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Making Sports Radio Better: Tackling The Issue of Diversity

Jason Barrett

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To make things better in life and business, we often have to tackle difficult subjects and be willing to engage in conversations that make us flinch. As a former programmer, I was taught to avoid three subjects which can divide an audience – race, religion, and politics. While I agree that those topics can be divisive in everyday sports talk conversation, I don’t think those subjects should be avoided when they apply to the progress or lack thereof in our format.

progress-is-a-processFor some in the media industry, this column will serve as a breath of fresh air and make them feel inspired to have deeper dialogue on ways to evolve our people and brands. For others, this trip into the land of the uncomfortable is going to make them uneasy and maybe even angry or dismissive. But it’s necessary.

Sharing our views on a subject such as race is often perceived as dangerous. Why? Because it’s a topic that gets people’s emotions stirred and when information is lacking or revealed, it can make us look uninformed, irresponsible or agenda driven.

While it may be complex and make the hairs on our necks stand up, it’s a conversation that shouldn’t be ignored when it comes to sports radio. We’re all adults and it’s 2015 not 1865. Anyone who works in this format should understand that we benefit more by reaching the entire audience, not just select demographics. You can’t do that though by only providing one side of the conversation.

Since the sports talk format was created thirty years ago, it’s been heavily targeted to white males between the ages of 25-54. Part of that stems from white audiences being more interested in the content. Some is a result of on-air lineups and station management being heavily caucasian and refusing to step outside of their comfort zones.

davidrobertsESPN Audio’s Vice President of Network Content David Roberts says those realities extend beyond the media business: “In many industries there’s still this comfort level to pick people who we identify most with. Diversity means being willing to listen to ideas and surround yourself with people who look, think, and act different than you do. If someone can bring a different perspective and help a company improve, then it only makes sense to explore hiring them.”

Although the format has grown, there are many sports stations today that don’t deliver big ratings. In some cases, brands finish between 10th and 20th place, and reach only 2-3% of the Male 25-54 audience. Yet, that is considered a success. To play devil’s advocate, one could argue that 97-98% of Men 25-54 DID NOT listen to those stations/personalities. It’s really hard to use the word ‘success’ when you look at it that way.

So why do sports stations struggle to generate bigger numbers? Is it because the programming is predictable? Is it due to a steady presence on AM radio which younger people listen less to? Is it because of poor measurement? Or is something else happening that prevents the format from reaching the largest pool of people?

That ‘something’ I’m referring to is a lack of diversity on the air. And let’s be clear, that doesn’t mean black personalities – it means Black, Asian, Hispanic, Indian, every ethnic background that is non-white.

I’ve programmed in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and St. Louis – three different pockets of the country, and in each case, the percentages of white males to non-white males who listened were between 70-90% white, and 10-30% non-white. There are a few markets where the percentages are different, but overall, this is a regular trend.

What that tells us is that the content appeals to a select group of people (white males 25-54). Attracting interest from minority audiences remains a bigger challenge.

stewOne of the first diverse shows to expand the audience in a local market were the “2 Live Stews” who broadcasted on the now defunct 790 The Zone in Atlanta. Doug and Ryan Stewart were the hosts, and they debuted in 2001 and grew from late evenings, to mid-days, to afternoon drive, and became The Zone’s highest rated show. That led to appearances on ESPN, a show on ESPN2, a syndication deal with Radio One, and a national slot on Sporting News Radio.

Despite all of that success, the pair have had a tough time gaining another opportunity in Atlanta, or anywhere else for that matter. They currently host a 1-hour program on Saturday morning on WGST in Atlanta.

Doug said “The diversity in Sports Radio almost 15 years after the debut of the “2 Live Stews” is very disappointing. We were lauded for being the first (all) black show in sports radio history and you’d think it would open up doors right? Not. We don’t have a job (or real interest for that matter) and not many other black hosts have been given opportunities either. Factor in that just about all of our station contemporaries are working in the industry, and add to the equation the “verifiable” success that we had concerning numbers and national success, and it’s disheartening to say the least.”

audiencesIt’s common to gravitate to those who think and sound like us and share a similar upbringing. When we hear someone speak differently and approach topics from an unfamiliar place, we usually reject it. What makes that problematic is that for someone like myself, who’s 41 and a white male, I can still put on a sports radio station and hear 80-90% of people who I stand a chance to connect with. For a minority listener though, they’re treated to 15% of people who share a similar background. That means that if they want to listen to sports talk, they have to listen to hosts who they may identify with less. The only other option is to not listen at all.

