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The Results of the BSM Sports Radio Survey

Jason Barrett

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Conducting research is a critical part of every brand’s strategy and development. It’s not an easy process and not every piece of feedback is informative, but it’s necessary in helping your company and people avoid danger signs and pursue opportunities to enjoy greater success. Throughout my career, I’ve used ratings results, focus groups, social media responses, and digital analytics to help my brands build momentum and steer clear of landmines. The radio host and programmer’s responsibility is to know what moves and interests the audience. That information then allows you to design your product strategy to generate larger ratings, deeper brand loyalty, and revenue.

I compare it to being in a popular band. Fans buy tickets to see you perform. When they attend your concert, they expect you to play the songs they enjoy most and do things which are consistent with the way you’ve represented yourself throughout the years. If you hit the stage and act differently and showcase material that you love but the audience isn’t familiar with it will have a negative impact on your future ability to sell tickets, music, and merchandise.

The downside of research is that certain traits have more or less importance from individual to individual. Listeners may tell you that they want to hear a heavy dose of NFL content on your airwaves during their morning commute, and your hosts may provide it, yet not move the needle in the ratings. What does that tell you? It can mean many things. It could be that your talent doesn’t possess the ability to present the content in a spectacular way. It can mean that your competitor has an established show which your audience won’t break their loyalty to. Or it can be an issue with the meters in your market or something else. This is why researching your audience regularly is necessary. The longer you do it, the better read you’re able to get on multiple situations.

Since it’s been a while since I last analyzed the listening habits and interests of sports radio listeners, I thought I’d take a crack at it to see if people’s tastes had changed. I was blown away by the response of 2,006 participants. I have many of my friends in the industry to thank for getting listeners involved. Although a few responses didn’t jive with other projects I’ve worked on, I did find that the majority of responses offered valuable information that we can learn from.

When you look at the feedback below, keep in mind, these responses are coming from sports radio fans all across the United States and Canada. If this exercise were done in an individual market the results would likely be different. But there are some trends which would be consistent anywhere you listen.

Altogether I asked nine questions in this survey, and my goal was to find out which answers the audience identified with MOST. I stress the word “most” because a number of people reached out on social media expressing a frustration with not being able to provide multiple answers. In most case studies, it’s understood that fans of a product will like multiple things. But what brands want to know, is which items make the biggest difference? That was my goal too with this survey.

I will now share with you the results of the BSM sports radio research survey. You’ll find my analysis under each question, highlighting what I felt was most important to take away. Enjoy!

survey1

BSM: The majority of fans who took this survey are hardcore sports radio listeners. 85% or 1,700+ said they listen daily which is great news if you’re in the industry. However, if you look at most radio markets and the ratings that support each brand, most don’t have 85% of their listeners tuning in daily. Those who listen 2-3X per week are also higher than 12% in most cases.

survey2

BSM: For all of the talk about the growing power of the phone, it’s good to see that the car is where listeners still listen to sports radio the most. The phone does come in second with 1 out of 5 listeners tuning in. When you combine that number with the percentage of listeners who listen on a computer, laptop or ipad, the total grows to 30.5%. Why is that important? Because if your website or app delivers a poor listening experience, is difficult to navigate, or features outdated content, 3 out of every 10 listeners are going to notice. You can’t just program your radio station. You must treat your digital brands with great care too.

I did find it interesting that listening at home or at work came in at 11.4%. When that number is combined with listening in the car, you have 68% of hardcore sports radio listeners who are tuned in through an actual radio, not a digital device. That surprised me. We can expect more listening in the future to the sports format to be done on the phone and less on a radio. If we analyzed all formats in the radio industry instead of focusing just on the sports format, this would be a close call between the two primary options.

survey3

BSM: If you judge listening habits based on the ratings data many radio stations receive, you’d be convinced that few people exist during the hours of 10a-3p, and everyone listens to sports radio programming during the morning or afternoon commute. I’m not sure if this is a case of hardcore sports radio fans having a different routine but I was surprised to see middays produce such a healthy number. In comparing mornings, middays, and afternoons they were extremely close but PM drive held a slight advantage. Nights, overnights, and weekends were much lower which is consistent with what many stations experience across the country.

