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The Pros and Cons of Booking Guests

Jason Barrett

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Booking guests is an exhausting process which can often challenge and frustrate sports radio producers. Some people love the thrill of the chase and some do not but most agree that when a high profile name appears on a talk show and provides good content, it can make a huge difference. It has also shown to pay dividends for radio stations when it comes to delivering ratings.

During my career I’ve been fortunate to be strong in this department and what I’ve learned is that persistence pays off and thinking big and planning ahead are critical to your success. While at ESPN Radio, I’d sometimes book 48 guests over the span of three six-hour shows and it was intense. Booking 48 guests didn’t mean we had a good show, it just simply meant we booked a lot of people.

wilsongottliebNow for that particular show (GameNight), the format was built around capturing quick post-game conversations and interviews with people all over the country on the biggest sports stories of the day and that’s a lot different than a weekday talk show where the focus is on topic building, connecting with listeners and conducting conversations with people who fit the stories we care most about.

The reason I was able to handle the workload of guest booking on GameNight had a lot to do with my mindset. I spent my first  years in this business working in a smaller market where I had to scratch and claw for every guest I got and I learned fast that if you want big things to happen you better be prepared to out-work and out-think people. Nobody cares about the challenges you have in front of you, only the results you deliver.

Jason On The MicBack then I hosted my own daily talk show about an hour north of NYC and I knew that I would be measured against every station in NYC so if I didn’t have big things in place then I stood no chance. I’d drive to Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Nets, Knicks and Rangers games and personally talk to people before and after games to build relationships. I’d also call team hotels, team PR people, agents, family members, memorabilia dealers, other media members throughout the country and anyone else who I thought could help me with landing people on my talk show.

When you’re in the producers chair, your host is looking to you each day to help them with enhancing the content experience for the audience. Telling a host that they should talk about the local baseball game from the night before is the equivalent of telling them that you know the sun is yellow. It means nothing and is going to be filed away in the filing cabinet of useless bullshit.

danpatrickcharliesheenHowever, I’ve yet to see a host walk in and hear that a well recognized athlete/coach/media personality has been booked for the show and they’re not excited. From local personalities to a high profile talent such as Dan Patrick, they all get excited when they walk in and know you’ve lined something up they perceive to be strong and it makes them feel even more confident in you as a producer.

Instantly their wheels start spinning with what questions they should ask, what subjects will generate the biggest reaction out of the audience and what possible material from the conversation will lead to further promotion for the show after it’s over.

If you’re really good at looking ahead, you can come up with tons of possible guest ideas to advance a story and help your show. Case in point, 8 years ago when I first worked in St. Louis I created The Guests Bible. This was a 16-page document with a list of current St. Louis athletes, former St. Louis athletes and analysts from all sports in different cities throughout the country.

I’d tell my producers to use the information in a timely fashion but to always be looking at it and thinking of when it could come into play and benefit them. If anyone on the list was booked and not good on-air I’d encourage them to alert one another so we don’t make the mistake of booking them again.

ithinkicanI believe so much of what gets accomplished with booking guests starts and ends with your attitude and ability to strategically game plan for success. Anyone can have a ton of numbers but they only matter if you know your contact list and if you’ve got the ability to think fast and use them when they matter.

Being persistent and recognizing the benefit a great guest can provide your show also plays a vital role. Too many people are beaten before they start because they view the responsibility as annoying or frustrating and they hate to have to chase people but whether you enjoy it or not, it gets your hosts and your audience excited and it’s up to you to come thru.

preachingRather than listen to me preach about it though, I’ve reached out to three people I know in the industry to pick their brains on how they view guests and their importance in talk shows and what they’ve done to help land them on their respective program.

What I think is interesting is that all three of these guys have worked in different markets and they each have a different approach and philosophy on why guests do/don’t matter. I hope you’ll find their responses as helpful and informative as I did.

Today’s featured experts are as follows:

  • Ben Boyd – Executive Producer – KMOX in St. Louis
  • Jonathan Libbey – Producer – 95.7 The Game in San Francisco
  • Bernard Bokenyi – Former PD/Producer – 750 The Game/1080 The Fan in Portland; WKNR in Cleveland; Sporting News Radio

prod-libvernonHow much do you love booking guests for your shows? Why or why not?

Libbey: When it works out, I love it! Especially when you land a big fish and you know how much time and effort went into it. The frustration comes when you hit a dry spell, or nothing seems to being going your way. But those periods ebb and flow and you can learn how to mitigate the tougher times as much as possible.

BoydBooking guests can be very rewarding but also very distressing. There is nothing better than landing a huge guest, but it is a what have you done for me lately business. You can’t sit back and enjoy your work for long because you have to book your next show. 

