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Is Radio Still Willing To Pay For Premium Talent?

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If you haven’t heard Mike Francesa’s interview with Katie Nolan you need to stop what you’re doing and listen to it. It is fascinating and one of the most refreshing one-hour conversations I’ve listened to in a long time.

Why might you ask?

Because it not only covers every single subject that would be of interest to Mike’s audience, but his unfiltered responses remind us of why he’s been one of the most dominant forces of all-time in this industry. I give a ton of credit to Katie for being well prepared and doing a great job of listening and guiding the discussion into the right locations.

When it comes to Mike, he has a large amount of fans and critics. That’s to be expected when you perform up to thirty hours per week on the air for nearly three decades in the nation’s number one media market.

mikef2Some take jabs at him for being wrong with some of his predictions. Others point out how he once fell asleep on the air for nearly fifteen seconds while interviewing Sweeny Murti. Countless others criticize the fact that he’s not active in the social media space, relies heavily on phone calls, and is a beneficiary of getting into the format early.

Say what you will about “The Pope of New York Sports” but his resume of success is unmatched. When you build the type of brand that Mike has, it’s common to have others poking holes in your performance.

The reality in life is that most people like to see David upset Goliath. It’s why teams like the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, and the Los Angeles Lakers draw the amount of attention that they do. Legions of fans recognize and appreciate their greatness but many love to see them crash and burn.

I grew up listening to “Mike and the Mad Dog” and the show inspired me to pursue working in this industry. I was fortunate to live in New York and watch as the format took off and morphed into the juggernaut that it has become today. WFAN played a strong role in sports radio’s growth because they did a masterful job of making New York listeners feel like they were a big part of the experience.

WFANWhen you listened to WFAN, it felt big and important. The personalities seemed larger than life and when you called in and became a part of the show by sharing your opinion with the hosts, there was a sense that your voice mattered and the local teams took notice. It felt as if the radio station’s airwaves were the place you’d turn to for holding hold players, coaches, teams and executives accountable for their actions and/or performance.

Truth be told, before I ever considered working in in this business I preferred to listen, but after sitting on the sidelines observing for eight years, I finally took the bait and called in one day after the Knicks defeated the Bulls and Phil Jackson was whining about the referees. I thought I had a good angle and when I presented it to Francesa he absolutely crushed me. Just thinking about it still makes me smile.

As the year’s have passed, the radio station has remained one of the best in the business. They’ve dealt with additional competition, changes in ratings methodology, and a loss of some of the industry’s most iconic broadcasters and play-by-play partnerships, but through it all they’ve remained highly successful.

Whether you care for Francesa’s style and show though isn’t what we’re here to discuss today. Instead I want to focus on some of the key points he made during his conversation with Nolan because they touch on a scary reality that is facing our business.

mikechrisWhen asked about the possibility of a “Mike and the Mad Dog” permanent reunion, Mike said “I don’t think we would be the obstacle. I think the business is the obstacle. They don’t want guys like me in this business anymore. They don’t want stars. They don’t want guys who are making a lot of money. They want a bunch of cookie cutter people who they can control that aren’t any trouble. They want a bunch of nameless faceless guys. They want the events and rights fees to carry the day and make the sportscasters interchangeable. That makes it a tough business.”

Let that sink in for a second.

The top performer in the #1 media market in the country who has delivered big ratings for nearly thirty years believes operators are less interested in paying for major brands and top talent.

Is he right? To a certain degree I think he is.

We’ve all heard the phrase “you get what you pay for” and in radio’s case, the future is going to be very unforgiving if the best performers aren’t available to be heard. There are many content options out there now, and new media companies will pay high profile talent and offer them a stage to perform on if they can help them grow their business.

sternDon’t believe me? Just take a look at the way Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have blossomed. Just last month before Howard Stern signed a new deal with SiriusXM, there was talk that Apple/iTunes was considering making a run at him.

When Bill Simmons and ESPN split up in 2015, many thought he’d have lesser options but then HBO entered the picture. When Colin Cowherd’s run with ESPN was coming to a close, he had conversations with MSNBC before agreeing to a deal with Fox Sports 1.

