Defining success for a sports radio station can be measured in many different ways. There’s laying out guidelines and goals for what you expect from each individual. There’s bottom line revenue. There’s digital and mobile growth, social media engagement, connection in the community, content strategy and execution and of course the almighty ratings book.
Yes it’s true, the ratings game isn’t an exact science and of course most programmers complain about the lack of meters in each individual market but whether it’s fair or unfair, every single station in every market deals with the same system and your job is to deliver numbers that your sales team can use to generate more revenue for your company. Nobody complains when the numbers are good but we all piss and moan when they’re lower than expected.
I’ve had my share of ups and downs with numbers but I do believe they matter. As long as advertisers seek them and decide future ad buys on the station I operate based on them, they’ll remain a heavy focus for me. While it’s easy to make excuses and complain about the systems flaws (trust me they have plenty), everyone is playing the same game.
How many times have you seen the following “My station doesn’t subscribe to Arbitron/Nielsen because they don’t show our brand’s true audience. We remain focused on super serving our audience and advertisers“. When I hear that I start to chuckle because the real translation is “our numbers suck and we can’t convince anyone we have an audience so we’ll go on the offensive to defend our position so advertisers don’t pull their business from us”.
Then there’s the talent side of things “I don’t believe in ratings. I’ve never seen a meter. I know when the show is good and we have a big audience because people see me and tell me they listen“. I’ve run 4 different radio stations in 3 different markets over the past 8 years and there’s always someone taking that position. What they mean to say is “I need an excuse to fall back on in case my numbers aren’t good because otherwise I’ll have a hard time asking for a raise in the future. Besides, I have a strong following on social media and that shows that I have a huge audience”.
In both cases I understand the skepticism due to what’s been created by Nielsen as a result of weak measurement but what I’ve yet to see is a radio station not reward an on-air talent or PD who was delivering strong ratings. Excuses come up when audience numbers are low but when they’re high, everyone brags and wants a pat on the back and companies usually reward you for it. Ratings are needed to justify the companies ability to command higher ad rates and your ability to deliver them is a critical part of your job. Without them as a host or programmer, your position could be in jeopardy.
Ask yourself this, how can we make money in this business if it’s based on subjective opinion of what we think of our own shows? Is a talent really going to walk into an office and say to a PD “My show isn’t as good as I thought it would be or what you hoped it would be and I sense the audience has checked out, maybe you should pull the plug on it“? Of course not.
On-Air talent are conditioned to pump themselves up by telling you “I have a huge audience, I know what works” but can they really prove that? Have they gone out and personally counted every listener who interacted with them in public, on social or through the station text account? Of course not. When a talent tells me they had 200-1000 people attend or send them a message on social media as evidence of having a big audience, I remind them that 200-1,000 people in a market made up of 7 million is not a number to brag about.
About 15-months ago I listened to Mike Francesa from WFAN in NY talk about the way he looks at ratings. Many would agree that Mike has been one of the most influential and dominant sports radio personalities of our lifetime and as I heard him share his views on this subject I found myself intrigued. First consider that he’s been on the air with WFAN for over 25 years and during that time he has delivered more than 80 #1 ratings performances with Men 25-54. That is incredibly impressive especially in the country’s largest market.
Some will say his success is due to being on WFAN which has a great signal, strong heritage and was the nation’s first true all-sports format and while that deserves consideration, you’d be doing him a disservice if you assumed that’s why he’s succeeded. Mike spends 5.5 hours per day on the air and he’s seen as the authority on NY sports. He’s won alongside Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo as well as on his own. His station lost major players such as Russo and Don Imus yet Mike has continued to dominate the market.
What really impressed me most about Mike’s speech was when he discussed the value he places on his ratings performance. To learn that the #1 guy in the top US market meets every Monday with his PD to see how he’s stacking up against the competition was impressive. How many on-air talent do you know who even ask a question about their own performance at the end of a month let alone on a weekly basis?