BokenyiFor me personally there is WAY too much of an emphasis put on booking “BIG NAME” guests on shows. There was no enjoyment for me efforting the big names as very rarely did you have results on them. Too often guests are viewed as a necessity to make great radio and that is not the case. You have to put way too much time into it and even when you book some athletes, the interview is awful as they don’t care to be spending the time. I would rather spend time developing unique content and focus on guests that will be good on air, no matter what walk of life they come from.

prod-boydmayweatherHow many calls, e-mails and texts do you send out on a daily/weekly basis in order to land great guests for your shows?

Boyd: I prefer to email and text people whenever possible instead of calling so they can read my pitch about coming on instead of just saying no or hanging up before hearing why they should join us. Whether I call or email though really depends on how far in advance I reach out to them. It’s hard to quantify how many times I reach out to people per day/week because it’s really a non-stop process because there is always another show coming up the next day/week.

Libbey: Depending how many guests I need for the upcoming week and how much I am able to look further down the road, I know I’ll roughly need to get out at least 7-8 requests per 1 guest spot I need to fill. More if I am aiming for guests I have no contact info on / haven’t had on before.

BokenyiI would send out well over 100 messages a week between emails, phone calls and other methods. You have to find multiple ways to connect to people. Twitter had yet to take off when I was booking guests but now that is another method of reaching out to people. You can’t just leave it at a phone call or two for a specific guest. Do they have a family member you can track down? Can you connect with that family member? Does the athlete have a charitable organization or foundation? There are so many ways you can make connections.

prod-bernardcalineodWhen pursuing A-List guests for your show, what are some of the avenues you explore to try and book someone?

Bokenyi: For current players/coaches, the first route will always be PR or the SID. As noted above, finding foundations is a great way to get an interview. You can go the agent route but from my experience, the results there are scarce. If you can’t get anywhere with PR, I would look at personal web pages, foundations, charities and social media. Something as simples as “Kobe Bryant Charity” as a Google search can get you plenty of options to look at. Find out what they’ve been involved with. For retired players/coaches, things are much easier. You can follow a lot of the same methods. Another route to look at is books. A-List guests will do media tours for books and that can be a great route to pursue. Get on mailing lists, the more the merrier. Any sports agency, publishing house, PR firm and beyond.

Libbey: Look for outlets who have interviewed the guest I want, and see if they can offer me insight into how they got them. i.e. is there another producer out there who has already done the leg work who I can get in contact with to help me? Look at the guest’s personal twitter, facebook, website, business, foundation, or charity for contact info or for something they might want to promote. Look for business / endorsement  partnerships the guest has that they could be persuaded to come on to promote. Any other reasons they may be interested in publicity? (upcoming events, charities, autograph signings, products)

BoydPublicists, Team PR people, Agents, previous coaches, media in the local market

prod-libreddickWhat are the biggest benefits of landing top flight guests on your show? 

Libbey: It energizes everyone associated with the show. It can drive excitement and energy for an entire day or even more, among producer, hosts, audience, execs, and others. It can deliver more of an impact than almost anything else the show can do. It can drive tune-ins, but also create buzz that makes people want to tune in. It also builds a lasting sense of importance, relevance, and cache for the show.

Boyd: One of the biggest benefits is the reputation your show can get — listeners who want to hear big guests will tune into your show. It also helps your relationship with your host because of how much pride your host has in his/her show. You are helping them to put out the best product they can, and they know you are working hard and want to be the best. Big time guests can boost the reputation of your station and yourself, and obviously can increase your ratings if you are able to publicize the appearance.

BokenyiI always wanted to challenge talent to be engaging and have fun and landing a quality interview can do that very effectively. In this day and age of digital media, the on-air interview is just the first step. That audio now lives forever through podcasting and social media. Get legs out of the interview. Make sure that it’s available for download as soon as possible. First of all you can encode audio to have PPM available for a window of time which can help with ratings. Second, you want people to know what they missed and to keep seeking it out. If somebody is not able to listen to your show live but can through podcast, what’s the difference? Yes you want to promote content, but keep in mind people have jobs, lives, commitments and your schedule does not always fit in to their lives. Allow them to fit your content into their lives and you will find success. 

prod-boydriceOnce a guest is booked, what else do you do as a Producer to take advantage of the opportunity?

BoydI like to promote guests on Facebook, Twitter, online message boards, etc. It is great if you can get a pro team to tweet out the appearance by their player, and it is always nice when a guest retweets your tweet to their followers.

Libbey: Publicize it as much as possible via on-air mentions, twitter, facebook, text alerts, etc. Try to generate as much buzz going into it as possible. Make sure hosts and producer are on the same page with what we want the spot to sound like and what we want it to deliver. Publicize and re-purpose any relevant clips from the interview on twitter, facebook, on-air, or via distribution to other pertinent persons / outlets.