Years ago Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, record companies, and the entire newspaper industry thought they were untouchable but once the internet took off and new media outlets started to emerge and invest in content, talent, and a better experience, things changed quickly.

I could be wrong but when Mike says he doesn’t think a reunion with Chris would be possible based on economics, he’s right as it applies to radio. But if digital media or television enter the picture that could be a different story.

And that’s a shame because few have possessed the ability in radio to draw in listeners the way Mike and Chris did. When you add up their talent, chemistry and ability to inform and entertain, it makes for an incredible program which can make a brand a LOT of money.

rushWould a company prefer to spend less? Of course. I’m sure SiriusXM wishes they didn’t have to pay Stern a king’s ransom. The same holds true for Premiere Radio Networks with Rush Limbaugh, and any great television network which spends big money for top flight personalities who attract a large number of eyeballs.

But if you add up the expenses for any of those shows and compare them to what they generate for ratings and revenue, I guarantee you they’re making money off of their investments. Media companies don’t stay in the business of spending millions of dollars on talent unless they’re making millions more themselves.

The other part of the conversation that I want to examine is the part where Mike discussed how important the ratings are to him. It’s a lesson for every single talent to pay attention to.

rickyWhen asked about the ratings game and how it affects his show’s content, he said that he doesn’t let it change his overall approach but that he does make tweaks and is always aware of how the show is being consumed. His mindset going into his program each month is that they have one job to do – finish first! Not second, third, fourth or fifth which most others would consider a big success, first! When I heard him say that I couldn’t help but think about that classic Talladega Night’s line “If you ain’t first, you’re last“.

But I digress!

That’s a lot of pressure to put on one’s shoulders especially in a market like New York City. Mike mentioned to Katie that he once received a phone call from an executive who told him “I pay you to finish first” after he came in second. It didn’t make him happy but he understood the point.

winningFrom where I sit, I love hearing that. It’s exhilarating to know that regardless of the challenges with PPM and the countless distractions and media options that are available to listeners to pull them away from the show, that Mike makes no excuses and approaches his craft with the expectation of being the best. We need more of that in our industry. Even if you don’t hit #1, that should be the goal every time you grab a microphone and broadcast.

As a matter of fact, you can apply this to every single aspect of your life. If you’re playing sports in school or on a professional level, you should be driven to win the game and be the best player on the field. If you’re in sales, you should want to generate the most amount of money and be seen as the company’s best salesperson.

I can identify with him on this subject because I’m wired the same way. Those who know me well will attest to that.

When I played little league baseball, I won two MVP awards and went to five consecutive All-Star games because all I did was practice and play. Nothing mattered besides being the best baseball player on the field.

lars2As I aged and became more interested in music, I wanted to be the best drummer on the planet and gain a record deal. I’d listen to Lars Ulrich of Metallica, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, and Neil Peart of Rush and picture myself surpassing them on the list of the best of all-time. I’d practice for hours each day and if I was off on a beat or drum fill, I’d do it again and again until I had it right.

I learned later that you can be the best drummer in the world but you’re not going to land a record deal unless you and the other 3-4 members of your band share the same goal, so when I gave up the chase of becoming a professional musician to work in radio, I once again pushed myself to be the very best I could be.

Throughout the years I’ve been fortunate to have that approach pay off for me. I grew from an intern to News Anchor to Sports Talk Show Host to Producer to Program Director and during that time landed five different programming jobs and produced one of the best national radio programs in the country.

Although I’d like to believe that my talent came into play at some point during each of those processes, I know that my drive and passion to win stood out.

When I was being considered for an opportunity at ESPN Radio, one manager mentioned that I hadn’t had enough major market experience and they weren’t sure if I could handle making the transition from a small market to the big stage. Their point was valid. I couldn’t do anything to change the fact that I lived and performed where I was raised so I decided to put my passion into my pitch and explain why I deserved a look.

parcellsI still have the email I sent and in it I said “Many people were critical when the NY Giants selected a Head Coach named Bill Parcells because he didn’t have any experience and was an unknown commodity. A few years later when he was winning Super Bowl’s they looked like an organization of geniuses. Your next Bill Parcells is right here and waiting to make a difference for ESPN Radio”.