survey4

BSM: No surprise here. Fall is the most important time of the year for the sports format and that’s reflected with almost 84% of listening being most likely between the months of July and December. This is why so many brands air football games and position their Monday’s and Friday’s around football programming. It’s also why each fall you hear a heavy amount of football related guests on local stations during the course of the week. The big challenge for brands moving forward is to figure out how to get those individuals back to the dial between the months of January and June.

survey5

BSM: This was my favorite part of the survey because it gave a good look into the different things listeners hear daily and what moves the needle most with them. The #1 takeaway was that people want to hear a host deliver strong opinion and allow room for debate. I’ve often said drama is what fuels listening to sports radio, and when coupled with opinion and disagreement it becomes a recipe for success.

The second most popular item was funny stories and bits. This means the top two things a host can deliver on a daily basis to engage an audience are passionate opinion and humor.

Coming in third were interviews. Although I enjoy them and believe they can help a brand create or extend content and generate additional buzz, they are not more important than what the host has to say. Many stations also make the mistake of keeping them on for a long period of time, which is why listeners lose interest.

The last item to highlight is the lack of interest in hearing callers. I’ve heard this same story in multiple markets I’ve worked in. Only 5% of people in this survey listed the callers as their favorite part of a sports radio show. If you think your show is connecting based on how many times you’ve seen the phone line light up you’re missing the boat. Calls represent a small fraction of your audience. Although a good passionate call can add entertainment value, and elicit good response from a host, a great on-air talent can perform without them and still kick ass in the ratings.

survey6

BSM: It’s an NFL world that we’re living in, and the survey results confirm that yet again. 1 out of every 2 listeners wants it, and the reason why your audience spikes between July and December is because the NFL becomes the main attraction. This should be no surprise. If you’re not finding a way each day to discuss your local team AND other key storylines from the National Football League, you’re allowing an opportunity to connect with your audience get away.

I’ll admit that I was surprised to see MLB and College Sports so close, because baseball simply has a longer amount of time to be a featured part of the daily conversation. If we did this survey in April I wonder if MLB would be higher. That said, the appetite for College Football and Basketball is strong, and growing, and that’s excellent news for brands who enter the fall seeking a big lift.

The one area that stood out negatively was how poorly the NBA was received in this survey. Once again, depending on your market it’s either a hot or cold conversation, but for the purposes of this survey it’s behind the NFL, MLB and College Sports, and even the NHL. Having worked in multiple NHL markets I can tell you that this evidence doesn’t jive with what I’ve seen in previous research studies. Usually the NHL is beaten 4-5 to 1 by the NBA. But the geography of the individuals taking the survey or the time of the year when we’re conducting this survey could have factored into the final totals.

Something important to remember for all air talent and programmers. You may think your show can afford to spend 2-3 segments per day focusing on lesser stuff because the majority of it deals with the important topics, but those 2-3 segments where you discuss lesser subjects (in this case the NBA and NHL), could be the difference in winning or losing your next book. If people tell you they want NFL, MLB and College Sports content, don’t argue with them – give them what they want. That type of customer service often puts more money in your pocket.

survey7

BSM: The number one reason listeners leave your radio station is not as cut and dry as you might have thought. It’s actually a tie between commercials, and the personality of a host. Face it, people hate interruptions. But they’re a part of our business. You know when every show begins that people will leave at some point when they hear a commercial. But if your personality is divisive, fake or difficult to connect with, it can be as damaging as a Kars For Kids jingle. Some hosts can’t control this, but people listen to talent they want to hang out and have a beer with. If you sound detached from the audience or dismissive of their input, they’ll make you pay for it by tuning you out.

Not far behind those two options was poor content. As I stated in the previous section, if you’re forcing 2-3 segments into the show because you enjoy them but the majority of your audience doesn’t, that’s considered poor content. It doesn’t matter how great you deliver it, if nobody cares about the subject matter.

