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Does Being A Fan Matter?

Jason Barrett

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There seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to creating content, and performing as a sports talk radio personality.

On one side you have the talk show host who’s not emotionally attached to their market’s local teams, analyzes stories from a neutral point of view, and cares more about the creation of good content and interesting storylines, than the success or failure of the local franchises. At times they can be accused by the audience of being cynical or negative, and they value their credibility and integrity, and will stop at nothing to defend it.

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On the other side, you have the talk show host who lives and dies with their team’s results and daily decisions. They watch every game because they genuinely love the franchise, and each day’s outcome tugs on their heartstrings. They go to the stadium as much as possible, forming as many relationships as they can, and they openly acknowledge their rooting interest with the audience. That often leads to being accused of being too positive and soft (homers), which calls into question their objectivity, whether it’s warranted or not.

While each person has their own personal preferences, both approaches work. Audiences are made up of people from many different backgrounds, with multiple views, and as long as the individual providing the content delivers their dialogue in an authentic way, and is willing to be open and honest with the audience, they’ll be accepted for who they are.

Some listeners put on the radio to hear a host who loves the local team as much as they do, because they want to feel good about their favorite players, hear interviews with members of the local organizations, and they want someone to pump them up for the next game.

Then there are listeners who are mentally stimulated by negative discussions built about what’s wrong with the local team, and who should pay for the team’s failure. The local team could win a championship, and the next day their more concerned about which members of the team will leave via free agency, rather than celebrating.

thinkThat got me to wondering, do we gain more listeners and higher ratings by being detached from our fandom, or by embracing it? It seems the older we get, the more cynical we become, and we spend less time watching games, and rooting for storylines over victories. But does that matter to the audience? Should it?

We’re in the sports talk radio business. The key word being “business“. The job is to present angles, opinions, insight, and information, and make it compelling enough to entertain an audience. The job description doesn’t say “one must passionately care about our teams and form a bond with them that becomes ever lasting“.

However, when a listener puts on a sports radio station, they expect that they will hear a conversation about sports. Many of us though don’t always provide that. Instead we venture into discussions about our favorite foods, favorite television shows, best concerts we’ve attended, and other lifestyle focused topics.

notI’ve often found that those who take this approach, are usually more detached from their fandom, and the local teams. Yet they are passionate about what they’re discussing, and you can argue that the subject matter has broader appeal. In many cases the ratings go up when personalities let the audience in on their other views and personal interests. But is this content being created for the audience, or because we aren’t as interested in sports as maybe we should be?

For those who are more in touch with their fandom, they’re usually eager to dive into a sports discussion. Sure they’ll touch on other aspects of life too, but sports is the center of their universe. They dedicate the majority of their show to it, and they don’t have to manufacture enthusiasm to get into a conversation about their local teams.

angeloI’ve been in numerous markets and seen both styles work well. I recall working in Philadelphia in 2006, and WIP morning host Angelo Cataldi was open with his audience about not attending games, and forming relationships with players, because he felt it could compromise his judgement. I don’t remember the exact quote but it was along the lines of “My job isn’t to make friends in locker rooms or break news. I’m here to share my honest opinions, and look out for my audience”. 

By staying out of the room, Angelo felt he was in a better position to serve his listeners. I knew exactly where he was coming from, and because it was consistent with who he was as a personality, his audience accepted it.

On the other hand, I’ve watched in St. Louis and San Francisco, how guys like Randy Karraker, Bernie Miklasz, Chris Dimino and Brian Murphy, have utilized their time around local teams to gain added perspective, inside information, and form relationships with organizations which has given the audience a better understanding of how teams think and operate. They too have stayed true to who they are as people, and their approach has resonated with their audiences.

debateIf there’s one thing that is vital for all talk show hosts, regardless of whether or not they’re fans, it’s to be willing to criticize and engage in difficult conversations. It’s not easy delivering an opinion, and knowing that it can damage a relationship, but if you’re focused on serving the audience (your true employer), then you’ve got to do what’s best for them. It’s ok to root for your team, and lean towards positive content, but when bad things happen, you’ve got to address them. Avoiding them compromises your credibility and integrity.

To gain further insight into this discussion, I reached out to a number of personalities across the country, who face this challenge on a daily basis. I wanted to get a sense of how they manage their fandom and objectivity, why they approach their programs the way they do, what they believe matters most to sports radio listeners, and what type of talent they’d feature on their stations if they made the final decision. I think you’ll enjoy their answers.

