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Takeaways From The Podcast Movement Conference

Jason Barrett

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Chicago is a fascinating city with incredible views and strong spirit. It’s one of my favorite places to travel to in the country. So when I learned that the Podcast Movement Conference was being held there, I knew it was a trip I had to make. The feedback on last year’s event was positive and as the world’s appetite for audio grows on a daily basis, I figured there’d be some valuable lessons to learn.

FullSizeRender (17)Although the windy city was transformed for a few days into the home for heat and humidity, that didn’t temper the enthusiasm inside the halls and rooms of the Hyatt Hotel. People were genuinely excited to be in town for the event and many of them were relatively inexperienced in the podcasting space but hungry to learn more.

From session to session content creators and podcasting executives discussed the benefits of storytelling, passion, artistry, self-expression, and engagement. Observers listened and asked questions geared towards helping them produce better content to further connect with audiences and advertisers. There was even a stronger showing of support from the radio industry which many who I spoke to considered a positive step for the podcasting industry.

Much of the credit for the event’s success belongs to Dan Franks and his staff. The sound quality was excellent, the speaker’s were great, the light displays and stage structures looked sharp, and the materials given to those who attended were helpful. Even the sign in process was smooth. They say preparation is half the battle in delivering a great event and the organizers of the conference had their act together.

FullSizeRender (18)However, there were a few things that I believe can still be improved, specifically in the sports radio universe. Did you know that of all the attendees at this year’s conference, only 4% came from the sports and recreation field? If myself and wrestler Colt Cabana didn’t attend I wonder if that number would’ve been 2% or lower. Aside from the weak showing by sports attendees, there were a few other items that caught my attention. Some were positive, some were not. Here are some of those key takeaways.

Attendance/Enthusiasm – One of my favorite parts of this experience was simply observing how invested people were in the conference. There were nearly two thousand people in attendance and a genuine joy was felt throughout the room. Attendees were eager to listen, ask questions and take the knowledge back home and apply it. Some of that is the result of inexperience but it also reminded me that the passion for creating and listening to audio programming remains alive and well.

pmc2Compared to most radio conferences I’ve attended, this one had a better energy in each room. People valued the advice being provided by each expert, and seemed proud to be associated with the event. It felt like a three day celebration for a family of podcasters.

This is an issue for many current radio conferences. Industry folks attend them with preconceived notions of what will take place and they leave without being surprised. The same old cliches are offered repeatedly (content is king, distribution is queen, play the hits, radio is a thriving business, etc.) and it’s debatable whether the majority of people are excited to be there or view it as an opportunity to get away from home for a few days and reconnect with industry friends outside of each session.

Networking is certainly important but a better presentation on-stage featuring some new names, faces, and voices might keep people a little more interested.

PMC4Speakers and Panels – Upon entering this conference I knew only one of the featured speakers – Kevin Smith. His performance alone is worthy of an entire column but that will have to wait for now. I didn’t get to hear everyone, but I did walk away impressed by Smith, Glynn Washington, Alex Blumberg, and Anna Sale. Each focused on something unique and important to them and gave those in attendance a lot of information worth using and sharing.

Sale, hosts a podcast called “Death, Sex, and Money” and focused on the similarities between creating a podcast and having a baby. She shared advice on starting a show, building a community, developing a brand, and improving the content. Her point about each host needing a good editor and being willing to share their messy drafts and accept critical feedback was on point because it’s exactly what a good talk show host does when working with a producer. If you think a producer’s there simply to screen calls, dial up the guest and fetch you coffee, then you’re missing out on the benefits of their involvement.

Washington meanwhile, hosts a podcast called “Snap Judgment” and instantly got my attention when he uttered the line “I don’t care about podcasting….I care about stories“. Given that we were at a podcasting conference, the room quickly took notice. He focused his time on the power of storytelling and shared details of his personal experiences while providing a few interesting video samples. One in particular of storyteller Josh Healey really stood out. You can watch it by clicking here.

glynnWhat I loved about Washington’s speech was that it was deep, authentic, and powerful. He dove into the troubles happening in the world and described how storytelling can help in the healing process and influence change. He compared telling a story to picking scabs, and reminded the room that the best stories are developed from smaller events.

Then came my personal favorite, Kevin Smith. The filmmaker and actor took the stage to explain why he loves podcasting and how he got started. From the second he took the microphone to his final word, he had the audience on the edge of their seats. Smith was passionate, informative, funny and unfiltered and caused many to laugh, listen, and even cringe as he worked in at least one F-bomb every 5-10 words. His swearing was so over the top that attendees took to Twitter to engage in dialogue with others in the room about how many curse words he’d deliver by the end of his session.

Tossing out F-bombs doesn’t make a speech unique, but his style and insight was refreshing. Kevin talked about his enthusiasm for the podcasting platform and related his success at it to the way he navigated through a successful filmmaking career. He offered a lot of life advice and memorable quotes that could have easily filled up the walls of many NFL locker rooms.

ks4Along the way Smith served up some doozies including ‘failure is just success training‘, ‘there are two paths, creation and destruction‘, and ‘the first step to self-expression is losing the fear‘. He encouraged people to not be afraid to create a podcast and reminded them that the beauty of doing it is that it doesn’t require talent. As many wondered aloud how that could be, Smith brought it home by adding ‘it takes talent to build the walls inside this room and get stuff not to fall down, but it doesn’t take talent to have a conversation…it doesn’t even take talent to stand on a movie set and play Batman. Ben Affleck f’ing did it.’

Blumberg closed things out by discussing the future of podcasting, the reasons people seek out audio content, and the buzz words that are part of a successful podcast. His line “The first golden age of audio was radio, the second is podcast” drew a strong response and it was clear that he’s very optimistic about where the podcasting business is headed.

I particularly enjoyed his discussion on the power of empathy and how audio/radio can be an agent of empathy and understanding to help the world heal. He highlighted audio’s ability to provide stronger narrative and companionship than any other form of media and his mixture of humor and intelligence struck the right balance and perfect tone for closing out a successful three day event.

FullSizeRender (22)Too Much Quantity Not Enough Quality – It’s no secret that the word ‘podcast‘ has become trendy in audio circles. Everyone is eager to do it and as much as I love the fact that there are thousands of new options for people to enjoy, it’s difficult to separate the good from the bad. Eric Nuzum who oversees the Audible division for Amazon put it best when he said it’s like going to a flea market and sifting through the trash to find the treasure.

In some ways it’s no different than YouTube where millions of people upload video content and some become future stars and others remain invisible. Does that matter? Should it matter? That depends on who you ask.

For the business to make a dent long-term it needs to offer more Adam Carolla’s and Bill Simmons’ to advertisers and audiences, and less Johnny and Freddy Broadcaster’s. It also needs to continue prying great talent from terrestrial radio, just as satellite radio has done over the past decade.

One area where this is a real problem is in the sports audio space. The quality of sports talk talent on radio compared to podcasting isn’t close. Podcasting companies don’t seem to be focused on sports even though it’s a massive business. I sat in sessions where Audible, Gimlet, Midroll, Spotify and other groups shared tips, ideas and details of forthcoming projects and none covered sports programming. The only time I heard it even mentioned was during a session which featured Traug Keller of ESPN Audio and Greg Strassell of Hubbard Radio. Why sports isn’t a bigger focus I’m not sure.

moneyRevenue and Growth – Arguably the biggest statement of the entire conference was that radio is a 2 billion dollar annual business whereas podcasting is a 100 million dollar industry. Even if those numbers are slightly off, there’s a huge disparity between the two. That begs the question, is podcasting really the next big thing or a cool niche idea? Most people don’t disagree that on-demand audio interest is rapidly growing and being a content provider is important but whether or not it can be monetized and developed into a thriving business remains questionable.

In watching many of these sessions, I learned that it can be very uplifting for people to hear thirty minutes of positives about the industry they’re in. There’s something invigorating about being a podcaster and having control over your own storytelling, self-expression, authenticity, and not being a slave to advertisers. It’s sort of like being a writer and being able to blog without a newspaper editor reining you in. Or being an independent musician and playing the songs you feel like playing rather than the hits that label representatives require you to so they can sell your next album or single.

rcBut here’s your reality check. The world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and the economic returns in the podcasting world are low compared to radio. If the financial numbers echoed throughout multiple sessions are accurate, that would make the radio industry 20x more profitable than the podcasting business. That’s enormous.

