongst that, someone to run a podcast network, someone to run social strategy for us. I need to find more writers. I need to find more editors. All of these things are what I’m doing on a daily basis as our heads spin a little bit.

On any anticipation that traditional sports media outlets will have a dedicated gambling beat in the future…

I think it depends on what is happening with media at that time. It could just as easily be that there is somebody who is licensing Action Network content to run on their website locally. I think that’s a more likely scenario than individual media entities that are locally-driven hiring their own gambling people.

On the next wave of oddsmakers, if they’ll have to be MBAs and true numbers individuals or if they’ll be more old-school folks who grew up around the business…

It is hard to find talent to come in and be a bookmaker. There are so many people who reach out to me and say, ‘I want to get into the industry’. I’ll do the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference every year. That entire conference is an audience with algorithms in their backpacks.

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There’s not a lot of incentive to get into the business because A) the pipeline in which bookmakers are developed is so antiquated. They have people starting as ticket writers behind the counter, which is just a really old-school way to do it. You don’t make that much money is the problem. By the time you’re…running these massive books in Nevada, you’re finally making a little bit of cash, but you’ve wasted 10, 15, 20 years to get to that point. And those bookmakers don’t leave for a long time. So, it’s a hard business to get into and develop. So, I don’t think it’ll be guys who’ll have a MBA. It’ll be a few who have a passion for it regardless of the financial upside.

On ESPN’s cancellation of the Barstool Sports-branded show on ESPN2 and his general thoughts on the situation…

There couldn’t be anyone more uninformed on all of it. I was not part of any Barstool conversations at ESPN and Barstool and Action Network are separate entities. Mike Kerns doesn’t tell me anything that’s happening with Barstool, and I don’t have regular conversation with (Barstool Sports CEO) Erika Nardini or anybody else about their world. I’m only looking at it as a fan. To be honest, my head is down so much during the day I didn’t even know ESPN had severed ties with the show until late in the day. Someone texted me and said, ‘Can you believe what’s going on with ESPN?’ I hadn’t gone to the blogs. I literally know nothing. I think just as a fan I think it was clear ESPN was trying to go for really good content. Those guys on the Pardon My Take pod are fantastic. They do a really good job, they engage their audience. They’re really fun. They feel authentic and genuine. That’s the content ESPN wanted. They had to make decisions about how it was going to be branded. It was a wing and a prayer that people wouldn’t notice I guess. It was a tough spot to be in.

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About Mark J. Burns

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