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How a Brand With Promise Missed The Mark In Detroit

Jason Barrett

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The competitor in all of us wants to believe that by working harder and smarter than our competition we’ll gain an edge and ultimately succeed. We tell ourselves that with time, creativity and perseverance, we can gain the audience’s respect, outperform expectations, and give our employers the evidence they need to invest further in the development of our brand and people.

While those beliefs may be pure and the intentions of many may be noble, there are times in the radio business where brands are defeated before they hit the airwaves. Without full support, trust, vision, and patience from your company, you can’t win. The radio station can have talent, desire, a bright programmer, and people with a strong community connection, but none of that matters if your corporate bosses aren’t in it for the long haul.

For the staff of Detroit Sports 105.1 they learned that lesson last week. Greater Media Detroit may have been optimistic when they chose to explore the sports format in August 2013, but their strategy and commitment to unseat market leader 97.1 The Ticket was fractured. As a result, they’ve dropped the format in a great sports city in less than three years.

What makes this particular decision sting even more is that it should never have happened. Greater Media went through these exact same challenges and struggles in Philadelphia and should have learned from those experiences. Unfortunately they didn’t.

I have a personal connection to this story because I was hired to program what is now known as ‘97.5 The Fanatic’ in Philadelphia. Originally the brand was positioned as ‘SportsTalk 950’ and it launched in October 2005 without a Programmer. I was added four and a half months later and when I arrived, it was clear that the brand lacked an identity, talent, and vision.

I remember driving on Broad Street during my first Friday night in town, listening as one of our hosts opened his show with the line “Hey There, Hi There, Ho There”. That seemed so out of sync with the way I heard local people talking. That was followed up by the host announcing a ticket giveaway to see ‘Tickle Me Elmo’ at the Wells Fargo Center. This wasn’t his fault at all. He was just reading the information he had been told to deliver.

When the show hit its first commercial break, promos aired highlighting the brand as the ‘good guys of Philadelphia sports’ and the home for ‘great debate without the hate’. Given that the city had just held a parade where 10,000 people showed up to celebrate the city not winning a championship for more than two decades this once again seemed like the wrong way to reach people.

The brand at that time also relied on national programs to make an impression. We carried Fox Sports Radio in the morning, Tony Bruno’s Sporting News radio show in the midday, and Jim Rome’s Premiere Radio Networks show from Noon to 3. It wasn’t until 3pm when the radio station offered local content. National shows were heavily promoted in the liners, promos, and sports updates, and our attention to detail was so thin that one of our contributors who voiced sports minute’s on the radio station called Jim Rome – ‘Jim Ro-May’. That mistake wound up on the air.

It was a mess and I knew that it was going to take a lot of time and work to undo the damage that had already been done. Making matters worse was the fact that our brand name was the equivalent of white bread. Not Wonder Bread, Home Pride or Country Classic, just plain old white bread.

The station name ‘SportsTalk 950’ lacked buzz. It didn’t set us apart from our competitor. It didn’t sound like a brand name local fans would talk about in a bar or at a game with their friends. It simply screamed “If you don’t like WIP, please check us out”.

Given how emotionally charged Philadelphia sports fans are for their local teams and local sports radio personalities, it probably doesn’t shock you that they didn’t respond favorably to what we offered. The messaging wasn’t in tune with their passions, neither was the majority of our programming, and the strategy was flawed from the start. It wasn’t that the marketplace couldn’t sustain two great sports brands, or that local fans weren’t hungry for more sports talk. They just weren’t going to invest their time in a brand that didn’t meet their needs.

We had some talented people in that building (Joe DeCamara, Jody McDonald, Harry Mayes, Rob Ellis, Brian Seltzer, John Fullam, Paul Blake, Mike McMonagle). Some of them are still a part of the brand today. Where ‘The Fanatic’ now sits versus where it was then is a night and day difference and Matt Nahigian deserves a lot of credit for the job he’s done building the radio station. Equally deserving of praise is John Fullam and the corporate team at Greater Media because they were patient, made adjustments, invested more, and learned from their mistakes.

Which leads me back to Detroit. If the company had these examples to learn from, how did they misread the signs? There were too many similarities between the two stations except in Philadelphia they stuck it out. In Detroit they cut bait. Take a look.