I went through the top 20 markets and the stations in each of those cities that operate this format. I also analyzed 5 national sports networks and SiriusXM’s key sports channels to look at the total amount of regular weekday on-air personalities who are white vs. non-white. I’m not including update anchors, fill-in hosts or reporters – just the people who occupy positions M-F between 6a-Midnight.

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Now take a look below at each market’s demographics and how they compare to the talent mix in each city.

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For additional observations on the information I presented above, click the following link.

Key Takeaways

If you were to create a headline from the data above, it would say “sports radio stations over deliver on white personalities and under deliver on non-white personalities“. 85% of the on-air people in this study were white. That’s 22% higher than the percentage of people in these cities who fit the same description. The only demographic in line with its statistics are African Americans. They make up 15% of the population among the Top 20 cities, and are represented by 14% of Black on-air personalities.

What’s more alarming is the shortage of Hispanics who are hosting sports talk shows. I counted five in top 20 markets and across all national platforms. That means only 1% of our key on-air talent are Hispanic, yet they make up 22% of the population in these markets. Hispanics love sports as much as everyone else, and they are a larger group of people than even African Americans. Still, they are the most underrepresented group in our entire format.

Altogether, minorities (Black and Hispanic) represent 37% of the population in these cities but only 15% of the format’s On-Air personalities come from minority backgrounds. This is a major issue that needs to be corrected, but it’s one that I’m not sure we’re prepared right now to fix. Here’s why. Did you know that of the entire list of stations above in top 20 markets, only 1 has a Program Director who isn’t a white male (Terry Foxx at 92.9 The Game in Atlanta)? If you look at the 5 national sports networks, only ESPN Radio employs a minority Programmer (David Roberts). They also employ two female programmers (Amanda Gifford and Louise Cornetta). No other network does that.

If we expect to expand our thinking, and reach more people, it has to start up top. I’m not privy to the braintrust of each group and why they make the decisions that they do, but the disparity I see on the air is not in line with the makeup of the audience. If you look deeper, the same challenges exist with market manager positions, corporate executive jobs, and ownership. In the NFL, the Rooney Rule was introduced to encourage organizations to consider candidates who weren’t white. I’m not sure if that type of approach is necessary or if it would even work, but clearly something has to be done.

As true as it may be that we have work to do in hiring minority managers and on-air talent, there is also a problem with getting them interested in our business, especially Hispanics. That doesn’t mean there aren’t great non-white candidates out there who are worth investing in, but the options to choose from are definitely less.

maddogIn May 2014, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo addressed this subject on his national radio program when a caller asked him why his channel didn’t feature any minority personalities. He said “What would you like us to do? There are not a million candidates. Would you like us to put on a black host for the sake of putting a person on? If there is any person of any ethnicity who wants to get a job at ‘Mad Dog Radio’ and we feel he or she is capable of doing a national talk show at the highest level, I’d put them on in a second. Let’s just say we are not being overwhelmed by resumes.”

Although Russo’s comments were originally criticized, I appreciated his honesty. My only issue was that while he was absolutely right about a lack of interest, the solution is to go out and find people, not wait for them to find us. Most personalities don’t know the challenges that exist inside each radio company, and it’s the Program Director’s job to find talent, bring them in, coach them up, and give them the platform to display their skills.

To their credit, Mad Dog Radio solved the issue by partnering with ESPN Radio. That relationship resulted in Stephen A. Smith joining the channel and becoming the host of weekdays 1p-3p EST. As part of the agreement, ESPN Radio produces the program.

sasWhen Smith was initially named host of the program he said “I’m not just able to help myself but various African Americans within the radio industry that are looking for opportunities. I’ve got to be a trendsetter and make it happen because if I drop the ball, I not only drop the ball for me but I drop the ball for all of us.”

He’s probably right, and that in itself saddens me. No person should have to go to work feeling like they have the weight of an entire race on their shoulders. Can you imagine if a white on-air personality was faced with that responsibility and their success or failure determined whether or not other companies would employ future white hosts?

We can talk about these problems until we’re blue in the face but what our industry needs now are solutions. For starters, there should be a stronger emphasis on training and recruiting. It’s easy to tell a manager “go hire great people and get us ratings” but most radio stations don’t talk to their managers about the importance of being diverse, nor do they show them why it matters or how to find candidates from different backgrounds. If nobody else inside an operation thinks it’s critical, and the programmer is judged on their ability to deliver ratings, they’re not going to care as much about the makeup of a lineup, as they are its ability to produce results. They’re also more likely to surround themselves with people they relate to.

