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FOX Sports Creates a Stir With Its New Digital Strategy

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FOX Sports is under media attack after releasing a number of staffers from their digital department. The company is trying to modify its digital strategy and the new vision set by Jamie Horowitz has created a mixed response. Some who have lost jobs have taken to social media to express their gratitude or frustration towards the company, and others have talked off the record to Awful Announcing about their disgust with the company’s new approach.

If you haven’t read the piece that Ben Koo put together it’s worth your time. It highlights some of the internal disconnect that was taking place as departments clashed and tried to get a better handle on how to be more effective in the online space.

When I heard the piece was being produced by AA I expected it to carry a negative slant towards FOX Sports because the majority of content pieces about the company on AA lean in that direction. Some may still take exception to the piece and hint at Koo having an agenda, but I thought Ben did an excellent job and tried to be fair with his reporting. Maybe the article doesn’t project the best image for Horowitz but clearly some people inside of FOX Sports weren’t unified in the digital vision for the company.

As I digested the article, I came away with a few thoughts. Allow me to share them with you.

First, whether it was passed along from someone who was let go or from someone who presently works for FOX Sports, sharing private and sensitive information about a company’s strategy is weak. I’m not naive enough to think that leaking sensitive information doesn’t happen all the time, just look at the political world, but when trust doesn’t exist between management and its employees, it’s only a matter of time before changes occur.

I’m not privy to who did and didn’t get along inside of FOX Sports. If the emotions felt in the article though reflected what was being displayed behind closed doors, then I wouldn’t be surprised if Horowitz and his management team aren’t shedding tears over the loss of some talented people who didn’t share their same enthusiasm for FOX Sports’ online future. Those who departed are also probably glad to rid the turmoil from their lives and turn their time and energy to a new situation.

Second, anytime cuts take place it sucks. I don’t like seeing anyone in the industry lose an opportunity, but it’s a reality of the business we’ve chosen to work in. As I was sifting thru the comments online about the staff reductions I saw a few people point out how the people behind the scenes too often pay the price yet it should be the ones in front of the camera or microphone who suffer for a company’s failures.

I’ve been one of those guys behind the scenes. I loved producing and programming sports radio shows and stations, and without qualified, creative, hard working support players, the talent aren’t as crisp and the product isn’t as good.

But let’s not lose sight of what the public comes to a brand for most; the faces of the franchise.

When you buy an admission ticket to a movie theatre, you pay to see the actors. That doesn’t make the work done by writers, producers, camera operators or graphic artists any less important but without the stars, the film doesn’t put butts in seats.

The same formula exists in every other form of the entertainment business.

If you go to a concert to watch a band play live, the musicians get the credit. The road crew, manager, and sound guy might play a vital role in the production, and for their efforts they may receive a pat on the back and an invite to enjoy an alcoholic beverage after the show, but its the band who gains the limelight and all that’s associated with it.

Turn on a professional sporting event and the players on the court or field earn our admiration, while the ball boys, trainers, chefs, and members of the PR staff gain the occasional thank you and a paycheck on the 15th and 30th of the month. Those folks behind the scenes all play a part in making sure the athletes are taken care of to do what they do best, but the reason people pay high prices to watch a game is because of the players.

The next item which stood out, was Horowitz’s belief that putting the name of the network’s high profile television personalities behind written content was better for the overall ability to generate clicks and increase business. I’m not sure how anyone could find fault with that approach. If a column was produced by FOX Sports and had Skip Bayless’ name on it, it’s much more likely to generate a ton of activity than if the column had my name on it.

Pundits have been quick to pounce on FOX Sports for using ghost writers and pushing their personalities as the main attraction but are we really suggesting that featuring the company’s most recognized talent isn’t a bright idea? You may not like Cowherd, Bayless, Jason Whitlock or Shannon Sharpe but they are a lot more likely to generate a click and emotional connection to a piece of content than lesser known writers, reporters and behind the scenes people.

And do we really think ghostwriting doesn’t already occur? I was stunned by how many people took issue with this.