  • Detroit Sports 105.1 bailed on two Programmers (Jason Dixon and Dave Shore) in less than three years. In Philadelphia, myself and Gregg Henson both exited the brand before it had been on the air for three years.
  • The brand name’s in both cities were bland. Detroit Sports 105.1 rang hollow because the radio station didn’t serve enough Detroit sports talk to its audience until two years after launching. SportsTalk 950 went thru the same challenges in Philadelphia.
  • Both stations relied heavily on national sports programming and didn’t make major adjustments until nearly two years after operating in the format.
  • Neither station hit the airwaves with rights to a local professional sports franchise.
  • Each station faced a strong competitor with deep market heritage in a city where local sports conversation is important.

The danger signs may be easy to see to those on the outside but usually there are reasons why things happen. Whether it’s needing to ramp up sales efforts, keeping expenses low so bigger investments can be made to secure local play by play deals or strengthening relationships with network partners. Those things are all part of running a business. Unfortunately, the local audience, advertising community, local teams, other local market personalities, and the radio station’s own staff, don’t take a wait and see approach. They judge the radio station by the way it initially presents itself.

Sean Baligian, who joined Detroit Sports 105.1 to host the midday program in October 2015, and was moved months later into mornings, confirmed to the Detroit Free Press that the issues were seen and felt internally. “Detroiters want Detroit.” said Baligian. “I don’t think the station did a real good job of giving them Detroit from 6a to 6p and certainly not on the weekend. When you think about it, for the 34 months that the station existed, 30 of those months had a national morning show, quite frankly, a New York-based show. I just don’t think that’s a good business model. I think by the time they learned that, it was probably too late.”

There were two advantages that Greater Media Detroit had that the Philadelphia operation didn’t. First, they launched on FM, and secondly, they hit the airwaves in afternoon drive with one of the market’s most popular personalities Drew Lane. Lane may have not been the typical sports talk radio host but he produced solid ratings and brought awareness to the brand. None the less, he wasn’t re-signed two years into the relationship.

Morning host Tom Mazawey told the Detroit Free Press “Drew Lane was our linchpin. We built the station around him, and then they told him, ‘We want you to change your show after 30 years in the business,’ or whatever he’s been at it. We were fourth in the ratings among 25- to 54-year-old males with Drew as our lead. People loved him. Advertisers were lining up to sign up with him. Once they pulled him, that was the last straw.”

Greater Media did make an attempt to land the Lions and Tigers. Those efforts didn’t produce the results that they had hoped for. Had one of those deals been secured, this is probably a different story. In the Detroit Free Press article, Mazawey shared how poorly the Tigers conducted themselves during negotiations with the radio station, and that certainly can make a company question if the effort and commitment to the format are worth it.

It may be frustrating but these things happen in negotiations frequently. I was with 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and we had interest in landing the rights to the Warriors and 49ers but neither situation worked out. Although we were initially disappointed, that didn’t deter us from making investments to further grow the brand. Play by Play certainly offers a lot of cume, marketing and revenue opportunities but it can also be a loss leader. That’s why most sports brands evaluate their business performance M-F 6a-7p.

In the end, Detroit sports radio listeners are left with one less listening option. A number of talented radio people are on the sidelines looking for their next opportunity. And Greater Media is left with a blemish on its record operating the sports format in Detroit.

I don’t believe for a second that two great sports brands can’t produce results or that the same type of spirited competition that exists in Philadelphia can’t be duplicated in Detroit. I just wish Greater Media had learned from their past experiences and been a little more patient.

Instead they chose to cut their losses and move on. I respect their decision to do what’s best for business. We can all point fingers and criticize but we’re not the ones losing millions of dollars annually. If it were your bank account that was shrinking on a regular basis, I’m sure you’d have a very different opinion.

That said, if you’re going to enter this format and have success in it, you have to be willing to commit from the start, take your bumps, and understand that it’s a long term play. Especially in a market where you’re up against a ratings juggernaut like 97.1 The Ticket. Greater Media decided that battle wasn’t worth staying in so now they’ve left the door open for another group to try their luck. That’s something I believe could’ve been prevented had they stayed the course and utilized a different strategy.

Barrett Blogs

California College Students Earn Chance to Win 10 Free Tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit Thanks to Steve Kamer Voiceovers

“In order to win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event.”

Jason Barrett

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With a new year comes renewed energy and optimism for the sports media business. Yours truly is looking forward to showcasing the best our business has to offer when we gather the industry in Los Angeles, CA at the 2023 BSM Summit at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California on March 21-22, 2023. Our conference is returning to the west coast for the first time since 2019. We’ve announced some super talented speakers. We’ve got additional things in the works and I plan to make additional announcements in the next few weeks.