WFAN makes a lot of money and Mike does extremely well for himself and nobody at his company is going to tell an advertiser they can’t demonstrate performance when ratings are requested. He considers it to be his report card and when you’re delivering straight A’s, you’re not embarrassed to show off your grades. To get a sense of Mike’s views on the ratings game check out this video.
While I’ve spent the first part of this piece on the mindset of ratings, the next level of what I want to discuss has to do with the demographic for which sports radio is analyzed. Anyone who works in this format knows that your success or failure is determined by how you perform with Men 25-54. You can create neat little stories with Men 18+, Men 18-34, P6, 12+ or Adults 25-54 but the number that matters when all is said and done are Men 25-54.
This is the demographic that advertisers expect sports radio stations to be strongest in and and it’s what on-air personalities and programmers get bonused on. It’s also what your company looks at to determine if the investment in a sports radio station is paying off. Every month when my ratings come out I’ll look at P6 to see what our overall cume for the station is and I’ll check out the Adults 25-54 demo to see if I can provide any stories for sales to help with some other possible buys but the main focus for myself and all involved in my group (and every station I’ve ever worked at) is always Men 25-54.
I enjoy getting the ratings report each month and I’ve found that when you create a great product and surround yourself with talented people, getting an audience to listen and reward you with proof of performance isn’t hard. While in St. Louis, my former brand 101 ESPN started 33rd and was consistently in the Top 5 in ratings within 12-18 months, including reaching #1.
When I built 95.7 The Game in SF, we started in 27th place and in under 4 years climbed to as high as 3rd with Men 25-54. It took a lot of luck, hard work, personnel changes and loss of sleep and none of it would’ve happened without a great staff performing day in and day out to entertain listeners.
While the focus for ratings success is Men 25-54, Francesa raised an interesting point about what the demographic should be. He says the format should be measured by Men 35-69. He argues that Men over 60 years old have more money whereas younger male adults can barely pay rent and if advertisers are seeking people with wealth to purchase their products, then they should put a heavier emphasis on the older demographic.
The logic makes sense but I don’t agree that Men 35-69 should be the focus. If it’s only about money then I’d give it stronger consideration but ratings are also supposed to be about listenership and I think the reason sports stations are migrating to the FM dial are because Men 25-34 have a stronger interest in the product than ever before. It’s during these years of a man’s life that he usually starts listening and forming a bond with the sports radio format and I don’t think that can be dismissed and not measured.
Whether it’s Men 25-54, Men 25-64, Men 25-69 or another demographic, is subjective and while I don’t have the perfect answer, I do think that as our business grows, all options should be explored. If we can change the way radio gets measured from diary to PPM and we can see stations switch to FM and begin to deliver huge numbers on mobile and online, then we owe it to our industry to make sure that we get the best measurement possible to showcase the brand’s strength.
I think it’s silly that mobile listening and web streaming are rarely accounted for when we can see the amount of listening sessions that take place on our brands. I understand that it’s still about the over the air listening activity but with the future changing rapidly, the industry will have to evolve and put a stronger focus on “audio measurement“, not just radio measurement.
To help paint a better picture of the importance of ratings and the way people in our business see them, I asked 3 questions to some of the best minds in the sports radio business today. Taking part in the panel are the following people:
- Jason Dixon – Program Director of Detroit Sports 105.1 FM
- Jeff Austin – Program Director of 1080 The Fan in Portland
- Tim Spence – Station Manager of 102.3/105.5 ESPN Denver
- Ryan Hatch – VP of News and Sports at 92.3 KTAR and Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
- Brian Long – Program Director of XTRA 1360 and Newsradio AM 600 KOGO in San Diego
What demographic matters most to your radio station in determining whether or not it’s been a successful month in the ratings?
Dixon: I spend most of my time looking at Men 25-54 because that’s the number that matters most to our sales department. From there I dissect the big number to see what we are doing in the various cells to find the station’s strengths and weaknesses.
