Connect with us
Jim Cutler Demos

Barrett Blogs

The 7 Myths of Sports Talk Radio

Jason Barrett

Published

on

According to the dictionary, the word myth means an invented story, idea, or concept. No industry makes better use of that word than the radio industry.

We forget sometimes that our actions determine the way we’re judged. Presenting a great speech in a room full of industry colleagues may make you look smarter than you are, and smiling, shaking hands, and nodding in agreement with your corporate bosses may help you keep the peace, but when the smoke clears, and the truth rises to the surface, your results, and relationships can’t be disguised.

I’ve had the benefit of working inside nine different radio stations in seven different cities, and alongside many great people. I’ve also witnessed my fair share of gasbags who preach one thing, but then do another. Whether I’ve agreed with someone’s approach or not, I try to remind myself that there’s a lesson to be learned from every experience, even if we can’t always see it at first.

Since moving into business for myself, I’ve gained the trust of format people all across the country. I’ve gained knowledge of the way different companies, stations, and people operate, and I’ve developed a fondness for some, and a loss of respect for others. My desire to see people succeed is stronger than watching them fail, but when brands and people are mishandled, it’s difficult to standby and watch.

My inspiration to write this piece stems from having a personality that’s very direct, honest, and unapologetic. That approach has helped me gain respect from my peers during my career. It’s also caused a rift with critics, and employees who didn’t row the boat in the same direction.

Not every relationship is a good fit. Would Joe Montana have been the same player if he were on the NY Giants? Would Lawrence Taylor have had the same freedom on defense if he played for the San Francisco 49ers? We’ll never know, but because they landed in situations that took advantage of their talents, and played to their strengths, they turned out alright.

In the radio business, programmers, personalities, and behind the scenes people develop trust or disdain for one another based on the way they view and approach their jobs. Some prefer a hands-on approach. Others want to march to the beat of their own drum and be left alone. It’s for that very reason that the head coach of a radio station must be capable of managing multiple personalities, and having a different message and plan of attack for every situation.

Today, I’m going to focus on seven areas of our business which aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. I could probably extend this list to ten or twenty but I’m not looking to take up eight hours of your time.

I’ve formed my opinions based on personal experience, and conversations with countless members of the industry. This doesn’t mean that certain people, and companies don’t set a good example, but more of us need to take charge to improve ourselves, and our situations. When that occurs, it’s amazing how much better we feel about the work we’re involved in.

Do As I Say Not As I Do

It’s one thing to talk about the importance of being active, creative, and well positioned for digital and social media success. It’s another thing to live it, breathe it, feel it, and be great at it.

How many times do you read one of the industry trades, and stumble upon a quote from a top market program director, or a well respected corporate executive touching on the growth in the digital space and how radio has to be a strong player in it? I see it every week.

When you read what’s offered in print, it looks really good. It makes you think that there’s a vision for the individual’s radio station or company in the digital, and social space. But then reality sets in. You go to find that person on social media to let them know you enjoyed their commentary, only to discover that they don’t have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat account.

You tell yourself “maybe they dislike interacting with the public”. But since they’re responsible for managing a business, you’re sure to find them on LinkedIn. After all, that’s where business people connect.

Once again you learn, that the only proof of their existence is through an email address.

Quickly you flashback to that speech they gave where they raved about having a digital, and social media strategy, and why talent must be accessible everywhere. You’ve heard all of the clever lines about the future of revenue generation, and how the industry will be in big trouble if it doesn’t perform strongly across multiple platforms, so then why are these leaders invisible in the locations they say are most important?

Believe it or not, there are a LOT of executives who can provide a good soundbyte or captivating quote to discuss digital, and social media growth and success, but just because they talk about it, doesn’t mean they are about it. I’m not going to provide names but take a look sometime and ask yourself how it’s possible that business leaders who oversee the digital efforts for some of the industry’s leading brands can be absent in the space.

In my opinion, there’s no excuse as a leader for not having a presence in at least one of these areas. If I’m working for you, and you’re going to sing me a song about the power of digital, and social media activity, and challenge me to provide more content, and interaction for the audience, then I’m going to look in your direction trusting that you’re going to lead by example. If I can’t find you on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, or Snapchat, consider our conversation over until you understand the importance yourself.

We Value The Audience’s Time

People’s content choices are growing. Distractions are increasing rapidly. Developing great content, and being a unique personality matters, but it isn’t quite enough if the listening experience is consistently interrupted. Yet radio continues to turn a blind eye to the problem.

Whether you read it on an industry related website, or hear it in person at a radio conference, reducing inventory is necessary. Media groups recognize that digital listening is growing because it provides a strong listener benefit. Meanwhile, over the air broadcasts focus on pleasing the advertiser at the expense of the audience.

