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Setting Realistic Expectations For FS1 Vs. ESPN

Jason Barrett

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One of the biggest sports media stories of the summer was Skip Bayless’ decision to depart ESPN for Fox Sports 1. The polarizing personality who teamed with Stephen A. Smith to make First Take a huge ratings success, elected to chase larger dollars and more freedom by realigning with Jamie Horowitz at FS1. In previous months, Horowitz went on the record stating that his goal was to add more “opinionists” to his network, and develop the brand into the sports television equivalent of Fox News.

His vision began to take shape when he pried Colin Cowherd from ESPN and launched him on Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports Radio. He followed that up in June with the debut of Speak For Yourself, a program featuring Cowherd, Jason Whitlock and Jason McIntyre.

The next big move was to raid ESPN again and steal Bayless away, and build a new program around him which would run opposite his creation First Take. Horowitz then added NFL Hall of Fame Tight End and former CBS NFL Analyst Shannon Sharpe, and moderator Joy Taylor to the mix, and the trio now form Skip and Shannon: Undisputed.

Whether you like each personality or not, there’s no question that they possess the ability to connect with an audience. Their prior track records prove that to be the case. Opinions will differ from show to show and host to host, but if you polled most sports media fans, they would likely agree that Fox Sports 1 has improved itself during the past twelve months.

When Horowitz was asked last year about his plans for FS1, he made it clear they were in it to win it. He told attendees at the 2015 NeuLion Sports Media and Technology Conference “We’re here to compete all hours of the day, seven days a week. We’re not going to concede any ground to ESPN. Not now, not in the future, and I think that’s represented in the decisions we’ve made recently.”

A step in the right direction was certainly needed for the company, and the big name additions of Bayless, Cowherd, Whitlock, and Sharpe have provided buzz and a reason to tune in. The early signs are encouraging. FS1 has also done a nice job adding and featuring rising stars such as Katie Nolan, Kristine Leahy, Nick Wright and Clay Travis. But, while Horowitz’s game plan comes into focus and signs of progress follow, others in the media are expecting instant results that are unrealistic.

If you’ve ever worked in the sports media business in an executive role, you know that new shows take time to catch on. You don’t overreact over the first day, week or month of a new program’s performance. It’s understood going in that the goal is to deliver strong content and slowly build a loyal following. To do that, a brand must have consistent effort, popular personalities, creativity, marketing, and the word few people like to hear – patience!

It’s fun to write stories and draw instant clicks by declaring a show dead on arrival when its ratings don’t immediately catch fire, but anyone who expects a new show on a relatively new network to show up and immediately knock off a competitor like ESPN is kidding themselves. If it were that easy, someone else would’ve already done it, and personalities like Bayless and Cowherd would be worth more than six million per year.

On a recent appearance on the “Podcast About Sports Radio“, Cowherd summed it up perfectly: “You don’t do these things overnight. It’s a slow methodical rebuild. I’m already at 80-85% of my previous audience, and we’ll get back to where we were within 12-18 months”. Notice that Cowherd talked about regaining the audience he had, not expanding the audience beyond where it was. To do that takes even more time and promotion, which is why FS1 likely has a five year plan to evaluate their progress.

Many in the media love to critique, complain, defend and attack new shows when they launch, but the harsh reality is that most successful shows reach their level of success after a few years. Let’s not forget, when Cowherd took over for Tony Kornheiser on ESPN Radio many thought it was a recipe for disaster. First Take also existed for a while before it took off with Bayless and Smith. The program featured rotating personalities opposite Bayless, and although their were modest gains compared to Cold Pizza’s previous performance, it was nowhere near the ratings juggernaut that it’s become in recent years.

A sports television network doesn’t invest six million dollars annually, and twenty five million over the span of four years in a personality without expecting success. However, they also understand that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and you can’t get trigger happy after a few shows.

Yet that’s what I see happening throughout the sports media universe. There’s a large segment of the media who are watching Bayless, Cowherd, and Bill Simmons at HBO, and laying in the weeds like a venomous snake waiting to strike an unsuspecting victim. I’ve noticed that many in the media are more interested in seeing these men fail than succeed. Much of that I suspect is driven by personal opinions on each host, but usually when David (the host) faces Goliath (ESPN) , there are more people cheering him on rather than rooting for his demise.