I asked a Program Director (who wished to remain anonymous) about this issue and he confirmed that it’s a problem. “I’d love to say that I’ve done a good job at promoting diversity but the truth is that I can do better and probably need to focus on this more than I have in the past. We can place blame on a lack of training but that’s a cop out. The bigger issue I believe is simply having a discussion about it. Very few people want to talk about race. I think it’s only natural for people in my position to hire talent who they connect with most. Our audience comes from a similar place. But to your point, we’re not going to grow the audience if we don’t make hiring minority talent a bigger priority and it all starts with increasing dialogue”.

Early in my career when I first started programming, building a diverse radio station wasn’t on my radar. I went to work, listened for great talent, reviewed the candidates that applied for an opening, and made decisions based on what I felt was good. However, when I built 101 ESPN in St. Louis, I took a different approach. I made a real conscious effort to make sure we had a unique mix of people to reach the entire community. I wanted younger personalities, and veterans. Male and Female. White and Non-White.

dftsDuring that time I hired D’Marco Farr and the late Bryan Burwell in weekday positions. I also hired Alvin Reid and Rene Knott as weekend hosts, Tony Softli as a Reporter, Rick Venturi as an Analyst/Host, Sara Dayley as an Anchor, and Michelle Smallmon as a Producer. The brand was unique and full of talented people from multiple backgrounds and together we enjoyed a lot of success.

In San Francisco I took a similar approach. NFL Network personality Eric Davis was part of our initial afternoon show with Brandon Tierney. As we grew I added others to the roster from different backgrounds including Henry Wofford, Daryle “The Guru” Johnson, Gianna Franco, Anna Kagarakis, Lorenzo Neal, and a program called “The Three Amigos” which featured Victor Zaragoza who was Mexican, and Rudy Ortiz and Brandon Santiago who were Hispanic.

While my previous two stations took diversity into account, and did a good job of making it important to the programming mix, one could still argue that we didn’t do enough. I can’t disagree but I can say that we did try and put a lot of thought into every decision we made.

espnradioOne group which I believe did a masterful job at making their programming more diverse recently is ESPN Radio. Dan Le Batard, Jorge Sedano, Bomani Jones, and Freddie Coleman are all non-white and talented, and they’ve been given the same chance to succeed on the network as Mike Greenberg, Mike Golic, Jon Weiner, Ryen Russillo, Danny Kanell and Jen Lada. Traug Keller, Mo Davenport, David Roberts, Amanda Gifford, Pete Gianesini, Ray Necci, Louise Cornetta and every other ESPN Radio manager who was involved in the talent process deserves to be applauded for taking steps to create change.

I asked Roberts how the hiring process worked and he said “We never select numbers for how many people will be given a position based on their background. As long as you operate by making sure that the best talent available is selected, then the principles and impact of diversity will take care of itself. The wider you make the net, the better chance you have at success. The more narrow the pool, the less likely you are to succeed.”

Let’s understand one really important thing on this subject. Just because a white personality hosts a show, doesn’t mean they can’t relate or connect with an African American or Hispanic listener. The same holds true for any minority host trying to connect with a white audience. If the content is great, and the topic, information, and opinion is intriguing, people will listen to it. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to provide a better mix of on-air talent so we can appeal to all demographics.

To get a better read on the challenges our industry faces with regards to diversity, I thought it’d be helpful to talk to some non-white personalities who I respect a great deal. I think you’ll find this conversation to be very enlightening. Change can only happen when we recognize a problem and care enough to fix it. If a few people in our format in positions of influence read this and are moved to re-evaluate their approach and commitment to diversity, then that’ll be a step in the right direction. From where I sit, we could all benefit a great deal from it.

  • Jorge Sedano – Host of “Jorge & Jen” on ESPN Radio
  • Carl Dukes – Host of “Dukes & Bell” on 92.9 The Game in Atlanta
  • Newy Scruggs – Host of “Voices of The Game” on NBC Sports Radio
  • Freddie Coleman – Host of “The Freddie Coleman Show” on ESPN Radio
  • Carrington Harrison – Co-Host of “The Drive” on 610 Sports in Kansas City
  • Sean Adams – Co-Host of “The Bottom Line” on AM 1300 The Zone in Austin

How do you feel about the balance in sports radio today as it applies to presenting diverse on-air personalities and programming?

Adams: I don’t think it is diverse at all. People might look at the raw numbers and say things are better but many members of the mainstream media who also write and do television, are still pulled from a very homogeneous group of white men that lack the the most important part of diversity, experience.