Right behind poor content were callers at nearly 20%. That number surprised me. But if you’re wondering if hearing the audience weigh in with mindless responses is valuable to your show, remember this survey. 5% said hearing listeners call-in was their most enjoyable part of a sports radio show. 20% said they find them to be the #1 reason to tune out.

survey8

BSM: It’s clear that people prefer to listen to sports talk LIVE but if we did this survey 5 years ago, I bet it would’ve been 90-10 instead of 73-26. What this tells me is that podcasting is growing, and listening on demand has become more attractive to the audience. The interest in the content our format creates remains high but having the ability to enjoy it when it suits an individuals schedule continues to increase. What will really be interesting is to see the results to this same exact question in 2-3 years.

survey9

BSM: Many of us who have made a living in the sports format have been beaten over the head with the message – you must deliver local, local, local. That content strategy drives ratings and revenue higher than national sports programming in most markets. This survey showed that 3 out 4 people prefer local to national. That’s not a surprise. It should make every local radio operator feel good to know that local talent discussing local content still has tremendous value.

However, if you’re dismissing national sports radio programming, that would be a mistake. 1 out of 4 hardcore sports fans in this survey (500+) didn’t care if the programming was local or not. There’s plenty of room at the table for national sports radio networks like ESPN, FOX, CBS, NBC, SiriusXM and SB Nation Radio. When you add the success these national brands have on digital platforms due to their extended reach and cross promotional opportunities on television and websites, it builds an even more impressive story.

The bottom line, we can have a thriving format with both local and national sports radio. It does not have to be a case of picking one or the other.

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Jeff Catlin, John Mamola, Gordy Rush & Maggie Clifton Join The 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

Jason Barrett

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We’re less than two months away from the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles. This year’s conference takes place on March 21-22, 2023 at the Founders Room inside of the Galen Center at USC. Many industry professionals are set to attend but sports media folks tend to be a last minute crowd whether it’s buying a ticket, reserving a room or committing to be a sponsor. Yes, tickets, rooms, and a select few sponsorships are still available, but the longer you wait, the more you risk not being in the room, featured as a partner, and paying higher prices for travel. To make sure you have a seat and a place to stay, log on to BSMSummit.com. For sponsorship inquiries, email Stephanie at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

I am really excited about this year’s Summit. The venue is tremendous, the agenda is coming together nicely, and there’s no doubt we’ll have great weather when we gather in LA. Some have asked me why I don’t reveal the full schedule of sessions months in advance, and it’s because I believe in swinging for the fences and trying to do big things. To do that, you’ve got to be willing to invest time and explore every opportunity that can be impactful. It’d be much easier to fill the schedule and be done with everything but if it’s going to take a little longer to deliver the best speakers, discussions and experiences for all in the room, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Those involved in the creation of this conference know that I set a very high standard for it. We’ve run some great events over the years, and it’s because we put everything we have into making sure each session is valuable to a different segment of the industry. My goal each year is to present an action packed agenda that helps people learn, gain access to information to improve themselves and/or their brands, and create a few connections and memorable moments to justify it being worth a few days away out of the office or studio. If we can do that, it makes the sacrifices worthwhile. If we can’t execute at a high level, then I’d probably pass on doing it.

Before I tell you about the four people we’re adding to our speaker lineup, I do want to remind you that we recently announced a contest for California college students. We’re giving away ten (10) FREE tickets to the show courtesy of Steve Kamer Voiceovers. If you know a student in California please let them know about this. If they’re not in California but want to attend the event, we’ve created a special college rate to make it affordable for young people. Everything is listed on BSMSummit.com.

Now, for the new additions to the lineup.

I’m excited to welcome Jeff Catlin of The Ticket in Dallas to the Summit. This will be Jeff’s first Summit visit, and I appreciate him making time to share his programming wisdom with the rest of the room. Jeff will be part of a programming panel that kicks off day #2. That panel will include Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Raj Sharan of Denver’s Sports Station 104.3 The Fan, and our next addition, John Mamola of WDAE. John has been at all of our events dating back to our first test event in Chicago. I’m looking forward to giving him an opportunity to offer his programming insights alongside this talented group.

