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What Is Happening To The Worldwide Leader In Sports?

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It’s been a tumultuous time for the worldwide leader in sports. In 2015, ESPN lost a number of their best on-air talent, as Bill Simmons, Colin Cowherd, Jason Whitlock, and Keith Olbermann all vacated Bristol University. The company also shut down Grantland, and eliminated three hundred jobs, painting a gloomy picture for the largest sports media operator in the country.

But then 2016 arrived, and many assumed that the worst for ESPN was in the rear view mirror. Yet aside from the devastation of losing 300 positions, ESPN finds itself in similar territory, dealing with major talent departures once again.

In just four full months of the calendar year, the company has already lost or terminated Skip Bayless, Mike Tirico, Brad Nessler, Robert Smith, Keyshawn Johnson, Curt Schilling, Joe Schad, and Robert Flores. Another talented analyst Trent Dilfer is also expected to depart.

If there’s a media company capable of overcoming these types of losses it’s ESPN. But, when you lose high profile talent consistently, it has a way of coming back to bite you in the ass.

Keep in mind, we don’t know yet if Jeff Van Gundy or Mark Jackson will get scooped up by an NBA team looking for a new head coach. It’s too early to tell how a change in the Monday Night booth will affect Jon Gruden, and making the wrong hire on First Take could create a situation where the show has to be changed or possibly even cancelled down the road.

Even the network’s signature morning show “Mike and Mike“, which has been on the air for more than sixteen years, recently added Molly Qerim and it’s changed parts of its presentation. Depending on who you ask, the reviews are mixed.

Will the morning show continue to undergo future tweaks? Does the show finally move permanently to New York City? Or has the network reached a point where it’s decided it needs a fresh new program to kickstart a new era in mornings on ESPN Radio and Television?

ESPN Executive Vice President of Production and Programming, John Wildhack said “Understandably when there is a high-profile change, the picture might be viewed through a very small lens. Yet the facts are that more than 95 percent of our talent have remained at ESPN and there are a wide range of circumstances surrounding the few who don’t.”

He has a valid point. The company has indeed signed agreements with 200+ talent over the past twelve months. Given their ability to employ a large number of high profile positions, ESPN is well equipped to continue meeting the needs of sports fans across multiple platforms.

Remember that they’ve been stung by departures before. Great talents like Dan Patrick, Rich Eisen, Craig Kilborn, Charley Steiner, and Rick Reilly have all exited, and although they’ve gone on to successful careers, ESPN has remained dominant without them. To write off the most successful sports media company in America, and suggest that it’s on the verge of turning off the lights would be a bit presumptuous.

However, consumers and investors do have a reason to raise their eyebrows. With every talent defection comes larger questions about the company’s future, and its willingness to invest in keeping its best talent. A simple way to eliminate that noise is by locking up the company’s top people, introducing new media stars, and adding new programming that energizes viewers, and gives them confidence that ESPN is healthy and committed to being number one.

It’s rare to see ESPN getting outbid for quality personnel, but with Fox, CBS, and NBC chomping at the bit to take the next step, it’s the four letter network’s responsibility to make sure they protect their turf and retain their best assets. Failing to do so could open the door for others to make deeper inroads, and possibly lead to a larger competitive threat in the future.

Did ESPN Eliminate Curt Schilling’s Game 6 Heroics on Purpose?

Prior to ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball matchup between the Red Sox and Yankees, the network chose to air the 30 For 30 documentary “Four Days in October“. The story covered the Red Sox miraculous upset of the New York Yankees during the 2004 ALCS, except it was missing one critical piece of the story – Curt Schilling’s Game 6 performance where he helped the Sox even up the series while pitching with a bloody sock.

ESPN said the program was edited because it needed to adjust its broadcast time to get back on track due to the Arizona-Oregon softball game running long. They supplied the following statement:

“When a live event runs long, it’s standard procedure to shorten a taped program that follows. In this case, we needed to edit out one of the film’s four segments to account for the extra length of the softball game.”

I recognize that there are times when edits need to be made to fit a schedule, but if you’re going to air a program, you cannot remove one of the most important parts of the story. Any baseball fan who watched that Yankees-Red Sox series will always remember Curt Schilling’s heroic performance in Game 6. It would be like removing the scene in Rocky 4 where Apollo Creed gets killed by Ivan Drago, and fast forwarding to Rocky’s fight at the end of the film. By removing the Game 6 drama, it showed a terrible lapse in editorial judgment, and denied fans the opportunity to understand the whole story.