Austin: Men 25-54. It’s a wide demo but the one that the vast majority of our buys are predicated upon. We need to score with the older half of this demo as a sweet spot, and continually develop listeners in the younger half, so attention to the entire demo is a must.
Spence: What’s our job? Men. Where’s the money? 25-54. Once you are established in that demo of Men 25-54 then most stations start expanding and developing P25-54.
Hatch: Men 25-54 is always the primary demo that sports radio stations target and evaluate, and it is ours as well but we have raised our expectations. Now on FM, our goal is to drive a male number that rolls up into a Top 10 Persons 25-54 number with the primary new audience driver coming from the younger 25-34 male demo that was almost completely inaccessible on AM. If we don’t deliver Top 3 Men 25-54 and Top 10 Persons 25-54 performance in the Fall, we’re not delivering the radio audience we need to.
Long: Men 25-54. This demo is the sweet spot for us and our targeted clients.
JB NOTE: Every single programmer here has the same mentality of capturing Men 25-54. While there are some interesting variations such as what Ryan is looking to capture in Phoenix with his brand’s migration to FM, the conversation starts with Men 25-54.
What do you think should be the demographic to measure sports talk radio’s success?
Dixon: The most important demo to me is the one where the money is. If tomorrow, agencies and clients start placing buys based on men 35-49 or men 18-24, that will be my target. As programmers in a narrow format, we have to keep our eyes on the prize. We all want great ratings so we can pat ourselves on the back, collect ratings bonuses etc. but the fact is that they are sales tools.
Austin: Men 25-54. If you want to avoid being a “niche” station, which healthy sports stations should make a goal of, and get more listeners under your tent, you have to be a great “male listen.” If you focus on a smaller demo, you risk becoming less-relevant with large portions of your audience. If you widen your focus to consider males outside of that demo, or females, you become bland and non-exclusive to the majority of your audience.
Spence: Well, first as I mention above, it’s Men 25-54. That said, the heart of the demo is what MAKES the demo. If I own/control/kill it with Men 35-44, I’ll p/u both ends of the demo. If I focus too much towards either end, I potentially skew the other side of the demo.
Hatch: Our job will always be to deliver the most valuable audience that we can connect to our advertising partners, which will continue to be affluent men with purchase power and influence. If you’re only talking about radio ratings, it’s simple. As long as the ad agencies and buyers continue to determine Men 25-54 and Persons 25-54 are the most important demos to them, it’s going to remain that way for us.
Long: Men 25-64. People are living longer and putting off having children until later in life. Ultimately, delaying retirement . 60 is the new 50 and people’s spending habits have changed.
JB NOTE: There’s some great stuff here. First, Brian raises some excellent points about people living longer, retiring later and having children later. That makes a lot of sense in explaining why adding to the back end of the demographic could make sense in the future. I also love what Jason and Ryan had to say about satisfying the demand of agencies and clients. Until advertisers change their views, Men 25-54 will remain the format’s key focus.
How important are ratings to your business and the way you position your radio station?
Dixon: Personally I love ratings. They can provide validation for your hard work and they can be a big warning sign for something that is not working. That being said, they are not the “be all , end all” of the sports radio business. One of my go to lines is, “I’ve never seen a Sports Radio PD with average ratings and great billing fired.” The 6 plus number that’s published in the trades does not create the narrative of your radio station. Your content, your presentation and the stories that your sales people share on the street is what defines your radio station.
Austin: We don’t position on-air based upon ratings, but we do in the field (sales). The key for us is to be the top sports station in our market. Without a major local play-by-play property, we especially need to own Prime. As for sharing the common goal, I think it registers more clearly with the sales force.
Spence: The bottom line, ratings are important. They’re what takes the average sports station that sells just spots/dots and relationships to the next level. Eventually, if you don’t have ratings, sales will suffer.