Special Guests:

  • Mo Egger– ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati
  • Shan Shariff-105.3 The Fan in Dallas
  • Chris Dimino680 The Fan in Atlanta
  • John Kincade-680 The Fan in Atlanta
  • Randy Karraker-101 ESPN in St. Louis
  • Nick Wright-Sports Radio 610 in Houston
  • Brian Murphy-KNBR 680 in San Francisco
  • Chad Doing-95.7 The Game in San Francisco

What does the term “homer” mean to you?

randykarraker4Karraker: The general perception is of someone that won’t challenge the front office of the local teams and won’t criticize. But to me a “homer” is someone that pays intense attention to the teams in his home market, and has the same emotional investment in those teams as the people listening. Being a fan is being part of a community, of shared interest in your team. There’s no question that when I come on the air, I have an emotional investment in the Cardinals, Rams and Blues, and like most fans, I’m capable of being objective and critical. I don’t blindly agree with everything the franchise is doing, I just want them to succeed like my listeners do.

Murphy: A “homer” is a fan who is blind to reality. They refuse to see their team’s shortcomings, often to the point of irrationality.

chaddoing5Doing: I think of a local broadcast team that will never criticize the play of the team they work for regardless of the performance of the franchise. In relation to sports talk, I think of a local host who is a fan of the teams in the city that he/she works. I don’t think that’s necessarily a negative.

Kincade: It’s the blatant inability to talk about a team in honest fashion. It is the trademark of a host that wants to pander to the locals. They desire to be loved, not willing to earn respect for fair evaluations.

eggerEgger: “Homer,” when applied to a host means that he/she is someone who allows their rooting interest to influence their opinions and willingness to criticize, often at the expense of the listener. Homers placate the lowest common denominator of an audience, and usually alienate their smartest, most savvy audience members. A good sports-radio host, whether they’re fans of the local teams or not, always has the backs of the fans. Homers place the teams (often times, they’re in a relationship with the teams) ahead of fans.

How does it make you feel if a listener refers to you as a homer?

shanshariffShariff: If someone calls me a Jerry Jones homer, I don’t get upset because it’s true. We all have natural bias and I don’t see anything wrong in acknowledging it. If someone calls me a Cowboys homer because we’re the flagship, I try to correct that perception. I don’t like someone thinking my opinion is formed because of other factors outside of what I see and feel.

Kincade: I can honestly say on-air in Atlanta since 1995 I have never been referred to as a homer. I far prefer to be known as the guy willing to tell you that your baby is ugly when deserved.

chrisdimino3Dimino: The initial reaction for most hosts is defensive. It becomes credibility being questioned. I have been honest about liking some guys and teams and front offices more than others. But I’ve dealt that from the top of the deck. I also made a conscious  decision years ago that I have to sleep at night, and in our job that means you better believe it before you say it, and more after you say it. Your body of work speaks more than any isolated incident.

Doing: It’s never bothered me. I want my listeners to know that I embrace my local surroundings, and that I’m going to root for the teams in the town in which I work. In my  mind, I can be a “homer” while still being objective. I’m going to celebrate when they win, but when they don’t perform, I’m going to be critical.

randykarraker2Karraker: I have no problem with being called a homer. Jack Buck once told me that a listener had called him a Cardinal homer, and his reply was “what do you want me to do, root for the Padres?” Many times, people will hear what they want to, rather than what reality is. I’d actually rather be called a homer than a hater.

Shouldn’t the audience want to hear a host who lives & dies with the same teams as they do and is proud to admit it?

nickwright3Wright: The audience should want to hear a host who is honest and transparent. If that host truly lives and dies with the local teams, then they shouldn’t hide it, but the worst thing a host can do is fake that loyalty. The audience can sniff that out.

Shariff: Depends how interested you are in the truth. I had many listeners in Kansas City who recognized their own bias and wanted to hear an objective view of their favorite teams. I do think you better cover every facet of your city’s favorite teams with as much passion as possible.

murph2Murphy: Every show is different, and every host has a different voice and vibe. Some make their living being cynical, and that appeals to listeners. Some (me included) wear their heart on their sleeve, and allow the listeners to judge us for who we are.