As I thought about that disparity I wondered how the space could become more profitable without muddying up the content experience. Making matters worse is that ad agencies are still unsure about investing bigger dollars on the platform. They’ve increased spending in recent years and are expected to do so in the future but the level of spending versus other traditional media is lower.

So when does it bottom out? Is podcasting a $200 million dollar business? $300 million? $500 million? Can it surpass where radio is? Or is its present performance the best it has to offer?

podcastingMy Final Thoughts – The radio industry has a big decision to make. Does it go all in on podcasting or take a cautious approach? With dashboards and desktops continuing to represent where users spend the majority of their time consuming audio, and the ad community slowly increasing spending rather than making sizable investments, it’s hard to picture radio groups putting podcasting on equal footing with their over the air products.

In the past, radio has been slow to adapt but this is a space that is difficult to judge. It’s not as simple as looking at whether or not audiences are interested in the content or whether people will listen more on phones, tablets and digital dashboards. I do believe the platform is growing, and I love that the user experience is clutter free and able to be enjoyed whenever the user wants to listen. The number one question though is how can it be monetized better?

I’ve yet to see anyone step forward with a secret recipe to excite advertisers. Shows in this space are generally shorter and delivered less frequently, and advertising opportunities inside of the programming are fewer. It may be appealing to the user, but it’s a lot harder to justify spending larger dollars on it for sponsors and operators.

IMG_1438So how do you fix it? Will the public pay for it? Audible is banking on that with the launch of their new service ‘Channels’ which offers 40 original high-quality shows. Amazon believes that if you provide a great content experience and target it to people who find value for that particular form of programming, they’ll invest in it.

Other suggestions for monetization include developing branded content, increasing live reads, developing sponsored contests, creating live event revenue opportunities, and providing merchandise. Those all sound great and should help but they’re all things that are offered in radio.

The fact of the matter is that despite being in existence for quite some time, podcasting brands are still relatively unfamiliar to a large number of people. To influence a change in spending or listening takes time, promotion, and most importantly – a lot of money!

Radio has decisions to make about its own level of confidence in the podcasting business. Groups such as Hubbard, ESPN Radio and E.W. Scripps have placed their support behind it, and others offer on-demand audio on many of their brands and appear intrigued by the idea of becoming larger players in the future.

FullSizeRender (24)As radio contemplates its viability in the digital audio business, the podcasting community needs to understand the importance of walking before running. Replacing the radio business isn’t going to happen tomorrow or the next day and expecting advertisers to make drastic changes in the way they do business doesn’t happen without effort, patience, and sustained performance. The space is attractive to listeners and creators, and if good judgment is used in the future, and more quality programming is provided, who knows what the industry’s ceiling is.

The one glimmer of hope I’ll leave you with is this. It’s easy to suggest that podcasting won’t surpass radio. A case can easily be made today to demonstrate why its economic potential is limited. However, in 2000 you’d have laughed if I told you that the UFC in 10-15 years would pass professional boxing in terms of popularity and revenue growth.

If you missed it, the UFC was purchased on Monday by WME/IMG for 4 billion dollars, after initially being purchased in 2000 for only 2 million. I’m not suggesting that podcasting will be to radio what the UFC became to boxing, but no one truly knows what the long-term economic potential is. As long as quality audio programming continues being created, and audiences continue clamoring for it, that’ll help determine if podcasting is the next big treasure or fool’s gold.

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The 2024 BSM Summit is Coming To New York City

“The 2024 BSM Summit, will take place March 13-14, 2024 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater in New York City.”

Jason Barrett

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During today’s Barrett News Media Summit in Nashville, Barrett Media President Jason Barrett announced plans for the company’s next sports media conference. The 2024 BSM Summit, the Sports Media industry’s premiere annual conference for broadcasting professionals, is returning to New York City. The Summit will take place on Wednesday, March 13th and Thursday, March 14th, 2024, at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, 405 W. 55th Street, New York, NY. This will be the company’s sixth BSM Summit and the third time the popular destination event for sports broadcasters originates from the big apple.

Tickets to the 2024 BSM Summit in New York will go on sale on Monday, October 16, 2023, on the event website: https://bsmsummit.com/. The full lineup of speakers, panels, and special events will be announced later this year.

Prior all-star speakers at the BSM Summit have included industry executives Jimmy Pitaro of ESPN, Eric Shanks of FOX Sports, Meadowlark Media’s John Skipper, and Barstool Sports’ Erika Ayers Badan, popular on-air personalities Pat McAfee, Mina Kimes and Paul Finebaum of ESPN, Colin Cowherd, Joy Taylor, Jay Glazer, and Craig Carton of FOX Sports, Al Michaels of Amazon Prime Video, Jim Rome of CBS Sports, WWE’s Shawn Michaels, and Sports Radio icons Mike Francesa and Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Russo, best known as ‘Mike and The Mad Dog’, plus Sports Radio’s sharpest programming minds including Spike Eskin of WFAN, Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket, FOX Sports Radio’s Don Martin and Scott Shapiro, Cumulus Media and Westwood One’s Bruce Gilbert, 670 The Score and BetQL’s Mitch Rosen, and many more.

Jason Barrett, President, Barrett Media, said: “What started as a small gathering in Chicago in 2018 has blossomed into one of sports media’s most fun, insightful, and professionally beneficial events. We pour our heart and soul into this show to help industry professionals stay in tune with where the industry is going, and to unite and celebrate folks who help make the Sports Media business one of the best, most passionate, and professionally important spaces in all of media.”

Barrett noted: “I’m excited to return to NYC and operate on the large stage at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, treating our attendees to the best-in-class speakers and presentations they’ve become accustomed to seeing and interacting with at our shows. Last year’s BSM Summit in Los Angeles delivered a homerun, and I’m eager to see if NYC can help us raise the bar again when we return to the Big Apple for a third time in March 2024.”

To stay up to date on speakers, tickets, sponsorship opportunities, and other event surprises, visit https://bsmsummit.com/.

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Cheers to 8 Years of Barrett Media, and a Look Ahead to 2024

“To be here after 8 years, still able to share my passion for sports and news broadcasting with you, and earn your time and attention is an honor..”

Jason Barrett

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Each September, I look forward to writing this column. Not because I need a pat on the back but because it signifies another year in business. When I launched this company in September 2015, I didn’t expect to cover every layer of sports and news media. I knew the radio business well, built a lot of relationships, and enjoyed writing and speaking my mind. I just thought it would be cool for sports radio folks to have a website focused on it. If it led to a consulting client or two, even better.

I wasn’t planning to hire website editors, writers, social media and newsletter directors or create annual conferences, a member directory and advertising packages. Fortunately, we did good work and it caught on with industry professionals. As interest grew and opportunities presented themselves, I was wise enough to seize them. It’s why we’re here today celebrating 8 years in business.

Creating a brand that people like, respect, learn from, and enjoy spending time with is one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of. It’s even more special because we built this without corporate funding. When I entered the consulting and publishing space, I believed this could be my last job. I still feel that way today. This consumes my life M-F from 7am to 11pm. I’ll take a break to eat, talk to family or maybe watch a game or TV show but aside from that and a weekend timeout or vacation, I don’t shut off much. I wish I could at times but it’s how I’m wired. To run a successful business, you’ve got to be all-in and willing to sacrifice, and I do whatever it takes to keep us moving forward.

Growth also requires having a good staff, and supportive clients, advertising partners, and members. It’s easy to run websites with minimal content and low expectations but if the goal is to grow an audience and revenue, generate nationwide respect, and expand into new areas, then you’ve got to have support, a strong team, short and long-term vision, and an ability to consistently deliver. That means recruiting, investing, pitching, and knowing when to pivot.