To make matters worse, the issue occurred during the same week when Schilling went on the record blasting ESPN. It also involved a team which plays in a city (Boston) where ESPN’s image has been tarnished. If the company was looking to get back in the good graces of New England sports fans, they didn’t help their cause with this decision. Why they couldn’t edit out an earlier part of the story, or air a different program, I’m not sure.

Fox Sports Looks To Attack ESPN With Its Own Strategy!

Fox Sports National Networks President Jamie Horowitz has been unafraid to spend big for talent, while aggressively calling out his former employer. At The CAA World Congress of Sports in April, Horowitz touted ESPN’s decline of SportsCenter viewership, and proclaimed he would take a page out of the Fox News playbook and build FS1 around opinionated talk programming and polarizing personalities. He said that the approach would not only stand out more in today’s cluttered sports media environment, but it would cost less than sports programming built around news and documentaries.

That may seem hard to believe when Horowitz is opening the Fox checkbook to pay talents like Cowherd and Bayless. According to reports, Cowherd is making in the neighborhood of six million annually. Bayless is expected to receive more than five million per year. But featured presentations like 30 For 30 cost a pretty penny too.

The reason why Fox has aggressively pursued personalities is because they see their programming future driven by what Horowtiz likes to call ‘opinionists’. Cowherd, Bayless, Jason Whitlock, Katie Nolan, Clay Travis, Nick Wright, and Joy Taylor all fit that description.

But is replicating ESPN’s talk show programming a wise play? Or is it a subtle reminder that Fox is offering a replica, not the original?

Fox confirmed plans this week to launch a new television show with Cowherd and Whitlock titled “Speak For Yourself”. The show is expected to follow a PTI-style format.

Cowherd and Whitlock should make for a great pairing. They’ve forged a nice chemistry thanks in part to Whitlock frequently appearing on Cowherd’s radio show, and are both comfortable at offering hard hitting opinions, and in-depth commentaries. The duo will benefit from Colin’s radio/television simulcast serving as a promotional tool to help drive people to the new show.

Tony Kornheiser, and Michael Wilbon on the other hand are in the midst of their fifteenth year hosting PTI. Quality, consistency, and chemistry are three things they’ve supplied to audiences during their run on ESPN, and beating them at their own game won’t be easy.

Cowherd and Whitlock should be able to present a younger, edgier, and wittier presentation on camera, and the fact that they’re seen as the shiny new toy should help generate some early sampling. Whether or not they can produce an equal or better television show than PTI though remains a big mystery.

Fox is also said to be developing another opinion based program with Bayless. The show is expected to feature a second personality opposite Skip. No word yet on who that might be.

It’s hard to argue with the strategy since it involves well established talent, and a formula which has paid dividends for ESPN. The questions though are “can Fox do it better“, “will Skip’s exit from First Take bring new viewers to FS1” and “is the audience willing to abandon the brand they’ve spent a lifetime with in favor of something new“?

How the audience responds will tell us whether Horowitz has the right gameplan or not. Regardless of the result, you have to commend him for having the chutzpah to challenge one of the world’s most powerful media brands.

Saturday Night Live Eliminating 30% of Commercials

Media groups find themselves in an interesting predicament. On one hand, they’re fighting for every advertising dollar available, trying to hit this month’s budget, and ignoring the future. On the other hand, they find their products being consumed less, because listeners and viewers refuse to sit through long stretches of commercial breaks.

So what do they do?

In Saturday Night Live’s case, they’ve chosen to protect their programming by reducing their ads by 30%. SNL’s creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels said, “As the decades have gone by, commercial time has grown. This change will give time back to the show and make it easier to watch the show live.”

SNL’s skits have performed well when distributed on social media, but ratings for the program on both cable and broadcast television have suffered in recent years. One reason is because younger viewers have fled to on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube.

To offset the loss of inventory, NBC will bring in more original sponsored content from advertisers who will partner with the show for branded sketches, something the show is known for. Plans are also in place to add more pre-taped segments, and extend the length of some of the live sketches.

Over the past year, Viacom and Turner have reduced the commercial load on their networks, and Turner, TruTV and TNT have announced intentions to cut their ad inventory by 50%.

This resonated with me because the opposite is happening in sports radio. I see stations adding more inventory than subtracting it, and that’s a pattern that’s going to cause long-term damage to brands if they don’t take steps to address it.

For example, I listened to eight different radio stations last Thursday (the day of the NFL draft). Four of them treated their audiences to twenty minutes of commercials/sales benchmarks during drive time programming. If I include the sports updates that number increases to twenty four or twenty six minutes.