What many fail to realize is that if these personalities have success, it will open the doors for others in the industry to enjoy opportunities. It may also lead to additional companies wanting to invest more in the sports television business. But more importantly, it gives viewers more to choose from. ESPN is an outstanding operation with a large number of talented people. They have the staff, skill, experience, and programming options to compete with any media outlet on the planet. But even the best deserve to be challenged.

When sports media companies feel the pressure to perform, they often deliver their best. That puts the viewer in a great position. Too often we get caught up in which brand won and lost and lose sight of the bigger picture – to grow the sports media experience and leverage the interest in it to increase business.

We don’t blink an eye when we hear ten or fifteen music stations on the radio. We don’t have an issue with ten or twenty movie channels appearing on our channel guide, and we have multiple apps on our phones to provide us with entertainment. Having two debate shows air opposite one another on two different networks should be no different.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t evaluate their content and performance. That’s absolutely fair game. But, we should hope that both shows deliver an audience because it helps lift our entire business. We also need to be able to put things into proper perspective because the FS1-ESPN matchup is in the early stages, not where it potentially could be in the next few years.

The other side of this conversation that creates challenges is when ratings are covered. Unless you understand how they work, it’s easy to be fooled by numbers. Most people form their opinions based on whether a number is up or down. If they see a decline, the next column discusses why a show is headed for a downward spiral. They don’t take into account numerous factors that determine how the number was achieved.

For example, a show could’ve lost yet had its hosts on vacation for most of the month. Maybe the show was pre-empted 3-4x. A show could be ahead for the first 90 minutes yet stumble badly during its final thirty minutes which causes it to finish second.  Or one network may aggressively market their brand, while the other chooses not to. Never mind the fact that in many cases a few thousand people in a ratings system represent the viewing interests of millions.

Among FS1’s biggest challenges are that audiences like routine. People don’t change their plans until they’re given a reason to do so. Some will switch to FS1 because they’re drawn to Skip, but even many of his supporters and casual fans will take a wait and see approach. There’s also the reality that many people don’t like Skip, so those viewers are likely to avoid his new show at all costs.

Larger than that though are two other key factors. First, people know where ESPN is on their television. The same recall doesn’t exist for FS1. Earning that space in an individual’s memory bank takes time. Then there’s the challenge of viewers deciding whether to watch or tune out based on their opinions of Sharpe. If that wasn’t enough, toss in the challenge of trying to build an audience while going up against First Take.

Fans either love or loathe Bayless because of his work on First Take, and getting them to change their allegiance when Stephen A. remains on ESPN won’t be easy. It isn’t as much about whether or not Skip and Shannon have a great show, as it is about getting people to sample their content. This is why you see FOX promoting Undisputed on TV, billboards, websites, social media platforms, and anywhere else that they can reach people.

As difficult as it will be to unseat First Take or any of ESPN’s other key shows, don’t think that it can’t be done. Nobody in this business is unbeatable. TNT’s “Inside The NBA” with Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaq has consistently beaten ESPN’s NBA shows, and Adrian Wojnarowski regularly scoops ESPN’s NBA reporting team for inside information. That shows that even the best have weaknesses.

But to accomplish that feat takes hard work, consistently great content, massive amounts of marketing, internal and external patience, and a little bit of luck.

Last week in the Washington Post, Scott Van Pelt said FS1’s ratings were abysmal and Horowitz and friends deserved to be held accountable for them. He’s right. They’re very low. If they’re still this bleak in twelve to eighteen months then Horowitz may have some corporate suits pressuring him to change his strategy. But, to expect a relatively new network to be locked in a dead heat with the world’s largest sports media company when they don’t have a ton of play by play, decades of an established presence, or a ton of original programming is silly.

Whether you want to hear it or not, these things do take time. It may sound cliche when people utter “Rome wasn’t built in a day” but it’s absolutely true. FS1 right now has to concentrate on being better today than yesterday and growing its audience. The rest of the world can compare each day and month’s ratings to ESPN’s but FS1 has to stay focused on their overall strategy and creating incremental progress.