For example, I think The Player’s Tribune does a fantastic job with their website, but do you really think all of those athletes are sitting down to write columns? Not to mention, writing them as if they had spent 10-15 years in the print business?

Not a chance.

If the material is delivered by a recognizable public figure and a professional media member cleans it up and helps it look its best before clicking send to share it with the world, what’s the problem with that? It’s no different than what producers do on a daily basis to help great on-air talent create memorable on-air content. I’ve witnessed outstanding producers like Justin Craig, Paul Pabst and Ray Necci feed lines, facts, jokes and opinions to hosts to present on the air, and I’ve been in that exact position myself. The brains behind the operation are there to support the talent and it’s the host’s job to create, execute and be held accountable for it.

The final opinion I want to express may make a few people upset but it’s how I and many others in the media feel.

Raise your hand if you were visiting FOXSports.com on a daily basis. Now keep your hand up if you could name 4-5 things on FOX Sports’ website (not video related) worth clicking back for regularly.

Those of you who put your hands up, either stop lying or return to your cubicle inside of FOX Sports’ headquarters.

The majority of people I’ve talked to in this industry over the years would tell you that FOX Sports’ website was an afterthought. I don’t doubt that many inside the operation weren’t talented or working hard to make it better and I’m not suggesting that Jamie Horowitz’s commitment to pushing online video and eliminating written content is the holy grail of solutions. What I do know is that when I’ve talked to people about where they turn to for sports information, opinion, analysis, and entertainment, FOX Sports’ website was rarely in the conversation.

When you ask people about their preferred online sports destinations it’s common to hear them recall ESPN, Yahoo Sports, Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report. Others may list Barstool, The Ringer, The Player’s Tribune and Pro Football Talk, or local newspapers or league/team specific sites where they turn regularly. The majority of those brands thrive without the benefit of a television network promoting their digital content.

I remain a believer in the value of great written content, reporting and analysis but I can’t blame companies for shifting their position towards heavier video distribution if the public and advertising community places higher value on it. In business there’s an old saying “fish where the fish are” and whether it’s popular or not, FOX is trying to reverse its existing online position of being persona non grata and deliver a digital experience that generates more interest and revenue, while aligning their web focus with their television strategy.

In the AA column, Jamie said something during his presentation to staffers which I think is valid. He commented that “the written word is still relevant, but the advertising value of written content, what we call display, is not growing.”

Therein lies the struggle.

I love to read and visit many websites each day for quality written content, but let’s be honest, how much more likely are we to recall content, let alone an advertiser’s message, if we hear it in audio or see it in video? It takes much more work, time and focus to read and process written material, and it lacks the emotional connection that we gain when we watch or hear something. From a business standpoint, the placement of a client’s message at the top part of a website or in the middle of a written column doesn’t generate half the activity that those other options provide.

As I mentioned earlier, seeing good talented people lose employment opportunities isn’t fun, but we have to be mature enough to separate our feelings for individuals from what’s best for a brand’s business objectives. Anytime change takes place in our industry it’s met by immediate overreactions, yet people quickly forget the reality of the situation.

I realize the debate culture frustrates many sports media traditionalists, but national personalities with strong opinions produce interest. It’s why so many of you reading this column right now are able to recall every single smart and stupid thing uttered on the air by hosts like Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith, Colin Cowherd, etc.

I’m also aware that FOX has been pretty outspoken and cocky since arriving on the scene. For that reason alone, many in the industry want to see them fail. But whether they’re arrogant, smug, bullish or smart, the real question is whether or not FOX Sports was due for a digital makeover. If the existing strategy was thriving I don’t believe they’d be making wholesale changes.

It’s fair to question if our industry is devaluing intelligence and analysis in favor of sensationalism, but it’s hard to support that stance when the results show that people would prefer watching a LaVar Ball rant over reading an informed column from a top notch writer. It may frustrate those of us who love to read and write but from a business standpoint, if people are drawn to a car crash then it’s the brand’s job to produce more accidents.

