Brent Musburger opens up about decision to leave ESPN for Las Vegas media startup

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Brent Musburger on the only autograph he's ever asked for
1:07 | NFL
Brent Musburger on the only autograph he's ever asked for
Monday January 30th, 2017

On Tuesday night, Brent Musburger will call his final game for ESPN before heading to Las Vegas for his new job. At age 77, Musburger did not expect to embark on a new career in the desert, but here he is as the host of a new multichannel network dedicated to sports gambling information. “It’s amazing how a new twist in the road comes and you decide, ‘You know, I think I’d like to do that,’” Musburger told SI.com on Sunday. “It was as simple as that. As you know, I love the games, the action, the people, the fans, but it seems like the right time to do this.”

His next act will be hosting a two-hour show, Thursday through Monday, for a new network called VSiN (Vegas Stats & Information Network). The company describes itself as the first multichannel network dedicated to sports gambling information, and will be available via web, live-streaming, radio, mobile and social. Musburger and other hosts—including the respected boxing announcer Al Bernstein—will broadcast from a custom-built studio in the Sports Book of the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa in Las Vegas. The new network includes oddsmakers Jimmy Vaccaro, Vinny Magliulo and Chris Andrews. Brian Musburger, Brent’s nephew, is the founder and chairman of VSiN.

VSiN will launch on SiriusXM radio (Sirius channel 215, XM channel 204) and on the SiriusXM app (channel 961) nationwide on Feb. 27. It will air live programming five hours a day, seven days a week. On Sunday, Musburger will host a special early edition of his show, My Guys in the Desert, on SiriusXM Rush (channel 93) from 3–6 p.m. ET.

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Musburger said his nephew came to him with the idea of the network when they were together in Las Vegas in 2015. Brent then introduced Brian to Vaccaro, an oddsmaker at South Point, as well as Michael Gaughan, who owns the hotel. Brent Musburger then moved away from the project, but his nephew came back to him again early in 2016.

“I told him it has to be on solid footing for me to think about it because I have a long-term deal with the folks at ESPN and the SEC Network,” Musburger said. “Then last fall, Gaughan started building a studio at South Point. That’s when it became serious. I saw the studio was a big-time studio and adjacent to a sports book.

“Look, I am very aware they brought my name into this and it helps bring them credibility. I am aware of that. The real success of this is to provide real information for the person who is interested in sports gambling but also solid information to the person who wants to handicap the game for his or herself. I have always been interested in it. Sports gambling has come a long from the back rooms. It is so much more acceptable. The one thing I shy from is something like ‘Dial 1-900-BRENT for winners.’ To me, that is nonsense. First of all I am no better handicapper than anyone else. But the information that I think can be gleaned, not just for the bettor, but for the general public, is fascinating. I think people are fascinated about the movement of money and why bookmakers set certain odds, plus the anecdotes from sports gambling. There is no formula for where we are heading. I call it guerilla media. You go in and get it figured out on the run and that will be a challenge for someone my age.”

Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images via AP

In an interview with SI.com on Sunday, Musburger made it repeatedly clear that he was not forced out by ESPN, nor was this related to his comments about Oklahoma football player Joe Mixon during the Sugar Bowl—those comments were widely criticized as insensitive, including by some ESPN colleagues. His final ESPN telecast is Georgia at Kentucky at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

“We had already started the process of me leaving,” Musburger said. “The morning after the Sugar Bowl I had breakfast with [ESPN president] John Skipper and [senior vice president of event & studio production] Stephanie Druley, and they wanted to work out a plan to keep me at ESPN. There was not even a discussion about what had been said specifically about Mixon. In fact, the only person who mentioned it to me was a telephone call two days later from [Disney chairman] Bob Iger, who is an old friend, and he said, ‘This too shall pass.’ That was the only comment. There was no blowback. There is absolutely no connection.

“I did not want them to be in the middle [of gambling issues]. I am sure they have had some phone calls about [gambling] comments that I have made on the air over the years. It certainly never came back to me, but I have no doubt it happened. I just wanted no connection whatsoever. I will tell you that my relations with ESPN and everyone there could not be better. We have been completely up front in this process. I leave with nothing but good feelings about these people. I never had a bad day for them and enjoyed it very much.”

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On the topic of talking to Musburger, an ESPN spokesman said, “It was discussed with Brent in that meeting [with Skipper and Druley] that his discussion [of Mixon] should have included more focus on the victim.”

Where other iconic broadcasters such as Verne Lundquist and Dick Enberg had season-long farewell tours, Musburger said he did want his leaving ESPN to be drawn out. “I prefer not to have the tour,” Musburger said. “I really like the idea that I’m on to something else. It was wonderful being with Dick Vitale in Oklahoma on Saturday with all the anecdotes and stories. But I really don’t want a love fest longer than the two games. It just doesn’t suit my style.”

Musburger’s sons have lived in Las Vegas over the years and he says he has a lot of friends in the city. He will move later this year to Las Vegas but will keep a property in his beloved Montana.

“I’m going to give this a couple of years and see what it is like,” Musburger said. “In two years I’ll be 79 having finished a couple of years of this. Maybe I’ll become a fulltime executive. Or maybe I will just want to put my feet up in Montana and say, ‘Man, what a ride that was.’”

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