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Making Sports Radio Better: Why Women Deserve More Opportunity

Jason Barrett

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Did you know that the first voice ever heard on an all-sports radio station was a woman’s?

The date was July 1, 1987. WFAN in New York City was the radio station, and Suzyn Waldman was the first voice to be heard when she delivered a sports update at 3pm, right before giving way to Jim Lampley who hosted the first show on the station.

waldmanAt the time nobody knew whether or not the format or its personalities would last, but twenty eight years later, Waldman is still going strong. Not only has she covered all New York teams during her illustrious career, but she is now one half of the New York Yankees radio broadcast team opposite John Sterling.

If Suzyn could stand out, and make a difference in the number one market in the country, clearly it should be easier for other women who followed in her footsteps right?

Well it certainly seemed to be going that way, when the Fabulous Sports Babe (Nanci Donnellan) burst onto the Seattle scene in 1991, as a weekday talk show host on 950 KJR.

rickscottThe station’s programmer at the time was Rick Scott, and he believed that Donnellan brought something unique to the table, which was more important than her gender.

Nanci “got it” and knew how to push buttons and generate audience reaction” said Scott. “When I brought up the idea of having a woman do mid-days, they thought I was joking. We flew Nanci to Seattle, and went to lunch with the GM, and she had him laughing so hard he was crying. That helped the cause, but there were still plenty of challenges, especially during the first year.”

Donnellan would make a major impact during her three years at KJR, and her success was noticed by ESPN Radio who brought her to Bristol, CT to take on the challenge of doing a national show in 1994. She started with only 29 affiliates, but two years later, had built the show’s affiliate list to more than 170.

By 1997 though Donnellan was facing challenges from her bosses, some of them stemming from public criticisms she shared in a book titled “The Babe in Boyland“. “Every person on the planet seemed to complain about what I was doing and how I was doing it,” said Donnellan in her book. “But I stood my ground and told all the suits to please get out of my airstream.”

Eventually the marriage between ESPN and Donnellan would dissolve, and she’d move to the ABC Radio Networks in 1997. That move would be short lived, as ABC would part ways with her a little more than a year later.

fabuloussportsbabeWhile her time at the top had come to an end, what was undeniable was her impact. Nanci Donnellan proved that women could not only share the stage with men in the sports talk radio space, but they could excel in it too.

So that should’ve opened up doors for so many more women to have success in the format right?

Not exactly.

Today, sports radio stations are measured by their ability to connect with Men 25-54. If a station delivers in that demographic, all is right in the world. But what does that say about people who are younger or older than the desired demo? Does their listening not matter?

Furthermore, what does it say about women? Are we naive to think that females don’t also enjoy sports, listening to sports radio and talking about it with their friends? Do their dollars not matter to a station’s advertisers?

womenfansGo to a sporting event today, and the stands are not 80-90% full of men. Yet sports talk radio listening according to the Nielsen ratings is fueled by heavy male listening. If those numbers are accurate, it puts programmers and radio companies in a tough spot. The goal is to deliver content which satisfies the listening audience, and produces high ratings, and larger revenues. If 4 out of every 5 listeners are men, and they respond favorably to male voices and the way men discuss sports, then it becomes much harder for women to earn a break!

Amanda Gifford who is a Program Director for the ESPN Radio Network shared her views on the situation: “The demographics of the format have a lot to do with how many women come on as hosts. It’s still completely dominated by men – 85 or 90% of audiences are male. As we see some of the “pioneers” for women who have strong opinions in the media continue to flourish – like Michelle Beadle, Jemele Hill, Sarah Spain, Kate Fagan, etc. – they will help blaze the trail of opportunities for girls/young women interested in this type of career path.”

Ratings numbers aside, there are other reasons as well contributing to the lack of females working as sports radio hosts. First, not as many women pursue a path in the radio industry. If a woman can watch other women cover sports on her television, but can’t hear a female talk about it on the radio, it’s likely to influence her decision of which medium to pursue. The better financial opportunities in television also factor in.

The other part of the issue revolves around programming philosophies and radio ratings measurement. While I know a ton of great programmers around the country who take risks and make smart, and inspiring decisions, there are still many who are creatures of habit, and unlikely to change, especially if the formula is working.

nielsenAs it pertains to ratings, the data provided to radio stations is often very inconsistent. PPM meters which are used to measure local listening and audience characteristics, have been proven to have major flaws, and the sampling sizes in many local markets are tiny. That puts radio operators and talent in a difficult spot, because they can’t draw a firm conclusion, on whether or not the programming they’re providing is working.