BokenyiThe bottom line with guest booking is to know your hosts. Some are good at handling the young athlete that doesn’t really want to talk. Others have different strengths. To me, any interview you book must add something of depth to the show. There are plenty of A-list guests that won’t add depth if the interview itself is not engaging. The only time you should ever send out a press release on an interview is when it is regarding a hot topic that is current and will truly get people to say “WOW”. Test it out around the office. Grab a sales rep, intern, production person, traffic or promotions staffer. See if they give the reaction to something you want ESPN to get. You have to pick and choose however because you don’t want to overdo it. 

prod-bernardhulkHow often do you work in advance on guest booking? What’s your strategy when it comes to booking ahead?

Bokenyi: You have to always look at the upcoming opponents and games. For athletes and coaches, that is the only way to go, especially in season. You always however want to have a stable of interviews you are working on that are not necessarily time sensitive so you can have things to supplement what you are doing on a daily/weekly basis. During football season, you have to work at least a month ahead for your planning purposes. Depending on the guest, you may have to work even farther out. For example, if you want Richard Sherman during the 49ers/Seahawks week, you sure as heck better have been working on it for six months to make it happen during the week of the game.

Libbey: The day-to-day grind of short-term guest booking takes up the majority of the time, but I always want to have at least some long-term ideas / requests in the works. Always have some targets that are “evergreen” because they are relevant no matter what time of year. And also look ahead to upcoming games / series and target guests that are very difficult to get but would deliver a huge impact. When free(er) time presents itself, working ahead usually pays off, though it may take a long time for benefits to materialize.

BoydI always try to book ahead. I think most guests like when they are booked in advance instead of feeling like last minute additions. I always see what events are coming up on the calendar and try to reach out to people a few days to a week in advance. 

prod-libharrisonWhat is the biggest misconception of having a big rolodex or e-mail distribution list?

Libbey: That having a phone number or contact info for a guest means you can easily book that guest. The farther up the guest ladder you go, the less people want to be contacted directly. It’s a great feeling to get the direct number for a big fish, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will ever let you book them directly. You will still probably have to go through proper channels to get them to agree to come on. )But in a push-comes-to-shove or breaking news situation, it can come in extremely handy.)

BoydPeople think if you have everyone’s number, you will have no problem getting great guests, but it doesn’t matter what numbers you have if you can’t get people to respond. The biggest benefit to having a big rolodex is for breaking news. Big name guests are typically easier to get on when there is breaking news or when there is a big event like Hall of Fame inductions. 

Bokenyi: The term rolodex is a joke. In 2001, I worked at Sporting News Radio when we had Barry Bonds on. He originally called on his agent’s cell phone but the connection dropped. We had caller ID and I grabbed the first phone number. When the call cut off he called back from a different number, his personal cell phone. So as a good producer I grabbed that number. I now had Barry Bonds’ cell phone as a part of my “rolodex”. I gave the number to all of the guest booking crew so I could boost my ego and get a few “that a boys” from everyone. A few months later, a fellow producer tried to call Bobby Bonds and of course made the mistake of calling Barry. Needless to say he was a little unpleasant. The phone was on speaker and I heard the exact result of having Barry Bonds’ cell phone in your rolodex. Bonds managed to get about ten F-Bombs in during 20 seconds or so. Needless to say that phone number was changed within minutes. Point of the story – having a rolodex is silly antiquated thinking from years gone by. What you NEED is the ability to get the guest booked. Many current players, not even A-listers will tell PR that they got called directly so if you’re going to call someone directly, you better be sure it won’t jeopardize relationships that your station has.  

prod-boydjamesWhat advice do you want to pass along on guest booking to fellow producers who struggle at it or to someone who’s breaking into the industry and looking to learn it?

BoydThere are many different avenues of tracking someone down. I see too many interns/producers give up too easily when trying to find someone. Keep reaching out to other people who can help you connect. You can find out so much information online about friends/family members/high school or college coaches, and those people are usually willing to help set something up.

Libbey: Persistence is huge, don’t let yourself get discouraged, working ahead is your best friend, and creativity is massively beneficial. Creativity with guest ideas and also in terms of abstract / unconventional ways to contact people. Save the contact info of every person you ever have on or who helps you in any way. Don’t get lazy, always stay in the mindset of challenging yourself to keep expanding your rolodex and getting on people you’ve never had before. Build contacts with other producers and always be open to trading info with them, and in that way you can essentially double / triple your rolodex.

Bokenyi: Learn patience quickly! While you are working hard on big name guests, you have to find other content on a daily basis that will enhance your show. Being a producer is SO MUCH more than booking guests. That is just one part of the equation. You will have days when you land two great interviews in a day because it just works that way sometimes. You then may go weeks before your next A-list interview. To me, booking guests should be about 10% or so of what makes a good show. Now I know there will be plenty that disagree with me on that, but I speak from experience. As a young producer, find out more about your talent than the audience knows and find ways to get that out of them on the air. Push their buttons and be confident. Always do it with a smile and you will succeed.