To combat these challenges, some TV (Saturday Night Live) and Radio (107.7 The End) brands have begun making adjustments. It’s clear that on-demand listening and viewing is rising, and the likelihood of it slowing down is minimal. The days of expecting people to sit through seven and eight minute commercial breaks are long gone.

But once again, radio does what it does best, and talks a big game without taking proper action.

I’d love for someone to explain how our business can talk about valuing the audience’s time, delivering a better content experience, and wanting to include people in the conversation, yet then jam twenty five minutes of commercials on to the airwaves during the course of a single hour. It’s like telling someone you care about their health, and then providing them with something that’s sure to make them ill.

On the day of the NFL Draft, one which you’d expect interest to increase on sports radio, five different stations in Top 30 markets rolled out twenty to twenty five minutes of commercials during a single hour. One actually took up thirty minutes when you include commercials, sales features (stock, traffic, weather), and sports updates. And it happened during drive time!

The eight stations I observed were owned by four different broadcast companies. CBS and Cumulus’ brands were the worst offenders. ESPN stations provided the best balance. iHeart was in the middle.

If we’re going to suck up oxygen by telling the industry that we value the time our audience spends with our brands, then we’ve got to eliminate the pitfalls that hurt our radio stations. Do you really think your ratings are going to continue to surge when you overload listeners with inventory? Ask yourself, “would I sit through an eight minute commercial break, just to hear a talk show host discuss a subject I like”? I don’t care how talented the host is, you’d be gone in an instant.

Don’t get me wrong, I know our radio stations need to make money. I want to see every brand in this format produce positive results. But I also know that cramming twenty to thirty minutes of commercials into a single hour is a recipe for disaster.

You may skate by for now if you have weak local competition. But, when your main competitor becomes every single company around the world that produces audio, not just another local radio station, then what are you going to do?

Don’t make the mistake that so many radio stations do – reacting after the storm hits, instead of before it. The longer you brush aside your audience, the more susceptible you are to being replaced. I bet you’ll adjust then. Unfortunately, your audience may not be around to notice.

We Must Bury The Competition

Let’s be honest for a minute, the sports radio format features some of the most egotistical and insecure people in the world. Don’t even shake your head, and bitch at me for pointing it out because you know it’s true.

How many times inside the hallways of your radio station do you hear two on-air talents shouting at one another because they have a difference of opinion over who should’ve taken the game winning shot in last night’s game? It’s not possible that each person could have a valid point because after all, each person has to be right. When you start bringing ratings performances, marketing campaigns, regular guest appearances, and employee contracts into the equation it becomes even worse.

While many in this line of work are ultra-competitive, and eager to be the best at what they do, there’s a misconception when it comes to measuring success.

If a host finishes 3rd in the ratings, and their competition comes in 1st, they see it as a failed month. It doesn’t matter that the company’s revenue increased by 10% because of their performance, or that they generated a quarterly ratings bonus, they simply see their show ranked behind another brand, and it lowers their morale.

This is one of the dumbest parts of our entire business.

Do you think Morton’s Steakhouse loses sleep over whether or not they outsell Ruth’s Chris? If they satisfy customers, make a profit, and enjoy cooking and serving great food, that’s success.

For some reason, sports radio stations can’t feel good unless they see their own name in lights. Is it really better for the industry if only one sports station existed in each town? If you put the competitor out of business, would that make you feel good? If you answered yes, how would you feel when your contract comes up, and there’s nobody else available to bid on your services? Now are you feeling good about your competitor closing its doors?

We should all be driven to want to be the best. If you don’t have that internal desire to kick ass, take names, and force everyone to take notice, then you might want to re-evaluate if this is the right business for you. But, we should also be wise enough to understand that success depends on more than just doing a good show.

If you design a good game plan, execute it well, connect with listeners, earn respect and admiration from your peers and partners, and help your employer turn a profit, that is the true reflection of success. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t want more, but having your competitor’s blood on your hands shouldn’t be the only way you identify whether or not you’ve been effective.

Seeking An Opportunity

Waiting for developments to unfold before applying for a job is a mistake. The second I post a story on this website highlighting a change in a particular market, I’m hit with numerous emails asking “do you know anything about the opening?”

Here’s the secret, most of the time, that job has either been filled, or is in the process of being filled before the news trickles out. If you wait until a posting goes up to find your next opportunity, you’re going to be sitting on the beach for a while.