While I want to trust the data that says 80-90% of listening to sports stations is done by males, I’ve seen too many inaccuracies to treat it as fact. I do believe men have larger interest in listening to the format than women, but whether it’s 65&%, 75% or 85% is debatable. Even then, that’s where the numbers stand right now. They won’t grow, and become even more attractive to advertisers if the same strategy and execution continues.

When you look at the world today, women are making an impact and effecting change in all areas of society. There’s no better example than in the political arena, where women now run and receive serious consideration for President of the United States of America.

If a woman can run for the most high profile office in the nation, and gain the trust of males in leading our country, then she should be able to find a place inside of a sports radio station’s lineup right? It may seem like a no-brainer but it’s still an issue in sports radio.

engelDuring the mid to late 2000’s, Jennifer “The Little Ball of Hate” Engel hosted a radio program for ESPN 103.3 in Dallas. She started with the station as a contributor before earning a spot as a full-time weekday host. The belief was that she’d break through and disrupt the marketplace. Unfortunately, the audience wasn’t ready for the change, and although she was skilled, the show underperformed.

I spoke with a former Dallas personality about the situation: “Jen was one of the guys, and she had strong, accurate and well thought out opinions and was respected by listeners and other members of the media. However, when the radio station opted to make her the center of her own show, perceptions changed. There was a a lot of feedback from listeners about not wanting to hear “my wife” complain or lecture listeners about sports. That information was learned through professional panels and companies hired to do local market research. The station tried different marketing concepts, and supported her, but to no avail. In the end the show had to be cancelled due to poor ratings, and the market’s unwillingness to embrace a female led sports talk show“.

What I found surprising is that when I asked this same person if they still felt a woman could succeed in the format as a weekday talk show host, they remained supportive: “No question it can work. The Dallas situation hasn’t altered my belief that our format is ready for more female hosts to prosper. Having said that, it still has to be the right woman. Women in the format have to build more credibility than their male counterparts, and can make fewer mistakes. They must also be more thick skinned and determined than men. Let’s also not be naive, it depends greatly market to market. Some markets simply aren’t open minded enough to get it.”

screwsLet’s be honest, most people who run companies, prefer the safer path. The unknown is scary, especially in today’s world where instant success is necessary, or it could cost you your job. But with great risk comes great reward. However, most groups are less likely to endure criticisms, questions, and backlash from local market listeners, advertisers, and other media partners, and risk their bottom line, for an out of the box hiring decision.

They say it usually takes 18-24 months to judge a show and whether or not it will work in a local market. I’m not sure that same courtesy applies for a local show led by a female talent, and that’s unfair. It’s also a big reason why it’s so important for those who do get an opportunity to make it count.

Kate Scott who works for KNBR 680 in San Francisco, notes that when it comes to perceptions in the industry, there definitely are double standards: “Externally, there’s no doubt we’re treated differently. If I mispronounce a player’s name I’m a no-nothing idiot who only got hired because the station was looking for some diversity. If a male colleague does the same thing, aww shucks, he was out late the night before or ha, there goes so-and-so again, he sucks at those tough names.

sandragolden4But should there be different rules for men and women in sports radio? Sandra Golden of 680 The Fan in Atlanta makes an interesting point: “There are 12 people working at my station as full time hosts. NONE of the dozen are treated the same. We aren’t measured the same, and nor should we be. We all have different resumes, are paid differently, and some are more popular than others. I might add, that’s just like any other office in Pick-a-Town, USA.”

While sports radio may indeed be a fun industry to work in, it is still a business, and it’s not one built on satisfying quotas, or personal agendas. The focus is on employing dynamic, compelling, and highly entertaining personalities who possess the ability to provide thought provoking content and develop a connection with a local audience, most of which is made up of white males between the ages of 25 and 54.

Any talent who hosts a sports radio program must be able to connect with advertisers, and sell their products to the audience, and of course, generate ratings in the Men 25-54 demographic. Until the rules change, that’s what station’s require to command larger dollars.

The one area though that deserves larger discussion, is why aren’t women a bigger part of the solution? We often assume that a female on the air talking about sports, doesn’t have the same ability as a male to keep a male audience listening, but we don’t seem to have any objections when a female personality talks about rock music, sex or movies. Those issues can be largely targeted to Men too.