Sedano: I think a market or a network should reflect its communities. At ESPN Radio, we have done a great job with diversity. Look at our weekday lineup. Mike & Mike, Dan Le Batard, Ryen Russillo & Danny Kanell, Bomani Jones, Jalen Rose & Dave Jacoby, Freddie Coleman, Jen Lada and myself. It’s a reflection of our society. That’s a testament to our leadership at ESPN, Traug Keller, Mo Davenport and Dave Roberts. They look for the most talented group of hosts who can provide different perspectives. It’s what the medium was built on – different perspectives.

carldukes2Dukes: I don’t think there is a balance. When you look around at the major market radio companies and stations and the major dayparts on those brands, how many African American are hosting shows? The balance is still very inadequate when you talk about sports radio today and how it applies to presenting diverse on-air personalities and programming.

Harrison: There is no racial balance in sports radio today. Look at the Talkers Top 100 list from any year, and count the number of non white people on that list. An even better exercise, count the number of non-white non athletes on the list. Sports talk radio is a middle aged white male platform so the hosts reflect that and largely speak from that relatable point of view and connect with the intended audience.

Is it better, the same, or worse than it was 10 years ago?

JorgeSedanoSedano: I came from Miami where 50% of the radio listening audience is Hispanic. When I worked in Miami there were only 3 Hispanic hosts in the weekday lineups. LeBatard, Orlando Alzugaray and myself. Now my ESPN colleague and long time friend Israel Gutierrez is doing drive time in Miami. 25% of Miami is African American. There are only three African American hosts on weekdays in Miami. Joy Taylor is a morning host on the Ticket, Leroy Hoard does middays there and Channing Crowder does afternoons on WQAM. There are 4 sports stations in Miami. The number of ethnic hosts don’t reflect the community there enough. I can say the same for most markets in America. For that matter, I can say the same for some radio networks as well.

Dukes: It is certainly better. Some doors have been opened for minorities but it’s still not as good as it should be. I think it has a lot more to do with guys like myself, the 2 Live Stews, Terry Foster in Detroit, and others having success when they do receive an opportunity. I’m a big believer that you have to see it to believe it. Once people can see us doing well, it will give more of them the courage to pursue their dreams too.

Scruggs: It’s better because you get to hear shows with hosts like Bomani Jones, Steve Kim, the 2 Live Stews or Mike Hill. You can actually give points and opinions from a minority perspective and not be afraid you’ll be pulled off the air. Some PD’s don’t want you to sound too “urban”, the code word.

Coleman: Definitely better because there are more minorities who are a part of sports talk radio. For the longest time, there weren’t any to listen to nationally or locally.

In sports radio, many of the on-air talent who aren’t white, have a background in professional sports. Why do you believe that stations will take a chance on a former athlete but not as much on an individual from a different background who is simply well educated or a good broadcaster?

seanadamsAdams: Historically those from non-white backgrounds have had to have more credibility than their white counterparts. In some ways it worked almost like television where one was the play by play (radio guy) and one was the color. Non-whites filled the second role and their credibility came from former players.

Sedano: I’m not in those other guys heads so I can only speak for myself. I was the PD/Host at WQAM for one year (Sept 2012-Aug 2013). In that time, I put on Channing Crowder who played in the NFL, and on the weekends I hired Ed Freeman & Jeff Fox who were broadcasters. I tried to hire Bomani Jones. I texted him once to gauge his interest, but he had bigger things on the horizon. Obviously, we see what that was.

It’s easier to hire a former jock because they have name value. It takes more of an investment to give a broadcaster that same opportunity. Most PD’s are under pressure to produce ratings and help sales staffs to meet numbers. So they don’t want to invest the time and effort it takes to coach a good, young broadcaster.

Dukes: The reason why is because the formula has always been that you needed a former professional athlete on the station to attract an audience. I don’t believe that formula is true anymore. My partner (Mike Bell) and I here in Atlanta didn’t play professional sports and we’re doing well. Toucher & Rich in Boston and Ben & Skin in Dallas are doing excellent and they didn’t play the game. I’ve worked with numerous former athletes, including Kordell Stewart here at The Game, and as knowledgeable as they are about the game, sometimes they can be limited in what they’re willing to say or do.

Scruggs: PD’s like names and get fooled all the time when athletes want to get into radio. The person hiring thinks they hit a 2-run homer: a former local player AND he’s black/Latino. Most players don’t want to put in the work that it takes to do sports radio at a high level. That is not a shot but it’s something I have seen.

Why is it important for sports stations to feature personalities who come from different backgrounds?