Hatch: We pride ourselves on telling the entire Arizona Sports audience story and it’s incredible influence in the market. We absolutely will not allow the radio ratings alone to define success. Granted, ratings are still the most important metric as increased radio audience is still by far the quickest way to increase revenue, especially with transactional business. The difficult part is with longtime radio talent who have been trained and bonused over the years to solely let the radio ratings dictate success. It’s still a tough putt to break that habit. The reality is that while we watch significant growth among so many of our platforms, if the ratings don’t correspond, it’s tough on the guys because that’s still their biggest badge of honor.
Long: Ratings are very important. Having ratings on a station allows both (sales and programming) the advantage of being more discerning about the type of business you are willing to take or walk from which ultimately affects the overall sound of the station.
JB NOTE: There’s one key point made here by the group. Positioning your brand internally is equally as important as positioning it externally. If every aspect of an organization isn’t pulling in the same direction and singing the same tune then further discussion is needed to develop one unified message. The ratings absolutely matter but there’s multiple ways to sell that message and the benefits of the brand. Whichever direction you go, all departments must be on board and share in the same vision.
Black Friday Sale TODAY For 2022 BSM Summit Tickets
“BSM’s Black Friday sale on Summit tickets will begin at 12:01am ET on Friday November 26th and expire at 11:59pm later that same night.”
There are less than 100 days remaining until the 2022 BSM Summit takes place in New York City. We’ve announced 31 participants for the show so far, and have more to reveal in the weeks and months ahead. I think you’re going to like what’s still to come.
Putting this conference together isn’t easy. It requires months of meetings, brainstorming, promotion, selling sponsorships, pursuing speakers, and creating everything that attendees see on stage over a two day period. I’m thankful to have help from some amazing partners, but as I’ve mentioned previously, this isn’t an event that makes us rich or ends with 5-10 new clients signing up to work with BSM. The goal each year is simple, make sure the conference is valuable for those who attend, and don’t run BSM out of business by doing it. As long as those two things remain solid, it’s worth doing.
Some might wonder, why go thru months of headaches if you’re not going to break the bank or immediately add clients. That’s fair to ask. If you look at it from a pure business standpoint, one could easily make a case that pouring this type of energy into something else could be more lucrative. But money was never the motivation for doing this. I felt the sports media industry lacked a signature event where smart, successful media professionals (who don’t often cross paths) could gather at one location to laugh and learn together, and I wanted to change that. If over a two day period attendees could gain insight, information, ideas, and introductions, it’d put everyone in a stronger position to remain successful.
I’ve unapologetically loved the sports media business since I started listening to Mike & the Mad Dog on WFAN and watching SportsCenter on ESPN. I was fortunate to live and work in a number of cities over the past two decades, learning how different companies and people operate, and I remain involved today thru my work with BSM. I mention this because I also know media people. They tend to wait until the last minute to book hotel rooms, airfare, and purchase tickets, even if they can save money by acting sooner. I know, I used to do it too. I can’t control when you book your room or plane ticket, but I do want to give you an added incentive to buy your ticket to this year’s show. Seating is limited, and once the last seat is filled, that’s it. We can’t make extra room.
With that in mind, most of you are either taking today off or working inside a much quieter building. If you’ve thought about coming to the Summit, take 5-10 minutes to log on to BSMSummit.com to take advantage of our special Black Friday sale. We’ve reduced tickets for the day, so whether you’re planning to attend in NYC or watch the conference online, there’s a discount to help you out. Just $199.99 for live tickets, and $124.99 for virtual.
BSM’s Black Friday sale on Summit tickets expires at 11:59pm tonight. In the meantime, Hotel Edison in NYC is offering rooms for just $109 + taxes to Summit attendees. Click here to take advantage of the special room rate we’ve secured for this year’s show. Those of you planning to fly to NYC for the show, there have been a ton of great deals offered by American, Southwest, United, JetBlue and Frontier. It might be worth checking into today since Black Friday often has even better sales on travel.
