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How Rachel Maddow Blew Her Golden Opportunity

Jason Barrett

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On Tuesday night, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC had the entire world eating out of the palm of her hand. Except she forgot the most important item – the food.

Time and time again it’s been proven that Americans are suckers for hype. Networks and their on-air stars grace our airwaves and social media platforms, and tell us that they have something big, and immediately we start sharing, speculating and debating it with our friends, family and co-workers, working ourselves up into a frenzy prior to the big reveal.

But getting an audience to tune in one time for your content isn’t difficult. If you have something unique, and promote it effectively, people will stop by to see what all the buzz is about. The real challenge is delivering on what you promised when they show up, and rewarding them with a positive experience so they consider becoming repeat customers of your program.

If a restaurant in your neighborhood runs commercials and places signs in their windows hyping up that they have the best steak in town, you might consider eating there. But if you enter the establishment, and the wait staff ignores your table for a half an hour, and the steak they present is cold and tough to devour, then it’s unlikely you’ll return for a second visit.

This is what happened to Rachel Maddow on Tuesday night. She provided poor customer service, and a cold steak that few enjoyed eating.

I didn’t take the bait when I saw MSNBC touting they had Donald Trump’s tax return from 2005, because my immediate reaction was that the material was 12 years old (way before he entered politics, and the equivalent of three presidential terms ago), and I didn’t expect MSNBC to provide a fair and balanced discussion on the subject since they lean left. If the same situation unfolded and a democrat was president, I wouldn’t have turned to FOX News, because they do the same exact thing, except they serve the right side of the audience.

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But when I saw my Twitter timeline begin to fill with emotional responses from many throughout the sports media, I became intrigued. The general consensus was that Maddow had promised something big, viewers tuned in for it, and were then strung along for a while before she provided a payoff, which was less than spectacular.

I then recorded the show to watch it afterwards because I was curious if she made the same tactical mistakes that ESPN did when they trotted out Jim Gray for the LeBron James special. If you remember that failed production, viewers (especially those in Cleveland) were put through an exhausting couple of segments, listening to LeBron talk about the ups and downs of his previous season, and his connection to the Boys and Girls club, only to learn at the end that he was leaving his hometown team to join the Miami Heat.

Although “The Decision” was awful, it did provide a big payoff. LeBron announced he was leaving the Cavaliers, and cameras captured immediate footage from Cleveland where people were visibly upset. Maddow on the other hand not only executed her show using the same failed playbook, but her grand finale was the equivalent of LeBron telling Jim Gray he still hadn’t made a decision on his future.

Rule number one if you’re a talk show host, never promise the audience red meat if you don’t have it. When you build your content around the President of the United States, a man who many will passionately defend or go to extremes to have impeached, and you tell the world you have exclusive information that’s going to interest them, you can’t then show up with only two pages of a tax return, one which shows that he paid a higher percentage of taxes than other presidents and candidates, and close to forty million dollars. That makes people angry.

Rule number two, if you have the smoking gun, and have convinced the world to stop by to hear about the evidence on your show, do not make the critical mistake of making the audience wait to try and gain one or two quarter hours of ratings credit. You might win this particular night, but you’ll never win another one. Word gets around quickly that you promise a lot, but deliver a little.

I saw a few of my industry friends on Twitter debating this issue Tuesday night, and I understood their points about Maddow playing the TV game to help her numbers. A few folks mentioned that she did her job to get people to tune in. Others commented that she created conversation about the show and was trending on Twitter because of her approach in making the audience wait.

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There’s some truth in those commentaries, except there’s one critical point missing – she was already going to have a big ratings night because of the claim of having exclusive information on the President.

When you have the world’s attention, the way Maddow did on Tuesday night, you can’t afford to toy with the audience. Maddow chose to start her program with an extended twenty minute monologue, followed by a commercial break. She assumed that because she had information that nobody else did, that she could hold onto it for an extended period of time. But by operating that way, she not only pissed off the audience, but they were out for blood as soon as it was discovered that her evidence didn’t match up to the hype.

This is why people rejected ESPN for “The Decision”. It’s the same reason sports fans became upset with last year’s CBS Selection Sunday show. There are times when you play the quarter hour game, but not when you’re handed crucial information that the world is turning to you to learn about it.

When an opportunity of this magnitude lands on your plate, you have a simple job to do. Set up the story by providing insight on how you gained the information, and then provide the payoff. The sooner the audience gets it, the better, and the more satisfied they will be. You can add your analysis, post-monologue, guests, and other show elements afterwards.

Rachel Maddow’s biggest mistake on Tuesday night was that she thought more about her ratings, rather than the the people who actually provide those ratings spikes. When you execute that way, you lose every time. I’m sure MSNBC will see a boost in Maddow’s Tuesday night’s numbers. But that’s only one night. If the audience doesn’t return Wednesday, Thursday and beyond, then that tells you a huge opportunity was wasted.

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Maddow can take solace in the fact that she was able to deliver her commentaries on Donald Trump to a large number of new viewers who might not have been familiar with her show or style. But turning those casual viewers into repeat customers was tossed out the window when she held on to the evidence too long, and then failed to produce material that would make the wait worthwhile.

On a normal night, she can execute a show that’s built for quarter hour viewing. The structure may involve a monologue in the first segment, a second topic or extension of the first topic in segment 2, and then a guest to offer analysis and opinion in the third segment. That plan makes sense most times.

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But these situations follow a different set of rules, and require a different strategy.

If Barry Bonds agreed to come on your program and admit to the world that he used steroids, you wouldn’t wait 7 or 8 questions into the interview to ask him. If you did, the audience would turn on you. If you possessed a photograph proving that O.J. Simpson did in fact murder his ex-wife Nicole, you wouldn’t wait 20-30 minutes to show it, otherwise you’d earn the wrath of the audience.

In each of those examples, when you proclaim to have something exclusive, that will warrant the entire nation’s attention, it better be strong, and it better be delivered immediately. Rachel Maddow missed on both fronts.

Which is why the world is now talking about her failed performance, rather than the President’s taxes, something nobody could have believed was possible 48 hours ago. But when you ignore the audience’s demands for the betterment of your ratings, it carries lasting consequences. Rachel Maddow is now fully aware.

Barrett Blogs

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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Barrett Blogs

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

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

Jason Barrett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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