Dukes: That’s what life is all about. We should all strive to see what’s out there. When you include different cultures and ethnicities, then you can respect things more when certain stories come up. For example, when the Adrian Peterson story blew up last year, two white guys from Iowa discussing that topic versus an African-American with the same cultural experience, is a different deal. That viewpoint is going to be different and I think that’s beneficial and important to sports radio. As society continues to change, and we are truly one big melting pot, I think it’s important that listeners and fans get to hear as many perspectives as possible.

Scruggs: Just look at the world we live in. It’s important to bring viewpoints from women, gays, minorities and people of different faith. The world has changed.

carringtonHarrison: Talk radio is such a different type of medium because so much of your personality, upbringing, culture, background, and religious beliefs come out in how you portray your opinions. Since when is having different voices (not just black males) but a woman’s perspective too a bad thing? Can’t they provide a view that I don’t have? Isn’t that the point of open discussion?

If all the personalities are largely the same and essentially at the same point in life (married, two kids, house, etc.), how is the conversation ever truly unique? That’s not representative of the entire audience. I’m a 27 single black male, and on some levels it is impossible for me to relate to the middle aged white male, but doesn’t my story and the story of people like me also deserve to be heard?

Coleman: Because everybody isn’t the same and I’ve always believed that you don’t have to like people from different backgrounds, but you should be able to understand the differences. To me if you don’t, then you have a completely narrow view. Not every white person thinks the same, but a host has to understand, no matter their color or background, that understanding has to play a part.

If the majority of listening is done by white males between 25-54, and they relate strongly to white hosts in the same demographic, why should a company executive alter their approach?

Adams: Those same white males enjoy watching sports that are largely minority and the value of the diversity in former players (of any level) lends credibility to said host.

Sedano: Why wouldn’t you want to grow your audience beyond white males between 25-54? Are executives afraid that the white male audience will not be retained if there is a minority host? I think that’s a bit presumptuous. Good content is good content. People want good content. 

Dukes: A lot of guys are afraid to alter their approach because they’re afraid that people won’t listen. My approach has always been that I need everyone to listen to win. I am not solely dedicated to having just African Americans listen. I want the husband, the wife, the sports fan, the fringe fan, no matter what they look like, or where they come from, I need all of those people to win.

I never try to delegate my style or my delivery to one type of individual. I hope the audience likes who I am and what I do but I’m not trying to do something to attract a certain type of individual. How does it sound? Is it smart? Is it intelligent? Is it entertaining? If it checks those boxes, then it shouldn’t matter what you look like because people will listen, and that should be the reason why an executive should be receptive to altering their approach.

newy2Scruggs: So it’s OK to bring in the ex minority ballplayer for pre and postgame coverage of the station’s games but keep the host white so you don’t offend the white audience? That is hooey and 1990’s type of thinking. We live in a country where the voting public is overwhelming white and a black man was elected President of the United States twice. There are many talented non white male broadcasters that can bring compelling sports talk to the airwaves.

What is the #1 reason in your opinion of why stations struggle to employ more non-white on-air talent? (is it a lack of interest from minority candidates, programmers afraid to leave their comfort zone, listening audiences won’t listen as much, etc.)

Adams: Not only are programmers afraid to leave their comfort zones but they are also uncomfortable with communication styles and patterns that might work against non-traditional forms of diction and odd usage. Stuart Scott was popular and hated for a reason. He was different. That scares people.

carldukes3Dukes: This is traditionally a white male dominated field. It’s slowly changing though. When we can stop saying there’s one minority candidate on a sports station in an entire market occupying a major daypart as a lead host, that’s when we can say we’ve made real progress. Most stations are afraid that the listening audience won’t connect if they feature more non-white personalities, and I disagree with that. I think you connect through your experiences and your likes about sports and real life. I have children, I’m a homeowner, I own a car, I enjoy restaurants, those things apply no matter what you look like or where you come from.

We need to get past what a person looks like, and think about what they offer to the radio station and the listening audience. Here in Atlanta it’s very unique. Terry Foxx is the Program Director and Sean Thompson is the Assistant Program Director and both are African American. That dynamic isn’t anywhere else in the country, but it should be. But those doors haven’t opened as much. None the less, because there are not enough minorities

Scruggs: Sports radio PD’s are on par with baseball. I saw it two years ago when there was pushback from executives on a black talk show host who had strong opinions. The GM identified him as an up and coming young talent. The GM also had a young white writer with strong sports opinions who he felt was also an up and coming young radio talent. He wanted to hire both but he listened to his staff’s opinion instead of his gut.

The white male ended up getting a show and they passed on the black candidate. The black candidate now has a successful national show and has blown up with a different network. The white male has been very good and performed well, just like the GM predicted. The station could have had both.