The Key Takeaways:

  • Be persistent and be patient
  • Be active with a ton of requests and follow up
  • Know your contact list and use it in a timely fashion
  • Podcast and promote the interview even after it’s over
  • Know your hosts and what type of guests fit them best
  • Whether it’s annoying or frustrating, recognize its value to helping your show
  • Explore various avenues to book guests; there are tons of ways to book people
  • Don’t book people who just fill up segments, make the segment opportunities count

You can correspond with our three featured experts by reaching out to them on Twitter. Make sure to add @BenjaminHBoyd @BernardBokenyi and @Jlib21.

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Barrett Blogs

Is Sports Journalism Still Worth Paying For?

“I know many like to declare print being dead. I’m sorry I’m not one of them. Adults still enjoy reading.”

Jason Barrett

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Courtesy: Don Nguyen

I’ve been thinking about this column all week because it’s a topic I’m passionate about and curious to hear the responses to. For starters, let me pose a few questions to you. Does quality journalism still matter? Is it worth paying for? Do advertisers see enough return on their investments with print outlets through associations with influential writers, publications and branded content? Are consumers hungry to read the full details of a story or are they satisfied with the cliff notes version and absorbing messages that fit inside of 140-280 characters?

The world we’re in is saturated with content. Attention spans are rapidly shrinking. Social media is both to blame and bless for that. The positive is that we’re exposed to more content than ever before. This means more opportunity to reach people and grow businesses. The challenge of course is standing out.

People listen, read and watch less of one thing now, opting for variety during the time they have available. The issue with that is that it often leads to being less informed. I know many like to declare print being dead. I’m sorry I’m not one of them. Adults still enjoy reading. I see nearly three million people do it on this website alone and we’re small potatoes compared to mainstream brands. Clearly people like to learn.

I raise this topic because last week, Peter King announced his retirement although he left open the door for side projects. After forty plus years of writing the gold standard of NFL columns, King revealed he wanted to slow down and invest his time in other areas of life. Among his considerations for the future after taking a breather are teaching.

In a podcast interview with Richard Deitsch, King said “We may love this column but I doubt that it made enough money for NBC to pay what they were paying me. I don’t think words are very profitable anymore. It’s a sad thing but it’s what’s happened to our business.”

Later in the conversation, King discussed the difficulty he might face if speaking to students about whether or not to pursue working in the media industry. He acknowledged that the business is bad right now. However, he pointed out that if you can write and read, and be an intelligent thinking contributing member of society, there are a lot of jobs you can do beyond being a writer for a paper covering the NFL. You can teach English, work in PR or for a team or league website. But journalism is different now, and though it’s not impossible to do, having flexibility is important.

I agreed with most of King’s remarks and thought about the two different ways people might respond to them.

If you’re in agreement with Peter, you’ll point to the reduction in industry jobs, the changes in salaries, the lack of trust in media outlets, the economic uncertainty facing traditional operators, the shrinking ability to uncover truth, and the data that frequently supports video being hot, and print not so much.

Those who disagree will list the New York Times and The Athletic as examples of print brands that still matter. They’ll also mention the surge in newsletters, the arrival of new online outlets, and the daily communication between millions of people each day on social media, much of it revolving around conversations created or supported by text.

Where I sit is somewhere in between.

First, the notion that it’s harder now than before is one I’ll challenge. When I entered the business, I had to mail letters, send cassette tapes, and wait months for a response. There was no internet or opportunity to create a podcast, Substack, website or video to build an audience. I had to be selected by someone to have a chance to work. There were thousands like me who wanted a way in and were at the mercy of decision makers preferring my resume over someone else’s. I did exactly what King said on the podcast when he mentioned having to do other jobs to support yourself while pursing a dream.

Where I agree with King is when he mentioned words not being as profitable anymore. Are print reporters and columnists going to make what they once did? Probably not. There will always be exceptions just as there are in television and radio, but if you think you’re going to do one specific job and making a financial killing on it, prepare to be disappointed. Today, you better be able to wear different hats and create a lot of content in multiple places. Earning a lot for doing a little is a way of the past.

The one area where I’ll differ is when it comes to advertising. I believe there’s untapped value for brands in print. Recall with the written word remains strong. There’s also less advertising clutter in written stories than audio and video programming blocks. Advertisers may not seek out traditional print advertising anymore but branded content, newsletter associations, and social media placements remain valued.