I believe you have to look at FS1’s development similar to that of a sports franchise. It starts with a few talented people, which puts you on the map. Then you add additional high profile talent (Bayless, Cowherd, Whitlock, Sharpe, Leahy, Wright, Taylor) which brings in new fans. Next, you focus on self improvement. Then, when a team has great talent, exceptional content, a smart strategy, and growing interest, a successful story starts to develop. Before long, you set your eyes on the prize and push yourself to knock off the champion.

Right now, ESPN is the storied sports media franchise. They’re seen as the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, and Los Angeles Lakers of the sports media space. FS1 on the other hand is more in line with the Kansas City Royals, Denver Broncos, and Cleveland Cavaliers. They may not be the brand with the better historic track record, familiarity, talent roster or programming options, and they may have to move mountains to reach the top, but don’t forget, the Cavaliers, Broncos and Royals all won titles last year.

Enjoying massive success won’t happen overnight for FS1. It might not even happen at all. And although Jamie Horowitz and his staff probably don’t want to hear that, and are driven to win immediately, it’s important to remember that when you’re shooting for the stars, you first need to get off the ground and into the sky.

That being said, if Horowitz was given an ESPN voodoo doll and could poke it and cause Bristol’s programming to go off the air and speed up his own network’s timeline, you can bet your ass he wouldn’t hesitate. That’s called being competitive and hungry to win.

We’ve become a sports society of Monday morning quarterbacks who expect instant gratification, and view the world in black and white. That doesn’t bode well for FS1, whose narrative over the next 12-18 months will consist of shades of grey. It may be entertaining to read, write, and compare FS1’s ratings and shows against ESPN’s, but the two brands have different short-term expectations, and are at different stages of their development. That may not sound as sexy as the other headline options, but it’s honest and realistic. And sometimes, whether you like it or not, patience and a reality check are necessary.

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Barrett Blogs

Is Sports Journalism Still Worth Paying For?

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

Jason Barrett

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Courtesy: Don Nguyen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where I sit is somewhere in between.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BSM Summit Update:

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

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

Thumbs Up:

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

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

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

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

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

Thumbs Down:

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

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

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

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Erika Ayers and Spike Eskin Led Barstool Sports and WFAN to Success But Their Exits Raise Questions

“Rod and Spike understand the business. They know people are going to ask these questions.”

Jason Barrett

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There were two big management moves last week that have sports media folks talking. First was Erika Ayers Badan announcing her exit from Barstool Sports as the brand’s CEO. Second was the news of Spike Eskin returning to Sportsradio WIP and exiting his role as the VP of Programming for WFAN and CBS Sports Radio.

Let’s start with Erika. What she did for Barstool was spectacular. In 2016, I thought Barstool had a strong understanding of social media, unique talent and voices, podcasts that were cutting through, and a connection with younger fans that traditional outlets couldn’t deliver. They also produced events that drew a lot of public attention. But I didn’t view Barstool as a buttoned up business capable of generating hundreds of millions of dollars. Erika Nardini aka Erika Ayers Badan and Dave Portnoy deserve credit for making it one.

Erika told me at our 2020 BSM Summit that Barstool didn’t have a P&L sheet when she joined. She had to build systems, hire staff, grow the sales arm of Barstool, and help Dave Portnoy find investors. What followed were marketing deals with major brands, content partnerships with different media outlets, a massive investment from Penn National, and a changed perception of Barstool as a mainstream player. They were no longer just the cool, rebellious brand on social media and the internet that gave no f’s and generated attention. They became game changers in the sports content space.

So why leave?

If Barstool is now clear of restrictions and able to operate without investor influence, that should be enticing, right? In her farewell video Erika said that she felt she accomplished what she set out to do. I understand and appreciate that. But I can’t help but wonder if less structure and investor involvement made it less appealing to stay. She did join the brand after The Chernin Group got involved not before it.