Harrison: Lack of effort. Lack of development. Lack of trying. Everyone wants a job like this. You get to talk sports for a living. Sure like any job it comes with a certain set of challenges but it’s an incredible line of work. It’s what I always wanted to do. It requires someone taking a chance and believing that you can do it. More PDs have to believe that someone like me is capable of connecting with a large audience. It takes time and patience.

How do you feel non-white personalities are measured in sports radio?

Adams: It’s no different than what we see with non-white coaches being hired. While it is getting better in all parts of society, a smaller margin for error is usually in place.

Sedano: I can only speak to my own experience. Once you’re in the business, it’s the same. You have to make it on your own talent and some good fortune. Don’t get it twisted. We all need a few bounces to go our way in any walk of life. Especially, in this business. The issue for minorities is getting in the business. 

freddie1Coleman: I would say under the microscope more, but not as much as before. I think there are plenty of programmers that look at ratings and that’s enough. I could be wrong though.

Scruggs: You don’t see any minorities getting manager jobs without experience. Ain’t no Latino, Asian or Black Brad Ausmus’ or Scott Servais’. I’ll always remember this one guy told me in an email I was simply hired because I was black. Little did he know I had a longer resume and worked in a larger market than all of the white hosts who were at the station that he felt were more qualified than I was.

What do you attribute the lack of non-white station managers and programmers to?

Adams: Many folks in executive positions in radio stations studied radio, broadcast and television in college and planned on being in the industry on one way or another. Many non-whites join the industry trying to figure out a way to leverage their expertise and playing or coaching history. That leaves the technical side of the job wanting in most cases.

jorgeSedano: Most people hire people like them. We see it in all walks of life. I’ve had all different people manage me. White, African American, Hispanic, and women. Though, I don’t think I’m the norm in that regard.

Harrison: It’s a cycle and there’s a lack of talent. There aren’t many hosts as it is, let alone minorities who are training and developing to become PD’s. If they’re not around the radio business to see how it runs and works then they can’t be given opportunities to manage.

Coleman: It goes back to comfort level and how much of a chance they have to succeed as well as the resources invested. I think it’s as if they’d rather interview, but not hire someone from a non-white background so they won’t get in trouble for being discriminatory.

What can sports radio do to become a more appealing career destination for people from non-white backgrounds?

Sedano: Invest in young talent and people of all backgrounds. There are a lot of good young talented people out there and they need to be given opportunities. Not all of them are conventional broadcasters. Look for the local blogger who covers your local sports landscape. See what they’re made of. Stuff like that takes effort. I think a lot of managers in radio are on cruise control and take the path of least resistance. 

Dukes: I think we need to get into schools especially middle-schools and high-schools. We need to create programs, especially for under privileged children, and kids of color. They need to see that this is something they can do. The business has changed so much thanks to technology. You don’t have to work at a radio station to start practicing but those things have to be shown to people. I don’t think we’re doing enough in this business to create those opportunities for people who are going to come after us.

carrington3Harrison: I don’t think it’s non appealing to non white backgrounds. I think it’s a matter of seeing more minorities hired. It’s discouraging to some to look at the media and not see many people like them in places of power. That shouldn’t be a deterrent. You have a dream, chase it, and put the work in.

Coleman: It IS an appealing destination. I get letters all the time from young black broadcasters who want to do what I’m blessed to do. I don’t think the format needs to do anything to attract more interest.

What advice do you want to pass along to aspiring broadcasters who aren’t white and are looking to receive consideration for a future opportunity?

Sedano: This will sound totally cliche, but there is a reason it becomes a cliche. Knock on every door and don’t be afraid of rejection. It’s going to happen. Get over it quickly and move on. Don’t let that stuff linger. It’s a useless exercise. Also, network your behind off, but be respectful of people’s time. No one likes anyone who is overbearing or worse… annoying. And, if you get in the business… Be nice to EVERYONE. You never know who your next boss will be. 

Dukes: Be yourself. You don’t have to change or do anything different than what you’re doing. I was told by my mentor “don’t do it for the money, if you’re good enough, the money will come”. He was right.

The other thing, if you aspire to be, you can achieve it. Just because there may be no one who looks like you doing it in your town, doesn’t mean you can’t be the first to do it. Be a pioneer, be a trendsetter, and make it happen. Don’t let anyone stop you. I’ve been told many times “you don’t sound like the radio station, I’m not sure this is going to work, we might have a spot for you in a lesser daypart”. Those things didn’t stop me, so don’t let anyone try to steal your dreams.

newy3Scruggs: Work hard and continue to pursue your dreams. The big thing is to build your contacts and be in touch with decision makers. Go to conventions and conferences and get in front of people. I landed three radio jobs by going to the people who did the hiring and said give me a look. I made it happen. Now, it is easier for me because I’m a local TV sportscaster but you have to be willing to go grind and hustle to find work.