Three stations I observed ran between sixteen and eighteen minutes of spots, not including the updates. The worst sinner of them all aired twenty four minutes of commercials, and benchmarks, plus three updates that were between one and two minutes each. That means that half of their hour was spent running commercials.

If the key to building a connection with the audience includes treating them to entertaining personalities and topical content, how can you do that when you’re not available to be heard 33%-50% of the time each hour?

From a ratings perspective, if you’re required to generate at least five minutes of listening in a quarter hour to gain credit, is that realistic for your radio station when you’re providing only six to seven total minutes of programming? I didn’t even include the use of production opens, or liners which also takes away from your time.

If five major television companies can see where the world is headed, and why it’s critical to adapt before it’s too late, then why is radio consistently late to the party? I don’t care how storied your brand is, if you consistently feature twenty five minutes of interruptions, you’re begging your competitor to crush your business. Do you expect your audience to be loyal to you when you feed them twenty five minutes of spots, and another five to six minutes of generic sports updates each hour?

Once your numbers start to evaporate, don’t dare put that blame on your talent. The failure belongs to the programmer who wasn’t willing to stand up to protect the brand, and the sales manager and market manager who were naive enough to think that they could abuse the audience to enjoy a short-term benefit.

We have shifted towards a world where including advertising in content is normal. How we weave it in may be a work in progress, but it’s what we’ll need to provide to keep revenues high, and commercial time low. You should be thinking about the things you create on a daily basis, and how you can attach your clients to each of those assets. Listeners will endure hearing a sponsor’s name and ten second tag during a quality piece of content. What they won’t accept is a seven or eight minute barrage of commercials and equal or less content time.

If television can get creative, and sacrifice millions of dollars in ad time to help improve their programming, and ratings, then surely radio can figure out a way to do the same.

Under The Radar:

  • Congrats to John Cassio who has earned a promotion to Program Director of 1240/1270 The Fan in Fort Myers/Naples, Florida. He added the PD stripes in early April.
  • Mitch Nelles has gained additional air time on The Big 920 in Milwaukee. His program “The Mitch Nelles Show” added an extra hour, and is now broadcast weekdays from 1p-3p CT.
  • A tip of the cap to Jeff Parles who was named afternoon producer of “The Big Show” and host of the Saturday morning show “The Sports Wire” on KTGR in Columbia. Parles took over for Brandon Kiley who left to produce Kevin Wheeler’s show on 101 ESPN in St. Louis.
  • Paul Jarvis has left Greater Media’s 92.9 in Boston to return home to Burlington, Vermont where he’s taking over as Operations Manager of Vox AM/FM’s four station cluster. As part of his new job, he’ll be overseeing two sports radio brands, 101.3 ESPN, and 960 The Zone.

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2022 BSM Summit Adds Pablo Torre, Joe Fortenbaugh, Kazeem Famuyide & John Jastremski

“By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day Summit.”

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The announcements continue for the 2022 BSM Summit. After recently sharing the news that former ESPN Radio executive Traug Keller would join us in the big apple to accept the Jeff Smulyan Award, and previously revealing the first fourteen participants scheduled to appear, it’s time to inform you of a few key talent who will participate in sessions at March’s show.

I’m thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Pablo Torre to the 2022 BSM Summit. Pablo’s been with the worldwide leader since 2012. During that time he’s served as a senior writer for ESPN.com, the host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and has appeared on shows such as Around The Horn, Highly Questionable, and The Dan Le Batard Show. He also previously co-hosted High Noon with Bomani Jones. Prior to joining ESPN he spent five years writing for Sports Illustrated. Having worked with a mixture of talent from various backgrounds, I’m looking forward to having him share his insight and opinions on the value of it at the show.

Pablo isn’t the only ESPN personality joining us in New York for the conference. I’m excited to welcome back a great friend and one of the smartest sports betting analysts on television, Joe Fortenbaugh. Joe is regularly featured on ESPN’s sports betting program Daily Wager. He also appears on other ESPN programs and segments on television, radio and digital platforms. Prior to joining the network he hosted 95.7 The Game’s morning show in San Francisco, and hosted “The Sharp 600″ sports betting podcast. He’ll moderate a conversation with sports betting executives at the show.