If you’re interested in learning more about the industry, staying a step ahead, forming new relationships, strengthening existing ones, exploring potential business deals, and celebrating the business you’re in, I hope you’ll join us either online or in New York City for the 2022 BSM Summit. I’m making it easier on you, by offering lower ticket prices today. The rest is up to you!
Craig Carton, Fred Toucher, Mike Felger To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit
“Few understand what it takes to deliver success in this format consistently like Craig, Fred and Mike, and I’m glad they’re making the time to share their knowledge with us.”
When you talk to industry people about successful brands in sports talk radio, most conversations include WFAN and 98.5 The Sports Hub. The New York and Boston sports radio brands are consistently recognized for their ability to deliver large audiences and revenues.
Helping to create that success is a mixture of strong play by play partnerships, skilled programmers and even more importantly, some of the most dynamic on-air personalities in the format. Fortunately for us, a few of those gamechangers will be present to share their opinions and insights on content matters in New York City at the 2022 BSM Summit.
Starting in New York, it’s an honor to welcome WFAN afternoon drive host Craig Carton to the 2022 BSM Summit. Heard daily on ‘Carton and Roberts‘ alongside Evan Roberts, which is also featured on TV on SNY, Carton has made his presence felt ever since returning to the airwaves in November 2020. Prior to taking on the challenge in afternoons, Craig spent a decade partnering with Boomer Esiason on ‘Boomer and Carton‘, forming one of the most successful sports radio morning shows in the country. In addition to enjoying success in New York, Craig has also experienced the ups and downs that come with performing in different markets. His radio travels have taken him to Philadelphia, Denver, Buffalo and Trenton, NJ. The Syracuse graduate and outspoken host is expected to join BSM President Jason Barrett for a one on one conversation at this year’s Summit.
Shipping up to Boston, it’s a pleasure to welcome two of the format’s highest rated performers to New York City. They’re heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub in morning and afternoon drive, and at the Summit, they’ll interact together during an in-depth content conversation with BSM President Jason Barrett.
Fred Toucher is one half of the Sports Hub’s popular morning show ‘Toucher & Rich‘, which recently added syndication. The Detroit native started his career in Georgia before moving to Boston in 2005. Toucher & Rich, which includes Rich Shertenlieb, officially moved into the sports talk format in 2009. Since making the format switch, the duo have consistently produced some of the best ratings in the entire format in mornings during the past fifteen years. Toucher & Rich have also been recognized by industry executives as one of the top two morning shows in the format each of the past three years in the BSM Top 20, including taking top honors in 2018.
Mike Felger on the other hand is heard on the ride home alongside Tony Massarotti on The Sports Hub. The Marconi Award-winning afternoon radio show has been a fixture in Boston since the station’s inception in 2009. During the past twelve years, Felger & Mazz have been a steady force atop the Men 25-54 ratings including recently delivering an impressive 18.9 share in the summer book to finish 1st. The Milwaukee native also hosts a show for NBC Boston, and has previously served as a columnist for the Boston Globe. Similar to Toucher & Rich, Felger & Mazz have earned high praise from format execs in the BSM Top 20. They’ve been voted one of the top 2 afternoon shows each of the past 2 years including grabbing the top spot in 2019.
We’re excited to add all three of these men to the lineup for the 2022 BSM Summit. As vital as it may be to spend time on business issues in order to stay ahead of a rapidly changing media climate, without great talent and content, the rest is irrelevant. Few understand what it takes to deliver success in this format consistently like Craig, Fred and Mike, and I’m glad they’re making the time to share their knowledge with us.
To reserve your hotel room, purchase tickets or learn more about the speakers we’ve lined up for the 2022 show, visit BSMSummit.com. We hope to see you online or in New York City this March.
BSM Summit Adds Borrell, Crain, Cutler, Goldstein, Scott, Shapiro & Thomas
“The Summit is just 104 days away, so if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, please do so. Half of the room is already full and seating for the conference is limited.”
The 2022 BSM Summit continues to add firepower to the sports media industry’s premier conference. After previously announcing the first twenty one participants to take part in March’s event in New York City, another seven talented media professionals have been added to the speaker schedule.