Also, be willing to move and work in a smaller market to get daily reps to become a good host. Never allow anyone to say you are not prepared. Too many guys in this business do ZERO prep work. Do the darn work. Build your contacts. Show up to events and games.

Coleman: Never give up or give in. There will be a person that will be advanced enough in their thinking to give you an equal chance. Once you’re in there, to use the old black adage, “be twice as good and never be afraid to be yourself”. That’s what got you in the door in the first place.

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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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The Media Business Must Reset Its Message and Market Its Stars in 2024

“The only way to change perception is to remind people what makes radio/TV special, and how well it works.”

Jason Barrett

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The end of the year is upon us, and I hope you’re happy, healthy, and excited about what lies ahead in 2024. The older I get, and the more I work with different companies and people, I’m reminded that the relationships and results are what makes this all worthwhile. In my thirties, I wanted to stomp competitors into the ground, and own the space in the cities I worked in. I even did it a few times. But as happy as I was for my crew and seeing our strategy work, the more I learned it was about growing a business, and enjoying the ride with colleagues, not seeing others unemployed. If there’s only one game in town, the game itself becomes less fun. The professional benefits shrink too for those on the winning side.

It’s no secret that 2023 has been a roller coaster ride for the media industry. Take for instance this recent Forbes article. If their math is correct, more than 20,000 people lost media jobs in 2023. That can’t make you feel good about the state of our business. It doesn’t inspire confidence in advertisers to invest in us either. With 2024 approaching, there’s optimism, pessimism, and focus on what may change. The common belief is that revenues will rise due to a political year, but we can’t just look at dollars and cents when it comes to evaluating our industry. If we do, we’ll be back here in 2025 when political advertising shrinks.

I started covering sports media in 2015. News media coverage was added in 2020. During that time, radio and TV revenues haven’t risen like a Phoenix and headlines about both mediums have been mostly negative. Do a quick google search and look at how many stories focus on low stock prices, headwinds/layoffs, revenue projections missed, bankruptcy, executive’s on shaky ground, brands losing their identity and purpose, AM radio becoming extinct, etc.. This is what investors and advertisers see every day. It creates a negative perception of our business. You’d see it that way too if you were in their shoes.

Now combine that with the way media sells the next big thing. Meta told us virtual reality was the future but bailed on that idea in favor of artificial intelligence. Spotify dove into podcasting with its foot on the gas but is now driving under the speed limit. Elon Musk bought X to be the everything app yet can’t inspire confidence in the advertising community.

Radio’s issues are more self inflicted. Groups have been saddled with so much debt that even a good year in local markets gets ignored due to larger corporate problems. Judging from what gets printed you’d think no radio station grew revenue this year, which is false. TV isn’t immune either. All too often the focus is on viewers aging or watching less, and young people streaming yet the biggest point gets missed – people are still watching content, most of it produced by the TV industry. They just do it in different ways.

I’m sure there are exceptions but those I know who work in radio, TV, podcasting or social media do so for the access, content, creativity and fun. If you do the job well enough and long enough, the pay can be pretty good too. Most don’t enter the business to discuss plans to boost a stock, raise quarterly revenue or frame a press release to soften the blow when laying people off.

Our industry is attractive because we create programming that excites viewers/listeners and is led by people who are passionate about the content featured on their brands. When that content is supported by data that shows people enjoy it, it attracts advertisers. If those paying clients invest in a brand, and it increases sales, that creates a healthy business. This isn’t rocket science, folks.

My hope for 2024 is that the media industry puts greater focus on resetting its messaging and marketing its stars. Podcasting and streaming get discussed with high enthusiasm. Marketers are made to feel that they are growing spaces they have to be in. Radio and TV, which are both larger, and have delivered results for decades, are seen as less attractive. But they shouldn’t be. We’ve allowed that to happen. The only way to change it is to remind people what makes radio/TV special, and how well it works. It starts with marketing the right people and message. Otherwise perception becomes reality.

Too often I see narratives shaped for advertisers and investors instead of the public. If you want the business world’s money and attention, don’t bore them with business headlines. Create a party with your stars, attract a passionate audience, and generate results. Do that consistently and watch how fast the money follows. Given how our industry has been portrayed the past decade, we’re not inspiring many with hype about revenue projections, profitability, and staff reductions.