Dimino: If you’re going to have your fandom, own it. This isn’t soup at a restaurant. The “Fan of the Day” shit is much worse than living and dying with your teams. Secondly, it better be genuine. Don’t bandwagon it. Listeners can smell that a mile away. You better save the rants for rant like moments. The overly negative “homer” exists and I can play the glass is empty with the best of them. But killing teams and people just to kill can get old. I want parades in my town, I want our teams talked about nationally, and I like seeing our team’s games on national television in the postseason. I’m unabashed and unapologetic about those things.

johnkincadeKincade: You can do that! I’ve worked with a few guys that are huge fans of the local teams, but still will criticize when warranted. They are far more credible to me than the guys who prefer to kiss butt so they will be liked by the local teams. If the audience prefers a homer, they tend to be caller driven pep rally shows. I turn those off quickly.

How important do you believe it is for a host on a local sports station to be interested in & passionately & emotionally involved in the success & failure of the local sports teams they cover?

chrisdimino4Dimino: It’s huge because success and failure drive conversation. From a business point of view, I root for storylines. I want ultimate successes or total disasters. Anyone who elicits no reaction is death. I don’t root for horrible but if that’s what it is or becomes, that drives conversation. “What needs to be done” talk is even more interesting and passionate than the ones about first place teams.

Wright: I think a local host absolutely must be interested and passionate about the teams in their market, but does not need–at all–to be emotionally invested in order to be successful.

chaddoing2Doing: Like my listeners, I am a sports fan. So, I want to be able to relate to them and feel what they feel. I accomplish that by choosing to become invested in the teams I cover. Once I get around the players, I create relationships and learn more about them, so that I eventually begin to pull for them as individuals. When I do this, I naturally become emotionally invested in them and my passion for them is genuine.

Shariff: Interested? Hell yes. Passionate? Absolutely. Emotionally involved in wins and losses? I don’t believe you have to live and die with every loss, but your audience better have zero doubt that you’re qualified and prepared to dissect their teams.

johnkincade4Kincade: I came from Philadelphia in 1995. I’ve been on-air here for 20 years, and I have never dropped my hometown team allegiances. I’ve also never hidden it from my audience. I’m honest with them and prefer that the local teams do well. It’s better for the station when they do. My audience knows that I watch the teams and am prepared to get into conversation about them every day. It allows me to be a different voice. As long as I have been fair, the audience respects you for your talents and insights.

When a host says “I don’t care if the local team wins or loses, my heart isn’t attached to them. My job is to talk about the story/result and what it means for the audience” – do you think that’s a good or bad thing for the audience?

murph7Murphy: It depends how well the host conveys that. If it comes off as cold and distant and clinical, surely the host will turn off some listeners. But if it comes off as informative and enriching and instructive, the host will earn respect.

Dimino: If you don’t care about winning or losing, you’re in the wrong line of work. Your opinions, not final scores, will come from that caring. Your audience can understand 7-4, 28-21 and 104-98. That’s an update. It’s not a conversation. “How and why and what to do about it” IS our business. This idea that being a fan is a bad thing is ridiculous. It’s why you got the job. It’s what most of us have been preoccupied with since 6th grade study hall. If you can’t feel the ups and downs, why should anyone care what you think or believe?

randykarraker3Karraker: As a consumer, I don’t want to listen to a host who doesn’t care whether the local team wins or loses. If he says that privately, that’s fine. And if the host can talk about the story and analyze the result without caring, I don’t think that’s necessarily bad for the audience. However, sports fans care deeply about their teams. Any time we care about something, and the person we’re talking to says they don’t care about it, it’s going to affect that relationship.

Egger: As a whole, I don’t think the audience is looking for either. There are fans who clearly prefer a host who’s as attached to their teams as they are, but I think the majority of listeners are looking for content that’s entertaining, smart, curious, and relatable. If the host is a fan, he/she has a responsibility to be objective at times. If they’re not, they have to at least understand and convey an understanding that these teams and their fortunes do matter to their audience.

johnkincade2Kincade: That is a horrible thing to say. You have to care about the teams and their performances. Even if you care just to create great conversation, you better garner passion for yourself and your listeners!