Was it ballsy? Definitely. But I believed in myself and knew I could win for them and I wasn’t going to let a situation beyond my control cost me an opportunity. If they didn’t think I was good enough I could’ve accepted that but I wasn’t accepting rejection over my location.

Luckily I landed the job and produced at ESPN Radio for 2 years. Week after week I pushed everyone involved to make “GameNight” as great as it possibly could be, and in doing so I earned the respect of my peers and my bosses. When a bigger opportunity came up to produce “The Dan Patrick Show” just 13 months later, I was given the promotion.

That same mindset helped me when I interviewed for programming opportunities in Philadelphia, San Francisco and St. Louis. In each situation, I entered the process determined to beat the competition and land the job. I had no idea who I was up against, and in many cases I had no local market connection, but what I did have was vision, passion, and an “I won’t lose” attitude. I focused on articulating my vision, asking questions, and selling my love and passion for coaching and creating great sports radio. By focusing on the things I could control, I was able to gain a few fans and win over a few rooms.

I don’t bring up these examples to showcase my resume. I mention them because they help to reinforce Mike’s point. Winning starts with your mindset. You can’t perform as an elite talent or lead a brand to incredible heights if you don’t set your own bar extremely high.

valueWhen I see brands sitting in 20th to 30th place and just floundering in their markets it frustrates me. It tells me that there isn’t a big focus on the radio station. Why be in the format and spend any amount of money on a product if you’re not going to maximize its potential? I get that not every city has the budget to pay a Mike Francesa but there are tons of great broadcasters out there and if you want to build an audience, attract advertisers, and make money in this industry, you’ve got to invest in on-air people who are worth listening to.

To bring this back full circle to what we originally started with, once you have great talent, it’s your job to find a way to keep them. I had a former boss of mine in San Francisco once tell me “we will pay for performers but nobody is breaking the bank until they prove it”. That’s a fair statement but unfortunately not every broadcast group subscribes to this theory.

During the past few months I’ve talked to a lot of talent and in three different cases, hosts took over timeslots in different cities and led their stations to double digit ratings and/or double to triple the previous ratings performance, only to be told when contract time rolled around that they weren’t due a raise or were only worth a minimal 1-2% increase.

I’ve also watched as some talented people I know have had to take on responsibilities selling their own shows to make extra money, and a few groups in particular have chosen to only hire talent who sell or pay for their air time. Delivering ratings and a quality product matters little in comparison to inflating the bottom line.

imptIn some of these instances it might be necessary to operate that way. If a company isn’t making money you can’t blame them for not being able to do better. But if that’s the case, there are other ways to show your appreciation for someone who has performed and is helping do their part to grow the business. Whether it’s an extra week of vacation, sales trade, a bump in ratings bonuses, a higher endorsement rate, a guarantee number of appearances, or an extra weekend shift to make additional dollars, all of those things tell a talent “we want you to make more money and you’re important to us”.

When you don’t treat your best people with that respect, you end up losing the pieces that are most vital to your operation. Music formats can get away with it more because they can play songs and tell a DJ that the artists are the stars, but when a personality talks 45 minutes per hour, and is the main reason why people come to your radio station on a daily basis, losing them over a handful of dollars isn’t smart business.

That said, this also is an industry that has compensated a lot of talented people well throughout the course of their careers. The format’s top talent wouldn’t be sticking around for decades if the paychecks and additional revenue streams weren’t attractive.

mikefI’ve heard Francesa say that he’s done with WFAN at the end of 2017, and he says it’s not a negotiating ploy. I don’t know him personally to know if it is or it isn’t but it sounds as if he knows a pay cut awaits him in the future and given his performance and place in the industry, I can see why that doesn’t have a lot of appeal to him. That said, WFAN pays him extremely well so we’re not talking about a couple of nickels and dimes in this situation.

It’s a tough spot for both sides to be in because from the operator’s standpoint, you’re paying millions for a host during a time when salaries are declining and no matter how much you love the performer, there has to be a limit to what you’ll invest.

On the flip side, how do you tell your top talent that you’ll pay them one fee to finish 1st, and then when they do, offer half or even less on their next deal? Is the radio station going to sell ads for less and accept making less money during the duration of the talent’s agreement? Heck no! So why should they take less when they’ve performed and helped the company make a lot of money?