People often ask me what the biggest challenge is putting this event together. My answer is always the same, it’s getting people to leave the comfort of their office and spend two days in a room together learning and discussing ways to grow the business. We have great sponsorship support and exceptional people on stage and are fortunate to have a lot of folks already set to attend. Our venue this year has extra space though, so I’m hoping a few more of you make time to join us. If you haven’t bought a ticket or reserved your hotel room, visit BSMSummit.com to make sure you’re all set.

If there’s one thing our industry could get better at it’s opening our minds to new ideas and information. There’s more than one path to success. Just because you’re in good shape today doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Building brands, growing audiences, increasing revenue, and examining new opportunities is an ongoing process. There are many shifts along the way. We may not solve every business challenge during our two-days together but you’ll leave the room more connected and informed than when you entered it.

Each year I’ll get two or three emails from folks sharing that they learned more about the industry in two-days at the Summit than they have in ___ years inside of their building. That’s truly gratifying and what I strive to achieve when I put this event together. I remember when conferences like this didn’t exist for format folks and I take the risk and invest the time and resources to create it because I love the sports media industry and believe I can help it thrive. I see great value in gathering professionals to share ideas, information, and meet others who can help them grow their business, and if we do our part, I’m confident some will want to work with us too. That’s how we benefit over the long haul.

But as much as I focus on serving the professional crowd, I also think we have a responsibility to educate young people who are interested, passionate, and taking steps to be a part of our business in the future. The BSM website is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each month and it’s become a valuable resource for folks who enjoy sports radio and television. I think it’s vital to use our platform, influence and two-day event to connect generations and I’m happy to announce that we will once again welcome college students at this year’s Summit.

Most of us who’ve been in this line of work for two or three decades learned the business without podcasts, YouTube, social media, the web or conferences delivering two full days of sessions that taught you more about the business than what’s available inside of a class room. We learned by doing, and hoping we were right. Then we copied others who had success. Some of that still exists, and that’s not a bad thing. But where our business goes in the future is going to be drastically different.

I’d like to see the difference makers in our format remembered for years to come, and practices that have stood the test of time remain valued down the line. Change is inevitable in every business and I’m excited about the road that lies ahead especially some of the technological advancements that are now available or will soon become a bigger part of our industry. I think we can embrace the future while enjoying the present and celebrating the past. The best way to do that is by bringing together everyone who is and is hoping to be a part of the sports media universe.

So here’s two things we’re doing to make sure future broadcasters have an opportunity to learn with us.

First, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Steve Kamer Voiceovers. Thanks to Steve’s generosity, TEN (10) college students will be given FREE tickets to attend the 2023 BSM Summit in March. Steve is a USC graduate (Class of 1985) and he bought the ten tickets to help young people learn about the industry, save money and make valuable connections. When I first received his order, I thought he hit the wrong button. I reached out to tell him a mistake was made and I needed to refund him. That’s when he told me what he wanted to do for students who were pursuing their broadcasting dreams just as we both did years ago. A very classy gesture on his part.

As it pertains to the contest, here’s how it’s going to work.

To win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event. Included in your email should be a list of steps that you’ve taken or are pursuing to explore opportunities in the media industry. If you want to pass along a resume and audio or video clips too to showcase your work and experience, that’s fine as well. BSM will accept submissions until February 17th. The winners will be announced on Friday February 24th.

Helping me select the winners will be an exceptional panel of media executives. Each of these folks below will choose one person to attend our L.A. event. The final two will be picked by Steve Kamer and myself.

  • Scott Shapiro – Senior Vice President, FOX Sports Radio
  • Justin Craig – Senior Program Director, ESPN Radio
  • Jeff Sottolano – Executive Vice President, Programming, Audacy
  • Bruce Gilbert – Senior Vice President of Sports, Cumulus Media & Westwood One
  • Amanda Gifford – Vice President, Content Strategy & Audio, ESPN
  • Jacob Ullman – Senior Vice President, Production and Talent Development, FOX Sports
  • Greg Strassell – Senior Vice President, Programming, Hubbard Radio
  • Scott Sutherland – Executive Vice President, Bonneville International

To qualify for the BSM Summit College Contest, students must be enrolled in college in the state of California, pursuing a degree that involves course work either in radio, television, print or the digital business. Those attending local trade schools with a focus on broadcasting are also welcome to participate. You must be able to take care of your own transportation and/or lodging.