Also joining the Summit lineup is Maggie Clifton, Blue Wire’s Senior Vice President of Business Development. Maggie has played a vital role in growing Blue Wire’s revenue, and I’m looking forward to having her join Barstool Sports’ SVP, Head of Sales Matt Berger, and Magellan AI’s Chief Revenue Officer John Goforth on a panel that focuses on digital monetization.

Guiding that conversation will be Guaranty Media’s Gordy Rush. The Baton Rouge Vice President and General Manager who doubles as LSU’s sideline reporter on football broadcasts is well versed in monetizing content, and understanding the opportunities and challenges broadcasters face. I’m confident those in the room charged with maximizing digital revenue for their brands will gain great value from these four professionals.

There’s much more in the works that I’m looking forward to announcing in the coming weeks. Whether you own a company, manage a cluster as a GM, lead a sales team, host or produce a podcast or radio/TV show, buy advertising, oversee a brand’s social media strategy or program a network or local outlet, there’s something for every sports media professional at the BSM Summit. I invite you to come see for yourself. To do so, visit BSMSummit.com.

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Jimmy Powers to Receive The Mark Chernoff Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award.”

Jason Barrett

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As a former programmer turned consultant, I pay more attention than most to those who lead brands, manage talent, and create consistent success. When you look across the country at the hundreds of stations delivering sports radio content, and analyze who operates at a high level, there’s maybe ten to twenty who are changing the game, and others who are rising and hoping to become a bigger part of the conversation.

What makes this annual award special in addition to having Mark Chernoff’s name on it, is that it’s voted on by eighteen industry heavyweights. These are folks tasked with overseeing radio companies, major networks, and having exceptional track records of broadcasting success. So when they vote and an individual earns an honor, it means a little more.

If you’re in the business and follow sports radio, then you’re aware of Mark Chernoff’s accomplishments as a program director. He was one of the true architects and consistent winners, and his ability to excel as a sports radio manager has influenced and shaped many careers. Mark graciously agreed to be part of our awards ceremony a few years ago when I approached him with the idea in New York City. I’m thrilled to share that although he doesn’t attend many industry conferences on the west coast, he will be with us at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s winner.

It is my honor to congratulate the leader of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Jimmy Powers. Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award. He follows Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score in Chicago. Jimmy will be in attendance at the Summit to pick up the award, and will take part in a program director panel at the show. Further details on that to be shared next week.

“It’s such a great honor not only to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Chernoff, but to receive the ‘Mark Chernoff Award’ is really, really cool” shared 97.1 The Ticket Program Director Jimmy Powers. “With so many great program directors across the country who are deserving of this award, I truly appreciate the recognition.”

Since late 2009, Powers has led the Detroit sports radio station to unmatched local success. Brought in to build upon what was created by the late great Tom Bigby, he’s helped The Ticket become one of the format’s best examples of success. The station has consistently dominated the Male 25-54 demo, while also becoming a ratings force with Persons 12+ and Adults 25-54.

“Jimmy has done an amazing job over the years running 97.1 the Ticket,” said legendary sports radio programmer Mark Chernoff. “He knows how to work with talent, and maintain balance while managing relationships with the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, which is not an easy job. The ratings remain high, and the Ticket continues to be one of America’s top sports stations, which reflects the great work Jimmy has done as the station’s program director.”

In addition to delivering double digit shares, quarterly ratings wins, and presenting a star studded lineup and Michigan’s top sports franchises, The Ticket has taken home plenty of hardware too. The station has won the Marconi award for best sports station in 2016 and 2022. And now, they can add the 2023 Mark Chernoff Award to their trophy case.

“2022 was another big year for The Ticket, and many in Detroit deserve credit for the brand’s consistent success, but none more so than their exceptional brand leader, Jimmy Powers,” added BSM President Jason Barrett. “Jimmy has been a staple of consistency, guiding one of the crown jewels of sports radio, managing top personalities, important play by play partnerships, and helping the brand generate large revenues. I’m thrilled that our industry voters took notice of the fantastic work Jimmy has done and look forward to celebrating his career and accomplishments in Los Angeles this March.”

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

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

Jason Barrett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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