Everyone gets their feelings hurt once it’s time to talk business because the offer (or lack thereof) tells an employee what the company thinks they’re worth. Personalities expect to be paid for hitting their target and companies expect to grow their bottom line and reap the rewards of making significant investments.

When talent though start getting treated as if they’re expendable, and the product becomes less appealing to the audience, you’ve got to ask yourself “is saving the money truly worth it if it means losing your most valuable commodity and having your audience and advertiser numbers decline”?

The challenge of course is to keep your listeners tuned in, your advertisers spending the same or more, and hire new talent for less than the previous host made but at a number that they feel comfortable with. While that sounds great, it doesn’t always work out like that. It’s even more of a risk when it involves a top talent with a lengthy track record and loyal following.

espn2Mike made the point that SportsCenter isn’t what it used to be and most people couldn’t name the anchors on the show today like they once did. The show was once a must-watch and the hosts were household brand names. Today the stars have become the highlights, the games, and the packages, and the talent have become nameless and faceless.

In this case, he’s not wrong. I spent my 20’s and early 30’s fully invested in watching SportsCenter each night. Now, it’s become background noise and a show I can live without.

Which brings me back to the question I previously asked “is losing your best talent and damaging your brand in exchange for eliminating expenses really worth it”?

When you have a superstar talent on your airwaves, delivering an impact, and it’s helping you make money, you continue investing and riding that horse as far as they’ll take you. If you choose to get off the ride when you’re on top of the mountain, understand that the next one could leave you face down in the dirt.

Barrett Blogs

Black Friday Sale TODAY For 2022 BSM Summit Tickets

“BSM’s Black Friday sale on Summit tickets will begin at 12:01am ET on Friday November 26th and expire at 11:59pm later that same night.”

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There are less than 100 days remaining until the 2022 BSM Summit takes place in New York City. We’ve announced 31 participants for the show so far, and have more to reveal in the weeks and months ahead. I think you’re going to like what’s still to come.

Putting this conference together isn’t easy. It requires months of meetings, brainstorming, promotion, selling sponsorships, pursuing speakers, and creating everything that attendees see on stage over a two day period. I’m thankful to have help from some amazing partners, but as I’ve mentioned previously, this isn’t an event that makes us rich or ends with 5-10 new clients signing up to work with BSM. The goal each year is simple, make sure the conference is valuable for those who attend, and don’t run BSM out of business by doing it. As long as those two things remain solid, it’s worth doing.

Some might wonder, why go thru months of headaches if you’re not going to break the bank or immediately add clients. That’s fair to ask. If you look at it from a pure business standpoint, one could easily make a case that pouring this type of energy into something else could be more lucrative. But money was never the motivation for doing this. I felt the sports media industry lacked a signature event where smart, successful media professionals (who don’t often cross paths) could gather at one location to laugh and learn together, and I wanted to change that. If over a two day period attendees could gain insight, information, ideas, and introductions, it’d put everyone in a stronger position to remain successful.

I’ve unapologetically loved the sports media business since I started listening to Mike & the Mad Dog on WFAN and watching SportsCenter on ESPN. I was fortunate to live and work in a number of cities over the past two decades, learning how different companies and people operate, and I remain involved today thru my work with BSM. I mention this because I also know media people. They tend to wait until the last minute to book hotel rooms, airfare, and purchase tickets, even if they can save money by acting sooner. I know, I used to do it too. I can’t control when you book your room or plane ticket, but I do want to give you an added incentive to buy your ticket to this year’s show. Seating is limited, and once the last seat is filled, that’s it. We can’t make extra room.

With that in mind, most of you are either taking today off or working inside a much quieter building. If you’ve thought about coming to the Summit, take 5-10 minutes to log on to BSMSummit.com to take advantage of our special Black Friday sale. We’ve reduced tickets for the day, so whether you’re planning to attend in NYC or watch the conference online, there’s a discount to help you out. Just $199.99 for live tickets, and $124.99 for virtual.