And what about politics? If you turn on Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN, you’ll find plenty of talented women talking about key issues, and they don’t seem to have trouble keeping male viewers watching. And those men don’t watch just because the female host looks good either. Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters and Katie Couric proved you don’t have to be a supermodel to be an excellent broadcaster, and connect with an audience.

fsbSo if women can be accepted talking about music, lifestyle, sex, politics, and every other part of our daily conversations, then why is it so difficult for them to earn a heavier presence in the sports radio industry? And I’m not just talking about the Sports Update Anchor, Traffic Reporter, or Morning Show Sidekick role either. I’m talking about being the face of a talk show and radio station, much like the Fabulous Sports Babe was in the 1990’s for KJR and ESPN Radio.

Maybe I’m wrong but I think Michelle Beadle and Katie Nolan have the talent to deliver a highly entertaining talk show. I also think Rachel Nichols pulls information out of guests equally or better than many male broadcasters. I also scan the country and see numerous women in local markets building strong personal brands and proving they can connect and win. Yes there are many females who aren’t ready for the spotlight, but the same can be said about some men.

As I did my research for this piece, I uncovered some things that may make a few people uncomfortable. I looked at the makeup of the 5 national sports radio networks (ESPN, Fox, CBS, NBC, Yahoo), who broadcast nationwide, and target their content to Men 25-54 audiences. In reviewing the Monday-Friday lineups of all 5 networks, I found only 1 woman, featured as a Monday-Friday talk show host. That female was Amy Lawrence, who’s hosting currently for the CBS Sports Radio Network.

betterLet this sink in for a second, between 5 national networks, there are 34 white males holding positions as Monday-Friday talk show hosts. Only 10 personalities who were female or non-white, held spots as Monday-Friday talk show hosts. That means nearly 71% of on-air personalities delivering weekday national talk shows are white males. If you look across the country on local sports stations, those percentages are even higher.

While I believe in people earning opportunities based on talent, and fit, not on their race or gender, there’s also something to be said for employing broadcasters from different backgrounds, because the audiences who we serve are diverse, and deserve to hear differing viewpoints.

I reached out to some of the best women in the sports radio industry to get their views on the challenges they face, the way they’re measured, and what needs to happen for the format to evolve and include more females. I think that as you read their answers,  you’ll gain a stronger perspective, and deeper appreciation for what they provide, how they think, and what they’ve experienced, while trying to effect change in the sports talk format.

Special Guests:

  • Sarah Spain-ESPN Radio Network and ESPN 1000 in Chicago
  • Gianna Franco-95.7 The Game in San Francisco
  • Joy Taylor-104.3 and 790 The Ticket in Miami
  • Kate Scott-KNBR 680 in San Francisco
  • Anita Marks-98.7 ESPN NY
  • Michelle Smallmon-ESPN Radio
  • Jessamyn McIntyre-710 ESPN in Seattle
  • Amy Lawrence-CBS Sports Radio Network
  • Amanda Gifford-ESPN Radio Senior Director of Daytime Programming

Why do you believe more women are taking larger interest in sports radio?

sarahspainSpain: It’s hard for women to dream of doing a job they don’t see other women doing. For so long certain jobs were almost off limits to women, so wanting to go after them seemed unrealistic. The more women are given a chance, the more women will want a chance. And that isn’t just the result of talented women pushing for jobs but also the decision makers and front office folks being forward-thinking and open-minded. As for listeners, as society becomes less rigid about gender roles, women are free to like whatever they like. Title IX was also huge. Women are now free to participate in sports, and women who play sports as kids grow up to be sports fans.

amylawrence5Lawrence: Women with an interest in working in sports radio are definitely emboldened by the success of those who’ve gone before. Now and then, I hear from women in local radio markets who tell me I’m their role model and they want to get to where I am in the business. A door that was previously locked tight has been kicked open, and that encourages other women to try their hand at radio. At the same time, sports radio is still dominated by men far more than TV. Popularity in radio has nothing to with what you look like and how attractive you are. It’s not as “glamorous” nor does it pay as well across the board. Listeners are extremely tough on their hosts, even tougher on women, so while you SEE more and more women in lead roles on sports television, it’s still relatively uncommon in radio.

katescottScott: I think a lot of things factor into it. Title IX is the foundation. My generation – as opposed to those before us –  grew up being told “yes you can”, which we applied to more than just playing sports. I also think that’s tied into the growth in female listenership. More women had the opportunity to play and fall in love with sports as a result of the law, and thus, you’ve got a larger number of women in the radio demos that now want to keep in touch with their teams.

jessamyn3McIntyre: I think that women are finding more opportunities in places other than TV and the sidelines. The industry is changing, as are attitudes about women in the industry. I think it’s indicative of the change we’re seeing in society, rather than just in sports media. More young girls are studying sports communications, and entering male-dominated industries. I’d like to think it’s a sign of the times, where there is more equality across the board in many areas both in and out of the sports communications world.

anitamarks3Marks: I believe it’s simply a case of more opportunities presenting themselves. The biggest change is that General Manager’s and Program Director’s are feeling there is stronger value in having a female voice on their station or network, and providing the platform.

