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Satisfying The Appetite For Sports Information

Jason Barrett

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Two weeks ago I read a column by Jason Whitlock and it got my wheels spinning. The outspoken columnist who recently left ESPN and returned to Fox Sports stated that we were witnessing the decay of journalism in sports media, and numerous media companies were guilty of allowing it to happen.

Much like any written piece, there were areas that could be disputed, but in general, I felt he raised a number of valid points. There’s no question that the public has a big appetite for sports information. Social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook have increased the interest, speed, and accountability for quality reporting, and most of the content produced on sports radio, television, and websites, is built from it.

rosenthalBut for every major network who commits large resources to employing skilled reporters, the local end of the business does face a different reality. The commitment to developing young people has become a much bigger challenge for many media companies.

Today, people are often thrust into roles they’re not ready for or they’re asked to perform multiple jobs inside of an organization because of limited budgets. That makes it harder to gain deeper penetration on a local beat, and become your very best.

Newspaper readership and advertising dollars have declined, and the radio and television industries have experienced similar difficulties. Those issues unfortunately have caused groups to reduce or eliminate these positions and limit the amount invested in them. For someone who is young, hungry, and looking to create a career as a reporter, it can be disheartening.

Over the years I’ve conducted numerous research projects, and I’ve learned that audiences prefer truth over entertainment. There is a need for both presentations but without experienced reporters investing time in developing sources, and working tirelessly to investigate stories so our demand for accurate information is satisfied, the need for sports content becomes less important.

schefter2The sports media business benefits greatly from having highly trained reporters in the field who can cut through white noise to provide a detailed account for what’s taking place. The access to information, and ability to provide it fairly, and in a timely fashion, makes our sports experience more fulfilling. It can be argued that a top notch reporter at a high profile sports network is its most valuable asset next to live play-by-play. With social media playing a dominant role in each individual’s daily routine, the demand for a reporter’s content exists 24/7.

There will always be a fraction of the audience who just want to be entertained, and don’t care to know the truth and will accept certain issues being swept under the rug (MLB Steroids scandal). Most though who watch, listen, and read about sports, want to believe that the results being achieved are honest, and we put our trust in reporters to make sure they are. Nobody has more to gain or lose, than the reporter who’s right in the middle of each story.

If there’s another growing concern, it’s that in many cases, professional sports leagues, agents, and teams have made a reporter’s job even more difficult. For example, the Redskins are notorious for trying to cover up information and present details which can only be viewed through rose-colored glasses. The Packers also recently tried to intimidate a reporter who had published an article about a player with a checkered past.

And those aren’t the only two. There are many others who operate the same way. That unfortunately makes it even tougher to trust those who do conduct themselves properly.

socialgrowthDespite those challenges, reporting is a necessity for our business. Digital and social media audiences are soaring, and sports consumers are investing large chunks of their time to learn everything they can about their teams and the individuals who are a part of them.

While a reporter may not have their name on the marquee of the show you tune into, many times it’s their information and content that dominates the majority of the programming.

The real question facing media groups is “how can the increased demand for breaking sports news across multiple platforms be utilized to generate even larger profits, pageviews and ratings“? Measuring the impact is becoming much more difficult for media operators, but there’s certainly no shortage of interest in the information.

I was curious about the benefits and challenges of reporting, and what it takes to succeed in the field, and figured that if I’m going to write a piece on one of the most important roles in our industry, I might as well ask the best.

In addition to each of these gentlemen being great at what they do, they’re also quality people, who love their profession, and have no issues sharing feedback that will help others inside the industry. If reporting is an area of interest to you, I encourage you to follow each of them on social media, and heed their advice.

Q: What do you enjoy the most and least about reporting?

Rosenthal: Being the first to tell fans something they want to know is what I enjoy most. NOT being the first is the thing I enjoy least!

Schefter: There’s nothing like the adrenaline of a big, breaking news story. I love big stories, and would think all journalists do. It’s the equivalent of a big game. Do athletes feel the adrenaline and anxiety of a playoff matchup or championship game? Absolutely. It’s the same thing in journalism. There’s nothing like a big story. As for the least appealing part of the job, you never want to get beat on one of those big stories.

Bucher: What I enjoy most is discovering what inspired a person to become who they are, or what inspired a certain move or decision. Basically, unearthing the back story to an event or entity that everyone may know on the surface. What I enjoy least are people who don’t respond to my queries. Saying no or refusing to be interviewed isn’t ideal, but at least I know where I stand. Not knowing if the message ever reached them is the most aggravating aspect.

Clayton: The challenge of getting the information and getting the information correctly reported. Social media has made the pace of information increase, which is good. The more information the better. What this is leading to is being able to analyze the information and put it in perspective quickly.