I have no inside knowledge on this, and I’m not suggesting Barstool won’t continue growing and dominating. They likely will. It just raises questions about how the brand will manage sales, PR, critical internal and external issues, and battles with suitors when they try to lure away Barstool’s on-air and sales talent.

The business end of Barstool appears weaker today than it did a week ago. That’s more of a testament to what Erika did than a knock on anyone still there. To grow revenue the way she did the past 8 years speaks volumes about her skill as an executive. Wherever she lands next, it’s likely she’ll make a difference.

Will it be easier to do business with Barstool moving forward? Time will tell. I don’t expect they’ll make it easier for media outlets like ours to cover them. But if I’ve learned anything in eight years of following them it’s don’t ever bet against Dave Portnoy. Too often people have. Each time he’s proven them wrong. Portnoy has built a powerhouse brand, and grown the business by zigging when others zagged. But how Barstool moves forward without Erika will be of great interest to many in 2024.

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Spike Eskin will be leaving WFAN and his position as the VP of Programming for Audacy to return to WIP and co-host the afternoon show. On paper this is a great move for WIP. Spike understands Philadelphia and WIP’s audience, he lives and breathes Philly sports, and has a great rapport with the entire lineup. He’s maintained an on-air presence through his Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast, and I believe that moving into a host role alongside Ike Reese and Jack Fritz will be a seamless transition for all involved. Being in his mid to late 40’s, he’s also got plenty years ahead of him to cement his spot as an on-air talent. I expect Spike, Ike and Jack to do well together.

But to exit WFAN and the top programming role at Audacy in less than three years, raises a few questions. Why is this opportunity better for Spike than the programming role he just held? Was he happy at WFAN? Were folks happy with him at WFAN? Many have opinions about WFAN’s changes the past few years. Some love the fresher approach. Others don’t. That’s what makes sports radio in New York fun, people care.

As a follower of WFAN for over thirty years, it’s a different brand than the one I grew up on. That’s not a bad thing by the way. I’m almost 50. If Spike and Chris Oliviero programmed to please the Mike and the Mad Dog crowd that’d be a mistake. Attention spans are shorter, content options are larger, digital is more important and the days of a city flocking to the radio at 1pm to hear a host’s first words are gone. Judging from the ratings, revenue, and turnout for Boomer and Gio’s last live event, the station is doing well. They’ve got a lot of talent, a stronger digital game, and they’ll continue thriving. Spike deserves credit for the brand’s progress.

But why is a hosting role and less influence over a brand better for Eskin? Spike has been a part of WIP’s afternoon show before. Though leading the show vs. being the third mic is a different animal. He also programmed the station really well. In fact, Spike did such a good job at WIP that it landed him the top programming position in sports radio. Is there a personal part to this given that his father made afternoons in Philly must-listen for 25 years? Or is it about the personal relationship he has with Ike and Jack?

And how does this work from a financial standpoint? It’s likely that Spike was paid more to lead Audacy New York than Jon Marks was to host WIP’s afternoon show. If that’s the case, and nothing changes for Eskin, and WIP just adds payroll, does it affect what Chris Oliviero can spend on Audacy New York’s next brand leader? I can’t see that happening at all. Chris is going to make sure he has what he needs to land the right leader in New York.

Finances only come up because it’s known that Audacy is going through a bankruptcy process. Adding expenses right now seems unlikely. However, to add someone with Eskin’s skill and track record at a station where he previously shined is smart business, especially when you consider that he can win as a host and programmer if needed. That’s going to naturally lead to folks asking ‘will Spike eventually host PM drive and program WIP? If so, what does that mean for current PD Rod Lakin?’ ‘What happens when talent at WIP that Spike had a hand in hiring don’t like what Lakin suggests or if WIP’s ratings decline?’

Spike told Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie that’s not on his radar and the idea of joining the afternoon show was raised by PD Rod Lakin. Some of you may read that and be surprised that Lakin would suggest it. But Rod stepped into the role that Eskin previously held. I’m sure they’ve talked plenty the past few years. If their relationship is strong that should help. I don’t know it well enough to say if it is or isn’t. This move suggests Lakin’s more concerned with strengthening WIP than worrying about himself or industry chatter.