During our 8 year run, we’ve produced larger monthly and annual traffic than some trade sites that I read and admire. We’ve also established a valuable industry event, and are about to make it two when we host our news summit next week. We’ve earned respect by breaking news, creating original content, helping partners, and refusing to value clicks over people. We may write things sometimes that folks don’t like or agree with. That comes with the territory. Just as long as we’re fair and accurate, I’ll manage the rest. I’m obviously biased but when it comes to sports and news media coverage, I’ll put our team up against anyone. For those who ask, ‘how can we help?’ The answer is simple, RT or share our content, advertise with BSM or BNM, retain us for consulting work or buy a membership or ticket to a summit.

I’ve always tried to be transparent with our readers and clients, so if I’m being honest, this year has been harder than others. The good news is that we’ve grown a lot. We’re busier than ever, and our reach and influence keeps rising. I absolutely love the clients I work with but with more work comes a need for more staff. With more staff comes increased conversations, and it isn’t always easy for me to find time for my crew when I’ve got to listen to and help stations, build conferences, sell sponsorships, and manage websites and newsletters. It’s why having good editors in place is important.

If all I had to do was help clients, the job would be easy. But I don’t just consult. I oversee our websites, newsletters, social media, events and 20+ people. It can be exhausting sometimes. Then there are the unexpected situations that arise. Case in point, having to navigate web hosting issues, social media platforms restricting reach, Google impacting BNM after it split off of BSM, restrictions on 1-2 writers, plus new hires not panning out, and veteran contributors signing off. It’s what you have to deal with when running a company.

On the positive side, the BNM and BSM writing teams continue to kick ass, Alex, Andy, Garrett and Demetri are working well together, and our first news/talk summit has been well received. Stephanie Eads has also gotten more involved on the sales end, and after the BNM Summit, she and I will be holding meetings with groups regarding our 2024 plans.

On that note, we reach a lot of people each day with our two brands. Many are high earners and key decision makers. Most of our partners benefit by advertising with BSM and BNM but there are some in marketing departments who haven’t invested in us nor taken the time to learn about us or respond to an introduction. The last thing I want to do is have to make a tough call one day like Joel Denver did earlier this year with All Access but breaking news, telling stories, running events, and helping partners grow their business takes time and resources. I’m comfortable sharing our story and results. I just hope more will take a closer look at working with us because I know we can help.

Looking ahead to 2024, I can confirm we will host another BSM and BNM Summit. We’ll reveal our host city and location for the 2024 BSM Summit on September 14th. Our plans for the 2024 BNM Summit will be made public in the months ahead. We’ll also release the BNM Top 20 of 2023 on December 11-15 and December 18. The BSM Top 20 of 2023 comes out February 5-9 and February 12th.

In addition, I’ll be posting a column tomorrow on BNM laying out the entire BNM Summit schedule. I’ll also be hiring an Executive Editor in Q4. More on that shortly.

As far as future goals are concerned, I’d like to eventually increase our newsletter distribution to AM and PM delivery, add a few new features writers and columnists, hire a second seller, introduce a new content series for BSM and BNM, and rework our social media strategy. I’m also planning to return to the podcast space next year although not with 5-6 programs per week.

At some point I’ve got to review our member directory and make it valuable for both sports and news/talk professionals. I’m also hoping to dig through our summit video content and eventually create a super ticket for folks to consume any session they want from the past 6 years of conferences. There’s a few more possibilities being explored too but I’m not ready to dive into those details yet. When I am, I’ll share it here on the website.

One situation I am comfortable addressing involves an important upcoming change. When September ends, Demetri Ravanos will be transitioning from FT editor of Barrett Sports Media to a weekly columnist and features writer for BSM. This is something that has been planned for months, and I know Demetri is excited about it.

Demetri joined BSM in August 2017, and has been a valuable member of our team. He’s been a great help to me and our staff, but if you ask him he’ll tell you that being an editor was never what he really wanted to do. He’s done it because he’s a team guy, loves the brand, enjoys sharing ideas with our writers, and likes staying busy but cleaning up columns, editing features, writing headlines and news stories, and listening to stations was not his dream gig. He’s going to be working with Joe Ovies, Joe Giglio, Lauren Brownlow and their Raleigh based podcasting network, which will give him a chance to host and produce close to home. You’ve likely seen some of his work already on social media.

Having spent 6 years together, I can’t say enough good things about Demetri. He’s worked hard for BSM, listened and learned when I educated him on stuff, and he’s become a great friend. He’s someone I’ve put a lot of trust in, and that’s not something I hand out to everyone. It has to be earned through time and consistent effort. We’ve talked a lot the past few years about this scenario being likely at some point, and when the topic came up in May, we both knew it was the right time to start the process. I’d write more about him if he were vacating BSM but you’ll still be able to read him on Monday and Wednesday. In fact, he’s launching a new series here tomorrow called Meet The Podcasters presented by Point to Point Marketing.

When we created this transition plan in May, I moved fast to get the word out that we’d be hiring an Executive Editor. I did so because I knew it’d take time to lure the right candidates, and between running a news/talk event on September 13-14, and Demetri stepping away two weeks later, I wanted to get ahead on it. I conducted 60+ interviews in May-August, and talked to many well respected, highly accomplished people, but as the summit drew closer, I started to realize that this hire was way too important to rush into. This is someone who I have to have complete trust and confidence in to run and grow our company’s digital brands. I didn’t like the idea of hiring someone and having limited time to train them, brainstorm big ideas, and develop a 2024 strategy due to needing to focus on building a big event.

So I told a few candidates that we’d resume discussions after the Summit, and if it means having to take longer to hire the right person, then so be it. I care about making the right hire, not a fast hire.

To make sure we don’t miss a beat, I’ll be diving in with Garrett Searight on October 2nd to make sure BSM and BNM’s content remains strong each day. We’re fortunate to have Garrett, Derek, Ryan, Jordan, Ricky and Eduardo contributing news stories and Alex handling our social media so it’ll be business as usual. My goal is to make a hire during the 4th quarter and set up the company for stronger success in 2024.

One thing I’ve learned during the editor interview process is that there are a lot of people who know our brands, love sports and news, and enjoy writing and broadcasting but don’t have the knowledge about sports radio or television beyond a few markets or shows. Many see the word ‘sports’ or ‘news’ and assume we’re going to write about those issues. I tell them all ‘we don’t do sports and news, we do sports media and news media‘. It’s important to know the difference. We’re more in line with a Sports Business Journal, Front Office Sports or All Access than we are ESPN, Yahoo Sports or Sports Illustrated.

What matters most here is a passion for writing, a nose for news, industry knowledge and relationships, and a desire to educate the industry. I live and breathe the broadcasting business and need others around me who share that same passion for the industry. I know there are talented writers and editors out there, so since this process isn’t resolved yet my email is open if you want to send a resume and cover letter. Be advised that this is a FT salaried, remote position.

There will always be obstacles to overcome, successes to celebrate, people coming and going, and new opportunities and difficulties to navigate when running a business. To be here after 8 years, still able to share my passion for sports and news broadcasting with you, and earn your time and attention is an honor. I’m grateful for your support and look forward to seeing where we are when I write this column next September and raise a glass to 9 years of excellence.

Thanks for taking the ride with us. Here’s to finishing 2023 strong, and making 2024 even better.

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The New York Times Sports Saga is About Dollars and Cents, Not a Lack of Interest in Coverage and Reading

“You can take issue with the vision and how the situation was managed but an investment in The Athletic makes no sense if the Times doesn’t prioritize its importance.”

Jason Barrett

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NYT-Logo
Photo Credit: New York Times

Call me asleep at the wheel, out of touch or an aging broadcaster who has it all wrong, but I firmly believe that people still like to read. I know the popular thing is to talk up video, audio, streaming, etc., and I love all of those options, but I don’t buy that people don’t have time or interest in reading.

For many, especially in the media business, it’s how you start and end your day. I’ve heard people pronounce last rites for print for well over a decade, only to see social platforms and media outlets thrive off the written word, newsletters rapidly rise, and text become the main form of communicating. Clearly, written content still matters.

It’s ironic that I’m telling you this in print as you read it on the BSM website. In fact, more than nine million visitors have stopped by this site over the past three years, reinforcing why I remain convinced people value learning and enjoying a mental distraction.