An Important Year For Barrett Media

We enter 2024 with a lot of promise. Dave Greene was recently announced as our new Chief Media Officer. I also revealed a few additions, and shared that I’d write a weekly column and host a podcast in April. But we’re not done. We’re adding two more columnists, who I’m very excited about.

Mark Kreidler joins BSM to write a weekly column on Wednesday’s. Mark is an award winning author who previously wrote for ESPN, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and Sacramento Bee. He has also worked in radio for 95.7 The Game, Sactown Sports 1140, and ESPN 1320.

Dave Williams is also joining us to write a weekly column each Friday on BNM. Dave has spent over four decades in news/talk working for top brands such as WBAP/KLIF in Dallas, KNX in Los Angeles, and KFBK in Sacramento. He announced his retirement from radio in early November.

Cementing our position and value as a media outlet is a priority. We root for the industry, support it, and try to educate, celebrate, inform, and challenge those inside of it. But with that comes a responsibility to offer opinions and cover the news. We prioritize 4 key things on our websites: features on industry people, expert opinions from columnists, daily news about brands/people changes or performance, and industry reactions. The occasional 5th area of focus is original projects like the BSM Top 20.

Our editors and news writers watch, listen and read daily. If it’s said on the air or social, it may end up on our sites. You’ll agree with some, and disagree with others, but it’s no different than how athletes react to hosts talking about sports. The difference is we highlight discussions about media brands, people, and the industry not local teams.

If you see something you don’t like, Garrett and Dave manage our websites. Both are accessible – [email protected] or [email protected]. Just understand that if brands make decisions, results are bad or public comments are offered, we are going to cover it.

We’ve spent 8 years building two respected brands and working hard to attract industry professionals. With two websites, newsletters, social media brands, and conferences, I feel good about our progress. The web traffic, social media impressions, and newsletter data shows that we’re on the right track.

Consulting clients and executing top notch events remain my top priority but growing our marketing partnerships is vital too. Stephanie Eads has worked hard on this and we are excited to welcome Ramsey Solutions, JJ Surma Voiceovers, Harker Bos Group, Doug Stephan’s Good Day Networks, and the Motor Racing Network as 2024 partners. We’re also thrilled to extend relationships with our friends at Point to Point Marketing, Backbone, Steve Stone Voiceovers, Core Image Studio, Jim Cutler, and Premiere Networks. If you’d like to work with us too, contact Stephanie by email at [email protected].

To continue building BSM and BNM, we are launching two new newsletters next week. BSM will deliver the 8@8 weekdays at 8am, and the Press Pass at 5pm. BNM will distribute the Rundown weekday mornings at 9am, and the Wrap Up at 6pm. Our afternoon editions will feature a different content approach so I look forward to your feedback on it. To sign up for BSM’s newsletters, click here. For BNM, go here.

Sticking with BNM, we will have a special announcement on Tuesday January 2nd at 9am. I’ll be announcing the dates, host city, and venue that day for our 2024 BNM Summit. Our 2023 event in Nashville was excellent but I think this next one could be even bigger and better. The Rundown and BNM’s website and social media accounts will relay the details. Also, BNM is launching a special series the week of January 22-26. Public Radio Week will feature NPR folks all week long.

Before I wrap up the column, I want to address a few BSM items. First, the BSM Top 20 of 2023 drops February 5-9 and February 12. Voting opens next week (January 2nd) and emails will go out to all PDs and executives invited to participate in the process. We’ll also have two new original projects in January starting with Social Studies written by Alex Reynolds on Wednesday January 3rd. Peter Schwartz’s monthly feature Where Are They Now debuts Tuesday January 30th.

We have other things in motion for February including a cool project titled “A Day Spent With.” Derek Futterman will run point on that series. I’ll share more in my next column on January 8th.

Last but not least, the 2024 BSM Summit takes place March 13-14, 2024 in New York City. We’ve already announced a number of people and I’ll have another announcement next week. If you plan to attend, don’t wait until the last minute to buy a ticket and reserve your room. Go to BSMSummit.com to take advantage of our holiday sale. It expires Sunday December 31st.

I want to thank you for continuing to read our work, following our brands, attending our events, and considering the different ideas and opinions offered by our writers. Covering this business is complex. It has its fair share of warts but it also provides a ton of value, massive creativity, incredible content, and a path full of untapped potential. More importantly, it’s full of quality people. I look forward to watching each of you build stronger businesses in 2024, and helping those who I’m fortunate to work with.

Cheers to 2024!

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