How possible is it to be a homer in a local market if the on-air talent isn’t from the area?

shanshariff2Shariff: In my experience, you lose some rooting interest in your favorite teams the longer you do this job. My DFW motto has been “I root for ratings” and I’ve said that many times to our audience. The Cowboys and Rangers winning helps our ratings and my wallet. Why wouldn’t I become emotionally invested in their success? Personal relationships are also a factor. A major reason I root for the Cowboys success is Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett, Witten, Romo, Sean Lee and Tyron Smith. We’re not best friends, but I believe they do things the right way and I root for that. With all that said, I think it’s important to be genuine. People are instinctive and smart. They know if you’re being fake or feeding them what you think they want to hear.

Karraker: It’s very possible. Our morning guy, Bernie Miklasz, came to St. Louis from Baltimore in 1984. He grew up a big Colts and Orioles fan, but he’s been around St. Louis for such a long time, that he wants to see the hometown teams succeed. He developed an emotional tie to the city and the teams. He’s my version of a homer. He wants to see our teams do well, but is objective and willing to point out problems even for winning teams. Secondly, if you get to a town and do your job, you’re going to develop relationships that cause you to root for individuals. I became a huge Arizona Cardinals fan when Kurt Warner went there. He’s one of the finest people I’ve ever met. Any man who meets and gets to know Mike Matheny and understands why he’s successful is going to want him to succeed. So while it might not be the team you grew up with, it’s the team and people you’re with now, and you do develop personal relationships and rooting interests.

chaddoing1Doing: It’s very possible. I moved to San Francisco last year. In the 12-months I have lived in the Bay Area, I have been to the majority of games for the Giants, Warriors, Raiders, and 49ers. It was a challenge at first, but as I got familiar with the area and began to speak with fans, I started to develop a better understanding of the market I was in. Going to games and interviewing the athletes was the best part of the process for me. For example, the Warriors locker room was filled with high character guys who were easy to root for, and when I combine that with the buzz in the city coming from fans, my conversion process happened at an accelerated rate. But you have to put in the time and commit to going to a number of games.

Wright: If you happen to be in a market where you’ve always loved the team, despite not being from there (EX: A Lakers fan who is from Kansas City but now works in LA) you can obviously be a homer. Also, if you’ve lived in the area for a long time (10+ years) you can probably become a homer because it becomes your adopted team.

moegger5Egger: I can only speak for my market, because this is the only one I’ve worked in. We are a parochial town, a little wary of outsiders. Some have called Cincinnati the “biggest small town in America,” and I often joke to Cincinnatians, if something doesn’t happen inside the 275 loop (the interstate bypass that circles our city), it doesn’t happen. It’s an uphill battle if you’re a host who isn’t from here, especially since the most successful talents in this city so rich in broadcast history have been from Cincinnati. If you come to Cincinnati to talk sports for a living, you better do some work. Recite what the Reds did in the 70s. Familiarize yourself with why the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game in a quarter-century. Understand the depths of the many regional college rivalries. These things matter here. Maybe more than other markets.

If you were the program director of a radio station and trying to satisfy the desires of the local audience, would you put more people on the air who are more or less emotionally attached to the local teams?

Dimino: Hosts and radio stations are not widgets. Everything being the same serves no one. It’s what creates chemistry inside a show and weaves the fabric of the station. Emotionally attached does not for a second imply marching in step with some manifesto of rainbows and smoke blown up asses. It rides good and bad time waves and relatability with an audience. The trickier part is the “Rights Holders” aspect of this. Do you have the freedom to speak your mind? Do you get blowback from management or the teams themselves if you criticize? If I was PD I want genuine. The guy attempting to figure out which way the wind is blowing daily will be rooted out by smart listeners.

nickwright4Wright: I would have locality be the only tiebreaker in selecting talent. I would try to build the best team possible and let the chips fall where they may.

Murphy: I think a balance is probably best. And I think it’s important for hosts to be themselves. I think audiences can smell a phony. I think they like hosts who are true to themselves, and care about entertaining the audience.

shanshariff3Shariff: I would side with more attached. While it’s important to be genuine and objective, sports are still driven by passion, excitement, anger and all the emotions that come from die-hard fans that can relate to others who think and react like they do.

Egger: Ideally, I’d like a mix of both because the best-programmed stations are focused on what’s important to their audience but have hosts with different backgrounds, perspectives, and can bring fresh and different angles that differentiate themselves from the other hosts, even if they’re all focused on the same basic subject matter. If I’ve got shows with hosts who are emotionally attached to local teams, I might look for someone who’s a little detached. More than anything, I’m just looking for people who can create compelling content, regardless of how they approach the delivery of it.

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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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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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