Making his BSM Summit debut in 2022 will be the media industry’s leading business analyst Gordon Borrell. The well respected and accomplished CEO of Borrell Associates is featured frequently in the trades and mainstream publications for his insights on advertising trends and forecasts in local media. Borrell will join Amplifi Media CEO Steven Goldstein on stage at the Summit for an in-depth discussion on the advertising climate in 2022. The two men will offer insights and opinions on what advertisers value most, where they’re expected to invest future dollars, which categories will continue to rise and decline, and what brands can do to position themselves better to increase revenue. Additionally, Borrell will be hosting his local advertising conference in Miami a few days after the Summit. Those interested in heading to South Beach and learning more about the marketing world can learn more by clicking here.
Switching to the content end, the Summit is thrilled to welcome The Volume’s Jake Crain to New York City. The host of The JBoy Show will also be making his debut at the conference. Crain will be part of a talent panel along with John Jastremski and Kazeem Famuyide.
Also making his debut at the Summit will be Carl Scott. Meadowlark Media’s Executive Director of Audio will join our podcasting panel featuring Blue Wire CEO Kevin Jones and The Volume’s Head of Content Logan Swaim. Hubbard Radio’s Digital Content Director Phil Mackey will guide the conversation.
Not everyone participating at the Summit will be new to the audience though. Returning to the stage as part of our GM’s discussion will be newly appointed Audacy Boston Market Manager Mike Thomas. Thomas recently led ESPN 1000 in Chicago as the station’s GM after working with Mark Hannon to turn 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston into one of sports radio’s top performing stations. It should be noted that each time Thomas appears at the Summit it follows a recent promotion. We figure by 2023 or 2024 he’ll be running the entire industry.
A Summit isn’t complete without attention given to programming matters. To help us address some of those key issues, we’re excited to welcome back the Vice President of FOX Sports Radio & Podcasts Scott Shapiro. The passionate network executive who oversees many of the nation’s top national programs is always a great listen for folks interested in learning how programmer’s view and tackle the industry’s most important affairs.
Last but certainly not least, voice talent extraordinaire Jim Cutler will return to the stage to lead a session on storytelling. One of the industry’s prominent station voices and creative minds has a penchant for putting on entertaining and informative sessions. If you’ve attended the conference before, you’re already aware. To those planning to catch this one, you’re in for a treat.
Keep an eye out over the next two weeks. We’ll be making additional announcements involving a few high profile talents we’ve lined up for the 2022 BSM Summit. A reminder, the event is just 104 days away, so if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, please do so. Half of the room is already full and seating for the conference is limited. I realize some folks may prefer to wait until the last minute to make sure the world is safe. If you’re not comfortable flying to NY for the show, we do have an option in place to enjoy the conference virtually thanks to NuVoodoo Media. For more information on tickets, click here.
That said, the in-person environment is excellent. If you haven’t attended the Summit before I think you’ll find the two days in New York City to be time well spent. This conference is not open to the general public. You must either presently work in an area of the media industry or be pursuing a degree in the broadcasting field.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we still have some sponsorship opportunities available for the show. We’re thrilled to have the support of great partners, ESPN Radio, Premiere Networks, FOX Sports Radio, Stone Voiceovers, Compass Media Networks, Point to Point Marketing, and Core Image Studio. If you’d like to be part of the event too, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com for additional details.
One final note, airfare is low right now. There are roundtrip flights to and from New York from many major cities for less than $200.00. We’ve also secured a low hotel rate of $109.00 per night at Hotel Edison in NYC to help companies and individuals keep costs down. The sports media industry has endured two years of difficulty due to the pandemic, preventing many from networking, learning, celebrating, and growing. The two days we spend together in the big apple won’t solve every issue facing our business, but I promise you’ll leave the show more informed, more connected, and better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.
Hope to see you in New York on March 2nd and 3rd.
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