As much as I love audio and video, there’s something therapeutic about reading a story. There are thousands of shows flooding the daily content cycle, many discussing the same topics and issues. Some could say the same exists in print, but there are countless examples of in-depth storytelling and reporting that can’t be duplicated on radio, TV or even in a podcast.

Think for a second about the majority of sports information that people react to each day. It comes in written form. If you’re an NBA fan, you rely on tweets from Woj and Shams. If you crave the NFL, Schefty and Rapoport keep you informed. Even those seeking sports media news get it from Marchand, McCarthy, Ourand, and BSM. Whether it’s delivered in a tweet or an online article, the bottom line, you’re reading it.

Though I remain bullish on the power of print, I’m not naive to the fact that the business has been challenged. If the revenue or costs don’t produce positive results for a company, they are going to do whatever is necessary to strengthen their business.

Recently, the New York Times chose to throw in the towel on its local sports department, relying instead on The Athletic for its local sports coverage needs. It was a decision undoubtedly influenced by dollars and cents. As expected, many in the media took exception.

In a statement issued to the Times’s newsroom, the newspaper’s executive editor, and deputy managing editor emphasized that the changes would result in more direct focus on distinctive, high-impact news and enterprise journalism about how sports intersect with money, power, culture, politics and society at large. What they felt no longer needed attention was coverage of games, players, teams and leagues.

Interesting. This follows the Los Angeles Times recent decision to remove box scores, game stories, standings, and TV listings. These are things that sports fans have cared about and paid attention to for decades.

These two newspapers believe your interest in knowing the details of a game, and how your favorite team is performing compared to others, no longer matter. Either that’s the viewpoint or they’ve waved the white flag and determined people would rather go to ESPN, Yahoo and other online destination for that information. It’s easy to see why these decisions drew the ire of Adam Schein on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio and Jessica Benson on Grind City Media.

I don’t believe people who love sports don’t care about the things the Times is eliminating. Maybe interest in those items is lower when compared to news and in-depth storytelling but sports fans have always had interest in statistics, schedules, transactions, and standings. To suggest they don’t matter anymore is foolish.

You can debate if the newspaper’s vision for covering sports is right for the future or not but what made this situation worse is the way their executive team managed the situation with the sports staff.

It was reported that employees sent a letter to management the day prior, asking for clarity on the future of their department. Though the Times said in a letter to staff that no plans existed for layoffs, they ignored the fact that The Athletic had 20 staff members eliminated last month, and 20 more transferred to other roles. The transfer approach was also their solution for the sports department, hoping moving staffers to another department would help avoid the wrath and a bigger fight with their union.

But when news trickles in from the outside that plans are in the works to eliminate a department, and those skilled at covering sports are offered roles that remove them from what they enjoy doing, why would they stay? If someone took away your sports job and told you you’d continue being paid but now have to write obituaries, what would you do? Some will see this as creating a structure that encourages people to quit. That’s one way to eliminate costs without being on the hook for breaking a promise to not eliminate jobs.

Though I think the management team at the Times has royally screwed up their handling of this situation, let’s remove emotion for a second, and look at this from a business perspective.

The New York Times’s parent company started this process in January 2022 when it invested five hundred and fifty million dollars in The Athletic. Were they not supposed to prioritize the sports brand they purchased? Were they supposed to continue funding two operations with the same content focus even if it meant losing money?

One could argue that the newspaper could’ve moved its best sports writers to The Athletic, but to expect both to operate as is isn’t realistic. You can also criticize the decision to stick with The Athletic after the brand lost $7.8 million last quarter, $12.6 million in the second quarter last year, and $6.8 million in February and March of 2022 despite having 3.3 million subscribers. By the way, that information was shared by the New York Times in public filings.

Love it or hate it, when a company has resources tied up in two places for the same thing, you can rest assured they’re going to eliminate or reduce one of them. The changes don’t happen right away either, they usually come a year or two later.

This isn’t exclusive to the print industry. Look at what happened to the pro wrestling business when Vince McMahon acquired WCW from Turner. He didn’t run two companies long term. He kept who he wanted, dropped the others, and a lot of people in that business were left without work. It happens in radio too when a station eliminates local shows for national programming or companies take over a new market or entire organization. You may not love hearing executives talk about finding ‘synergies’ to operate more efficiently, but they’re not going to pay twice for something that requires one investment.

When cuts are made and a department is weakened, it’s hard to express enthusiasm. Why would one be optimistic about the Times’s ability to cover the world of sports when they have less of a presence, and are minimizing coverage of games, players, teams, and leagues? If you’re at the New York Daily News, New York Post or Newsday you’re using the moment to remind New Yorkers that you remain committed to local sports coverage with a locally focused staff.

It’s more than fair to question if this the Times is making a smart decision, but for anyone to suggest this confirms a lack of interest in reading and sports coverage is foolish. These decisions are always about one thing, and one thing only, money.

The bigger issue with print isn’t a lack of interest. It’s the cost to employ and retain a talented staff while grappling with the challenges of generating advertising and subscription revenue. Think the fact that the sports desk at the Times was unionized, and The Athletic was not might’ve mattered in this case? You’re nuts if you think it didn’t.

In May of this year, the New York Times missed estimates for quarterly revenue. That led to a 6% drop in their stock price at the time. The Times said they expected digital ad revenue to decline by low-to mid-single digits, which was confirmed when they revealed they were nearly 9% down in digital ad revenue for the first quarter, and off by 11 million dollars for total annual revenue.

Photo Credit Reuters

As a publisher myself, I know how hard it is. We are fortunate to have some excellent, loyal advertising partners on this website but truth be told, we don’t have enough of them. More months than most we spend more than we take in to run our websites, and newsletters. Consulting remains our top source for revenue, leaving me to ask many times if modifying our content approach is needed or if we’d be wiser running a business without an online focus.

We put a ton of time and effort into educating the industry. I take great pride covering brands and people, telling their stories, trying to help folks learn about each other and the daily happenings across the media landscape. We pump out 30-40 stories each day between our two websites, promote them across social media, and deliver them to more than 10,000 inboxes via our BSM 8@8 and BNM Rundown. And that’s just the content side.

We also spend countless hours creating packages, pursuing new business, and taking meetings to demonstrate our reach and value in order to gain advertising support. We build conferences across the country, and risk a lot financially to do them, hoping to earn enough to cover the expenses and get many of the right industry people in the room. But even that can be difficult. For every partner we gain, there are many who don’t come on board. Most who do have seen the benefits, but I understand that a weakened economy makes decision makers nervous.

That said, if this site disappeared tomorrow, many would be upset. We’ve earned trust, respect, and appreciation for the work we do from a lot of important people. But in every business, if the support isn’t there, the publisher, brand or company has to choose what is and isn’t vital to operating. Folks may not like change, but it’s simply about the math. If the dollars and cents don’t add up, you’ve got to adjust or you risk being broke or out of business.

That’s what I believe this decision at the New York Times is about. You can take issue with their vision and the way they managed the situation but understand that an investment in The Athletic makes no sense if the Times isn’t prepared to prioritize its importance. You can question if they should’ve purchased The Athletic in the first place, but once that move was made, it was only a matter of time until something this drastic occurred.

But those who flocked to social media to suggest this is proof of people not being interested in reading are wrong. Each time I hear nonsense uttered about print being dead, I think of how often the same has been said about radio and television. I think about the film industry, which relies on written scripts, and in many cases, published books to create box office hits. I think of Canada pulling its advertising support from Facebook and Instagram over parent company Meta’s decision to restrict news content being available to Canadians. I think of our own growth at BSM and BNM, which is a result of people consuming our written content either online, on social media or in newsletters.

Interest in reading, learning, and mentally escaping from the world for a few is as strong as ever. We live on social media apps and our phones because we want to read what others say, and join the conversation. It all reinforces the notion that consuming written content matters, whether it’s on a website, on social media, in a text, in a newspaper, newsletter or magazine.

The only questions anyone should be asking is what must digital/print brands do to attract stronger advertising dollars, how much investment must a company make to deliver quality journalism and a large audience, and how much consolidation awaits the media world in the near and distant future? We can scream from the mountaintops all day about the decline of journalism and rip the New York Times for decimating its local sports department, but if the dough don’t show, someone or something is going to go.