Given that this two-day sports media conference is taking place in the heart of New York City, it’d be silly to not include someone who’s passion, energy, sound, and content embody what New York is all about. The Ringer’s John Jastremski will make his BSM Summit debut in 2022. The ‘New York, New York’ host is known to many for his years of contributions on WFAN. It’ll be fun picking JJ’s brain on the differences between performing on a traditional platform and the digital stage.

Jastremski isn’t the only one with a connection to The Ringer who will participate at our 2022 event. My next guest is someone who I’ve followed on YouTube and Twitter for years, has infectious energy and likeability, and has taken his life experiences and sports passions and turned them into opportunities with MSG Network, SNY, The Ringer, Bleacher Report, WWE, The Source and various other outlets. Kazeem Famuyide will join us to shed light on his journey and offer his perspective on the value of traditional vs. non-traditional paths.

By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day event. I’ll be announcing the addition of a very special executive in mid-October, as well as a few high profile speakers and awards recipients in the weeks and months ahead. I’m appreciative of so many expressing interest in speaking at the conference, and as much as I’d like to include everyone on stage, I can’t. Keeping the Summit informative, fresh and focused on the right issues is important, and to do that, I’ve got to introduce different people, perspectives and subjects so our attendees gain value to further improve the industry.

A reminder, the 2022 BSM Summit is strictly for members of the sports media industry and college students aspiring to work in the business. It brings together people from more than thirty different media companies and focuses on issues of relevance and importance to media industry professionals. The show takes place March 2-3, 2022 in New York at the Anne Bernstein Theater on West 50th Street. Tickets and hotel rooms can be secured by visiting BSMSummit.com. For those unable to attend in person, the Summit will also be available to view online. Virtual tickets can be purchased by clicking here. Hope you’ll join us!

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Traug Keller Named 2022 Recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award

“Former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award.”

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Photo Credit: ESPN Images

Sometimes decisions are difficult. Other times they’re not. This was one of the easiest ones I’ve made since launching the BSM Summit in 2018.

If you haven’t attended the Summit before, one of the cool parts of the conference each year is that we take time to honor people who have left a permanent mark on the industry we love. Awards ceremonies are held both days to recognize difference makers who have made positive contributions to the sports radio business. At our 2022 BSM Summit, I am pleased to share that a great man will be celebrated for his life’s work.

It is my honor to announce that former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award. Keller becomes the third industry executive to earn the honor. Kraig Kitchin and Dan Mason were the first two to be recognized at the 2019 and 2020 BSM Summit’s.

Upon learning that Traug had been selected as the next Jeff Smulyan Award winner, Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan said, “Traug Keller has left an indelible imprint on not only sports radio, but on all of broadcasting through his remarkable career. I’m proud to call him my friend, but I’m just one of the legions of people who have loved every minute of their time with him. He’s a broadcaster’s broadcaster, but more than that he’s one of the best people I’ve ever known.”

“I am humbled for sure but thrilled to be receiving an award with the name of my good friend on it, Jeff Smulyan,” added Traug Keller, now the EVP and COO of American Media. “Jeff did what all too few leaders in business do, he took risk and action against all kinds of headwinds and the rest of us in the great business of Sports Audio were the beneficiaries of it. Thanks to BSM for this great honor and I look forward to seeing a bunch of old friends in March!”

Anyone who has crossed paths with Traug over the past three decades knows how important he was to the success of ESPN Radio. He’s been a friend to many, a great partner to hundreds of radio affiliates, and a champion for talent. His support for BSM has also meant a lot.

Perhaps even more impressive was Traug’s ability to connect with his affiliates, clients and colleagues, offering steady leadership and on-air stability for ESPN Radio. No executive leaves with a perfect record, but Keller had a knack for landing on the right side of many decisions. None as impressive though as retiring from sports radio in February 2020, one month before the sports world came to a screeching halt and a global pandemic rocked the entire advertising industry. Talk about timing Traug, haha.

In all seriousness, having Traug and Jeff together on the same stage in front of the industry to give folks an opportunity to show their appreciation for their accomplishments is a real treat. So many enjoy professional success today due to bold and smart decisions made by each of these men, and I couldn’t be happier to spend time with both in New York City this March.

For tickets, hotel and additional details regarding the 2022 BSM Summit visit BSMSummit.com.

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14 Participants Announced For The 2022 BSM Summit

“The industry is rapidly evolving, so as a professional, it’s vital to learn new skills, build relationships, discover what clients want in order to generate more revenue, understand audience behavior, and pick the brains of your peers to create new ideas.”

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To most people, six months is far enough away to not think much about it. But when you’re building a conference, it feels way too close to get everything done in time that’s required to execute a high caliber event.