As someone who runs a business, I’ve seen this firsthand. I can write a detailed analysis on a specific industry topic that should help an on-air talent or executive and it might generate a few thousand clicks. But if I create a top 10 list or a strong opinion piece on a polarizing show like First Take, it delivers 5-10x the amount of traffic. People may say they don’t prefer that style of content but their actions tell a different story.

Whether it’s popular or not, FOX Sports’ website hasn’t been great, and the brand’s digital content and social currency lagged behind its competitors. Maybe Jamie Horowitz’s digital video strategy will crash and burn, but I’m not going to act surprised or complain about a company taking a chance to reverse its digital irrelevance. It’s easy to be a face in the crowd and operate in the land of white noise, but instead FOX made a difficult choice and took a giant risk to increase their odds of success. In that respect I give them credit.

When a boat has a leak and the water is pouring in, you either abandon the ship or patch it up. FOX has done a ton of patch work over the years, and Horowitz decided it was time to jump aboard a different boat. That decision will either help him arrive safely on shore or sink to the bottom of the ocean floor. Either way, it’ll be a journey worth following.

Barrett Blogs

Black Friday Sale TODAY For 2022 BSM Summit Tickets

“BSM’s Black Friday sale on Summit tickets will begin at 12:01am ET on Friday November 26th and expire at 11:59pm later that same night.”

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There are less than 100 days remaining until the 2022 BSM Summit takes place in New York City. We’ve announced 31 participants for the show so far, and have more to reveal in the weeks and months ahead. I think you’re going to like what’s still to come.

Putting this conference together isn’t easy. It requires months of meetings, brainstorming, promotion, selling sponsorships, pursuing speakers, and creating everything that attendees see on stage over a two day period. I’m thankful to have help from some amazing partners, but as I’ve mentioned previously, this isn’t an event that makes us rich or ends with 5-10 new clients signing up to work with BSM. The goal each year is simple, make sure the conference is valuable for those who attend, and don’t run BSM out of business by doing it. As long as those two things remain solid, it’s worth doing.

Some might wonder, why go thru months of headaches if you’re not going to break the bank or immediately add clients. That’s fair to ask. If you look at it from a pure business standpoint, one could easily make a case that pouring this type of energy into something else could be more lucrative. But money was never the motivation for doing this. I felt the sports media industry lacked a signature event where smart, successful media professionals (who don’t often cross paths) could gather at one location to laugh and learn together, and I wanted to change that. If over a two day period attendees could gain insight, information, ideas, and introductions, it’d put everyone in a stronger position to remain successful.

I’ve unapologetically loved the sports media business since I started listening to Mike & the Mad Dog on WFAN and watching SportsCenter on ESPN. I was fortunate to live and work in a number of cities over the past two decades, learning how different companies and people operate, and I remain involved today thru my work with BSM. I mention this because I also know media people. They tend to wait until the last minute to book hotel rooms, airfare, and purchase tickets, even if they can save money by acting sooner. I know, I used to do it too. I can’t control when you book your room or plane ticket, but I do want to give you an added incentive to buy your ticket to this year’s show. Seating is limited, and once the last seat is filled, that’s it. We can’t make extra room.

With that in mind, most of you are either taking today off or working inside a much quieter building. If you’ve thought about coming to the Summit, take 5-10 minutes to log on to BSMSummit.com to take advantage of our special Black Friday sale. We’ve reduced tickets for the day, so whether you’re planning to attend in NYC or watch the conference online, there’s a discount to help you out. Just $199.99 for live tickets, and $124.99 for virtual.

BSM’s Black Friday sale on Summit tickets expires at 11:59pm tonight. In the meantime, Hotel Edison in NYC is offering rooms for just $109 + taxes to Summit attendees. Click here to take advantage of the special room rate we’ve secured for this year’s show. Those of you planning to fly to NYC for the show, there have been a ton of great deals offered by American, Southwest, United, JetBlue and Frontier. It might be worth checking into today since Black Friday often has even better sales on travel.