How do you convince a predominantly male 25-54 audience to keep an open mind towards you and judge you by your content rather than your gender?

amylawrence6Lawrence: I make it a priority to know what I’m talking about, inside and out. I understand a good chunk of the target audience will start listening to me with a bias, whether overt or subconscious. But when I know my material cold, when I’ve watched the same games, when I can answer their questions and back up my strong opinions, many of them will eventually come to respect me. Humor helps, too. Listeners want to relate to their radio hosts. They want to know you’re like them, so while my sports revolve around the top sports stories and topics, I’m not afraid to dive into music, superheroes, lawnmowers, travel, or food in small doses. The last and most important quality as a female host is confidence. No one is going to agree with me 100% of the time, and I welcome dissenting opinions. I’ll debate with anyone as long as it’s done semi-respectfully. When challenged, the worst thing I can do is back down or become wishy-washy. If you do that you’ll get eaten alive.

joyTaylor: Being authentic is the best way to win the male sports fan over. I think I’ve been accepted because I’m not trying to constantly prove I should be there. I’m there because I worked hard, took the same path my peers took and paid my dues. I grew up in a sports city, Pittsburgh, in a sport family, and played sports my whole life. Then I went to school, started as an intern, worked a few part-time jobs, and worked my way to on-air as a producer for several years. All of those experiences have helped me earn the audience’s trust and respect.

amandagiffordGifford: Just be you. Talk sports. Have a personality. Have fun. Have an opinion. Make me think. Don’t wave the “I’m a female flag.” It doesn’t matter what gender you are as long as the content is compelling. Also, don’t take things personally and stay far away from your social media mentions – there are a lot of not nice people out there!

giannafranco4Franco: I don’t pretend to be a stat expert or sport’s almanac. I’m a fan, like the listeners, and I focus on staying knowledgeable, offering a smart opinion and staying authentic. The second you try to pretend to be something you’re not, it comes across on the air. I also try to keep in mind who my audience is. I grew up with a dad and brother who are diehard sports fans, so I have insight into that perspective, and always ask myself would this content matter to them? I also don’t lose sight of the fact that I am a voice for the local female listeners as well.

jessamyn1McIntyre: You’ve got to be tough and grow thick skin. Getting defensive never helps. The best advice I got was from Dan Patrick. He told me I had the ability to make it in this business, but to ‘not be just another cute chick‘. He explained that you can get away with a lot as ‘a cute chick‘ and probably actually maintain a job, but you’ll never truly succeed to your potential. I’ve taken that with me for almost ten years now and am grateful he took the time to point that out to me. I’ve always considered myself a hard worker, but it gave me perspective I could truly appreciate.

Do you believe women and men who perform in the sports radio format are treated the same and measured by the same rules internally & externally?

smalls3Smallmon: Unfortunately, no. There have been times when I was overlooked for positions that were given to males who were less qualified than me. I’ve gotten the ‘you never played the game, you can’t understand football’ attitude, when a man who never played football probably wouldn’t face similar questions about participating in an NFL broadcast. Also, any time there was a photo posted of me on our station’s website, there would be comments about my appearance. Radio is auditory and not visual, yet the main thing many people cared about was my physical appearance. That’s something men are lucky they don’t have to deal with as often. The double standard will probably be there for a long time, but I hope we continue to chip away at it until it’s gone.

sarahspain4Spain: The decision makers at newspapers, radio and TV studios and websites are still predominately white men hiring other white men. They need to understand the benefits of diversity, and bringing in different voices and backgrounds in order for new people to be given a shot. A change in the mindset of those folks, an increase in the number of women seeking jobs in the industry, and the continued hard work of the women who have made it will all combine to help change the climate. And, again, the longer people see women in jobs the less shocking or noteworthy it will become.

giannafranco3Franco: No, not really. I think all stations want a variety. It’s attractive to listeners, and offers a different perspective, but that also means you have to work that much harder for respect and job advancement. It’s very easy for some male hosts to not take you seriously, and use you for only fun or frilly topics, so I learned to not be afraid to speak, crack the mic, and be aggressive. You have to do that if you want to be seen as more than just the token girl on the sports station.