BSM’s Black Friday sale on Summit tickets expires at 11:59pm tonight. In the meantime, Hotel Edison in NYC is offering rooms for just $109 + taxes to Summit attendees. Click here to take advantage of the special room rate we’ve secured for this year’s show. Those of you planning to fly to NYC for the show, there have been a ton of great deals offered by American, Southwest, United, JetBlue and Frontier. It might be worth checking into today since Black Friday often has even better sales on travel.

If you’re interested in learning more about the industry, staying a step ahead, forming new relationships, strengthening existing ones, exploring potential business deals, and celebrating the business you’re in, I hope you’ll join us either online or in New York City for the 2022 BSM Summit. I’m making it easier on you, by offering lower ticket prices today. The rest is up to you!

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Craig Carton, Fred Toucher, Mike Felger To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit

“Few understand what it takes to deliver success in this format consistently like Craig, Fred and Mike, and I’m glad they’re making the time to share their knowledge with us.”

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When you talk to industry people about successful brands in sports talk radio, most conversations include WFAN and 98.5 The Sports Hub. The New York and Boston sports radio brands are consistently recognized for their ability to deliver large audiences and revenues.

Helping to create that success is a mixture of strong play by play partnerships, skilled programmers and even more importantly, some of the most dynamic on-air personalities in the format. Fortunately for us, a few of those gamechangers will be present to share their opinions and insights on content matters in New York City at the 2022 BSM Summit.

Starting in New York, it’s an honor to welcome WFAN afternoon drive host Craig Carton to the 2022 BSM Summit. Heard daily on ‘Carton and Roberts‘ alongside Evan Roberts, which is also featured on TV on SNY, Carton has made his presence felt ever since returning to the airwaves in November 2020. Prior to taking on the challenge in afternoons, Craig spent a decade partnering with Boomer Esiason on ‘Boomer and Carton‘, forming one of the most successful sports radio morning shows in the country. In addition to enjoying success in New York, Craig has also experienced the ups and downs that come with performing in different markets. His radio travels have taken him to Philadelphia, Denver, Buffalo and Trenton, NJ. The Syracuse graduate and outspoken host is expected to join BSM President Jason Barrett for a one on one conversation at this year’s Summit.

Shipping up to Boston, it’s a pleasure to welcome two of the format’s highest rated performers to New York City. They’re heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub in morning and afternoon drive, and at the Summit, they’ll interact together during an in-depth content conversation with BSM President Jason Barrett.

Fred Toucher is one half of the Sports Hub’s popular morning show ‘Toucher & Rich‘, which recently added syndication. The Detroit native started his career in Georgia before moving to Boston in 2005. Toucher & Rich, which includes Rich Shertenlieb, officially moved into the sports talk format in 2009. Since making the format switch, the duo have consistently produced some of the best ratings in the entire format in mornings during the past fifteen years. Toucher & Rich have also been recognized by industry executives as one of the top two morning shows in the format each of the past three years in the BSM Top 20, including taking top honors in 2018.

Mike Felger on the other hand is heard on the ride home alongside Tony Massarotti on The Sports Hub. The Marconi Award-winning afternoon radio show has been a fixture in Boston since the station’s inception in 2009. During the past twelve years, Felger & Mazz have been a steady force atop the Men 25-54 ratings including recently delivering an impressive 18.9 share in the summer book to finish 1st. The Milwaukee native also hosts a show for NBC Boston, and has previously served as a columnist for the Boston Globe. Similar to Toucher & Rich, Felger & Mazz have earned high praise from format execs in the BSM Top 20. They’ve been voted one of the top 2 afternoon shows each of the past 2 years including grabbing the top spot in 2019.

We’re excited to add all three of these men to the lineup for the 2022 BSM Summit. As vital as it may be to spend time on business issues in order to stay ahead of a rapidly changing media climate, without great talent and content, the rest is irrelevant. Few understand what it takes to deliver success in this format consistently like Craig, Fred and Mike, and I’m glad they’re making the time to share their knowledge with us.

To reserve your hotel room, purchase tickets or learn more about the speakers we’ve lined up for the 2022 show, visit BSMSummit.com. We hope to see you online or in New York City this March.