When a professional sports team signs a free agent on the day he becomes available, how do you think it happens? Conversations take place between the front office, agents, and former teammates, and the organization gathers its information to decide if they want to prepare an offer once they’re legally able to do so. Once the player “officially” becomes available, a deal is presented which usually meets the requirements that everyone has previously discussed. The only thing left to do is sign the contract and hold the press conference.

Can you imagine if the team waited until free agency started to begin doing their homework? They’d miss out on every single elite talent.

In radio it’s no different. As a former programmer, I was constantly evaluating talent, and having conversations. Do you think I’m going to put the future of my radio station in jeopardy by waiting until a problem occurs to address it? Not a chance.

Instead, I frequently listened to people all across the country, and asked around to get an idea of what I could expect if I brought someone on to my team. I also followed and interacted with the candidate on social media. I wasn’t going to standby and wait for a resume, demo, and programming philosophy to be sent over to my employer. I did my own research so when it was time to make a decision, I was fully prepared.

Are there times when a position opens up and a radio station makes a call based on the applicants it receives? Yes. In most cases those are behind the scenes positions, or lesser on-air roles. If an unexpected situation arises, that’s when a station may be forced to post a job and go through a lengthy process to fill an important vacancy. Usually though, the programmer has people on their radar before a problem pops up, and they’re deep into the process before the opening becomes public news.

This is why networking on a regular basis matters. Don’t wait until a situation arises to introduce yourself to someone. Do it every single day. The more ‘friends’ you have, and the more information you gain, the less likely you are to be on the outside looking in.

Don’t I Need An Agent?

I’m asked on a weekly basis to represent people or direct them to a group who can make a difference. If I enjoyed legal verbiage and arguing with attorneys I could probably make a great living doing it. But it’s one of my least favorite parts of the media business.

What’s important to understand is that an agent isn’t going to necessarily dive into your job search with the same relentless passion that you do. Most of the time they rely on the leads you send them or input they receive from business associates. Rarely are they burning up their phones or pounding the pavement to make sure you gain employment.

Many in the radio business assume that by having an agent it makes you sexier to a company. They believe that it’s going to put them in a position to find opportunities that others may not. As if there’s this secret paradise that exists and only media agents know about it. Simply put, that’s not accurate.

If you’re programming a radio station, you prefer to deal with as few people as possible. Especially when making a hiring decision. When an agent enters the equation it can complicate the process. If you’re able to deal directly with the employee or the person you’re looking to hire, that’s ideal. Once you tip your hand to others on the outside, it can spread like wildfire.

However, if you look at it from the other point of view, agents are valuable for the employee. The good ones have great relationships with various high ranking executives, and they’re there to serve their clients. They understand the challenges that face the radio station and work with the employer to strike a deal that’s fair for all parties.

The reason why companies prefer to negotiate directly with talent is because it gives them an advantage in cutting a deal which better serves their own interest. There’s nothing wrong with that. They are after all in the radio ‘business’. They’ll tug on your heartstrings, suggest they’re not doing well enough financially to afford more, and possibly even threaten to eliminate your position and hire someone else if you don’t accept their deal.

All that means is that they either don’t value you, or there’s more money available and they’d prefer not to spend it.

A lot of talent go into negotiations thinking they know the business. Assumptions are made about what a company will spend, and when the final deal is done they head home smiling and believing they’ve emerged victorious. What they don’t know is what level the company was willing to go to if pushed hard enough to present a better offer.

When representation is utilized, competition usually enters the equation. That’s because the agent’s job is to create demand for your services. Without demand, you can’t command a bigger increase. If you’re going to pay an agent to represent you, their performance has to be measured by what they deliver that you couldn’t have generated yourself.

More times than not, agents do deliver a better contract for the individual. They also shield the employee from negativity which helps keep the relationship between employee and employer on solid ground. If the individual were to sit in the room and endure what an agent does on their behalf, it would stain the relationship permanently.

Programming people assume that their past performances will be remembered when their contracts expire. They trust the company to ‘do the right thing’ to make sure the relationship continues. But business has a way of turning situations ugly.

If you’re an established talent with a good track record, performing in a top market, and you’re seeking to further your income or expand your brand, hiring an agent can be beneficial for your career. They have to believe that you’ve got the ability to ascend to a higher level because without it, they can’t maximize your earning potential.

But, if you’re at the early stages of your career, or trying to gain your first full-time opportunity, I’d suggest holding off. Yes there are some circumstances that may be beneficial. Especially if you know an agent in your city that has an established relationship with the company you wish to work for. But nobody will pursue a job more aggressively than you, and developing relationships is free. Put your time and focus into becoming great at your craft, and when you reach the next level, then you can explore adding someone to help you elevate your career.