What I admire greatly about King is that he evolved over the years. His written work on SI was must-read but that didn’t stop him from leaping into the online space and launching MMQB. The arrival of that microsite was done at the right point in time, and when SI began to change, King didn’t hang on, choosing to make the bold move and jump to NBC. Upon his arrival, he started contributing on television, podcasts, and expanding his profile on social media.

What you should take away from Peter is that you’ve got to constantly examine the business, and understand when it’s time to pivot, even if it means leaving your comfort zone. You also have to recognize that things are going to change and your job description will likely be one of them. If you stay married to what you once did, you’ll be in a tough spot. If you roll with the punches and embrace what’s new, you’ll survive and thrive.

You also have to understand that you’re going to be tied further to what you produce. Does your presence and performance grow advertising revenue? Are you speaking on behalf of brands and helping them move product? Do you grow subscriptions or readership to levels that make it easy for a company to invest significantly in you? Talent is subjective. Results aren’t. Those who create quality while boosting the bottom line will remain in demand.

Remember this in a few years when artificial intelligence becomes a bigger part of content creation and discovery. Those who adapt to it and work with it will be just fine. Those who reject it will be searching for new career paths. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s better stability in other industries. But there’s nothing like creating content around the world of sports and media. It just requires adaptability and being comfortable with being uncomfortable.

BSM Summit Update:

In ten days we unite the sports media business in New York City for the 2024 BSM Summit. All of the sessions are now complete. I’m excited to add Natalie Marsh, General Manager of Lotus Communications in Las Vegas, Cody Welling, Station Manager of 97.1 The Fan in Columbus, and Stephanie Prince, Vice President and Market Manager of Good Karma Brands West Palm Beach to our schedule. The full agenda for both days is posted on BSMSummit.com.

In addition, I’m thrilled to share that we’ll have a few special appearances at the ESPN Radio After Party on Wednesday March 13th. Joining us on-site will be Evan Cohen, Chris Canty and Michelle Smallmon of UnSportsmanLike, Freddie Coleman and Harry Douglas of Freddie & Harry, and Chris Carlin from Carlin vs. Joe.

Thumbs Up:

Chris Mortensen: Rarely does the sports media industry collectively agree on anything but you won’t find much disagreement on Chris Mortensen. He was a special talent and human being. I was fortunate to see it firsthand as a producer at ESPN Radio. I then enjoyed many interactions with Mort as a program director lining up calls on the radio stations I ran. It didn’t matter what job you did or where you worked, Chris treated you well. His work was hall of fame worthy but it was the manner in which he interacted with people that truly made him a legend. Rest in peace, Mort. I’m sure the next wave of conversations with John Clayton are going to be amazing.

Mike Felger: It would’ve been easy to pile on and publicly root for a competitor to fail and fold. Instead, Felger took the high road, acknowledging that he’s rooting for WEEI to come out of bankruptcy in good shape. That’s what smart business people. Mike is comfortable in his own skin. He has the highest rated show in Boston and having a competitor to compete against as well as a potential landing spot when contracts come up is never a bad thing. Besides, why would anyone want to see friends and respected professionals lose an opportunity to work or listeners given less choice for sports talk entertainment? Nice job, Mike.

iHeartmedia: The company’s fourth quarter results were down year-to-year but they were above prior projections. iHeart also gained 16.6% growth in podcasting revenues during Q4, and just got stronger by luring Stephen A. Smith’s podcast away from Audacy. A pretty good week for Bob Pittman and his lieutenants.

Sportico: Jason Clinkscales is an easy guy to root for. He’s written quality content for Awful Announcing, is a sharp guy who enjoys the industry, and after a year full of personal tragedies, he deserved a break. That came last week when Sportico hired him as a reporter and editor on their breaking news team. Well done Sportico. Looking forward to reading the first piece.

National Association of Broadcasters: Creating buzz for conferences isn’t easy but the NAB’s recent announcement of having Daniel Anstandig of Futuri Media present a first-of-its-kind presentation at its April show alongside Ameca, an autonomously AI-powered humanoid robot has certainly increased conversation and intrigue. I’ll be in attendance for the event and am curious like many. I’m just hoping Joe Rogan isn’t right when he suggested this week that robots will jump out of an aircraft carrier with machine guns and do damage.

Thumbs Down:

Kroenke Sports and Entertainment: This isn’t a shot at the company. It’s more about losing a talented media executive. Matt Hutchings, the company’s former COO and EVP was a key part of developing Altitude Sports. Under his watch, the Nuggets and Avalanche won titles, and the company cemented its position in the local sports radio space.

The dispute with Comcast over airing Nuggets and Avs games is well documented, and Hutchings will get some of the blame for the teams not being broadcast on local TV but I tend to believe decisions of that magnitude land at ownership’s doorstep. Regardless, KSE is weaker today than yesterday due to losing Hutchings.