If you’re interested in learning more about the industry, staying a step ahead, forming new relationships, strengthening existing ones, exploring potential business deals, and celebrating the business you’re in, I hope you’ll join us either online or in New York City for the 2022 BSM Summit. I’m making it easier on you, by offering lower ticket prices today. The rest is up to you!

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Barrett Blogs

Craig Carton, Fred Toucher, Mike Felger To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit

“Few understand what it takes to deliver success in this format consistently like Craig, Fred and Mike, and I’m glad they’re making the time to share their knowledge with us.”

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When you talk to industry people about successful brands in sports talk radio, most conversations include WFAN and 98.5 The Sports Hub. The New York and Boston sports radio brands are consistently recognized for their ability to deliver large audiences and revenues.

Helping to create that success is a mixture of strong play by play partnerships, skilled programmers and even more importantly, some of the most dynamic on-air personalities in the format. Fortunately for us, a few of those gamechangers will be present to share their opinions and insights on content matters in New York City at the 2022 BSM Summit.

Starting in New York, it’s an honor to welcome WFAN afternoon drive host Craig Carton to the 2022 BSM Summit. Heard daily on ‘Carton and Roberts‘ alongside Evan Roberts, which is also featured on TV on SNY, Carton has made his presence felt ever since returning to the airwaves in November 2020. Prior to taking on the challenge in afternoons, Craig spent a decade partnering with Boomer Esiason on ‘Boomer and Carton‘, forming one of the most successful sports radio morning shows in the country. In addition to enjoying success in New York, Craig has also experienced the ups and downs that come with performing in different markets. His radio travels have taken him to Philadelphia, Denver, Buffalo and Trenton, NJ. The Syracuse graduate and outspoken host is expected to join BSM President Jason Barrett for a one on one conversation at this year’s Summit.

Shipping up to Boston, it’s a pleasure to welcome two of the format’s highest rated performers to New York City. They’re heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub in morning and afternoon drive, and at the Summit, they’ll interact together during an in-depth content conversation with BSM President Jason Barrett.

Fred Toucher is one half of the Sports Hub’s popular morning show ‘Toucher & Rich‘, which recently added syndication. The Detroit native started his career in Georgia before moving to Boston in 2005. Toucher & Rich, which includes Rich Shertenlieb, officially moved into the sports talk format in 2009. Since making the format switch, the duo have consistently produced some of the best ratings in the entire format in mornings during the past fifteen years. Toucher & Rich have also been recognized by industry executives as one of the top two morning shows in the format each of the past three years in the BSM Top 20, including taking top honors in 2018.

Mike Felger on the other hand is heard on the ride home alongside Tony Massarotti on The Sports Hub. The Marconi Award-winning afternoon radio show has been a fixture in Boston since the station’s inception in 2009. During the past twelve years, Felger & Mazz have been a steady force atop the Men 25-54 ratings including recently delivering an impressive 18.9 share in the summer book to finish 1st. The Milwaukee native also hosts a show for NBC Boston, and has previously served as a columnist for the Boston Globe. Similar to Toucher & Rich, Felger & Mazz have earned high praise from format execs in the BSM Top 20. They’ve been voted one of the top 2 afternoon shows each of the past 2 years including grabbing the top spot in 2019.

We’re excited to add all three of these men to the lineup for the 2022 BSM Summit. As vital as it may be to spend time on business issues in order to stay ahead of a rapidly changing media climate, without great talent and content, the rest is irrelevant. Few understand what it takes to deliver success in this format consistently like Craig, Fred and Mike, and I’m glad they’re making the time to share their knowledge with us.

To reserve your hotel room, purchase tickets or learn more about the speakers we’ve lined up for the 2022 show, visit BSMSummit.com. We hope to see you online or in New York City this March.

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Barrett Blogs

BSM Summit Adds Borrell, Crain, Cutler, Goldstein, Scott, Shapiro & Thomas

“The Summit is just 104 days away, so if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, please do so. Half of the room is already full and seating for the conference is limited.”