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Takeaways From The Podcast Movement Conference

Jason Barrett

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Chicago is a fascinating city with incredible views and strong spirit. It’s one of my favorite places to travel to in the country. So when I learned that the Podcast Movement Conference was being held there, I knew it was a trip I had to make. The feedback on last year’s event was positive and as the world’s appetite for audio grows on a daily basis, I figured there’d be some valuable lessons to learn.

FullSizeRender (17)Although the windy city was transformed for a few days into the home for heat and humidity, that didn’t temper the enthusiasm inside the halls and rooms of the Hyatt Hotel. People were genuinely excited to be in town for the event and many of them were relatively inexperienced in the podcasting space but hungry to learn more.

From session to session content creators and podcasting executives discussed the benefits of storytelling, passion, artistry, self-expression, and engagement. Observers listened and asked questions geared towards helping them produce better content to further connect with audiences and advertisers. There was even a stronger showing of support from the radio industry which many who I spoke to considered a positive step for the podcasting industry.

Much of the credit for the event’s success belongs to Dan Franks and his staff. The sound quality was excellent, the speaker’s were great, the light displays and stage structures looked sharp, and the materials given to those who attended were helpful. Even the sign in process was smooth. They say preparation is half the battle in delivering a great event and the organizers of the conference had their act together.

FullSizeRender (18)However, there were a few things that I believe can still be improved, specifically in the sports radio universe. Did you know that of all the attendees at this year’s conference, only 4% came from the sports and recreation field? If myself and wrestler Colt Cabana didn’t attend I wonder if that number would’ve been 2% or lower. Aside from the weak showing by sports attendees, there were a few other items that caught my attention. Some were positive, some were not. Here are some of those key takeaways.

Attendance/Enthusiasm – One of my favorite parts of this experience was simply observing how invested people were in the conference. There were nearly two thousand people in attendance and a genuine joy was felt throughout the room. Attendees were eager to listen, ask questions and take the knowledge back home and apply it. Some of that is the result of inexperience but it also reminded me that the passion for creating and listening to audio programming remains alive and well.

pmc2Compared to most radio conferences I’ve attended, this one had a better energy in each room. People valued the advice being provided by each expert, and seemed proud to be associated with the event. It felt like a three day celebration for a family of podcasters.

This is an issue for many current radio conferences. Industry folks attend them with preconceived notions of what will take place and they leave without being surprised. The same old cliches are offered repeatedly (content is king, distribution is queen, play the hits, radio is a thriving business, etc.) and it’s debatable whether the majority of people are excited to be there or view it as an opportunity to get away from home for a few days and reconnect with industry friends outside of each session.

Networking is certainly important but a better presentation on-stage featuring some new names, faces, and voices might keep people a little more interested.

PMC4Speakers and Panels – Upon entering this conference I knew only one of the featured speakers – Kevin Smith. His performance alone is worthy of an entire column but that will have to wait for now. I didn’t get to hear everyone, but I did walk away impressed by Smith, Glynn Washington, Alex Blumberg, and Anna Sale. Each focused on something unique and important to them and gave those in attendance a lot of information worth using and sharing.

Sale, hosts a podcast called “Death, Sex, and Money” and focused on the similarities between creating a podcast and having a baby. She shared advice on starting a show, building a community, developing a brand, and improving the content. Her point about each host needing a good editor and being willing to share their messy drafts and accept critical feedback was on point because it’s exactly what a good talk show host does when working with a producer. If you think a producer’s there simply to screen calls, dial up the guest and fetch you coffee, then you’re missing out on the benefits of their involvement.

Washington meanwhile, hosts a podcast called “Snap Judgment” and instantly got my attention when he uttered the line “I don’t care about podcasting….I care about stories“. Given that we were at a podcasting conference, the room quickly took notice. He focused his time on the power of storytelling and shared details of his personal experiences while providing a few interesting video samples. One in particular of storyteller Josh Healey really stood out. You can watch it by clicking here.

glynnWhat I loved about Washington’s speech was that it was deep, authentic, and powerful. He dove into the troubles happening in the world and described how storytelling can help in the healing process and influence change. He compared telling a story to picking scabs, and reminded the room that the best stories are developed from smaller events.

Then came my personal favorite, Kevin Smith. The filmmaker and actor took the stage to explain why he loves podcasting and how he got started. From the second he took the microphone to his final word, he had the audience on the edge of their seats. Smith was passionate, informative, funny and unfiltered and caused many to laugh, listen, and even cringe as he worked in at least one F-bomb every 5-10 words. His swearing was so over the top that attendees took to Twitter to engage in dialogue with others in the room about how many curse words he’d deliver by the end of his session.

Tossing out F-bombs doesn’t make a speech unique, but his style and insight was refreshing. Kevin talked about his enthusiasm for the podcasting platform and related his success at it to the way he navigated through a successful filmmaking career. He offered a lot of life advice and memorable quotes that could have easily filled up the walls of many NFL locker rooms.

ks4Along the way Smith served up some doozies including ‘failure is just success training‘, ‘there are two paths, creation and destruction‘, and ‘the first step to self-expression is losing the fear‘. He encouraged people to not be afraid to create a podcast and reminded them that the beauty of doing it is that it doesn’t require talent. As many wondered aloud how that could be, Smith brought it home by adding ‘it takes talent to build the walls inside this room and get stuff not to fall down, but it doesn’t take talent to have a conversation…it doesn’t even take talent to stand on a movie set and play Batman. Ben Affleck f’ing did it.’

Blumberg closed things out by discussing the future of podcasting, the reasons people seek out audio content, and the buzz words that are part of a successful podcast. His line “The first golden age of audio was radio, the second is podcast” drew a strong response and it was clear that he’s very optimistic about where the podcasting business is headed.

I particularly enjoyed his discussion on the power of empathy and how audio/radio can be an agent of empathy and understanding to help the world heal. He highlighted audio’s ability to provide stronger narrative and companionship than any other form of media and his mixture of humor and intelligence struck the right balance and perfect tone for closing out a successful three day event.

FullSizeRender (22)Too Much Quantity Not Enough Quality – It’s no secret that the word ‘podcast‘ has become trendy in audio circles. Everyone is eager to do it and as much as I love the fact that there are thousands of new options for people to enjoy, it’s difficult to separate the good from the bad. Eric Nuzum who oversees the Audible division for Amazon put it best when he said it’s like going to a flea market and sifting through the trash to find the treasure.

In some ways it’s no different than YouTube where millions of people upload video content and some become future stars and others remain invisible. Does that matter? Should it matter? That depends on who you ask.

For the business to make a dent long-term it needs to offer more Adam Carolla’s and Bill Simmons’ to advertisers and audiences, and less Johnny and Freddy Broadcaster’s. It also needs to continue prying great talent from terrestrial radio, just as satellite radio has done over the past decade.

One area where this is a real problem is in the sports audio space. The quality of sports talk talent on radio compared to podcasting isn’t close. Podcasting companies don’t seem to be focused on sports even though it’s a massive business. I sat in sessions where Audible, Gimlet, Midroll, Spotify and other groups shared tips, ideas and details of forthcoming projects and none covered sports programming. The only time I heard it even mentioned was during a session which featured Traug Keller of ESPN Audio and Greg Strassell of Hubbard Radio. Why sports isn’t a bigger focus I’m not sure.

moneyRevenue and Growth – Arguably the biggest statement of the entire conference was that radio is a 2 billion dollar annual business whereas podcasting is a 100 million dollar industry. Even if those numbers are slightly off, there’s a huge disparity between the two. That begs the question, is podcasting really the next big thing or a cool niche idea? Most people don’t disagree that on-demand audio interest is rapidly growing and being a content provider is important but whether or not it can be monetized and developed into a thriving business remains questionable.

In watching many of these sessions, I learned that it can be very uplifting for people to hear thirty minutes of positives about the industry they’re in. There’s something invigorating about being a podcaster and having control over your own storytelling, self-expression, authenticity, and not being a slave to advertisers. It’s sort of like being a writer and being able to blog without a newspaper editor reining you in. Or being an independent musician and playing the songs you feel like playing rather than the hits that label representatives require you to so they can sell your next album or single.

rcBut here’s your reality check. The world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and the economic returns in the podcasting world are low compared to radio. If the financial numbers echoed throughout multiple sessions are accurate, that would make the radio industry 20x more profitable than the podcasting business. That’s enormous.