amandagifford4Gifford: Unfortunately I think we have a little ways to go here. Because sports talk radio is mostly dominated by males, it still is a little surprising to the audience when they hear a female voice. I think similar to the way people react to female play-by-play announcers during men’s games (like Beth Mowins or Pam Ward, for example, who have called CFB games for ESPN, or Doris Burke in the NBA as a color analyst), there is not the same benefit of the doubt that male hosts are given. I think women have to work harder to make sure they don’t lose credibility with the audience even if they only make one mistake. It’s not fair, but it’s reality.

joytaylor2Taylor: No, I do not. Just because the industry is changing does not mean it’s an equal playing field. Women have to be better, funnier, smarter, more professional, etc. Fans want to know you’re legit, rather than just accepting that you’re the new host on their favorite station. Overall, my experience has been great, but there are always moments when I know there is still work to be done.

Despite the growth, why do you believe women are still largely under-represented in the format? What needs to change for the growth to become even larger?

katescott3Scott: Women are under-represented in our industry for the same reason they’re underrepresented in a variety of industries. Growing up, we didn’t see anyone that looked like us working those jobs, so we just didn’t think they were an option. Thankfully, I had family, friends, mentors, and school advisors who told me otherwise, which – in my opinion – is where things need to start. I also think it’s important for those of us in the industry to realize the impact we can have on the future. Every time a little girl comes up to say hello at a remote broadcast, I ask her when she’s going to take my job. I think it’s our responsibility to plant that seed or, if it’s already been planted, reaffirm the fact that we believe that they can do it. Case in point, ESPN’s Linda Cohn (who also started in radio) was my favorite SportsCenter anchor growing up. I wrote her a snail mail letter my freshman year in college and about eight months later, got a short, email response from her thanking me for my support and encouraging me to intern to get into the industry. I printed that puppy out, framed it, and had it on my wall all thru college, and I’ve been working my tail off to get to work with her ever since. It’s up to us to be that person for the next generation. Hopefully, with so many more women in sports radio these days, that will lead to even MORE women working in sports radio down the road.

jessamyn5McIntyre: There’s always going to be some level of divide, based on the fact that more men play the sports we talk about than women. While we want to cater more and more to a greater audience, the bottom line is that, more men are interested in football/baseball/etc. than women. That’s not to say women won’t be interested, just like some men won’t be interested, but it says that the content itself is geared more toward men. I think the continued encouragement of women who want to get involved at a younger age will do a ton for growth. I feel as though a lot of road blocks have been taken down throughout the last ten years and that women have all the opportunities in front of them. It’s now a matter of using them to their full advantage.

amylawrenceLawrence: Yes, women are still the severe minority in sports radio. But there is no easy “fix” or formula to make the genre more balanced. The doors are definitely open for women who want to work in the business, but women have to be willing to put in the work and pay their dues, understanding both the business and the audience. It’s NOT the same as TV where the segments are much more controlled and physical appearance can go a long way. But knowledge, preparation, and dedication can lead to opportunities in this day and age of sports media.

anitamarksMarks: Sports talk radio can be intimidating. As a host, you’re out there on an island, and with listeners calling in, you need to have every T crossed and i dotted, because you never know where the show may take you. It’s like a magic carpet ride and it can be overwhelming. Right now most women in the sports broadcasting arena are primarily hired as reporters and TV hosts. As society becomes more accepting of women having opinions on sports, I believe more will venture into sports radio.

joytaylor5Taylor: I think that it’s a reflection of the fan base. Sports fans are still mostly male, so it makes sense that there would be mostly men speaking to them. Over the next 5-10 years as more women become vocal about their love for sports, and more women are accepted into the industry in more than the stereotypical roles, and the fan bases change their opinions of female personalities, this will change.

What advice would you give to a young woman who’s trying to make it in sports radio today but is having a difficult time breaking thru?

anitamarks5Marks: Hit the web! Dominate social media! Create your own podcast! Create your own YouTube channel! Intern at sports radio and TV stations – and go above and beyond what they ask of you. Build a following, be strong with your opinions, allow your personality to shine through, be persistent in sending samples of your work to stations, and don’t ever stop believing in yourself!

sarahspain5Spain: Find out what separates you from the pack and own it. For me, that’s always been my comedy background. For someone else it might be a great mind for statistics, a passion for baseball history, an interest in longform writing or breaking news coverage. Whatever it is, lead with it and show why you’re different than the many others who want a gig. Also, be as genuine as possible. People can see through you if you’re not yourself, and listeners and viewers above all else want authenticity. Also work very hard, be easy to work with and don’t have a thin skin.