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The 2022 BSM Summit continues to add firepower to the sports media industry’s premier conference. After previously announcing the first twenty one participants to take part in March’s event in New York City, another seven talented media professionals have been added to the speaker schedule.

Making his BSM Summit debut in 2022 will be the media industry’s leading business analyst Gordon Borrell. The well respected and accomplished CEO of Borrell Associates is featured frequently in the trades and mainstream publications for his insights on advertising trends and forecasts in local media. Borrell will join Amplifi Media CEO Steven Goldstein on stage at the Summit for an in-depth discussion on the advertising climate in 2022. The two men will offer insights and opinions on what advertisers value most, where they’re expected to invest future dollars, which categories will continue to rise and decline, and what brands can do to position themselves better to increase revenue. Additionally, Borrell will be hosting his local advertising conference in Miami a few days after the Summit. Those interested in heading to South Beach and learning more about the marketing world can learn more by clicking here.

Switching to the content end, the Summit is thrilled to welcome The Volume’s Jake Crain to New York City. The host of The JBoy Show will also be making his debut at the conference. Crain will be part of a talent panel along with John Jastremski and Kazeem Famuyide.

Also making his debut at the Summit will be Carl Scott. Meadowlark Media’s Executive Director of Audio will join our podcasting panel featuring Blue Wire CEO Kevin Jones and The Volume’s Head of Content Logan Swaim. Hubbard Radio’s Digital Content Director Phil Mackey will guide the conversation.

Not everyone participating at the Summit will be new to the audience though. Returning to the stage as part of our GM’s discussion will be newly appointed Audacy Boston Market Manager Mike Thomas. Thomas recently led ESPN 1000 in Chicago as the station’s GM after working with Mark Hannon to turn 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston into one of sports radio’s top performing stations. It should be noted that each time Thomas appears at the Summit it follows a recent promotion. We figure by 2023 or 2024 he’ll be running the entire industry.

A Summit isn’t complete without attention given to programming matters. To help us address some of those key issues, we’re excited to welcome back the Vice President of FOX Sports Radio & Podcasts Scott Shapiro. The passionate network executive who oversees many of the nation’s top national programs is always a great listen for folks interested in learning how programmer’s view and tackle the industry’s most important affairs.

Last but certainly not least, voice talent extraordinaire Jim Cutler will return to the stage to lead a session on storytelling. One of the industry’s prominent station voices and creative minds has a penchant for putting on entertaining and informative sessions. If you’ve attended the conference before, you’re already aware. To those planning to catch this one, you’re in for a treat.

Keep an eye out over the next two weeks. We’ll be making additional announcements involving a few high profile talents we’ve lined up for the 2022 BSM Summit. A reminder, the event is just 104 days away, so if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, please do so. Half of the room is already full and seating for the conference is limited. I realize some folks may prefer to wait until the last minute to make sure the world is safe. If you’re not comfortable flying to NY for the show, we do have an option in place to enjoy the conference virtually thanks to NuVoodoo Media. For more information on tickets, click here.

That said, the in-person environment is excellent. If you haven’t attended the Summit before I think you’ll find the two days in New York City to be time well spent. This conference is not open to the general public. You must either presently work in an area of the media industry or be pursuing a degree in the broadcasting field.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we still have some sponsorship opportunities available for the show. We’re thrilled to have the support of great partners, ESPN Radio, Premiere Networks, FOX Sports Radio, Stone Voiceovers, Compass Media Networks, Point to Point Marketing, and Core Image Studio. If you’d like to be part of the event too, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com for additional details.

One final note, airfare is low right now. There are roundtrip flights to and from New York from many major cities for less than $200.00. We’ve also secured a low hotel rate of $109.00 per night at Hotel Edison in NYC to help companies and individuals keep costs down. The sports media industry has endured two years of difficulty due to the pandemic, preventing many from networking, learning, celebrating, and growing. The two days we spend together in the big apple won’t solve every issue facing our business, but I promise you’ll leave the show more informed, more connected, and better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

Hope to see you in New York on March 2nd and 3rd.

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