As I thought about that disparity I wondered how the space could become more profitable without muddying up the content experience. Making matters worse is that ad agencies are still unsure about investing bigger dollars on the platform. They’ve increased spending in recent years and are expected to do so in the future but the level of spending versus other traditional media is lower.

So when does it bottom out? Is podcasting a $200 million dollar business? $300 million? $500 million? Can it surpass where radio is? Or is its present performance the best it has to offer?

podcastingMy Final Thoughts – The radio industry has a big decision to make. Does it go all in on podcasting or take a cautious approach? With dashboards and desktops continuing to represent where users spend the majority of their time consuming audio, and the ad community slowly increasing spending rather than making sizable investments, it’s hard to picture radio groups putting podcasting on equal footing with their over the air products.

In the past, radio has been slow to adapt but this is a space that is difficult to judge. It’s not as simple as looking at whether or not audiences are interested in the content or whether people will listen more on phones, tablets and digital dashboards. I do believe the platform is growing, and I love that the user experience is clutter free and able to be enjoyed whenever the user wants to listen. The number one question though is how can it be monetized better?

I’ve yet to see anyone step forward with a secret recipe to excite advertisers. Shows in this space are generally shorter and delivered less frequently, and advertising opportunities inside of the programming are fewer. It may be appealing to the user, but it’s a lot harder to justify spending larger dollars on it for sponsors and operators.

IMG_1438So how do you fix it? Will the public pay for it? Audible is banking on that with the launch of their new service ‘Channels’ which offers 40 original high-quality shows. Amazon believes that if you provide a great content experience and target it to people who find value for that particular form of programming, they’ll invest in it.

Other suggestions for monetization include developing branded content, increasing live reads, developing sponsored contests, creating live event revenue opportunities, and providing merchandise. Those all sound great and should help but they’re all things that are offered in radio.

The fact of the matter is that despite being in existence for quite some time, podcasting brands are still relatively unfamiliar to a large number of people. To influence a change in spending or listening takes time, promotion, and most importantly – a lot of money!

Radio has decisions to make about its own level of confidence in the podcasting business. Groups such as Hubbard, ESPN Radio and E.W. Scripps have placed their support behind it, and others offer on-demand audio on many of their brands and appear intrigued by the idea of becoming larger players in the future.

FullSizeRender (24)As radio contemplates its viability in the digital audio business, the podcasting community needs to understand the importance of walking before running. Replacing the radio business isn’t going to happen tomorrow or the next day and expecting advertisers to make drastic changes in the way they do business doesn’t happen without effort, patience, and sustained performance. The space is attractive to listeners and creators, and if good judgment is used in the future, and more quality programming is provided, who knows what the industry’s ceiling is.

The one glimmer of hope I’ll leave you with is this. It’s easy to suggest that podcasting won’t surpass radio. A case can easily be made today to demonstrate why its economic potential is limited. However, in 2000 you’d have laughed if I told you that the UFC in 10-15 years would pass professional boxing in terms of popularity and revenue growth.

If you missed it, the UFC was purchased on Monday by WME/IMG for 4 billion dollars, after initially being purchased in 2000 for only 2 million. I’m not suggesting that podcasting will be to radio what the UFC became to boxing, but no one truly knows what the long-term economic potential is. As long as quality audio programming continues being created, and audiences continue clamoring for it, that’ll help determine if podcasting is the next big treasure or fool’s gold.

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The 2024 BSM Summit is Coming To New York City

“The 2024 BSM Summit, will take place March 13-14, 2024 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater in New York City.”

Jason Barrett

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During today’s Barrett News Media Summit in Nashville, Barrett Media President Jason Barrett announced plans for the company’s next sports media conference. The 2024 BSM Summit, the Sports Media industry’s premiere annual conference for broadcasting professionals, is returning to New York City. The Summit will take place on Wednesday, March 13th and Thursday, March 14th, 2024, at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, 405 W. 55th Street, New York, NY. This will be the company’s sixth BSM Summit and the third time the popular destination event for sports broadcasters originates from the big apple.

Tickets to the 2024 BSM Summit in New York will go on sale on Monday, October 16, 2023, on the event website: https://bsmsummit.com/. The full lineup of speakers, panels, and special events will be announced later this year.

Prior all-star speakers at the BSM Summit have included industry executives Jimmy Pitaro of ESPN, Eric Shanks of FOX Sports, Meadowlark Media’s John Skipper, and Barstool Sports’ Erika Ayers Badan, popular on-air personalities Pat McAfee, Mina Kimes and Paul Finebaum of ESPN, Colin Cowherd, Joy Taylor, Jay Glazer, and Craig Carton of FOX Sports, Al Michaels of Amazon Prime Video, Jim Rome of CBS Sports, WWE’s Shawn Michaels, and Sports Radio icons Mike Francesa and Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Russo, best known as ‘Mike and The Mad Dog’, plus Sports Radio’s sharpest programming minds including Spike Eskin of WFAN, Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket, FOX Sports Radio’s Don Martin and Scott Shapiro, Cumulus Media and Westwood One’s Bruce Gilbert, 670 The Score and BetQL’s Mitch Rosen, and many more.

Jason Barrett, President, Barrett Media, said: “What started as a small gathering in Chicago in 2018 has blossomed into one of sports media’s most fun, insightful, and professionally beneficial events. We pour our heart and soul into this show to help industry professionals stay in tune with where the industry is going, and to unite and celebrate folks who help make the Sports Media business one of the best, most passionate, and professionally important spaces in all of media.”

Barrett noted: “I’m excited to return to NYC and operate on the large stage at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, treating our attendees to the best-in-class speakers and presentations they’ve become accustomed to seeing and interacting with at our shows. Last year’s BSM Summit in Los Angeles delivered a homerun, and I’m eager to see if NYC can help us raise the bar again when we return to the Big Apple for a third time in March 2024.”

To stay up to date on speakers, tickets, sponsorship opportunities, and other event surprises, visit https://bsmsummit.com/.

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Cheers to 8 Years of Barrett Media, and a Look Ahead to 2024

“To be here after 8 years, still able to share my passion for sports and news broadcasting with you, and earn your time and attention is an honor..”

Jason Barrett

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Each September, I look forward to writing this column. Not because I need a pat on the back but because it signifies another year in business. When I launched this company in September 2015, I didn’t expect to cover every layer of sports and news media. I knew the radio business well, built a lot of relationships, and enjoyed writing and speaking my mind. I just thought it would be cool for sports radio folks to have a website focused on it. If it led to a consulting client or two, even better.

I wasn’t planning to hire website editors, writers, social media and newsletter directors or create annual conferences, a member directory and advertising packages. Fortunately, we did good work and it caught on with industry professionals. As interest grew and opportunities presented themselves, I was wise enough to seize them. It’s why we’re here today celebrating 8 years in business.

Creating a brand that people like, respect, learn from, and enjoy spending time with is one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of. It’s even more special because we built this without corporate funding. When I entered the consulting and publishing space, I believed this could be my last job. I still feel that way today. This consumes my life M-F from 7am to 11pm. I’ll take a break to eat, talk to family or maybe watch a game or TV show but aside from that and a weekend timeout or vacation, I don’t shut off much. I wish I could at times but it’s how I’m wired. To run a successful business, you’ve got to be all-in and willing to sacrifice, and I do whatever it takes to keep us moving forward.

Growth also requires having a good staff, and supportive clients, advertising partners, and members. It’s easy to run websites with minimal content and low expectations but if the goal is to grow an audience and revenue, generate nationwide respect, and expand into new areas, then you’ve got to have support, a strong team, short and long-term vision, and an ability to consistently deliver. That means recruiting, investing, pitching, and knowing when to pivot.