This is a contest I enjoy running. We’ve had great participation during our prior two shows in New York City but haven’t done it before on the west coast. I’m hoping it’s helpful to California students and look forward to hearing from many of them during the next month.

For students who live out of state and wish to attend or those enrolled at local universities who enter the contest but aren’t lucky enough to win one of the ten free tickets from Steve Kamer Voiceovers, we are introducing a special two-day college ticket for just $124.99. You must provide proof that you’re currently in school to take advantage of the offer. This ticket gives you access to all of our sessions inside the Founders Club. College tickets will be limited to forty (40) seats so take advantage of the opportunity before it expires.

The 2023 BSM Summit will feature award ceremonies with Emmis Communication CEO Jeff Smulyan and legendary WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, sessions with influential on-air talent such as Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, and Mina Kimes, big picture business conversations with executives from groups such as Audacy, iHeart, Bonneville, Good Karma Brands, Barstool, The Volume, Omaha Productions and more. For details on tickets and hotel rooms visit BSMsummit.com.

I look forward to seeing you in March in Los Angeles!

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Barrett News Media To Gather The Industry in Nashville in September 2023

“I’ve been lucky enough to play a key role in bringing the sports media industry together on an annual basis, and in 2023 we’re going to attempt to do the same for news/talk media professionals.”

Jason Barrett

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One of the best parts about working in the media business is that you’re afforded an opportunity to use your creativity, take risks, and learn if an audience or advertisers will support your ideas. Sometimes you hit a homerun, other times you strike out, but regardless of the outcome, you keep on swinging.

I’ve tried to do that since launching a digital publishing and radio consulting company in 2015. Fortunately, we’ve delivered more hits than misses.

When I added news media industry coverage to our brand in September 2020, I knew it’d be a huge undertaking. The news/talk format is two and a half times larger than sports, many of its brands are powered by national shows, and the content itself is more personal and divisive. I wanted our focus and attention on news media stories, not politics and news, and though there have been times when the lines got blurred, we’ve tried to be consistent in serving industry professionals relevant content .

What made the move into news media more challenging was that I’d spent less time in it. That meant it’d take longer to find the right writers, and it required putting more time into building relationships, trust, respect, and support. Though we still have more ground to cover, we’ve made nice strides. That was reflected by the participation we received when we rolled out the BNM Top 20 of 2022 the past two weeks. Hopefully you checked out the lists. Demetri Ravanos and I will be hosting a video chat today at 1pm ET on BNM’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and through Barrett Media’s YouTube page discussing the series, as well as this article.

It’s because of that growing support, trust, and confidence in what we’re doing that I’m taking a risk yet again. I’ve been lucky enough to play a key role in bringing the sports media industry together on an annual basis, and in 2023 we’re going to attempt to do the same for news/talk media professionals.

I am excited to share the news that Barrett News Media will host its first ever BNM Summit on Thursday September 14, 2023 in Nashville, TN. Our one-day conference will take place at Vanderbilt University’s Student Life Center Ballroom. The venue we’ve selected is tremendous and I’m eager to spend a day with news/talk professionals to examine ways to further grow the format and industry.

If you’re wondering why we chose Nashville, here’s why.

First, the city itself is awesome. The access to great restaurants, bars, entertainment, hotels, and famous landmarks is unlimited, and when you’re traveling to a city for a business conference, those things matter. Being in a city that’s easy for folks across the country to get to also doesn’t hurt.

Secondly, a conference is harder to pull off if you can’t involve successful on-air people in it. If you look at Nashville’s growth in the talk media space over the past decade, it’s remarkable. Many notable talents now live and broadcast locally, major brands have created a local footprint in the area, and that opens the door to future possibilities. I have no idea who we’ll include in the show, and I haven’t sent out one request yet because I wanted to keep this quiet until we were sure it made sense. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of interest in participating and I can’t promise we’ll be able to accommodate all requests but if you have interest in being involved, send an email to Jason@BarrettNewsMedia.com.

Third, finding the right venue is always difficult. We looked at a bunch of great venues in Nashville during our vacation this past summer, and when we stepped on to the campus at Vanderbilt University and walked through the SLC Ballroom, we knew it was the right fit. It had the space we needed, the right tech support, access to private parking, a green room for guests, and it was within walking distance of a few hotels, restaurants, and the Parthenon.