Talent Is The Most Important Attribute

Sports talk radio stations that offer live and local programming sink and swim based on the talent they put on the air. If a great performer occupies the airwaves for 3-4 hours per day, the brand stands a good chance at developing an audience and generating ratings. But, no matter how talented a host might be, certain programmers place higher value in other areas.

For example, one PD may focus on adding people who are coachable, likeable, and a positive influence inside their building, rather than a more talented person who’s a larger pain in the ass. Another programmer may prefer a talent who’s deeply invested in working with the sales team, and views the existence of their show as a 3-4 hour platform to sell products. The next PD may seek a personality who can host a radio show, write a column, and produce video content, and reject another who’s special in one area, but unable to excel at all three.

It’s important to remember that no two programmers are alike, and each market, radio company, and situation is different. I know talents across this nation who have delivered big ratings and revenue for their radio stations, only to be disrespected, devalued, and ignored when it was time to discuss a new contract. Others have had to beg, plead, and threaten to leave for competitors to finally get their due. What may seem like a no-brainer decision to the on-air performer, isn’t always seen the same way by the PD or Market Manager.

You may believe that achieving ratings success and doing a quality show is what matters most, but everything ultimately comes down to internal relationships. You can produce big numbers and be at war with your boss, and as soon as they get their chance, they’re tossing you to the side of the road. Or you can struggle to deliver ratings, but click perfectly with management, and it soon leads to a contract extension. The continuation of a business relationship includes a number of factors, many of which have zero to do with your ability.

The Programmer Is Invested In Your Show

I’m not sure if it’s a matter of aging, or being removed from the daily rigors of running a radio station, but I find myself scratching my head often when I talk to people in the format about the way they’re supported by their Program Directors. There are a lot of really good ones out there, and they deserve respect, and praise for the great jobs they do. Unfortunately though, there are others who drift away from their brands, and care more about ‘being in charge’ than making a difference.

Maybe I missed the memo, but I thought the PD position required working with talent, scouting, creating content, studying programming trends, maximizing ratings, collaborating with teams, connecting with an audience, and setting a tone for how the radio station will operate. The vision is supposed to be supplied and enforced by the brand leader.

Now, I hear story after story about bosses who believe the job revolves around playing golf with clients, eating lunch with play by play partners, creating powerpoint presentations for sales teams, and spending time in ‘top of the food chain’ meetings. Those may be things you do from time to time to further local relationships, but they shouldn’t be placed ahead of working with your talent and talk shows.

If the way a programmer is measured is by the ratings performance of the radio station, and the connection they have with the programming team, how is it possible to have either one be effective long-term if there’s an obvious disconnect?

There are people working in this industry today who seek outside advice to improve, because they don’t get it from their superiors. That they value their development enough to pay for others to help them should tell you how much they love what they do. The only problem is that the one person they care to impress most, and gain a future opportunity from, is the one individual who’s the least invested in their career success. That’s what often puts two people on the fast track to divorce.

If a programmer has multiple responsibilities, and can’t listen to your entire program each day that has to be understood. I’ve always told talent, “I’m going to listen like a listener does”. That means that one day I’ll give you 30-60 minutes of my time, and share feedback based on what I heard. On other days I might consume the entire show, and drop by the office afterwards for an impromptu meeting. Then there are different days when another project requires my time, and prevents me from sampling any of the show.

If a host/show feels that you care, and pay attention to the product, they’ll understand when you can’t be available. They’ll go through a wall to make sure your vision for the brand comes to life because they know you want to help them be great.

But, if you rarely take the time to provide direction, ideas, criticisms, and praise, don’t be surprised when they stop asking, and start seeking it from someone else. Just hope that the party they reach out to isn’t the one which signs your paycheck.

Sign up for the BSM 8@8

The Top 8 Sports Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox, every morning at 8am ET.

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Barrett Blogs

Is Sports Journalism Still Worth Paying For?

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

Jason Barrett

Published

on

Courtesy: Don Nguyen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where I sit is somewhere in between.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BSM Summit Update:

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

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

Thumbs Up:

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

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

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

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

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

Thumbs Down:

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

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

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

Sign up for the BSM 8@8

The Top 8 Sports Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox, every morning at 8am ET.

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading

Barrett Blogs

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

Published

on

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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].

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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?

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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!

Sign up for the BSM 8@8

The Top 8 Sports Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox, every morning at 8am ET.

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading

Barrett Blogs

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

Published

on

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.

Sign up for the BSM 8@8

The Top 8 Sports Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox, every morning at 8am ET.

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Advertisement

Upcoming Events

Barrett Media Writers

Copyright © 2024 Barrett Media.