If anyone can navigate the situation and make it work, it’s Rod Lakin. He’s calm, cool, collected, smart and doesn’t get flustered by noise and pressure. I know this because we’ve known each other for over a decade, and I introduced him to folks years ago, which led to him landing the Philly role. If you read Derek Futterman’s piece on Angelo Cataldi last month, the Philly icon shared a small example of what makes Rod a great leader.

But Rod and Spike understand the business. They know people are going to ask these questions. The flurry of texts and emails I received about this last week was insane. I’m sure it was even louder on the local level. Many will suggest that Audacy will use this as an opportunity to eventually reduce expenses and stay strong by having Eskin handle two roles. Only those involved know the answers but one thing I know is that Rod Lakin knows how to program. If he’s not supported there, he’ll have plenty of interest elsewhere.

In a perfect world, Spike excels in afternoons, Rod leads WIP to greater success, and WFAN finds a great leader to move the brand forward. But until the smoke clears, noise will fill the air in the big apple and city of brotherly love.

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Thumbs Up:

Colin Dunlap, 93.7 The Fan: While on the air last week, Dunlap received a call from a 65-year old woman named Colette. She told the Pittsburgh host that she and her husband were disabled and after undergoing 28 surgeries, she was physically struggling to clear her walkway of snow. Hearing her story moved Dunlap to react. He then called on the audience to step up and help. Shortly thereafter, one of 93.7 The Fan’s listeners, a gentleman named Tom, phoned in, and made the drive over to help out a fellow listener. That’s the power of live radio at its best, all possible by Dunlap reading and reacting to the situation perfectly.

Clay Travis, Outkick: Whether you love him or hate him, Clay delivers strong opinions and commands your attention. A perfect example was his Friday night reaction video to the demise of Sports Illustrated. If you haven’t watched it, it’s worth checking out. It’s nearing one million views at the time of my writing this.

VSiN: The sports betting network based out of Las Vegas recently redesigned its website and the new look and feel of it is excellent. Clean throughout, easy to navigate, and rich of content. Nice work by Bill Adee all involved.

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Thumbs Down:

Sports Illustrated: Laying off the majority of its staff was bad enough, but to notify people by email or have them find out on social media shows a lack of class and a disgusting approach to running a business. All of those traits by the way are the exact opposite of what SI once stood for – RESPECT.

During SI’s glory days, the content was must read. But in recent years, the outlet landed in the hands of operators who valued clicks over quality. Many predicted and expected this once storied brand to crumble. Unfortunately, the naysayers were proven right.

To those affected, I’m sorry for the crummy news. Some will rebound and help other established brands. Some will launch their own platforms or exit the industry. Anyone looking to do future freelancing work is invited to email [email protected].

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BSM Summit Update:

I’m happy to share that Good Karma Brands president Steve Politziner, Edison Research co-founder and president Larry Rosin and ESPN Chicago program director Danny Zederman have been added to our lineup. We’ve also finalized two of our four awards recipients and are working on a third. I’m hoping to share those details soon along with a few other high profile additions to this year’s show. I’ll be heading to Las Vegas during Super Bowl week, which is when we reveal our BSM Top 20 of 2023, and after that I’m hoping to finalize our schedule so it can be released by the end of February.

I know everyone likes waiting until the last minute to buy tickets and reserve hotel rooms. If you want to avoid being left out though, the time to act is now. Everything you need is posted on BSMSummit.com. Our deadline for hotel room reservations is February 13th. We’ve also sent out free ticket contests by email to the advertising community and tri-state area colleges. We’ll have two more this week for executives and programmers. Be sure to check your spam folder just in case it doesn’t arrive in your inbox.

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2-Seconds to Vent:

Jimmy Pitaro, Eric Shanks, John Skipper, Nick Khan, Colin Cowherd, Paul Finebaum, Clay Travis, Craig Carton, Adam Schein, Michael Kay, and Fred Toucher all have something in common with many others across the industry. They’re accomplished professionals with plenty on their plate yet when contacted, they always respond. Most of the time, they do so quickly. That’s greatly appreciated.