Q: How difficult is it to establish yourself on a local level, and how did you build your brand and earn trust locally when you didn’t have a national outlet behind you?

Schefter: That’s not really how I thought about it then, or now. I just tried to do my job as well as I could ever day, treat people as fairly as I could every day, work as hard as I could every day, and wherever that went, it went. If you do those things — act professionally, report responsibly, treat people fairly — that’s how you earn trust and build your brand. They are simple things, but they are harder to follow through and carry out.

Clayton: It just takes time. You have to be patient. You can’t rush stories when they aren’t ready. You earn trust with the way you handle the tougher stories. Not every story is going to be positive. If you handle the negative stories correct, the team or the players involved learn to respect your professionalism. That is how you gain sources. You have to build trust.

Rosenthal: I had a different job at the local level for many years – I was a general sports columnist for the Baltimore Sun. I did a lot of baseball, though, and my initial contacts when I went to the national level were mostly people who had worked for the Orioles.

Bucher: I don’t think it matters who you’re attached to. It depends on the strength of your relationships. Are you fair? Are you thorough? Do you do your homework? And, finally, do you have knowledge or insight that might be useful to the people from whom you’re seeking knowledge or insight? Working for a big enterprise might get your calls returned, or returned faster, but what they’re willing to tell you, and whether or not they’re simply using you because of your platform — and perhaps not giving you the most accurate assessment of what’s going on — still depends on how much they trust and respect you and your work.

Q: When your sport is at its peak level of activity, what does a day’s work include? How many hours are put in, and how do you balance sleep and family commitments with the job?

Bucher: I never can be sure when my sport is going to peak, because I never know when I might stumble upon something that then requires my complete focus. Or perhaps I have a project to complete and therefore need to shut out everything else; that happens, too. But let’s say we’re talking about the traditional peak activity, which is at the trade deadline, the week before the draft and the start of free agency. Generally, everything gets put on the back burner or has the potential to be put on hold for several days during those periods. The key, though, is doing your work early — knowing what potentially could be brewing weeks or months in advance and staying on top of those situations as the witching hour approaches.

When I was in full-reporter mode, everything came second. I am fortunate that I now get to spend a good part of my energy creating unique content or seeking certain stories to report out, as opposed to being subject to chasing down whatever may be going on in the league at any given moment. When that was the case, I was either making calls or thinking about who I needed to reach, and when the ideal time to contact them would be.

reporter-rosenthalRosenthal: My job never stops – and that’s year-round. Sleep is an issue, especially during the postseason, and during the off-season when I wake up at 6 a.m. to do the MLB Network morning show. As for family commitments, I’m fortunate my kids are older (two out of college, one in). I could not have done this job when they were younger. I’m also lucky that my wife is extremely patient – and I mean extremely.

Clayton: The job is pretty much a 12-to-15 hour marathon. You start by making a to-do list at around 5 or 6 in the morning. You work until dinner if not later. The longer you work, the better it is. Because of that, it is difficult on family commitments and sleep. I am lucky because I have an understanding wife. That is important.

Schefter: Every day is different in this job. The regular season — September through January — has a certain rhythm to it, predictability. I can tell you what any Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday will be like, and the things I have to get done. It’s the other parts of the year that are more unpredictable and challenging, because you never know when news will be coming. It could happen any time, any day, with any team or player.

There are certain times of the year that truly are peak news periods, where the work never really stops. The few weeks after the regular season ends, when teams are firing and hiring coaches while the NFL playoffs are kicking off; that’s really busy. The week leading up to and then the first couple of weeks of free agency also are non-stop, with calls coming in and going out, and news constantly happening. The two weeks leading up to the draft and the week of the draft also are heavy phone call times, with lots of speculation and questions.

Q: How hard is it to decipher between a real piece of information that has legs, and when an individual or organization are trying to utilize you and your platform to further their own agenda?

Clayton: You enter every interview knowing you’re being used. No one would be talking to you if that person wasn’t trying to present a story from their perspective. There is nothing wrong with that. You just have to recognize what angle that person is coming from.

scheftySchefter: I don’t really think about that often. If you do this job long enough, you create long-standing relationships. People you trust and who trust you are not going to do that to you; it’s unethical and wrong. People think this sort of thing goes on all the time, but if there is enough trust built up, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as you think. And it’s also the reporter’s responsibility to decipher what is real and what is not, what sounds plausible and what is not.

Bucher: I’m not the first to say it, but I wholeheartedly believe it: any reporter worth their salt has a hair-trigger bullshit detector and is a bit of a cynic when it comes to sources and news. That said, sometimes you can’t tell right away if something is on the level or not. Sometimes you can go pretty far down the road and discover that the hot item you had really isn’t that hot. What is disturbing in today’s world of reporting is that finding out an item isn’t as solid as it initially appeared to be doesn’t seem to be a deterrent to putting it out there anyway as “news.” Or maybe it’s that the vetting process, the digging further to see if this juicy item truly is both juicy and an item, just isn’t a de facto part of the process anymore.