joytaylor4Taylor: Be as active and as hard working as possible. Women in the industry start at a disadvantage, so they need to work harder, show up earlier, be more educated and more prepared. They aren’t given the benefit of the doubt and that’s something that will only make you better in the long run. Also, be willing to take the job that doesn’t pay well or may not be what you want to do long term. You have to work your way up and pay your dues in the media industry. There is no way around it, and it will only help you grow your talent. So many people get out of school and expect to walk right on to a set or get behind a microphone, and it doesn’t work that way. Don’t give up or get discouraged though, the hard work is worth it.

smallsSmallmon: If you can, intern anywhere that will have you. This business is hard to break into for both genders, so get involved as early and often as you can. Find a mentor. Ask questions and learn from their experiences. The first thing I do every morning is read for an hour and a half. Be prepared, because if you aren’t, someone else will be. Speak up. Have a strong opinion and stick by it. Radio is very transparent, and listeners will identify a phony pretty quickly. You’re more than what you look like; so don’t let others reduce you to that. Social media can be your best friend and your worst enemy. Take what strangers say, both negative and positive, with a grain of salt. Have fun! Like any job, this one will come with its challenges, but at the end of the day, you’re being paid to talk about sports. Never forget that you’re one of the few lucky ones who get to do this for a living.

amandagifford2Gifford: Find something that differentiates your content from anything else that’s out there. If you’re female, that’s a little easier because there aren’t a ton of women in this format. So right there you’ve got something different. Then, the “rules” are the same – have an opinion, make me think, have some fun, and stay off social media! Reach out to people in the industry to provide feedback/thoughts on what you’re doing. And practice, practice, practice.

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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

Published

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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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Justin Craig, Chris Kinard, Mary Menna Added to 2024 BSM Summit Lineup

“What I’ve always enjoyed about the BSM Summit is that it showcases speakers from many different areas of the industry.”

Jason Barrett

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To kick off 2024, we’re announcing the additions of three more talented broadcasters to our 2024 BSM Summit. More on that shortly. The Summit takes place March 13-14 at the Ailey Theater in New York City. For tickets, hotel rooms, and additional details, visit BSMSummit.com. Those interested in sponsorship opportunities, contact Stephanie Eads. A number of items are already claimed but she can tell you what’s left. Reach her by email at [email protected] or by phone at 415-312-5553.

What I’ve always enjoyed about the Summit is that it showcases speakers from different areas of the industry. We’ve featured top talent, researchers, agents, digital leaders, podcasting experts, ratings analysts, tech builders, play by play voices, and of course, program directors and market managers. There’s many ways to succeed, and no better way to learn than to hear from folks who consistently win.

In the sports audio world, 98.5 The Sports Hub, 106.7 The Fan, and ESPN Radio are highly respected brands. The Hub and The Fan are dominant in Boston and Washington D.C.. ESPN Radio meanwhile maintains a strong position as one of the top national audio brands. All feature strong leaders, and we’re fortunate to have all of them represented in NYC.

It’s a pleasure to welcome Beasley Boston Market Manager Mary Menna to the Summit. This is her first appearance at the conference. Mary is responsible for managing The Hub’s business, currently the top revenue generating brand in all of sports radio. I’m excited to have her offer her insights on a panel with Chris Oliviero and Scott Sutherland. More details on the session, date/time closer to the show.

On the programming side, it’s great to welcome back Chris Kinard of 106.7 The Fan, and Justin Craig of ESPN Radio. Both will be involved in programming panels at the show.

CK has helped lead The Fan and Team 980 to consistent growth in the nation’s capital. He’s a forward thinking type of leader with a great feel for the current and future challenges facing the business. I’m looking forward to having him share a few lessons he’s learned with the rest of the room.

For my friend JC, he’s seen ESPN Radio evolve for the better part of two decades. Liked and respected by most, he’s valued and trusted to guide ESPN Radio’s day-to-day operations. Given the network’s change in focus, talent, and structure, he’ll have great insights to share on where national sports audio is moving.

Our speaker list now sits at twenty. It will grow much more over the next two months as we reveal other additions to the show. We’ll also be announcing our award winners, and a few other surprises. This is a fun and informative two-day event for sports media professionals. If you haven’t joined us before, I hope you’ll do so this time. Everything you need to know prior to the event will be available at BSMSummit.com.

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