As I went through the process of deciding if this event was right for BNM, a few folks I trust mentioned that by creating a Summit for news/media folks, it could create a competitive situation. I don’t see it that way. I view it as a responsibility. I think we need more people coming together to grow the industry rather than trying to tear each other down. I hear this far too often in radio. We worry about what one station is doing rather than strengthening our own brand and preparing to compete with all audio options.

For years I’ve attended conferences hosted by Radio Ink, NAB, Talkers, and Conclave. I’ve even spoken at a few and welcomed folks who operate in the consulting space to speak at my shows. I’ll continue to support those events, read various trade sites, and invite speakers who work in a similar field because they’re good people who care about helping the industry. I believe BNM and BSM add value to the media business through its websites and conferences, and though there may be a detractor or two, I’ll focus on why we’re doing this and who it’s for, and let the chips fall where they may.

I know juggling two conferences in one year is likely going to make me crazy at times, but I welcome the challenge. In the months ahead I’ll start lining up speakers, sponsors, building the conference website, and analyzing every detail to make sure we hold up our end of the bargain and deliver an informative and professionally beneficial event. The news/talk media industry is massive and making sure it stays healthy is critically important. I think we can play a small role in helping the business grow, and I look forward to finding out on September 14th in Nashville at Vanderbilt University.

Hope to see you there!

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Jimmy Powers, Raj Sharan, Matt Berger and John Goforth Added to 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

“BSM is having a special Holiday SALE this week. Individual tickets are reduced to $224.99 until Friday night December 23rd at 11:59pm ET.

Jason Barrett

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In less than a hundred days, the BSM Summit will return to Los Angeles for two-days of networking, learning, laughing, and celebrating. The conference hasn’t been held on the west coast since 2019, and we’re looking forward to returning to the city of angels on March 21-22, 2023, and bringing together sports media professionals at the Founders Club, located inside the Galen Center at the University of Southern California.

For those of you who haven’t purchased your ticket(s) yet, BSM is having a special Holiday SALE this week. From today (Monday) through Friday 11:59pm ET, individual tickets are reduced to $224.99. If you’re planning to come, and want to make sure you’re in the room, take advantage of the extra savings and secure your seat. To buy tickets, reserve your hotel room, and learn more about the Summit’s speakers, click here.

We’ve previously announced twenty one (21) participants who will join us on stage at the 2023 BSM Summit. Today, we’re excited to expand our lineup by welcoming four (4) more additions to March’s industry spectacular.

First, BSM is thrilled to have two accomplished sports radio programmers contributing to the event. Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit will make his Summit debut in L.A.. Fresh off of a Marconi victory earlier this fall, The Ticket’s brand manager will share his insights on the present and future of sports radio on one of our programming panels. Also taking part in that panel will be the leader of 104.3 The Fan in Denver, Raj Sharan. Raj appeared on stage at the 2022 BSM Summit in NYC, and we look forward to having him return to lend his voice to an important sports radio programming discussion.

But programming won’t be the only thing we invest time in out west. Growing a business, more specifically, a digital business will be part of our conference agenda as well.

When it comes to maximizing digital revenue, few brands understand the space better than Barstool Sports. Charged with growing the brand’s revenue is Senior Vice President and Head of Sales Matt Berger, and we’re looking forward to having Matt join us for a conversation that will focus on monetizing digital opportunities. Before joining Barstool, Matt sold for Bleacher Report/House of Highlights. He’s also worked for Warner Brothers and the Walt Disney Company. We’re excited to have him share his wisdom with the room.

Also taking part in our digital sales panel will be John Goforth of Magellan AI. John knows the radio business well from having served previously as a sales manager and salesperson. Since leaving traditional media and joining Magellan AI, John has studied the podcasting advertising space and learned who the top spenders are, who’s making big moves with their podcast advertising budgets, and which publishers are best positioned to benefit. Having his expertise on stage will help many in the room with trying to better understand the digital sales space.

There are other speaker announcements still to come. We have some big things planned, which I’m hoping to reveal in January and February. I want to thank ESPN Radio, FOX Sports, Showtime, and Point to Point Marketing for coming on board as partners of the 2023 BSM Summit. The support we’ve received heading into Los Angeles has been tremendous, and we greatly appreciate it. If you’re looking to be associated with the Summit as an event partner, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

That’s all for now, but be sure to take advantage of the Summit Holiday Sale. You have until Friday night December 23rd at 11:59pm ET to take advantage of discounted tickets. Happy Holidays!

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