During our 8 year run, we’ve produced larger monthly and annual traffic than some trade sites that I read and admire. We’ve also established a valuable industry event, and are about to make it two when we host our news summit next week. We’ve earned respect by breaking news, creating original content, helping partners, and refusing to value clicks over people. We may write things sometimes that folks don’t like or agree with. That comes with the territory. Just as long as we’re fair and accurate, I’ll manage the rest. I’m obviously biased but when it comes to sports and news media coverage, I’ll put our team up against anyone. For those who ask, ‘how can we help?’ The answer is simple, RT or share our content, advertise with BSM or BNM, retain us for consulting work or buy a membership or ticket to a summit.

I’ve always tried to be transparent with our readers and clients, so if I’m being honest, this year has been harder than others. The good news is that we’ve grown a lot. We’re busier than ever, and our reach and influence keeps rising. I absolutely love the clients I work with but with more work comes a need for more staff. With more staff comes increased conversations, and it isn’t always easy for me to find time for my crew when I’ve got to listen to and help stations, build conferences, sell sponsorships, and manage websites and newsletters. It’s why having good editors in place is important.

If all I had to do was help clients, the job would be easy. But I don’t just consult. I oversee our websites, newsletters, social media, events and 20+ people. It can be exhausting sometimes. Then there are the unexpected situations that arise. Case in point, having to navigate web hosting issues, social media platforms restricting reach, Google impacting BNM after it split off of BSM, restrictions on 1-2 writers, plus new hires not panning out, and veteran contributors signing off. It’s what you have to deal with when running a company.

On the positive side, the BNM and BSM writing teams continue to kick ass, Alex, Andy, Garrett and Demetri are working well together, and our first news/talk summit has been well received. Stephanie Eads has also gotten more involved on the sales end, and after the BNM Summit, she and I will be holding meetings with groups regarding our 2024 plans.

On that note, we reach a lot of people each day with our two brands. Many are high earners and key decision makers. Most of our partners benefit by advertising with BSM and BNM but there are some in marketing departments who haven’t invested in us nor taken the time to learn about us or respond to an introduction. The last thing I want to do is have to make a tough call one day like Joel Denver did earlier this year with All Access but breaking news, telling stories, running events, and helping partners grow their business takes time and resources. I’m comfortable sharing our story and results. I just hope more will take a closer look at working with us because I know we can help.

Looking ahead to 2024, I can confirm we will host another BSM and BNM Summit. We’ll reveal our host city and location for the 2024 BSM Summit on September 14th. Our plans for the 2024 BNM Summit will be made public in the months ahead. We’ll also release the BNM Top 20 of 2023 on December 11-15 and December 18. The BSM Top 20 of 2023 comes out February 5-9 and February 12th.

In addition, I’ll be posting a column tomorrow on BNM laying out the entire BNM Summit schedule. I’ll also be hiring an Executive Editor in Q4. More on that shortly.

As far as future goals are concerned, I’d like to eventually increase our newsletter distribution to AM and PM delivery, add a few new features writers and columnists, hire a second seller, introduce a new content series for BSM and BNM, and rework our social media strategy. I’m also planning to return to the podcast space next year although not with 5-6 programs per week.

At some point I’ve got to review our member directory and make it valuable for both sports and news/talk professionals. I’m also hoping to dig through our summit video content and eventually create a super ticket for folks to consume any session they want from the past 6 years of conferences. There’s a few more possibilities being explored too but I’m not ready to dive into those details yet. When I am, I’ll share it here on the website.

One situation I am comfortable addressing involves an important upcoming change. When September ends, Demetri Ravanos will be transitioning from FT editor of Barrett Sports Media to a weekly columnist and features writer for BSM. This is something that has been planned for months, and I know Demetri is excited about it.

Demetri joined BSM in August 2017, and has been a valuable member of our team. He’s been a great help to me and our staff, but if you ask him he’ll tell you that being an editor was never what he really wanted to do. He’s done it because he’s a team guy, loves the brand, enjoys sharing ideas with our writers, and likes staying busy but cleaning up columns, editing features, writing headlines and news stories, and listening to stations was not his dream gig. He’s going to be working with Joe Ovies, Joe Giglio, Lauren Brownlow and their Raleigh based podcasting network, which will give him a chance to host and produce close to home. You’ve likely seen some of his work already on social media.

Having spent 6 years together, I can’t say enough good things about Demetri. He’s worked hard for BSM, listened and learned when I educated him on stuff, and he’s become a great friend. He’s someone I’ve put a lot of trust in, and that’s not something I hand out to everyone. It has to be earned through time and consistent effort. We’ve talked a lot the past few years about this scenario being likely at some point, and when the topic came up in May, we both knew it was the right time to start the process. I’d write more about him if he were vacating BSM but you’ll still be able to read him on Monday and Wednesday. In fact, he’s launching a new series here tomorrow called Meet The Podcasters presented by Point to Point Marketing.

When we created this transition plan in May, I moved fast to get the word out that we’d be hiring an Executive Editor. I did so because I knew it’d take time to lure the right candidates, and between running a news/talk event on September 13-14, and Demetri stepping away two weeks later, I wanted to get ahead on it. I conducted 60+ interviews in May-August, and talked to many well respected, highly accomplished people, but as the summit drew closer, I started to realize that this hire was way too important to rush into. This is someone who I have to have complete trust and confidence in to run and grow our company’s digital brands. I didn’t like the idea of hiring someone and having limited time to train them, brainstorm big ideas, and develop a 2024 strategy due to needing to focus on building a big event.

So I told a few candidates that we’d resume discussions after the Summit, and if it means having to take longer to hire the right person, then so be it. I care about making the right hire, not a fast hire.

To make sure we don’t miss a beat, I’ll be diving in with Garrett Searight on October 2nd to make sure BSM and BNM’s content remains strong each day. We’re fortunate to have Garrett, Derek, Ryan, Jordan, Ricky and Eduardo contributing news stories and Alex handling our social media so it’ll be business as usual. My goal is to make a hire during the 4th quarter and set up the company for stronger success in 2024.

One thing I’ve learned during the editor interview process is that there are a lot of people who know our brands, love sports and news, and enjoy writing and broadcasting but don’t have the knowledge about sports radio or television beyond a few markets or shows. Many see the word ‘sports’ or ‘news’ and assume we’re going to write about those issues. I tell them all ‘we don’t do sports and news, we do sports media and news media‘. It’s important to know the difference. We’re more in line with a Sports Business Journal, Front Office Sports or All Access than we are ESPN, Yahoo Sports or Sports Illustrated.

What matters most here is a passion for writing, a nose for news, industry knowledge and relationships, and a desire to educate the industry. I live and breathe the broadcasting business and need others around me who share that same passion for the industry. I know there are talented writers and editors out there, so since this process isn’t resolved yet my email is open if you want to send a resume and cover letter. Be advised that this is a FT salaried, remote position.

There will always be obstacles to overcome, successes to celebrate, people coming and going, and new opportunities and difficulties to navigate when running a business. To be here after 8 years, still able to share my passion for sports and news broadcasting with you, and earn your time and attention is an honor. I’m grateful for your support and look forward to seeing where we are when I write this column next September and raise a glass to 9 years of excellence.

Thanks for taking the ride with us. Here’s to finishing 2023 strong, and making 2024 even better.

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The New York Times Sports Saga is About Dollars and Cents, Not a Lack of Interest in Coverage and Reading

“You can take issue with the vision and how the situation was managed but an investment in The Athletic makes no sense if the Times doesn’t prioritize its importance.”

Jason Barrett

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Photo Credit: New York Times

Call me asleep at the wheel, out of touch or an aging broadcaster who has it all wrong, but I firmly believe that people still like to read. I know the popular thing is to talk up video, audio, streaming, etc., and I love all of those options, but I don’t buy that people don’t have time or interest in reading.

For many, especially in the media business, it’s how you start and end your day. I’ve heard people pronounce last rites for print for well over a decade, only to see social platforms and media outlets thrive off the written word, newsletters rapidly rise, and text become the main form of communicating. Clearly, written content still matters.

It’s ironic that I’m telling you this in print as you read it on the BSM website. In fact, more than nine million visitors have stopped by this site over the past three years, reinforcing why I remain convinced people value learning and enjoying a mental distraction.