If those tasked with running the largest media companies in America, and hosting shows with content, advertising, and audience commitments can find time to respond, why is it so hard for other professionals to do the same? If you don’t want to be featured on BSM, speak at a Summit, market with us or answer a question, just say ‘not interested‘. It takes two seconds. The best in the business understand the value of relationships and promotion. Unfortunately, many do not. I don’t use this platform to draw attention to these issues but sometimes I wonder, should I?

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Original Projects:

On BNM this week we’re doing five days of features on NPR professionals as part of ‘Public Radio Week‘. It’s not easy pulling it off but we’re trying some different stuff. Next week we launch ‘Where Are They Now‘ on BSM. Peter Schwartz will have the first feature next Tuesday. Coming up in February, we drop the BSM Top 20, Derek Futterman’s ‘Day Spent With‘ series which includes spending a day with professionals across different areas of the industry, and we’ll profile a number of black voices on BNM as part of the brand’s focus on Black History month. I hope you’ll check them out whenever time allows.

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Recommended Viewing:

If you’re looking for a movie to watch during the week, check out Blackberry if you haven’t already done so. The film is about the rise and fall of the Blackberry phone, and I thought it was excellent. It had a similar feel to the movie Jobs, and the series Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber. Worth your time if you’ve got two hours available to watch something different than live games or sports programming.

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If you have a question or comment you’d like addressed in a future column, please send it to [email protected]. That same email address can be used to pass along press releases, interview requests or news tips. Thanks for reading!

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Justin Craig, Chris Kinard, Mary Menna Added to 2024 BSM Summit Lineup

“What I’ve always enjoyed about the BSM Summit is that it showcases speakers from many different areas of the industry.”

Jason Barrett

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To kick off 2024, we’re announcing the additions of three more talented broadcasters to our 2024 BSM Summit. More on that shortly. The Summit takes place March 13-14 at the Ailey Theater in New York City. For tickets, hotel rooms, and additional details, visit BSMSummit.com. Those interested in sponsorship opportunities, contact Stephanie Eads. A number of items are already claimed but she can tell you what’s left. Reach her by email at [email protected] or by phone at 415-312-5553.

What I’ve always enjoyed about the Summit is that it showcases speakers from different areas of the industry. We’ve featured top talent, researchers, agents, digital leaders, podcasting experts, ratings analysts, tech builders, play by play voices, and of course, program directors and market managers. There’s many ways to succeed, and no better way to learn than to hear from folks who consistently win.

In the sports audio world, 98.5 The Sports Hub, 106.7 The Fan, and ESPN Radio are highly respected brands. The Hub and The Fan are dominant in Boston and Washington D.C.. ESPN Radio meanwhile maintains a strong position as one of the top national audio brands. All feature strong leaders, and we’re fortunate to have all of them represented in NYC.

It’s a pleasure to welcome Beasley Boston Market Manager Mary Menna to the Summit. This is her first appearance at the conference. Mary is responsible for managing The Hub’s business, currently the top revenue generating brand in all of sports radio. I’m excited to have her offer her insights on a panel with Chris Oliviero and Scott Sutherland. More details on the session, date/time closer to the show.

On the programming side, it’s great to welcome back Chris Kinard of 106.7 The Fan, and Justin Craig of ESPN Radio. Both will be involved in programming panels at the show.

CK has helped lead The Fan and Team 980 to consistent growth in the nation’s capital. He’s a forward thinking type of leader with a great feel for the current and future challenges facing the business. I’m looking forward to having him share a few lessons he’s learned with the rest of the room.

For my friend JC, he’s seen ESPN Radio evolve for the better part of two decades. Liked and respected by most, he’s valued and trusted to guide ESPN Radio’s day-to-day operations. Given the network’s change in focus, talent, and structure, he’ll have great insights to share on where national sports audio is moving.

Our speaker list now sits at twenty. It will grow much more over the next two months as we reveal other additions to the show. We’ll also be announcing our award winners, and a few other surprises. This is a fun and informative two-day event for sports media professionals. If you haven’t joined us before, I hope you’ll do so this time. Everything you need to know prior to the event will be available at BSMSummit.com.

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