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BSM Summit Adds Borrell, Crain, Cutler, Goldstein, Scott, Shapiro & Thomas

“The Summit is just 104 days away, so if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, please do so. Half of the room is already full and seating for the conference is limited.”

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The 2022 BSM Summit continues to add firepower to the sports media industry’s premier conference. After previously announcing the first twenty one participants to take part in March’s event in New York City, another seven talented media professionals have been added to the speaker schedule.

Making his BSM Summit debut in 2022 will be the media industry’s leading business analyst Gordon Borrell. The well respected and accomplished CEO of Borrell Associates is featured frequently in the trades and mainstream publications for his insights on advertising trends and forecasts in local media. Borrell will join Amplifi Media CEO Steven Goldstein on stage at the Summit for an in-depth discussion on the advertising climate in 2022. The two men will offer insights and opinions on what advertisers value most, where they’re expected to invest future dollars, which categories will continue to rise and decline, and what brands can do to position themselves better to increase revenue. Additionally, Borrell will be hosting his local advertising conference in Miami a few days after the Summit. Those interested in heading to South Beach and learning more about the marketing world can learn more by clicking here.

Switching to the content end, the Summit is thrilled to welcome The Volume’s Jake Crain to New York City. The host of The JBoy Show will also be making his debut at the conference. Crain will be part of a talent panel along with John Jastremski and Kazeem Famuyide.

Also making his debut at the Summit will be Carl Scott. Meadowlark Media’s Executive Director of Audio will join our podcasting panel featuring Blue Wire CEO Kevin Jones and The Volume’s Head of Content Logan Swaim. Hubbard Radio’s Digital Content Director Phil Mackey will guide the conversation.

Not everyone participating at the Summit will be new to the audience though. Returning to the stage as part of our GM’s discussion will be newly appointed Audacy Boston Market Manager Mike Thomas. Thomas recently led ESPN 1000 in Chicago as the station’s GM after working with Mark Hannon to turn 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston into one of sports radio’s top performing stations. It should be noted that each time Thomas appears at the Summit it follows a recent promotion. We figure by 2023 or 2024 he’ll be running the entire industry.

A Summit isn’t complete without attention given to programming matters. To help us address some of those key issues, we’re excited to welcome back the Vice President of FOX Sports Radio & Podcasts Scott Shapiro. The passionate network executive who oversees many of the nation’s top national programs is always a great listen for folks interested in learning how programmer’s view and tackle the industry’s most important affairs.

Last but certainly not least, voice talent extraordinaire Jim Cutler will return to the stage to lead a session on storytelling. One of the industry’s prominent station voices and creative minds has a penchant for putting on entertaining and informative sessions. If you’ve attended the conference before, you’re already aware. To those planning to catch this one, you’re in for a treat.

Keep an eye out over the next two weeks. We’ll be making additional announcements involving a few high profile talents we’ve lined up for the 2022 BSM Summit. A reminder, the event is just 104 days away, so if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, please do so. Half of the room is already full and seating for the conference is limited. I realize some folks may prefer to wait until the last minute to make sure the world is safe. If you’re not comfortable flying to NY for the show, we do have an option in place to enjoy the conference virtually thanks to NuVoodoo Media. For more information on tickets, click here.

That said, the in-person environment is excellent. If you haven’t attended the Summit before I think you’ll find the two days in New York City to be time well spent. This conference is not open to the general public. You must either presently work in an area of the media industry or be pursuing a degree in the broadcasting field.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we still have some sponsorship opportunities available for the show. We’re thrilled to have the support of great partners, ESPN Radio, Premiere Networks, FOX Sports Radio, Stone Voiceovers, Compass Media Networks, Point to Point Marketing, and Core Image Studio. If you’d like to be part of the event too, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com for additional details.

One final note, airfare is low right now. There are roundtrip flights to and from New York from many major cities for less than $200.00. We’ve also secured a low hotel rate of $109.00 per night at Hotel Edison in NYC to help companies and individuals keep costs down. The sports media industry has endured two years of difficulty due to the pandemic, preventing many from networking, learning, celebrating, and growing. The two days we spend together in the big apple won’t solve every issue facing our business, but I promise you’ll leave the show more informed, more connected, and better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

Hope to see you in New York on March 2nd and 3rd.

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