Rosenthal: It’s not always easy, but part of our job is to figure out when we’re being used.

Q: What was the one story you got burned on that still stings? What did you learn from it?

Clayton: There isn’t one that comes directly to mind. You learn from every story you do.

Rosenthal: There are too many to mention! And I’m not kidding. I remember the failures more than the successes. Just my nature, I guess.

reporter-bucherBucher: There are two stories that I mishandled that probably will always haunt me. The first concerns Kobe Bryant and his desire to be traded to the Bulls in 2007. I was careful to report only what I knew to be undeniably true, which was that he wanted Jerry West or another addition to Lakers management or he intended to force a trade.

On SportsCenter shortly before training camp opened, I reported what I knew and at the end was asked by Neil Everett, if I thought Kobe would show up for camp. I had been told by an unimpeachable source that he did not intend to show up. So I said, “I don’t think he’s showing up“. Now, that was my opinion, not something I considered on the level of reporting because even if I had been told that, there was no way I could certifiably KNOW that. But that’s how I viewed it, not necessarily how viewers heard it. So, of course, he shows up and I get killed for reporting that he wouldn’t. If I had it to do over again, I would’ve told Neil, “I don’t know what he’s going to do.”

The other one involves a colossal game of catfish, in which someone got the phone of an NBA executive and texted me from it about a trade that could be going down between the Raptors and the Heat involving Kyle Lowry and Chris Bosh. My bullshit detector was buzzing, but I spent three days texting back and forth with the alleged executive, asking questions, trying to poke holes in what they were telling me. Finally, my secret texter said the deal was about to pop and I should be good to go with it. I can’t recall ever reporting a story having talked to only one source, but this executive surely would’ve had a direct line to the information and we had spent three days going back and forth. I didn’t want to expose my source by calling someone else in the organization to ask about the deal — or so I told myself — and finally sent the story.

As soon as I did, the thought hit me — our conversation had only been by text. We’d never spoken. What if? It only took minutes before I received a call from one of the GMs involved who I knew well and who promptly told me the deal was bogus. I felt as if someone had shotgunned my guts. The same evil being then texted me again offering me the Jason-Kidd-forcing-out-John-Hammond story to “make it up to me.” That’s one sick individual.

What would I have done different? What I do now — I never report anything strictly off one source. It’s how I long operated but I’m once more committed to it fully.

Schefter: Sometimes you’re awaiting one final confirmation from a source when a story breaks. That’s never enjoyable. But it’s one of the issues of today. You need to be as fast as possible, yet you better make sure your reporting is right first. That’s the most important thing. But that’s the pressure that every reporter deals with on his or her beat. Be fast. But more important, be right.

Q: What advice would you pass along to someone who is pursuing the path of a reporter, or has just started on the local level and is trying to make inroads?

Rosenthal: Work hard, read a lot, be respectful – and be patient.

reporter-schefty2Schefter: Be consistent. Be reliable. Be steady. Be productive. Be honest. Be fair. Be professional. Be diligent. Be open-minded. Be curious. Be brave. Be bold. Be patient. Be considerate. Be compassionate. And then you can be whatever you want.

Clayton: Start as young as you can. I was credentialed to cover the Steelers when I was 17. The jobs of the future aren’t yet created. You have to create the jobs, but there are plenty of opportunities. You have newspapers, magazines, radio, television, internet and blogs. If you work hard and are accurate, you should be fine.

Bucher: Be honest. Do your homework. Cover a subject or beat as you would want to be covered. If you want your subjects to confide in you, then you have to let them get to know who you are and how you work. Don’t worry about how big the beat is or the size of the stories you’re assigned; you never know when a small story is going to become a big one. In the meantime, you get to practice on reporting out small stories so when a big one does come along you’re more apt to handle it correctly.

Spend as much time talking with the notebook closed and the tape recorder off as you do with them open and on. I still believe most people will accept the truth being told. They may not like it, they may prefer it be kept quiet, but if it does come to light and it is presented fairly they ultimately will come to understand that it needed to be told.

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Barrett Blogs

Is Sports Journalism Still Worth Paying For?

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

Jason Barrett

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Courtesy: Don Nguyen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where I sit is somewhere in between.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BSM Summit Update:

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

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

Thumbs Up:

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

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

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

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

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

Thumbs Down:

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Barrett

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

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

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

So why leave?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thumbs Up:

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

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

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

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Thumbs Down:

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

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

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

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BSM Summit Update:

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

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

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2-Seconds to Vent:

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

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

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Original Projects:

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

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Recommended Viewing:

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

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

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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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