New York Jets: I get it. 98.7 ESPN New York moving away from the FM dial provides a concern for the franchise, and in other cities, football does perform well on classic rock stations. I just see the fit with Q104.3 as an odd one. If Aaron Rodgers returns and the Jets finally take off the way their fans hoped they would last year, it’s going to feel strange hearing their games locally on a channel that has little content time dedicated to the team beyond game days.

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Erika Ayers and Spike Eskin Led Barstool Sports and WFAN to Success But Their Exits Raise Questions

“Rod and Spike understand the business. They know people are going to ask these questions.”

Jason Barrett

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There were two big management moves last week that have sports media folks talking. First was Erika Ayers Badan announcing her exit from Barstool Sports as the brand’s CEO. Second was the news of Spike Eskin returning to Sportsradio WIP and exiting his role as the VP of Programming for WFAN and CBS Sports Radio.

Let’s start with Erika. What she did for Barstool was spectacular. In 2016, I thought Barstool had a strong understanding of social media, unique talent and voices, podcasts that were cutting through, and a connection with younger fans that traditional outlets couldn’t deliver. They also produced events that drew a lot of public attention. But I didn’t view Barstool as a buttoned up business capable of generating hundreds of millions of dollars. Erika Nardini aka Erika Ayers Badan and Dave Portnoy deserve credit for making it one.

Erika told me at our 2020 BSM Summit that Barstool didn’t have a P&L sheet when she joined. She had to build systems, hire staff, grow the sales arm of Barstool, and help Dave Portnoy find investors. What followed were marketing deals with major brands, content partnerships with different media outlets, a massive investment from Penn National, and a changed perception of Barstool as a mainstream player. They were no longer just the cool, rebellious brand on social media and the internet that gave no f’s and generated attention. They became game changers in the sports content space.

So why leave?

If Barstool is now clear of restrictions and able to operate without investor influence, that should be enticing, right? In her farewell video Erika said that she felt she accomplished what she set out to do. I understand and appreciate that. But I can’t help but wonder if less structure and investor involvement made it less appealing to stay. She did join the brand after The Chernin Group got involved not before it.

I have no inside knowledge on this, and I’m not suggesting Barstool won’t continue growing and dominating. They likely will. It just raises questions about how the brand will manage sales, PR, critical internal and external issues, and battles with suitors when they try to lure away Barstool’s on-air and sales talent.

The business end of Barstool appears weaker today than it did a week ago. That’s more of a testament to what Erika did than a knock on anyone still there. To grow revenue the way she did the past 8 years speaks volumes about her skill as an executive. Wherever she lands next, it’s likely she’ll make a difference.

Will it be easier to do business with Barstool moving forward? Time will tell. I don’t expect they’ll make it easier for media outlets like ours to cover them. But if I’ve learned anything in eight years of following them it’s don’t ever bet against Dave Portnoy. Too often people have. Each time he’s proven them wrong. Portnoy has built a powerhouse brand, and grown the business by zigging when others zagged. But how Barstool moves forward without Erika will be of great interest to many in 2024.

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Spike Eskin will be leaving WFAN and his position as the VP of Programming for Audacy to return to WIP and co-host the afternoon show. On paper this is a great move for WIP. Spike understands Philadelphia and WIP’s audience, he lives and breathes Philly sports, and has a great rapport with the entire lineup. He’s maintained an on-air presence through his Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast, and I believe that moving into a host role alongside Ike Reese and Jack Fritz will be a seamless transition for all involved. Being in his mid to late 40’s, he’s also got plenty years ahead of him to cement his spot as an on-air talent. I expect Spike, Ike and Jack to do well together.

But to exit WFAN and the top programming role at Audacy in less than three years, raises a few questions. Why is this opportunity better for Spike than the programming role he just held? Was he happy at WFAN? Were folks happy with him at WFAN? Many have opinions about WFAN’s changes the past few years. Some love the fresher approach. Others don’t. That’s what makes sports radio in New York fun, people care.

As a follower of WFAN for over thirty years, it’s a different brand than the one I grew up on. That’s not a bad thing by the way. I’m almost 50. If Spike and Chris Oliviero programmed to please the Mike and the Mad Dog crowd that’d be a mistake. Attention spans are shorter, content options are larger, digital is more important and the days of a city flocking to the radio at 1pm to hear a host’s first words are gone. Judging from the ratings, revenue, and turnout for Boomer and Gio’s last live event, the station is doing well. They’ve got a lot of talent, a stronger digital game, and they’ll continue thriving. Spike deserves credit for the brand’s progress.

But why is a hosting role and less influence over a brand better for Eskin? Spike has been a part of WIP’s afternoon show before. Though leading the show vs. being the third mic is a different animal. He also programmed the station really well. In fact, Spike did such a good job at WIP that it landed him the top programming position in sports radio. Is there a personal part to this given that his father made afternoons in Philly must-listen for 25 years? Or is it about the personal relationship he has with Ike and Jack?