As much as I love audio and video, there’s something therapeutic about reading a story. There are thousands of shows flooding the daily content cycle, many discussing the same topics and issues. Some could say the same exists in print, but there are countless examples of in-depth storytelling and reporting that can’t be duplicated on radio, TV or even in a podcast.

Think for a second about the majority of sports information that people react to each day. It comes in written form. If you’re an NBA fan, you rely on tweets from Woj and Shams. If you crave the NFL, Schefty and Rapoport keep you informed. Even those seeking sports media news get it from Marchand, McCarthy, Ourand, and BSM. Whether it’s delivered in a tweet or an online article, the bottom line, you’re reading it.

Though I remain bullish on the power of print, I’m not naive to the fact that the business has been challenged. If the revenue or costs don’t produce positive results for a company, they are going to do whatever is necessary to strengthen their business.

Recently, the New York Times chose to throw in the towel on its local sports department, relying instead on The Athletic for its local sports coverage needs. It was a decision undoubtedly influenced by dollars and cents. As expected, many in the media took exception.

In a statement issued to the Times’s newsroom, the newspaper’s executive editor, and deputy managing editor emphasized that the changes would result in more direct focus on distinctive, high-impact news and enterprise journalism about how sports intersect with money, power, culture, politics and society at large. What they felt no longer needed attention was coverage of games, players, teams and leagues.

Interesting. This follows the Los Angeles Times recent decision to remove box scores, game stories, standings, and TV listings. These are things that sports fans have cared about and paid attention to for decades.

These two newspapers believe your interest in knowing the details of a game, and how your favorite team is performing compared to others, no longer matter. Either that’s the viewpoint or they’ve waved the white flag and determined people would rather go to ESPN, Yahoo and other online destination for that information. It’s easy to see why these decisions drew the ire of Adam Schein on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio and Jessica Benson on Grind City Media.

I don’t believe people who love sports don’t care about the things the Times is eliminating. Maybe interest in those items is lower when compared to news and in-depth storytelling but sports fans have always had interest in statistics, schedules, transactions, and standings. To suggest they don’t matter anymore is foolish.

You can debate if the newspaper’s vision for covering sports is right for the future or not but what made this situation worse is the way their executive team managed the situation with the sports staff.

It was reported that employees sent a letter to management the day prior, asking for clarity on the future of their department. Though the Times said in a letter to staff that no plans existed for layoffs, they ignored the fact that The Athletic had 20 staff members eliminated last month, and 20 more transferred to other roles. The transfer approach was also their solution for the sports department, hoping moving staffers to another department would help avoid the wrath and a bigger fight with their union.

But when news trickles in from the outside that plans are in the works to eliminate a department, and those skilled at covering sports are offered roles that remove them from what they enjoy doing, why would they stay? If someone took away your sports job and told you you’d continue being paid but now have to write obituaries, what would you do? Some will see this as creating a structure that encourages people to quit. That’s one way to eliminate costs without being on the hook for breaking a promise to not eliminate jobs.

Though I think the management team at the Times has royally screwed up their handling of this situation, let’s remove emotion for a second, and look at this from a business perspective.

The New York Times’s parent company started this process in January 2022 when it invested five hundred and fifty million dollars in The Athletic. Were they not supposed to prioritize the sports brand they purchased? Were they supposed to continue funding two operations with the same content focus even if it meant losing money?

One could argue that the newspaper could’ve moved its best sports writers to The Athletic, but to expect both to operate as is isn’t realistic. You can also criticize the decision to stick with The Athletic after the brand lost $7.8 million last quarter, $12.6 million in the second quarter last year, and $6.8 million in February and March of 2022 despite having 3.3 million subscribers. By the way, that information was shared by the New York Times in public filings.

Love it or hate it, when a company has resources tied up in two places for the same thing, you can rest assured they’re going to eliminate or reduce one of them. The changes don’t happen right away either, they usually come a year or two later.

This isn’t exclusive to the print industry. Look at what happened to the pro wrestling business when Vince McMahon acquired WCW from Turner. He didn’t run two companies long term. He kept who he wanted, dropped the others, and a lot of people in that business were left without work. It happens in radio too when a station eliminates local shows for national programming or companies take over a new market or entire organization. You may not love hearing executives talk about finding ‘synergies’ to operate more efficiently, but they’re not going to pay twice for something that requires one investment.

When cuts are made and a department is weakened, it’s hard to express enthusiasm. Why would one be optimistic about the Times’s ability to cover the world of sports when they have less of a presence, and are minimizing coverage of games, players, teams, and leagues? If you’re at the New York Daily News, New York Post or Newsday you’re using the moment to remind New Yorkers that you remain committed to local sports coverage with a locally focused staff.

It’s more than fair to question if this the Times is making a smart decision, but for anyone to suggest this confirms a lack of interest in reading and sports coverage is foolish. These decisions are always about one thing, and one thing only, money.

The bigger issue with print isn’t a lack of interest. It’s the cost to employ and retain a talented staff while grappling with the challenges of generating advertising and subscription revenue. Think the fact that the sports desk at the Times was unionized, and The Athletic was not might’ve mattered in this case? You’re nuts if you think it didn’t.

In May of this year, the New York Times missed estimates for quarterly revenue. That led to a 6% drop in their stock price at the time. The Times said they expected digital ad revenue to decline by low-to mid-single digits, which was confirmed when they revealed they were nearly 9% down in digital ad revenue for the first quarter, and off by 11 million dollars for total annual revenue.

Photo Credit Reuters

As a publisher myself, I know how hard it is. We are fortunate to have some excellent, loyal advertising partners on this website but truth be told, we don’t have enough of them. More months than most we spend more than we take in to run our websites, and newsletters. Consulting remains our top source for revenue, leaving me to ask many times if modifying our content approach is needed or if we’d be wiser running a business without an online focus.

We put a ton of time and effort into educating the industry. I take great pride covering brands and people, telling their stories, trying to help folks learn about each other and the daily happenings across the media landscape. We pump out 30-40 stories each day between our two websites, promote them across social media, and deliver them to more than 10,000 inboxes via our BSM 8@8 and BNM Rundown. And that’s just the content side.

We also spend countless hours creating packages, pursuing new business, and taking meetings to demonstrate our reach and value in order to gain advertising support. We build conferences across the country, and risk a lot financially to do them, hoping to earn enough to cover the expenses and get many of the right industry people in the room. But even that can be difficult. For every partner we gain, there are many who don’t come on board. Most who do have seen the benefits, but I understand that a weakened economy makes decision makers nervous.

That said, if this site disappeared tomorrow, many would be upset. We’ve earned trust, respect, and appreciation for the work we do from a lot of important people. But in every business, if the support isn’t there, the publisher, brand or company has to choose what is and isn’t vital to operating. Folks may not like change, but it’s simply about the math. If the dollars and cents don’t add up, you’ve got to adjust or you risk being broke or out of business.

That’s what I believe this decision at the New York Times is about. You can take issue with their vision and the way they managed the situation but understand that an investment in The Athletic makes no sense if the Times isn’t prepared to prioritize its importance. You can question if they should’ve purchased The Athletic in the first place, but once that move was made, it was only a matter of time until something this drastic occurred.

But those who flocked to social media to suggest this is proof of people not being interested in reading are wrong. Each time I hear nonsense uttered about print being dead, I think of how often the same has been said about radio and television. I think about the film industry, which relies on written scripts, and in many cases, published books to create box office hits. I think of Canada pulling its advertising support from Facebook and Instagram over parent company Meta’s decision to restrict news content being available to Canadians. I think of our own growth at BSM and BNM, which is a result of people consuming our written content either online, on social media or in newsletters.

Interest in reading, learning, and mentally escaping from the world for a few is as strong as ever. We live on social media apps and our phones because we want to read what others say, and join the conversation. It all reinforces the notion that consuming written content matters, whether it’s on a website, on social media, in a text, in a newspaper, newsletter or magazine.

The only questions anyone should be asking is what must digital/print brands do to attract stronger advertising dollars, how much investment must a company make to deliver quality journalism and a large audience, and how much consolidation awaits the media world in the near and distant future? We can scream from the mountaintops all day about the decline of journalism and rip the New York Times for decimating its local sports department, but if the dough don’t show, someone or something is going to go.

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