By now you’ve likely heard that the 2022 BSM Summit is returning to New York City on March 2-3, 2022. I shared that news on July 19th, but didn’t provide many details other than the date and venue (Anne Bernstein Theater). Tickets weren’t even put on sale because I wanted to make sure a few other items were nailed down first before we started accepting payments.

Before I discuss some of those details, I want to remind folks that for the first time ever, the Summit will be available to attend both in-person and virtually. A big thanks to Nuvoodoo for partnering with us to make the Summit available online. If you’ve been to this event before, then you know the live experience is extremely valuable. That said, due to the ongoing issues in our country with Covid-19, some may prefer not to travel and watch it online instead. We’ve gone to great lengths to make this valuable for industry professionals, including pricing tickets differently on BSMSummit.com to account for the live vs. online advantages. If you’re planning to attend, you can now purchase tickets on the website.

As far as other key items are concerned, finding the right hotel partner was important. I’m pleased to share that Hotel Edison will serve as the official hotel of the 2022 BSM Summit. I know that keeping travel costs low is vital yet industry professionals also want to stay in a nice location close to the event. I think we’ve pulled that off again. Hotel Edison is only a 3-block walk to the Anne Bernstein Theater and they’ve provided an excellent rate for attendees. Rooms will go fast though, so click here to reserve your room asap to avoid missing out.

The next part of this process involved gathering sponsors. As an independent operator who focuses more on content and consulting than sales, this part isn’t always easy. I don’t have a sales team working for me nor do I have 40-hours a week to focus solely on Summit sponsors. Fortunately, I’ve built a few great partnerships over the years, so I’d like to thank ESPN Radio, Compass Media Networks, and Stone Voiceovers for offering their support once again. I know other clients will return too, but there are many other broadcasting companies and businesses with products targeted to industry professionals who haven’t been part of this event before. So here’s an opportunity to change that. Check out our Advertising page, and if you see something that appeals to your group, get in touch so we can discuss how we might be able to work together. Your support allows us to continue doing this event for the industry.

Now that we’ve taken care of the business, let’s talk about the thing that everyone cares about most, the speakers. I usually start off by announcing some of the high profile personalities who will be part of the show. This year though, I’m going to start by focusing on some of the top programming minds in the industry. It’s an honor once again to welcome Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan, Premiere Radio Networks SVP of Sports Don Martin, Westwood One and Cumulus Media SVP of Sports Bruce Gilbert, SiriusXM SVP of Sports Steve Cohen, Audacy New York Market Manager Chris Oliviero, former WFAN Program Director Mark Chernoff, current WFAN Program Director Spike Eskin, 670 The Score and 1250 The Fan Program Director Mitch Rosen, and Hubbard’s Director of Digital Content Phil Mackey to the BSM Summit.

As great as it is to have those nine gentlemen part of the event, I’m equally excited to welcome a few new faces. Joining us for the first time will be Blue Wire Podcasts CEO Kevin Jones, The Volume’s Head of Content Logan Swaim, Nuvoodoo Media’s CEO Carolyn Gilbert and EVP of Research Analysis Leigh Jacobs, and WFNZ Program Director and the creator of 92.9 The Game in Atlanta and 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, Terry Foxx.

If you’ve followed how we promote this event over the years, you know that I don’t share all the details at once. The credentials of these fourteen individuals are well documented, and having them involved is important to me. By the time March rolls around though, we’ll add 30-40 others with similar qualifications. I won’t tell you who else has committed to join us for the show, but there’s some serious firepower to be announced in the coming weeks and months. I’m especially excited to spend time on stage with one well respected executive during one of the Summit’s featured sessions.

What I value most about the Summit is that it brings the industry together and allows us to examine many different layers of the industry over a sixteen hour period with a lot of smart and successful people. In doing so, folks are able to return home with valuable knowledge and action steps to help themselves and their brands. This conference started with a focus on radio but has since expanded to cover podcasting, social media, sports betting, marketing, video, print, etc.. The industry is rapidly evolving, so as a professional, it’s vital to learn new skills, build relationships, discover what clients want in order to generate more revenue, understand audience behavior, and pick the brains of your peers to create new ideas. The more informed you are, the better your chances of being successful, and the education provided at the BSM Summit will absolutely help you grow as a professional.

Look for our next announcement early next week. There’s a lot to dive into in New York and I’m eager to spend time with the industry’s best and brightest, as we work on making 2022 a huge bounce back year for the sports media business.

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