And how does this work from a financial standpoint? It’s likely that Spike was paid more to lead Audacy New York than Jon Marks was to host WIP’s afternoon show. If that’s the case, and nothing changes for Eskin, and WIP just adds payroll, does it affect what Chris Oliviero can spend on Audacy New York’s next brand leader? I can’t see that happening at all. Chris is going to make sure he has what he needs to land the right leader in New York.

Finances only come up because it’s known that Audacy is going through a bankruptcy process. Adding expenses right now seems unlikely. However, to add someone with Eskin’s skill and track record at a station where he previously shined is smart business, especially when you consider that he can win as a host and programmer if needed. That’s going to naturally lead to folks asking ‘will Spike eventually host PM drive and program WIP? If so, what does that mean for current PD Rod Lakin?’ ‘What happens when talent at WIP that Spike had a hand in hiring don’t like what Lakin suggests or if WIP’s ratings decline?’

Spike told Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie that’s not on his radar and the idea of joining the afternoon show was raised by PD Rod Lakin. Some of you may read that and be surprised that Lakin would suggest it. But Rod stepped into the role that Eskin previously held. I’m sure they’ve talked plenty the past few years. If their relationship is strong that should help. I don’t know it well enough to say if it is or isn’t. This move suggests Lakin’s more concerned with strengthening WIP than worrying about himself or industry chatter.

If anyone can navigate the situation and make it work, it’s Rod Lakin. He’s calm, cool, collected, smart and doesn’t get flustered by noise and pressure. I know this because we’ve known each other for over a decade, and I introduced him to folks years ago, which led to him landing the Philly role. If you read Derek Futterman’s piece on Angelo Cataldi last month, the Philly icon shared a small example of what makes Rod a great leader.

But Rod and Spike understand the business. They know people are going to ask these questions. The flurry of texts and emails I received about this last week was insane. I’m sure it was even louder on the local level. Many will suggest that Audacy will use this as an opportunity to eventually reduce expenses and stay strong by having Eskin handle two roles. Only those involved know the answers but one thing I know is that Rod Lakin knows how to program. If he’s not supported there, he’ll have plenty of interest elsewhere.

In a perfect world, Spike excels in afternoons, Rod leads WIP to greater success, and WFAN finds a great leader to move the brand forward. But until the smoke clears, noise will fill the air in the big apple and city of brotherly love.

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Thumbs Up:

Colin Dunlap, 93.7 The Fan: While on the air last week, Dunlap received a call from a 65-year old woman named Colette. She told the Pittsburgh host that she and her husband were disabled and after undergoing 28 surgeries, she was physically struggling to clear her walkway of snow. Hearing her story moved Dunlap to react. He then called on the audience to step up and help. Shortly thereafter, one of 93.7 The Fan’s listeners, a gentleman named Tom, phoned in, and made the drive over to help out a fellow listener. That’s the power of live radio at its best, all possible by Dunlap reading and reacting to the situation perfectly.

Clay Travis, Outkick: Whether you love him or hate him, Clay delivers strong opinions and commands your attention. A perfect example was his Friday night reaction video to the demise of Sports Illustrated. If you haven’t watched it, it’s worth checking out. It’s nearing one million views at the time of my writing this.

VSiN: The sports betting network based out of Las Vegas recently redesigned its website and the new look and feel of it is excellent. Clean throughout, easy to navigate, and rich of content. Nice work by Bill Adee all involved.

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Thumbs Down:

Sports Illustrated: Laying off the majority of its staff was bad enough, but to notify people by email or have them find out on social media shows a lack of class and a disgusting approach to running a business. All of those traits by the way are the exact opposite of what SI once stood for – RESPECT.

During SI’s glory days, the content was must read. But in recent years, the outlet landed in the hands of operators who valued clicks over quality. Many predicted and expected this once storied brand to crumble. Unfortunately, the naysayers were proven right.

To those affected, I’m sorry for the crummy news. Some will rebound and help other established brands. Some will launch their own platforms or exit the industry. Anyone looking to do future freelancing work is invited to email [email protected].

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BSM Summit Update:

I’m happy to share that Good Karma Brands president Steve Politziner, Edison Research co-founder and president Larry Rosin and ESPN Chicago program director Danny Zederman have been added to our lineup. We’ve also finalized two of our four awards recipients and are working on a third. I’m hoping to share those details soon along with a few other high profile additions to this year’s show. I’ll be heading to Las Vegas during Super Bowl week, which is when we reveal our BSM Top 20 of 2023, and after that I’m hoping to finalize our schedule so it can be released by the end of February.

I know everyone likes waiting until the last minute to buy tickets and reserve hotel rooms. If you want to avoid being left out though, the time to act is now. Everything you need is posted on BSMSummit.com. Our deadline for hotel room reservations is February 13th. We’ve also sent out free ticket contests by email to the advertising community and tri-state area colleges. We’ll have two more this week for executives and programmers. Be sure to check your spam folder just in case it doesn’t arrive in your inbox.

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2-Seconds to Vent:

Jimmy Pitaro, Eric Shanks, John Skipper, Nick Khan, Colin Cowherd, Paul Finebaum, Clay Travis, Craig Carton, Adam Schein, Michael Kay, and Fred Toucher all have something in common with many others across the industry. They’re accomplished professionals with plenty on their plate yet when contacted, they always respond. Most of the time, they do so quickly. That’s greatly appreciated.

If those tasked with running the largest media companies in America, and hosting shows with content, advertising, and audience commitments can find time to respond, why is it so hard for other professionals to do the same? If you don’t want to be featured on BSM, speak at a Summit, market with us or answer a question, just say ‘not interested‘. It takes two seconds. The best in the business understand the value of relationships and promotion. Unfortunately, many do not. I don’t use this platform to draw attention to these issues but sometimes I wonder, should I?

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Original Projects:

On BNM this week we’re doing five days of features on NPR professionals as part of ‘Public Radio Week‘. It’s not easy pulling it off but we’re trying some different stuff. Next week we launch ‘Where Are They Now‘ on BSM. Peter Schwartz will have the first feature next Tuesday. Coming up in February, we drop the BSM Top 20, Derek Futterman’s ‘Day Spent With‘ series which includes spending a day with professionals across different areas of the industry, and we’ll profile a number of black voices on BNM as part of the brand’s focus on Black History month. I hope you’ll check them out whenever time allows.

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Recommended Viewing:

If you’re looking for a movie to watch during the week, check out Blackberry if you haven’t already done so. The film is about the rise and fall of the Blackberry phone, and I thought it was excellent. It had a similar feel to the movie Jobs, and the series Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber. Worth your time if you’ve got two hours available to watch something different than live games or sports programming.

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If you have a question or comment you’d like addressed in a future column, please send it to [email protected]. That same email address can be used to pass along press releases, interview requests or news tips. Thanks for reading!

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The 2024 BNM Summit is Coming To Washington D.C.

“Tickets will be regularly priced at $299.99 but for the month of January they’re on-sale for $199.99. Prices will not be this low after February 1st.”

Jason Barrett

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2024 BNM Summit

What better way to kick off the new year than to make an announcement. We’ve been working on our plan for the 2024 BNM Summit for months and I’m stoked to share the news today with the news media industry.

In 2023, we had an excellent debut event in Nashville. I recognize that I’m a new face to many in news talk radio and television. For that reason, I wasn’t sure what to expect last time. Would folks make the trip? What would our sponsor support look like? Could I create the right agenda for those in attendance? There were a lot of questions to answer. Judging from the feedback, I think we passed the test.

As we talked about the next one and reviewed industry responses, I knew we’d have to raise our game in an election year. We listed New York City, Chicago, Dallas, and Washington D.C. as possible destinations, and all were attractive for different reasons. But we can only pick one, and I’m excited to share that the 2024 BNM Summit is coming to the nation’s capital, Washington D.C..

The dates of the show will be Wednesday September 4th and Thursday September 5th. We’ll have more details leading up to the show. One thing you’ll want to take advantage of now is our special sale on tickets. Our regular price will be $299.99 but for the month of January tickets are on-sale for $199.99. Prices will not be this low after February 1st. We have 250 seats in the venue so it’s first come, first served.

When we considered the possibility of bringing the Summit to D.C., we knew it had a ton of benefits. There were great options for speakers, and numerous brands and networks operating locally. Being accessible to politicians, the NAB, and other businesses was also appealing. All that was needed was the right venue with nearby hotel options. Fortunately, we found it.

The Jack Morton Auditorium at The George Washington University will serve as our location for September’s show. It’s an awesome venue, which has been used before for high profile events. There’s also great parking and an awesome food court nearby, and it’s close to the main local landmarks. Having 3-4 hotels within walking distance was another advantage. Speaking of which, we’ll have more details on our hotel options soon.

The key information to be aware of for now are the dates of the show, and the special January ticket price. We’ll add speakers in the upcoming months and email attendees for insight on what they wish to learn at our next event. We expect this to be a strong conference, and I’m excited to bring the industry together a half a mile away from the White House.

If your group sponsored last year’s show or didn’t and would like to, reach out to Stephanie Eads. She has this year’s sponsorship deck now available. We had outstanding support last year, and expect demand for this one to be even higher. Stephanie can be reached at [email protected] or 415-312-5553.

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